HOUSTON (KXAN) – Pastor Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church in Houston get hot after it is revealed that his mega-church has received a $ 4.4 million paycheck protection program loan under the CARES Act.
The federal loans were made to help employers pay workers and cover day-to-day operations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect businesses, but the Lakewood loan marks the first time a church has given financial aid, according to the Houston Chronicle received by the government.
The Hill reports that Lakewood Church received the third largest loan in the Houston area, which a church spokesperson told the Houston Business Journal used to pay 368 full-time and part-time workers.
Spokesman Donald Iloff also said that with services closed from March 15 to October 18, the church lost significant donations.
“Assuming the shutdown would only take a few weeks, Lakewood initially did not apply for PPP support in the first half of the program,” Iloff said in a statement. “However, as the shutdown continued month after month, in the face of economic uncertainty, Lakewood finally applied for the PPP loan and was able to provide full salaries and benefits, including health insurance, to all employees and their families.”
Iloff also stressed that neither Joel nor his Church-affiliated wife, Victoria, do not receive any salaries from Lakewood and that the PPP loans “did not bring them any personal financial benefit.”
Over 1,000 religious groups applied for PPP loans in the summer, according to the Chronicle.
The acceptance of federal bonds has raised the eyebrows of many in the religious community and elsewhere, asking the question: Should churches that pay no taxes accept aid from the state?
After the news broke online, #TaxTheChurches appeared on Twitter’s trend board.
Additionally, many on social media have struggled with Osteen not paying his own staff as the pastor is known to be wealthy due to his various media companies.
This isn’t the first time Osteen and Lakewood have faced backlash. In 2017, both were criticized for initially failing to open church doors to the Houstonians who sought refuge during Hurricane Harvey. As the Church finally opened its doors, mixed messages about the reasons for not doing so immediately attracted the ire of many across the country.
The Hill contacted Lakewood Church but received no response.