I’m no fan of Joel Osteen, but …

September 2, 2017


In the words of Damon Linker,  “Twitter is destroying America.” It victimizes even the offensive.

Take Joel Osteen, the senior pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, which holds 16,800 seats and plays host to 52,000 weekly attendees. Despite his disclaimers , Osteen at least veers close to promoting the Prosperity Gospel, which says God inevitably blesses the sanctified with health and wealth. It’s a disturbing, offensive teaching. Heretical, even — which is why many lick their chops over Osteen’s potential demise.

The opportunity arrived with Hurricane Harvey and its consequent flood. Initial reports suggested Osteen’s church closed its doors to the hurricane’s refugees. Tweets spread like Beijing smog. One Facebook commentator reviled him: “I always hated him. He’s a snake oil salesman that takes advantage of stupid people.”


Turns out there’s more to the story. Church spokesman Don Iloff said Lakewood leaders contacted city and county officials and planned outreach efforts. Faithwire  interviewed him and wrote:

But considering that the church’s building — inside what was once the Compaq Center sports arena — is prone to flooding, Iloff said that Lakewood chose to instead focus its energies on the ways in which the church could serve as a food and resource distribution center, among other outreach efforts.

And considering that Houston officials had set up shelters throughout the city — including a massive location at the George R. Brown Convention Center just five miles from Lakewood — Iloff said that the church had planned to host people in the event that those locations were full or at capacity.

Iloff also noted that, while Lakewood was more than willing to make-do and house people, unlike the convention center, Lakewood has “no showers” and no kitchen, making the church more of an emergency shelter than anything else. Initially, the church waited to hear from city officials and planned to respond if needed.

Still, Iloff continuously affirmed that the bigger issue that impacted the decision to not immediately serve as a shelter centered on the building’s history of flooding.

Another Facebook commentator said this:

The reality is they had some flooding and the building is in a flood prone area, there have been enough issues in the past that the city installed flood walls and gates around the coliseum when the city owned it. As a former fire and EMS officer, I was involved in disaster planning, and I can tell you no on-scene commander worth their salt would utilize a flood prone building as a shelter while the water was rising. For that matter, they would not want any more people there than necessary.

And then there are all those complications when we zoom in, up close and personal. As Kate Bowler said:

I’ve been studying the American prosperity gospel for more than a decade, and I have come to the stunning conclusion that Joel Osteen seems to be a pretty nice guy. He is the cheery advertisement for the 606,000-square-foot Lakewood Church and, with the gorgeous Victoria by his side, tours the country in packed-out arenas to bring “A Night of Hope” — a religion-lite, inspirational speech set to music. And, for those who don’t mind waiting a few minutes after the service, he will shake your hand and tolerate your comment about how his hair looks even better in real life. It does.

Christianity Today’s Ed Stetzer noticed that many of the salivating tweeters were Christians. He blogged an entry entitled, “Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love The Truth. And That’s Wrong.” He elaborated: “It seems that the brother of Jesus had something to say about being quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to get enraged,” and he advised a fourfold approach: Stop the selective listening; speak without the rage; tweet retractions; and be silent (until you have all the facts).

I’ll add my own advice: Resist personal judgement. I won’t question Osteen’s sincerity. I’m convinced that Prosperity teaching violates the Gospel and I’ll argue against it. I guess it’s snake oil in that sense, but Osteen may honestly think the oil is real medicine. Questioning his sincerity is above my pay grade.

And, frankly, I don’t hate him even though I don’t like his permanent smile. I just don’t.

So arrest me.

About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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One Comment on “I’m no fan of Joel Osteen, but …”

  1. The Inner Circle Says:

    Joel Osteen and his ilk are of the devil…..of course he is happy,have you seen the amassed wealth he has off the backs of those blind sheep? He deserves every piece of scorn hurled at him.


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