Abstain from all appearance of evil. - 1Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)
As the pandemic started to spread across this country the government decided one way they could protect small businesses would be by creating the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This essentially allowed small businesses to apply for loans that would be forgiven if the monies were used to continue to pay their employers, thus avoiding higher unemployment, business closures and misery. Perhaps well intended by some but many immediately criticized that there was little in the way of monitoring and no guardrails to ensure that the monies really went to mom and pop instead of million-dollar entities such as Shake Shack, who returned the 10-million-dollar loan they received after nation wide criticism. When the money started to flow however there were some disappointing names sidling up to the feeding trough. Trump cheerleader Pastor Robert Jeffress received millions in PPP loans. Same for Joyce Meyer. Trump's personal spiritual advisor, Paula White received a smaller PPP loan amount. Perhaps the one that garnered the most attention however was the 4.4 million that went to Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church. Such is the burden of being the most popular pastor in America. The primary story being reported however is not why a man worth over 100 million dollars thinks it is appropriate to take over four million dollars intended for small businesses but rather the fact that he did not lie about it.
Charisma News called it a "massive social media attack" which seems a tad hyperbolic. It appears that some tweeters got ahead of their collective skis and tweeted that Osteen initially denied receiving any PPP loans, which appears to be untrue. The larger point of course is that lying about taking the loan is not the issue. Taking the loan is. Charisma and Osteenites are united in decrying the latest attack but do not get lost in the haze they throw up to distract. Now if someone tweeted something incorrect they should correct the record but this was hardly a massive social media attack and the false charge of lying does not change the unseemliness of actually applying for a 4.4 million dollar loan that could have helped a local Huston business survive the pandemic. Before we get into that, here was the statement from Lakewood Church:
"Lakewood Church, our 368 full and part time employees and their families are grateful for the Payroll Protection Program during these uncertain economic times caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. Lakewood suspended its in-person services for more than seven months (March 15th though October 18, 2020), impacting its ability to collect substantial donations during those services. Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood did not initially accept PPP assistance during the first half of the program. However, as the shutdown persisted month after month, given the economic uncertainty, 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. It is important to note that, since 2004, Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen have not received salaries from Lakewood Church, and the PPP funds do not provide any personal financial benefit to them, whatsoever." - Lakewood Church
Let's parse this through. Lakewood did indeed stop services as outlined here but did they stop collecting money? Did they stop asking for tithes and offerings or did they in fact ramp it up now that it was going to be virtual? Now, I am sure that it fell far off of their regular giving which is over 600,000 dollars per week. I also always give credit where it is due and Osteen does not take salary from Lakewood. That may seem like a given but it is not. James MacDonald was pulling down hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary before he fell from grace. Franklin Graham earns over one million a year in salaries from his two "charities." We would have a more specific number but he changed their tax status by pretending they were churches specifically so he would not have to reveal his compensation. Osteen decided long ago that he did not need to take salary due to the money he makes from his book sales and kudos to him for doing what is right there. What is disappointing is that he does not see how the same appearance of evil from the key verse also applies here.
The PPP loan program had a finite amount of money. For every 4.4 million that went to churches like Lakewood there were countless REAL small businesses that were shut out. We have seen business owners decry how hard the application process was without a lawyer to navigate the system. Lakewood didn't have to worry about that. So what is the answer then? Should Joel Osteen have dipped into his enormous fortune and ensured his employees sustainability without taking public money? As a man worth 100 million dollars this seems plausible. To speculate about this however is to continue to miss the point. Lakewood Church is not small and it is not a business. Now I know the purpose driven church models of growth teach pastors that they are the CEO and the church is indeed a business but that is outright heresy. Salvation is not a product to be marketed. Jesus is not a commodity. Charisma cited the following tweet as an example of "Lakewood hate."
'They don't pay taxes. They demand special exemptions from laws. They demand we all conform to their dogma. All the while raking in the dough and whining about perpetual "persecution".' - Crab Diving Podcast
This is not hate beloved. This is how the world sees the church. Instead of being part of the solution they are lining up to take 4.4 million dollars away from someone else who actually pays taxes to begin with. How do you think the world will react when they see their neighbor's local business shut down while Lakewood Church walks away with 4.4 million dollars. Or Robert Jeffress walking away with several million after praising the president and campaigning for him? Only in the purpose driven mind of the apostate church can they play the victim because a handful of people incorrectly stated that they lied about taking four million dollars they never should have taken to begin with.