America’s biggest megachurch, led by multi-millionaire who thinks being gay is a sin, handed millions in taxpayer money

Joel Olsteen in a navy suit and printed tie

Lakewood Church, the largest megachurch in the US led by a man who once called on gay people to “change” their sexuality, was handed a $4.4 million loan from the federal coronavirus relief program.

Osteen’s net worth is estimated to be $100 million, and he lives in a 17,000 square-foot mansion with an estimated value of $10.5 million. His church swept up a huge bailout loan in the throes of the pandemic, records show.

The Houston Business Journal reported that the Lakewood Church, the largest single-site church in the nation with a thumping 52,000 weekly congregants, received the third-largest Paycheck Protection Program loan in Houston, Texas, sent between July and August.

The scheme was the central plank of the federal government’s relief efforts to keep small businesses buoyant – Lakewood representatives said the loan went to its 368 full and part-time staffers.

In-person services were shuttered from 15 March to 18 October, they said, adding that the suspension dented the church’s “ability to collect substantial donations during those services”.

“Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood did not initially apply for PPP assistance during the first half of the program,” a statement read.

“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.”

Joel Osteen has troubling track record with LGBT+ rights. 

The multimillionaire televangelist and author has often, with a toothy grin and crinkle-free tie, made troubling remarks on LGBT+ rights. His track record has frustrated queer folk, tensions exacerbated by the slew of celebrities, such as Kanye West, that have associated with him.

Unlike the combative, high-decibel remarks of fellow senior religious leader Franklin Graham, Osteen has instead tiptoed around LGBT+ matters. Swerving the issue in his sermons, interviews have given a glimpse of his views – spoiler alert, they’re not great.

Osteen has said that while being straight is not a choice for him, being gay is a sin. He has also suggesting that queer folk can “change” their sexuality.

In 2009, he told The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg that gay people are not “God’s best work“.

“I believe that it’s a process,” he later told Piers Morgan in a 2011 interview. “But I believe that God can give us grace to change. We’ve seen people break addictions, and do other things as well.”

In a 2014 chat with Larry King, he said: “I believe that scripture says that [homosexuality] a sin, but I always follow that up by saying you know what, we’re not against anybody.

“There’s a lot of things, Larry, that I don’t understand, so I just don’t want to preach on it, preach about it. It only comes up during the interviews.”