$600,000 in donations were stolen recently from the safe at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. The Houston Chronicle and Fox 26 report the theft included $200,000 in cash along with check and credit card donations given during the Saturday and Sunday services.
Details are scarce as the police conduct an investigation.
Commissary, the Christian songwriter, tweeted, "Can't tell you how many times I saw people poke fun at Joel Osteen's theft situation today on social media." He also asked the question, "When is theft ever funny?"
Here are a couple of questions that come to my mind:
- Who had access to the safe?
- Was an alarm system disabled or never turned on?
- Are there any signs of forced entry?
- Did security cameras pick up anyone when the church offices were closed?
Embezzlement of church and ministry funds is a serious matter. According to a report in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Christian leaders will embezzle an estimated $39 billion in 2014.
This theft was most likely committed by a church employee, usher or deacon that helped collect the offering, or by someone that cased the church for weeks to determine where the money was kept and how to evade security.
The Lakewood Church theft might be described as skimming which Wikipedia describes as "direct theft of the cash; in addition to hiding it from tax authorities, the perpetrator hides the taking from an employer, business partners, or shareholders."
In 2008 Catholic priest Steven Patte was caught skimming money before it was deposited in the bank. The Chicago Tribune reported, "A Chicago police detective who belonged to the parish's finance committee grew suspicious about accounting discrepancies and placed a marked $100 bill in the collection plate ... Later, when the bill disappeared, Patte was confronted and allegedly admitted that he took the money for his personal use."