For months, Trinity Foundation has investigated televangelists receiving Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans. Our findings:
- At least $78.6 million in loans were given to religious TV networks, independent religious TV stations, TV preachers, and churches/media ministries with national TV programs. The total would exceed $82 million if we include churches with 24/7 streaming channels in the same class as television.
- Trinity Broadcasting of Texas received a loan of $3.3 million even though its parent organization may have close to $500 million invested in securities.
- Word of God Fellowship, better known as Daystar Television Network, purchased a Gulfstream G-V jet days after being approved for a loan, but claim they used money from an old investment to purchase the jet. In October, Daystar sold its older Gulfstream G-IV. Daystar president Marcus Lamb has used the new ministry jet for personal travel such as family vacations while conducting religious events and attending political functions.
- Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, received a loan after acquiring two jets in six months.
- America’s largest megachurch, Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, received a loan over $4.4 million.
- Employee numbers for some televangelists are being publicly disclosed for the first time. Benny Hinn Ministries once employed hundreds of employees. It reportedly retained 25 jobs.
To reduce the massive number of American job losses following Covid-19 lockdowns, the Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed forgivable loans to businesses and non-profit organizations through its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The government loan programs have proved controversial as the public learned that politically connected firms and universities with billion-dollar endowments received forgivable loans.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, televangelists, and Planned Parenthood abortion clinics also received PPP loans. The secular Freedom From Religion Foundation received less than $500,000 while criticizing churches that received PPP loans. Even the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability accepted at least a $350,000 PPP loan. This begs the question; can a self-regulatory organization offer a real alternative to government oversight while receiving government funds?
On December 1st, the SBA finally disclosed the names of all PPP loan recipients and the actual amount of each loan. Previously, the SBA only disclosed a dollar range for each loan as well as the names of businesses and non-profit organizations receiving loans between $150,000 and $10 million; however, Freedom of Information requests were filed and a federal judge required the Treasury Department and the SBA to release the data.
Trinity Foundation compiled a spreadsheet of televangelists, churches, religious broadcasters and parachurch organizations receiving PPP loans, along with notes about various organizations’ spending practices, jet ownership and scandals.
Massive Financial Reserve
Should a federal government $27 trillion in debt, forgive multi-million dollar loans to cash-rich non-profit organizations?
When Harvard University, a school with a $40 billion endowment, received $8.6 million from the CARES Act, critics immediately demanded the university return the funds and they did. Shouldn’t religious organizations with large cash reserves or investments do the same?
Trinity Broadcasting of Texas (TBT) received a PPP loan for $3,308,005. In 2017, Trinity Broadcasting Network and its affiliate organizations received $634 million from auctions conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) selling the broadcast frequencies from seven of its TV stations to the FCC, which re-licensed the frequencies to wireless cellphone carriers. At the end of 2018, Trinity Broadcasting Network had more than $1 billion in assets, including $488 million invested in securities.
Elevation Church, operated by televangelist Steven Furtick, received a PPP loan of $3,656,700. Ministry Watch reported that Furtick’s Elevation Church took in $91 million last year and ended 2019 with a surplus of $26 million.
Jay Sekulow, CEO, and Pat Robertson, President, run the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which received a $1,232,300 PPP loan. Sekulow’s related organization Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, which also uses the tradename American Center for Law and Justice, reported $58 million in total assets of which $31 million are invested in publicly traded securities on its 2019 form 990.
Loans for Jets?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, religious organizations have been acquiring used jets at an alarming rate. Trinity Foundation has identified 10 jets certified for televangelists and religious organizations in 2020. Two of the jet owners received PPP loans. A list of the newly acquired jets is here.
Daystar acquired a Gulfstream G-V jet in April, days after being approved for a PPP loan of $3,913,200. On July 18th, the Lamb family traveled on the new ministry jet to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a summer vacation. On August 19th, the jet flew to Colorado Springs for the Messenger Cup, a golf fundraiser for Lisa and John Bevere’s Messenger International.
In response to Inside Edition investigating Daystar’s new jet, the TV network paid back its $3,913,200 loan with interest and claims that particular chunk of money was not used at all for the purchase of the jet.
Pastor James “Mac” Hammond’s Living Word Christian Center, not to be confused with televangelist Bill Winston’s church of the same name, acquired a Cessna 650 in October 2019 and a second jet–a Dassault Falcon 50–in March from televangelist Jesse Duplantis, only weeks before receiving a PPP loan of $2,782,600.
At the time of purchase, Hammond owned two jets, another Cessna 650 which has since been sold, and an Aero L-39 Albatross jet trainer.
The Prosperity Gospel
Some of the largest loan recipients are proponents of the prosperity gospel. If these televangelists are forced to rely on the federal government subsidizing them, then perhaps they should rethink their support of the prosperity gospel, because it is clearly not working for them.
It should be noted that most of the televangelists we investigate are known to receive what most would consider excessive compensation packages. Perhaps they wouldn’t “need” a loan if they practiced responsible financial stewardship.