Celebrity preacher faces backlash after photos purporting to show luxury lifestyle appear online

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, conducts a service at his church as Houston starts the process of rebuilding (Getty Images)
Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, conducts a service at his church as Houston starts the process of rebuilding (Getty Images)
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The Bible says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, but one celebrity pastor does not seem terribly concerned with the warning.

Joel Osteen, one of the wealthiest and most popular preachers in the US, has come under fire after evidence of his luxurious lifestyle was made public on social media.

Mr Osteen, who leads the Lakewood Church in Houston - one of the enormous congregations that are dubbed "megachurches" - was criticised after it was revealed the pastor owns a Ferrari sportscar that costs more than $300,000 dollars.

Users on Twitter lambasted the pastor, arguing his ownership of a Ferarri is a good argument for the government taxing churches.

"Ferrari is trending. That means either someone won a race or Joel Osteen took some of the money Jesus told him to give to the poor and went on another shopping spree," one user said.

Mr Osteen - whose net worth is estimated at more than $50m - is a the figurehead of what has become known as the "prosperity gospel," which teaches that material wealth is indicative of God's blessing on a person's life. Prosperity theology is especially lucrative for pastors, as it pushes the idea that those who give money to God will be blessed with money themselves. In churches that teach that philosophy, giving money to God, of course, means giving money to the church leaders.

That theology flies in the face of traditional Christian teaching, which promotes giving to the poor, being a good steward of one's resources, and sharing one's wealth with fellow Christians. Many protestant groups have criticised Mr Osteen and prosperity theology.

In addition to the Ferrari, Mr Osteen also owns a $10.5m mansion. He claims he takes no salary from his church, but manages to live his lavish lifestyle on the proceeds from his book sales.

Mr Osteen came under fire during the coronavirus pandemic for taking $4.4m in PPP federal funding for his church. That loan was one of the largest for any Houston area business or nonprofit.

The church defended the loan, claiming it has a staff of 368 full and part time employees who were in need of the assistance.

Mr Osteen's church also faced criticism during Hurricane Harvey after Mr Osteen appeared to balk at the idea of using the church to house refugees from the storm. After blowback, the church opened its doors to be used as a shelter. Mr Osteen maintains that the church was always open to take in refugees.

"We've always been open ... How this notion got started, that we're not a shelter and we're not taking people is a false narrative," he said.

The church later assisted in reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Harvey.

Mr Osteen did not immediately respond to enquiries from The Independent.

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