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HOUSTON (KXAN) – Pastor Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church in Houston heat up after it was revealed his mega-church received a $ 4.4 million loan from the Paycheck Protection Program under the federal CARES law.
Federal loans have been made to help employers pay workers and cover day-to-day operations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact businesses, but the Lakewood loan, according to the Houston Chronicle, is the first time a church receives financial assistance from 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 was used to pay 368 full-time and part-time employees.
Spokesman Donald Iloff also said that since the closure of services from March 15 to October 18, the church has lost substantial donations.
“Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood initially did not seek PPP assistance during the first half of the program,” Iloff said in a statement. However, as the closure persisted month after month, given the economic uncertainty, Lakewood eventually applied for the PPP loan and was able to provide full salaries and benefits, including health insurance coverage to all its employees and their families. “
Iloff also pointed out that neither Joel nor his wife Victoria, who is also active in the church, received salaries from Lakewood and that the P3 loans did not “bring them any personal financial benefit.”
More than 1,000 religious groups applied for PPP loans over the summer, according to the Chronicle.
The acceptance of federal loans raised eyebrows in many in the religious community and elsewhere, all asking the question: Should churches, which do not pay taxes, accept government assistance?
After the news broke online, #TaxTheChurches appeared on Twitter’s trending chart.
Additionally, many on social media have disputed that Osteen does not help pay his own employees, as the pastor is well known to be wealthy due to his various media ventures.
This isn’t the first time Osteen and Lakewood have faced backlash. In 2017, the two were criticized for not initially opening the doors of the church to Houstonians seeking refuge during Hurricane Harvey. As the church finally opened, mixed messages about why not immediately angered many countries.
The Hill contacted Lakewood Church but did not receive a response.
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