Multi-millionaire evangelical megachurch pastor returns $4.4 million in PPP loans
Joel Osteen (Youtube)

Joel Osteen is a multi-millionaire, but that didn't stop him from taking full advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020. The New York Daily News, however, reports that Osteen has returned the $4.4 million it received in PPP loans.

Osteen, who operates Lakewood Church in Houston, generated a lot of controversy when he took that PPP money — as the Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help small businesses that were struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And Lakewood is not a small business; it is a megachurch with hundreds of employees.

The New York Daily News' Theresa Braine explains, "The loans are meant for businesses with fewer than 500 employees, but the coronavirus funds were distinguished by the number of religious institutions that took advantage of the funds. In Texas alone, more than 1000 religious groups got money from the federal program, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last December."

Osteen, Braine notes, has a reported net worth of $100 million and drives a Ferrari.

The Lakewood pastor has been a leading proponent of what is known as "prosperity theology" or "the prosperity gospel" in evangelical Christianity. It teaches that the rich are rich because God has blessed them, and prosperity theology — which equates affluence with morality and poverty with immorality — is highly controversial among Christians.

Critics of prosperity theology argue that its celebration of greed and materialism is unbiblical, pointing to quotes from the Holy Bible such as "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24) and "the love of money is the root of all evil" (Timothy 6:10).