Megachurch With Ferrari-Driving Pastor Gives Back $4.4M Pandemic Loan

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After going viral for their outrageous pandemic loan, a Houston megachurch with a celebrity pastor has reportedly repaid $4.4 million to the federal government.

Lakewood Church is exempt from tax like other religious institutions. It took $4.4million in taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program loans during the COVID pandemic. Senior pastor Joel Osteen meanwhile sported insane wealth. As observers wondered about the institution's need for such a large payout, it caused Osteen to trend on social media along with Ferrari.

Osteen is reported to own a Ferrari 300,000 and a $10.5million mansion. He has also been photographed flying in luxury on a luxury plane. He has also appeared on The Today Show to urge people not to focus on what they don't have.

Feds forgive $1 million+ in Pandemic loans to top anti-Vaxxers

Lakewood, which was believed to have been the largest U.S. church with an average weekly attendance 45,000, closed its in-person services last January and said to the Houston Business Journal that they were unable to collect significant donations for months.

They claimed that no money from the PPP went to Osteen and his wife. Osteen and his wife are allegedly not paid a salary by the church. A spokesperson for the church said that the money was short-term financial aid to the church to help ensure that their 368 employees continue to get a paycheck and full benefits.

According to some tallies, thousands of other religious institutions have received PPP loans totaling $7.8 billion.

A spokesperson for Lakewood provided bank statements to The Houston Chronicle on Friday showing that the church had fully paid off the loan. PPP loans are 100% forgiveable if all employees remain at the same level and the money is spent on eligible expenses such as payroll.

Although the spokesperson didn't explain why the church had to repay the loan, other large businesses such as Shake Shack or the Los Angeles Lakers have returned their loans following being heavily criticised.

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Rob Boston, a senior adviser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Houston Chronicle Osteen was rightfully criticised for taking the loan.

He said that the bigger issue was that religious liberty is a core promise of our Constitution and that it means that no one should have to pay for another's religious beliefs or practices.

Osteen Church and Lakewood Church were shamed into taking action. After a social media firestorm, the church finally opened its stadium to Hurricane Harvey victims in 2017.

Osteen's support of the prosperity gospel has drawn criticism from other religious leaders. It teaches that wealth is a sign God's blessing on someone.

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