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We are all used to seeing the extravagant homes of rich entertainers, businesspeople, and politicians. It’s not even considered unusual to find social media stars securing luxury Los Angeles pads. Yet, one group that doesn’t get enough scrutiny surrounding their lavish homes and lifestyles is those at the head of religious organizations.
One of the most prominent is Joel Osteen. This televangelist has amassed a staggering fortune as the head of Lakewood Church — a megachurch in Houston, Texas — where he promotes prosperity gospels. Recently, this wealth has allowed him to purchase a mansion in the exclusive River Oaks residential community in Houston.
Osteen’s mansion sits in the Tall Timbers subdivision of the River Oaks area of Houston, Texas. Considered to be one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, River Oaks became an annexed community in 1927. It is surrounded by amenities geared toward the super-wealthy. A country club, a historic shopping center, and several private schools are in and around the area. The neighborhood also houses several other celebrities and business leaders.
The mansion itself is a 17,000 square foot stone building surrounded by 1.86 acres of land. It is reported to have 6 bedrooms and the same number of bathrooms. Additionally, there is a separate 1-bedroom guest building on the property, a swimming pool, and a pool house. Somewhat befitting an opulent mansion property, the main house is outfitted with no less than 3 elevators.
When Osteen purchased the property back in 2010, it was valued at around $10.5 million. Though, this wasn’t the only outlay for a mansion of this stature. The family paid the first year’s property taxes in advance, which amounted to a hefty $260,000.
This megamansion is far from the only significant property Osteen has interests in. Though the family moved to the Tall Timbers property, they chose to retain their 5,600 square foot property in the Tanglewood area of Houston, which was valued at around $2.9 million. The family reportedly sold off a 0.5-acre plot next to the house for $1.1 million.
Perhaps the most property-based criticism has been drawn to the megachurch itself. As Senior Pastor of the Lakewood Church, Osteen holds sway over the use of the 16,800 capacity former Compaq center. Aside from the sheer size of the church, the main issues came during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017.
The response and recovery of any natural disaster are dependent on the efforts and commitment of skilled humanitarian aid workers. They design protocols to handle the immediate public needs during a crisis and obtain resources accordingly. During Harvey, Houston residents believed the Lakewood church building wasn’t being used sufficiently to provide shelter and support for displaced members of the community.
While the accusations flew around social media, later investigations found this view didn’t quite tally with the evidence. There were initial photos showing flooding around the church property and in the days after the hurricane there were accounts of its use as a designated warming center. Still, the fact remains the church elected not to use the property for temporary housing until the city shelters were filled. Not to mention the organization's responses for help could certainly be considered sluggish.
So how does a televangelist like Osteen fund such a lavish lifestyle and opulent home? Well, religion is big business. Indeed, his church received so much funding that in 2014, $600,000 in cash and checks kept on the Lakewood premises were in a position to be stolen. This year, a contractor accidentally discovered the stolen money to have been mysteriously hidden in the walls of Lakewood Church.
Osteen certainly doesn’t come from old money. So often we see our society enables a system of cyclical wealth in which generations inherited resources from rich parents. These people are then subject to unearned privileges and perpetuate a toxic system of inequality. Osteen inherited the position of senior pastor from his father, John. But the church’s rise to wealth and popularity occurred after the younger Osteen took the role in 1999. However, this is not to say Osteen isn’t now privy to the lower relative cost of lifestyle and greater socioeconomic power maintains new cycles of wealth.
Osteen states he doesn’t take the traditional $200,000 salary from his position, but rather his wealth is the product of book deals and speaking engagements. Yet his ability to succeed is certainly driven by the continued prominence of a church that purports a divine right to prosperity.
Joel Osteen is senior pastor of the Lakewood Church, and his current River Oaks mansion is reflective of the prosperity the organization promotes. He has certainly seen his share of controversy both surrounding his attitude to wealth and the actions of the church during periods of crisis. The Houston mansion is another of the many rewards Osteen is reaping not necessarily through ethical social actions. Rather, it is through his position as the driving force of a successful religious business model.