Houston (KXAN) – Pastor Joel Austin and Lakewood Church in Houston are under fire after it was revealed that his giant church had received a $ 4.4 million loan from the Salary Protection Program as part of the federal CARES Act.
Federal loans were granted to help employers pay workers’ wages and cover day-to-day operations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect businesses and the Lakewood loan, According to the Houston Chronicle, It was only one of many organizations awarded with more than 1,000 religious organizations. Lakewood was the largest.
The hill Reports suggest Lakewood Church received the third-largest loan in the Houston area, which a church spokesperson told the Houston Business Journal had been used to pay out 368 full and part-time employees.
Spokesman Donald Elov also said that since the services closed from March 15 until October 18, the church has lost significant donations.
“Believing the shutdown would last only a few weeks, Lakewood did not initially apply for PPP assistance during the first half of the program,” Iloff said in a statement. “However, as the shutdown continues month after month, due to economic uncertainty, Lakewood has finally applied for the PPP loan and has been able to offer full pay and benefits including health insurance coverage to all of its employees and their families.”
Eloff also asserted that Joel or his wife Victoria, who is also active in the church, is not getting paid by Lakewood and that the PPP loans “have provided them with no personal financial benefit whatsoever.”
The Chronicle says more than 1,000 religious groups have applied for PPP loans over the summer.
The acceptance of federal loans surprised many in the religious community and elsewhere, all asking the question: Should churches, which do not pay taxes, accept help from the government?
After the news spread online, #TaxTheChurches have appeared on the trending trending board on Twitter.
Moreover, many on social media objected to not helping Austin pay his employee salaries because the priest is well known to be wealthy due to his various media organizations.
This isn’t the first time Austin & Likwood has faced a backlash. Back in 2017, both were criticized for not initially opening church doors to Houstonians seeking shelter during Hurricane Harvey. While the church eventually did, mixed messages about why it was not doing so immediately angered many nationwide.
The Hill contacted Lakewood Church but received no response.