By now, you have heard that television evangelist Joel Osteen’s megachurch was robbed of $600,000 in cash and checks. Thieves managed to break into a safe sometime between Sunday, March 10 and Monday, March 11, and make off with $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks. What you may not know is that Mr. Osteen made that $600,000 in two days. Yes, all that money was donated to Osteen’s megachurch Saturday, March 9 and Sunday March 10.
Joel Osteen will not have to pay taxes on that money, just like he doesn’t pay taxes on any of the money he “earns” by standing in front of one of the largest evangelical Christian audiences in America and talking about God. His weekly congregation of 45,000 people gladly donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Osteen every weekend, they buy his books and videos, they watch his televised services by the millions. Osteen’s net worth is approximately $40 million, and he and his wife live in a $10.5 million mansion in River Oaks, Texas. One of Osteen’s favorite things to tell his audiences is it’s “God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty.” Sorry, poor people, you just must not love God enough-after all, where’s your gated mansion?
Interestingly, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church has no crosses. None. It has a cafe with internet access, video game kiosks, and a vault for all of those donations. Lakewood Church is located in the former Compaq Center, once the home of the Houston Rockets. It’s less of a church, and more of an entertainment center, with Joel Osteen as the ringmaster. Yes, he speaks about the Bible, and God, but you get the feeling there’s something else at play. As with any salesman, you wonder what the catch is. Perhaps the catch was in that safe (“vault”).
Joel Osteen is not alone in being a multi-millionaire pastor of a megachurch or media empire. Pat Robertson is estimated to be worth anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion. Given that he sold International Family Entertainment to Fox in 1997 for $1.9 billion, my guess is, his net worth is quite a bit more than $200 million. And then, there’s his diamond mine. Yes, a diamond mine.
In 2013, a documentary titled “Mission Congo” alleged Pat Robertson’s charity, Operation Blessing, served as a front for his diamond mine operation. To understand their charges, we have to go back to Rwanda in 1994. One million Rwandans fled their country in the wake of genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people, and Pat Robertson went on television, begging for viewers to pledge $25 a month to Operation Blessing International. According to Robertson’s pleas, he planned to charter a 727 and travel with medical personnel and supplies to Rwanda. But according to “Mission Congo,” Robertson needed that money for something far different than saving the lives of Rwandan refugees.
One witness, a member of Doctors Without Borders, recalls that at a refugee camp overrun with cholera in Goma, he saw “one tent and a stack of Bibles.” A local remembers:
People began to refuse the Bibles. ‘What we need is food and medicine,’ they said. Operation Blessing would say, ‘That’s not our mission.’
Which begs the question: why did Pat Robertson tell his viewers he was planning on traveling with 100 doctors, if helping the sick and the poor wasn’t the mission of his charity? Where did all the money go? It seems that one of the keys to answering that question is Pat Robertson’s friendship with Mobutu Sese Seku. Pat Robertson was the sole shareholder and president of African Development Company, Ltd, a diamond mining operation. In the documentary, a reporter named Bill Sizemore claims Mobutu granted ADC a mining license when Mobutu was president of Zaire. At the time of the alleged license, the United Nations had imposed sanctions on Mobutu for human rights violations.
Oddly, Mobutu may not be the only violent dictator with whom Robertson had a friendship. According to a lawyer prosecuting former Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, Robertson lobbied the White House on Taylor’s behalf regarding lucrative gold mining contracts. Robertson denies that claim. And in 2011, Robertson appeared on his television program in support of Laurent Gbagbo, calling him a “very fine man.” That very fine man was transferred to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, facing four charges of “crimes against humanity,” including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and other “inhuman acts.” But Gbagbo was Christian, and that was good enough for Pat Robertson.
The Book of Matthew states you cannot worship both God and money. Maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t it seem that, in the cases of Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, that’s exactly what they’re doing? If Joel Osteen really wanted to follow in the footsteps of Christ, he certainly wouldn’t have a megachurch, or a mansion, or $600,000 laying around in a safe. He’d live in a modest home, preach to the homeless, and give any donations he receives to the poor. His salary might be a little less than my husband’s, and he and his lovely wife could live quite comfortably on that. As for Pat Robertson, as far as I know, Jesus never hung out with men who used rape as a tool of war, or lobbied on their behalf with political leaders. Jesus never owned a diamond mine that used child slave labor. But these are who conservative Christians (and others) turn to for moral guidance.
Anne Rice once told me she follows Christ, not men. The message of Christ is so far removed from what these ultra-rich-and in the case of Pat Robertston, ultra-corrupt-pastors say, and preach, and live, that I honestly do not know why anyone who calls themselves a Christian can look to people like this for spiritual wealth. Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson don’t seem to be concerned with any kind of wealth other than the monetary kind, which puts them at odds with the message of Jesus. How can they be leaders of any kind to their flock?
This is why people look at Christianity as a joke. Men like this, and women like this, so obsessed with money and power, they’ve completely forgotten who Jesus was. Thank God (pun intended), there are Christians out there who remember the truth, because people like Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson are destroying Christianity, one dollar bill at a time.