Rap superstar Kanye West and televangelist Joel Osteen shared the pulpit Sunday at the latter’s Lakewood Church in Houston but the two can thank the Lord, and the IRS, for their high-profile preaching pair-up.
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Last month, appearing on CBS’ “Late Late Show with James Corden,” West said that last year he was $68 million in debt: “This year, I looked up, and I just got $68 million returned to me on my tax returns.”
The reason? "Jesus Christ," the rapper declared.
West’s taxing experience and his finding of faith led him ultimately to Osteen’s church, a former 16,000-seat sports arena that is the former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. It was a different type of tax problem that was integral to Osteen’s transforming the arena from a home of hoops to a home of hope.
On the Nov. 10 edition of his weekly half-hour TV show — in an episode entitled “Everything Serves His Plan” — Osteen recalled how one seemingly unconnected event led to Sunday’s superstar team-up.
“A few years after Victoria and I were married, we received an unexpected tax bill in the mail. The person who did our tax returns lived in another state,” Osteen recalled. “He was unfamiliar with a certain law in Texas. Now we owed thousands of dollars.”
The amount owed included big penalties, which Osteen said led to some doubts. “I thought, ‘God, this is not fair.’ I hired a professional, he messed up, now I’m having to pay for his mistakes."
Osteen proceeded to tell his Lakewood congregation as well as his TV viewers that he hired a tax attorney, who eventually after weeks of work straightened out the tax mess. Several years later he was working for his father, the late televangelist John Osteen, in the television department.
“Someone offered us a construction permit for the last full-power television station in Houston,” Osteen said. “A station in a big market, of course, is very valuable but I didn’t know anything about buying a construction permit. Then, I thought I’ll call my attorney friend, the one I met during the tax issue."
The attorney guided the Osteens through the process, and within months KTBU-55 was created, hitting the Texas airwaves on July 15, 1998.
“It was three years after that we acquired the Compaq Center,” Osteen said. Acquire, though, may be too strong a word. The Lakewood Church actually signed a 30-year lease with the City of Houston for the arena.
“It was going to cost $100 million to renovate,” Osteen said. “We decided to sell the station. We sold it for a significant profit. Those funds were instrumental in us renovating this facility. But it all started with the tax issue.”
The Houston Chronicle, noting the sale of KTBU, said Osteen and the church “more than tripled its $8 million investment in the station.” In 2010, Lakewood Church ultimately purchased the Compaq Center for $7.5 million.
There was plenty of money on the stage of the Lakewood Church. West’s worth varies on reports, but several sources have him slotted in the neighborhood of $250 million. Osteen shies in comparison, with his wealth estimated between $40 and $60 million. While Osteen no longer takes a salary from the church, he does very well with book sales, having authored or co-authored some dozen books, seven of which have been New York Times bestsellers.
Osteen’s church is the largest church in the United States with a budget to match — a reportedly $90 million. CBS News reported that the church collects nearly $75 million in "tithing" from the more than 40,000 people who attend the church's five services each week and the 7 million who watch on broadcast and cable television. Osteen also has a YouTube Channel with nearly 1.1 million more subscribers and a Sirius/XM satellite radio station.
Another area where Osteen's organization sees revenue is the “Night of Hope” tour, which is part concert, part old-time tent revival meeting. It visits more than a dozen cities annually. Ticket prices average about $30 but some seats are available for under $10, according to Ticketsmate. Some events are free, such as Monday night’s event in Gillette, Wyoming, where tickets were available on a first-come basis.
Coincidentally, West’s debut album, considered by many a hip-hop classic, is called “The College Dropout.” Both West and Osteen are college dropouts. With Osteen living in a $10.5 million mansion and West in a $20 million home, it appears these two college dropouts did just fine — even if you take into consideration they had, as they say, a little “help.”