What Is the Joel Osteen Scandal?

On December 31, 2014, the National Enquirer published a story alleging that megachurch pastor and bestselling author Joel Osteen was embroiled in a financial scandal. The Enquirer quoted a New York attorney as saying that Osteen uses his position as pastor of a non-profit church to promote his own products.

As of June 2015, no charges have been formally levied against Osteen, and it is not clear whether he has broken any laws. While he has been accused of using a non-profit organization to drive sales of his books and merchandise, doing so may not technically be illegal. The Christian website WND.com cites the Internal Revenue Service's rules for 501(c)3 non-profits, which state that: "an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual.” As it is Osteen himself, and not the church, who is receiving the profits of his books, it is likely that he is not committing any crime. However, his actions do raise questions about his motivations for operating as the leader of a megachurch. Many of his sermons contain appeals to buy his books, which have sold millions of copies. While it has been reported that he donates a large portion of his book royalties to the church, those claims have never been proven.