September 20, 2012

Joel Osteen: America’s Cheerful Waffler

Joel Osteen and his wife, Victoria. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Joel Osteen, the ever optimistic megachurch pastor and televangelist has been hitting the media circuits this week promoting his new book, I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life. Osteen is the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston,  reportedly the largest church in America, with 43,000 people in attendance each Sunday and millions more through internet and television broadcasts. Though Osteen is primarily known for his “prosperity gospel” books and sermons, as a prominent evangelical figure, the megachurch pastor is often asked to share his opinion on political issues.

Osteen tries to avoid contentious topics and on CNN’s Piers Morgan show (where he has made multiple appearances), Morgan called him out for waffling on important issues. When asked his view of the death penalty, Osteen answered: “You know, it’s a complicated issue, Piers. I haven’t thought a whole lot about it … it’s hard for me.” Morgan told him: “You can’t be the man who influences millions of people and sit on the fence about key moral issues like that.”

The televangelist explained he would like to be able to give everyone a “second chance,” but he still believes people must face consequences for their actions. Osteen concluded: “I believe in our system of justice” and in “people smarter than me that make all the laws.”

Similarly, on CBS This Morning, show co-host Norah O’Donnell asked Osteen what he thought of the presidential race. Again, Osteen hesitated and answered, “Well … it’s an interesting contest, it’s a difficult time for America and so I admire the candidates for running … it’s a hard job, you know, the scriptures tell us to pray for our leaders.” When O’Donnell asked him why he avoids discussing political issues, he said “I feel like I’m called to reach the general public. And if you start dividing yourself, saying ‘I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican,’ fifty percent don’t agree. I want to throw a broad message of hope to everyone and not have someone turn me off because of my political preferences.”

Osteen’s sunny brand of Christianity leaves little room for delving into serious issues like the death penalty, or any decisive issue in the 2012 presidential election. Previously, the pastor of 43,000 was hesitant to state his view on homosexuality until Oprah interrogated him about the issue a few months ago. I would not expect (or want) him to blatantly campaign for either candidate, but Piers Morgan was right to tell Osteen that as a pastor, he has a responsibility to address serious moral issues – even when they happen to collide with politics.

But Osteen’s theology is too flimsy to answer questions that might make some people dislike him or feel a bit uncomfortable. His books read more like self-help, even new age motivational messages than serious lessons in Christian discipleship, and his most recent is no different. I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life claims to teach Christians how to verbalize their way out of life’s unpleasant circumstances. According to Osteen’s website, after reading and applying the lessons in the book, you will “watch your surroundings change in incredible ways. You will move forward to a promising future from the fruit of your words!”

On CBS This Morning, Osteen explained the message of his book:

“A lot of people have had negative things spoken over them, they weren’t raised in a good environment like I was. They get up every day and they don’t realize it, but they’re speaking defeat, and [saying] ‘I’m not attractive, and nothing good ever happens to me.’ … If you start the day negative, you’re going to draw in negative. So I like to turn it around and say ‘Lord, I want to thank you that this is going to be a great day’ I mean all of us that live here in America, places that I’m sure we’ve all traveled, I mean we can feel very blessed just to have peace and security … You have to get your words going in the right direction or your life is just going to continue to go the wrong way.”

One of Osteen’s “declarations” proclaims God “has solutions to every problem I will ever face already lined up … The right people and the right breaks are in my future. I will fulfill my destiny. This is my declaration.” In the book he shares an anecdote about a man he knew who always “had a negative report.” This man ultimately ended up becoming sick and died at age 55. Osteen writes: “I couldn’t help but think he had been predicting this sad end his entire life … He got what he was calling in.”

I can’t help but wonder what Osteen thinks of Jesus, a “man of sorrows” who told his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble.” Or Paul writing from prison: “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Was Paul imprisoned for being too much of Debbie Downer? What about Christians facing persecution in North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries where believers’ lives are at risk daily because of their faith?

I suspect Osteen might evade answering such questions.


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  • Mary M

    So very sad. This type of “Christianity” keeps so many people in bondage. “If only I had done this, or said that then God would bless/love me.” “If I was a better person, or was more positive or ___ .” It is not good psychology and even worse religion. So very sad.

  • Eddie

    Ugh. Those plastic grins are the faces of modern impotent evangelicism. Light, fluffy, feel-good, unintelligible, and powerless represent Christian teaching.

  • J S Lang

    I am no fan of Mr. S. E. Grin, but he was right to waffle on capital punishment, given that there is no clear biblical mandate for or against it. As for the upcoming election, I know many conservative pastors who will not endorse from the pulpit.

    • Rusty Abbott

      Excuse me, you must be reading a different Bible than I am. The Bible CLEARLY mandates capital punishment for certain offences!

      • J S Lang

        Would you approve of enforcing the Old Testament law about death to adulterers? I mean, that would turn Hollywood and Washington into ghost towns, but it does seem rather severe, doesn’t it?

        The Old Testament does mandate capital punishment, the New Testament doesn’t, plus the New urges us to tilt toward mercy. I happen to believe, strongly, in capital punishment for certain offenses, especially when there is no doubt whatever of the person’s guilt, but I have evangelical friends who differ with me on this. We do agree that it ought to be reserved for the worst offenses, since we don’t want to go back to England in the 1700s where you could be executed for stealing sheep. Obviously there were “Christian” nations that, at times in the past, were not only unmerciful in their punishments, but which were even more severe than “eye for an eye.”

      • http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com John McAdams

        It doesn’t help to say the Old Testament should be blow off. Paul tells the Romans that God put the sword of the state over them. Not the social worker. Not the jailer (although that was also the case). But the sword.

        • J S Lang

          I don’t recall saying anything about “blowing off” the Old Testament. But I don’t know any Christian who puts the Old Testament on the same level as the New. Read Paul’s epistles to see his attitude toward the Law. And by the way, since you didn’t read my comment too closely, I’ll repeat what I said there: I support capital punishment. Really. Period. But I’m not ready to say mine is THE Christian position. There are areas where Christians can disagree.

          If I could get back to Osteen: he was asked his opinion – as a Christian – on capital punishment. He waffled. I posted my first comment to the effect that, with this particular issue, he was probably right to waffle, since there is disagreement among Christians on the issue. Obviously it is not a minor issue, since a human being’s life is at stake. I find it very cowardly when pastors follow the liberal (cowardly) route and refuse to call a sin a sin. THAT kind of waffling is inexcusable. However, regarding capital punishment, it is hard to know what the “sin” would be. Showing mercy? You cannot make a case for capital punishment based on the New Testament. Paul was stating a fact – the state has the power of he sword – and a fact is not the same as a mandate. God gave the state power to punish offenders. In Paul’s day many offenses were punished by death. In our own day, thankfully, only the most serious offenses are. Paul accepted that the government of his time executed many people. Were he living today, do you think he would accept that serious offenders get life sentences – or do you think he would INSIST that they be executed? What happened to the “blessed are the merciful” attitude? A life in prison isn’t exactly a slap on the wrist, is it? Some people might argue it is even worse than execution.

          For awhile I enjoyed visiting this website, but I’m going to sign off. I’ve gotten very nasty, spiteful comments from liberals who don”t a clue what a rational argument is. But now, with these comments on Osteen, I’m getting flack from people who talk as if being faithful to the Bible means following the Old Testament mandates on capital punishment, who have no clue of basic principles interpretation of the Bible, as in confusing Paul’s statement of fact (the state bears the sword) with a Christian mandate (Christians must support capital punishment). I guess our culture with its short attention span has taken its toll on everyone, ditto for this rude, hostile Internet culture where Christians seem to feel no obligation to listen to fellow Christians to debate with basic courtesy. You shouldn’t treat fellow believers as enemies, folks – there is very nasty secular culture out there that ought to bond us together, but obviously that isn’t the case.

          Good luck, and try a little kindness for a change. And remember what Jesus said about being accountable for every word.

  • Lisa

    @J S Lang-“purge the evil from among you”. -Capital punishment. How broad is the way and wide is the path that accommodates the followers of this teacher?

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  • Betsy

    Venerable Servant Father Solanus Casey was known for saying, thank God ahead of time, but I’m sure he meant it in a completely different way.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    Neither Caesar nor Mammon will love you; they see you as food. Jesus will love you and gives you Himself as food. The contrast could not be more clear.

  • TheHawk1776

    @J S Lang

    See:

    Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:14, Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 20:27, Leviticus 18:6-18 Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 18:20

    and others

    these passages are confirmed through Matthew 5:17-20 wherein Christ has stated he did not come to abolish the Old Law, but to fulfill it and form a new and everlasting covenant

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  • http://www.stearnsybears.com Charles

    Thank goodness you had the courage to write a strongly worded column. They do so much to help people.