PolitiFact debunks false claims American megachurches aren’t helping Ukrainians

Parishioners of Lakewood Church, led by Pastor Joel Osteen, pray together during a service at the church in Houston, Texas, on September 3, 2017. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Megachurches in the United States are doing their part to help raise funds and supplies to help those impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine despite false posts on social media, including one from a widely-followed liberal Facebook page, claiming otherwise.

In a fact check published Thursday, PolitiFact took aim at widely-shared posts on Facebook and Twitter that combine a photograph of televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston and the words: “Funny how we haven’t seen a single American megachurch offer ANYTHING to the Ukrainians…” 

The meme described above was published by “The Other 98%,” a Facebook page with over 6.6 million followers known for posting memes that advance a liberal narrative, on March 5. The post was shared 22,000 times and received 40,000 likes. 

Another tweet from March 14 retweeted over 2,000 times claims: “You’ll notice that you haven’t seen one multimillion dollar tax exempt MegaChurch or their grifting sinister millionaire owners sending relief or supplies to Ukrainian refugees, which isn’t surprising because they don’t even help U.S. citizens during times of disaster.”

However, such claims are false as several megachurches — typically defined as churches with 2,000 or more members — have announced efforts to help Ukrainians. Additionally, megachurches have assisted in efforts to help those impacted by past natural disasters. 

Churches with ongoing efforts to help Ukrainians include John Hagee’s Gateway Church in Texas, The Rock Church in San Diego, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, California and Lakewood Church. 

“We rate posts that say no megachurches are raising money for Ukraine relief False,” PolitiFact declared. 

PolitiFact was not alone. also felt the need to publish a report tackling the false posts, stating: “American megachurches are actively raising funds to support Ukrainians.”

On March 7, Lakewood Church shared a Facebook video featuring Osteen’s brother, Dr. Paul Osteen, talking about the church’s efforts to help Ukrainians.

“We are doing what we can do to help partner churches in Slovakia who are helping refugees fleeing the war,” Osteen says in the clip. “We’re looking for opportunities to work with refugees in Poland, and with our long standing partnership with Dr. Todd and Sue Price, we’re working inside of Ukraine to help those who are in the midst of the conflict right now.”

John Osteen, Joel and Paul’s father, raised donations to help build a church in Ukraine in 1996, and that church is now feeding refugees, the video says.

Similarly, Warren’s Saddleback Church has deployed an advanced relief team to connect with local pastors in Ukraine and Poland caring for hundreds of Ukrainian refugees. A March 12 update from Saddleback’s Advance Relief Team details some of the work being done at a border crossing in Medyka, Poland, to help refugees who fled the invasion. 

“We’re traveling in three large vans so we can take refugees back to Warsaw or any other stop along the way,” the update reads. 

“The thread in all of this chaos seems to be the concept of relocation. There are - very intentionally - no refugee camps. Everybody gets transported to a local mall that functions as a distribution center. In the first room of the mall, drivers register with their ID. They give their destination and number of passengers. There seems to be an official registration system that provides some level of tracking and safety for both drivers and refugees. The danger of human trafficking at any of these arrival spots is glaringly obvious.”

Saddleback’s website also invites people to help and has provided multiple updates on its efforts in the region.

The multi-site Gateway Church in Texas has established a crisis relief fund devoted to Ukraine to which it's encouraging members to donate. 

The Rock Church in San Diego is working with its partner organization, Crisis Response International. The church informed PolitiFact that it’s in the process of establishing a Ukraine relief fund.

Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, partners with humanitarian and disaster relief organizations Convoy of Hope and World Vision, which have operations on the ground in Ukraine.

According to the United Nations migration organization, nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, and over 3.2 million have fled the country since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24. 

“The pace and magnitude of the internal displacement and refugee exodus from Ukraine, as well as resulting humanitarian needs, will only increase if the situation deteriorates,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said, according to AFP.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday it had recorded 2,149 civilian casualties, including 816 killed and 1,333 injured.

Those dead include 152 men, 116 women, seven girls, 16 boys, 36 children and 489 adults whose sex is not yet known. But the OHCHR reported that “the actual figure could be much higher."

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the OHCHR statement said.

Many international Christian relief agencies, including Samaritan’s Purse, Slavic Gospel Association and World Help, are sending aid and helping local churches in Ukraine meet the needs of internally displaced people.

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