Joel Osteen is a multimillionaire televangelist.
However, Lakewood megachurch took $4.4 million in bailouts as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief program for small businesses.
The evangelical church, which is based in Houston, Texas and is one of the largest in the United States.
Small businesses could apply for PPP loans with their banks under the federal government’s CARES Act stimulus package.
The $4.4 million loan given to Osteen’s Lakewood Church was the third highest handed out in Houston in July and August, the Houston Business Journal reports.
The megachurch, which draws in about 52,000 congregants per week, was given the loan via Bank of America in mid-July.
Houses of worship, which don’t pay taxes, were among those eligible to apply for the stimulus funding. More than 1,000 religious institutions in Houston were approved for PPP loans.
A Lakewood spokesman said the church’s $4.4 million loan was used to pay the wages of 368 full time and part time employees.
In a statement Lakewood Church said: “Lakewood finally applied for the PPP loan and has been able to provide full salaries and benefits including health insurance coverage to all of its employees and their families.”
The hashtag #TaxTheChurches started trending on Twitter soon after details of Lakewood’s PPP loan emerged.
Osteen and his church have been criticized in the past for failing to open its doors to those in need when Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston back in 2017.
Commenters were also quick to slam Osteen himself.
“Another grasping snake-oil salesman,” one fan wrote.
“Yes, his net worth is 100 million! This guy is deeply religious! Deeply, deeply! LOL,” another added.
“Yep! If you divide the 4 plus million by 368, you’d get around $74,000 per employee. Sounds a little high to me,” a third chimed in.
“Same guy who wouldn’t open his doors for people needing shelter during hurricane harvey,” a fourth recalled.
“He and his wife don’t take a “salary”, but they would each gladly receive tax-free “love gifts” from the church in increments of $15,000 — as gifts over that amount are taxable. That’s why they are worth one hundred million dollars,” an angry person wrote.
“Osteen is one of the biggest phoneys in the whole of Texas. A sham!” a comment read.
By Christine Kalio