Celebrity megachurch preacher Joel Osteen applied for and received $4.4 million from the covid-19 relief Paycheck Protection Program. Now, he has to return it all.
The founder of the Texas-based Lakewood Church, Osteen was pressured to repay the PPP loans, which were meant for small businesses. With 368 full-time and part-time employees, the nation’s largest megachurch is far from a small business, the New York Post reported.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, Lakewood defended its decision to seek financial support in a PPP loan and insisted that neither Osteen nor his wife, Victoria, received any of the money, ABC 7 reported. Osteen has a net worth of reportedly $50 million and lives in a $15 million mansion.
Lakewood is an evangelical non-denominational Christian church in Houston that can seat more than 16,000 people. With 50,000 members, it is considered the largest church in America. Approximately 10 million viewers see Osteen’s televised sermons in the U.S.
“Like many organizations temporarily shuttered by the pandemic, this loan provided Lakewood Church short-term financial assistance in 2020, ensuring that its approximately 350 employees and their families would continue to receive a paycheck and full health care benefits,” a church rep told the paper.
At least 60 religious institutions in Texas received PPP loans, the Chronicle reported.
The church’s PPP payments came under scrutiny last December, according to a new report.
Public outrage ensued.
Twitter users remembered how Osteen closed the church in 2017 when Houstonians needed shelter from Tropical Storm Harvey. He only opened the church as a shelter four days after Havey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. Questioning Osteen’s motives, spoopy melo @MelobuniiP tweeted, “Why should I be glad? He did it because of the backlash not in the goodness of his heart. It’s upsetting that he’s not genuinely doing it. Fuck Joel, he left houstianians out in the flood and the heat”.
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