The Bible says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but a celebrity clergyman doesn’t seem to care much about the warning.
Joel Osteen, one of the wealthiest and most popular preachers in the US, has come under fire after evidence of his lavish lifestyle was published on social media.
Mr Osteen, who presided over Lakewood Church in Houston – one of the large congregations dubbed the “big church” – was criticized after it was revealed that the pastor had a Ferrari sports car that cost more than $300,000 dollars.
Users on Twitter criticized the pastor, arguing his ownership of Ferrari was a good argument for the government to tax churches.
“Ferrari is trending. It means someone wins the race or Joel Osteen takes some of the money Jesus commanded to give to the poor and goes shopping again,” said one user.
Mr Osteen – whose net worth is estimated at over $50m – is a figurehead of what is known as the “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that material wealth is an indication of God’s blessing on one’s life. Prosperity theology is very profitable for pastors, as it encourages the idea that those who give money to God will be blessed with their own money. In churches that teach that philosophy, giving money to God, of course, means giving money to church leaders.
The theology runs counter to traditional Christian teachings, which promote giving to the poor, being good stewards of one’s resources, and sharing wealth with fellow Christians. Many Protestant groups criticize Osteen and prosperity theology.
Besides Ferrari, Mr Osteen also owns a mansion worth $10.5 million. He claims that he does not receive a salary from his church, but manages to live a lavish lifestyle from the proceeds of his book sales.
Osteen has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic for taking $4.4 million in federal PPP funding for his church. The loan is one of the largest for a business or nonprofit in the Houston area.
The church defended the loan, claiming it has a staff of 368 full and part-time employees who need help.
Osteen’s church also faced criticism during Hurricane Harvey after Osteen rejected the idea of using the church to house refugees from the storm. After the blowback, the church opened its doors to be used as shelter. Mr Osteen stated that the church was always open to accept refugees.
“We’ve always been open… How this idea started, that we’re not a sanctuary and we’re not bringing people in is the wrong narrative,” he said.
The church later assisted in reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
Mr Osteen did not immediately respond to questions from Independent.
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