Joel Osteen landed in hot water when the Houston Chronicle broke the story that Lakewood Church had indeed accepted Payroll Payment Protection loans under the Small Business Administration’s allocation for non-profit organizations to benefit from this lockdown relief program, which he previously denied. But Joel Osteen was far from the only pastor and Lakewood Church was far from the only church to have received these forgivable loans. In fact, Lakewood Church’s $4.4 million haul was not even the largest.
The Evangelical Dark Web analyzed the data released by the Small Business Administration of all organizations that were approved of loan amounts greater than $150,000. We searched and selected several prominent Evangelical organizations found to have been granted a loan. Catholic Dioceses and mainline denominations are excluded from these findings. It is possible that some of the churches under non-denominational are affiliated organizationally or ideologically with established denominations. The exact loans amounts were not disclosed in the SBA metadata. The selected examples are not exhaustive, but they are meant to contain the largest churches and America’s most influential pastors, particularly those who are in and represent Big Eva, and teachers and churches that readers have requested more research on. These results contain churches, seminaries, faith-based media outlets, and ministries. Blatant heretical movements are labeled but this categorization is not universally applied to organizations theologically aligned to these movements for the brevity of research.
The organizations synonymous with Big Eva such as The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and programs under the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention all have forgivable loans. Tim Keller’s The Gospel Coalition received up to $1 million while his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City, received up to $5 million. Mark Dever’s 9Marks and his church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, received up to $350,000. The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, helmed by Russell Moore, received up to $1 million. Five of the six Southern Baptist Seminaries (SBTS being the outlier) received loans ranging from $1 million to $5 million.
Southern Baptists were very partial to accepting forgivable loans. The SBC President JD Greear’s Summit Church accepted between $2-5 million. Greear is certainly not alone. Receiving between $2-5 million dollars includes Harvest Christian Fellowship (Greg Laurie); Shadow Mountain Community Church (David Jeremiah); Elevation Church (Steven Furtick), First Baptist Church Houston (Greg Matte), New Spring Church. Receiving between $1-2 million were Green Acres Baptist Church (David Dykes); McClean Bible Church (David Platt); First Baptist Church Orlando (David Uth); Fellowship Church (Ed Young Jr.); Thomas Road Baptist Church (Jonathan Falwell).
The biggest hauls range between $5-10 million. Life Dot Church (Craig Groeschel), Willow Creek Community Church (David Dummitt), Joyce Meyer Ministries all hauled in over $5 million each, and the separate Willow Creek Association received an addition $1-2 million.
One would think the Prosperity Gospel would be all over forgivable loans. However, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are outliers. Hillsong’s various LLCs all received somewhere between $150,000 and $1 million. VOUS Church (Rich Wilkerson Jr) and Transformation Church (Mike Todd) both received under $1 million. This could be that several Prosperity Churches were not thoroughly identified, but people like Creflo Dollar, Paula White, John Gray, obvious figures, were conspicuously absent.
Other notable absences include Rick Warren who is the only SBC church of comparable size to not take the money and Andy Stanley. Church of the Highlands, one of the largest churches in the country did not directly take money; however, the Association of Related Churches (ARC) formed by its pastor Chris Hodges did take somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million.
Beloved celebrity pastors were quick to get this money. John MacArthur double dipped with Grace Community Church received between $1-2 million, while Master’s Seminary received $5-10 million. Master’s Seminary received their approval on August 8, a late outlier. John Piper’s Bethlehem College and Seminary received up to $1 million. Churchome featuring Judah Smith received up to $2 million. Levi Lusko’s Fresh Life Church received up to $1 million. Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (Tony Evans) received between $2-5 million. Max Lucado’s Oak Hills Church received $1-2 million. The Potter’s House (TD Jakes) received up to $1 million.
One consistent finding was charismatic churches were far less likely to take out loans than Southern Baptists. Bethel Redding did not take out a loan but Bethel Music and Bethel School of Technology each took up to $350,000. Other New Apostolic Reformation churches received money.
For the data on the most relevant churches, download here.
For the complete set of data to search your own church, download here. (Note: File renamed and delineated since download from SBA.)
The overwhelming majority of these forgivable loans were processed in April, which means that these organizations were quick to apply for bailouts. This could signify panic and a lack of faith. Dave Ramsey pointed out in April that churches should steer clear of these forgivable loans from the government because the terms and conditions of these loans is subject to change, especially in an election year. Taking government money has long been feared to have impacted the ministry of churches, particularly, that they will become more palatable to the masses. Dave Ramsey made this point as well.
Very few of the influential churches, seminaries, and pastors have pushed back on lockdowns, Critical Race Theory, and almost all are not gathering for in-person worship or have severely restricted it. John MacArthur is an outlier in this regard, but he had changed positions on this issue in August. Perhaps The American Family Association and The Christian Post are the other notable exceptions to this observation. However, most churches listed here have peddled panic porn. The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and Christianity Today peddled panic porn as well. David Platt organized a pseudo Black Lives Matter March while keeping his church shut down. JD Greear announce no in person gatherings indefinitely. The ERLC has been nowhere defending religious liberty.
It is also clear that churches did not consider taking this money to be a substantial hit on their witness. Should these loans end up being forgiven, they will essentially be a tax payer bailout for churches who chose to lock down. Should the churches fail to qualify for forgiveness, their congregants will be strapped with the debt. It is conceivable that churches are maintaining their docile nature because they want to qualify got more bailouts in the future or that not abiding by lockdowns could disqualify their loan forgiveness.
While the amount of money taken from taxpayers can be quantified, the damage of churches accepting conditional bailouts from the state to lock down is perhaps immeasurable.
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