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He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. -- 1Timothy 3: 4-7 (ESV)
Let me preface this by saying no one wins in stories like this. It is easy to want to bury our collective Christian heads in the sand and hide behind pious sound bites calling for prayers we probably will never offer. It is easier to rely on human tradition and wisdom rather than face some of the uncomfortable truths that the Bible teaches us. Everyone wants to sing that they are a "friend of God" but few want to dig into what He actually says. I feel badly for Israel Houghton, his wife, and his family. But I feel worse for the millions of people who have followed him throughout the years. I feel worse for the Christians who continue to be taught so poorly that they cannot look upon this recent fall from grace without abandoning the Bible they profess to follow. It gives me no joy beloved to have to write about this at all but the Bible compels us all to learn and grow not run and hide. Let us get into the specifics now.
First of all, I was all prepared to give Joel Osteen kudos in this story. I read today that Houghton had been relieved from his duties as worship leader at Lakewood due to the scandal involving his infidelity, divorce, and recent beachside jaunt with his new girlfriend. Placed on indefinite leave is how it was being reported. The first thing that came to my mind is that sounded like what should have happened. I was pleasantly surprised since Joel Osteen rarely does anything biblical but when you are there to criticize, you ought to give credit when things are done in accordance with Scripture. Unfortunately, it turns out those stories are untrue. Houghton's personal publicist has clarified that he is on a "personal sabbatical of his own choosing" and that he is still associated with Lakewood. Apparently an intern gave the false report without the authority to do so. So not only has Joel Osteen not correctly followed church discipline regarding his wayward worship leader but there are questions that need answered considering the statement made from Houghton regarding his infidelity:
"Several years ago I failed and sinned in my marriage. Though this is new to many, it is not new to us as we have been working through this for over 5 years. Although we tried, the challenges in our relationship have proven too much to overcome,"
Has anyone put two and two together? This statement makes it abundantly clear that Israel Houghton committed adultery five years ago. When did Osteen and the leadership at Lakewood know about it? That is five years that Houghton led the people of worship into the presence of God. Five years that he served as one of the leaders of that church. During those five years he put out two worship albums, one of which was entitled, "Jesus at the Center." He won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album just last year.
Beloved, I am not talking about perfection. No one is perfect. I am not talking about unforgiveness. God is always willing to forgive. When you aspire to a leadership position in the church a certain level of transparency is understood to go along with that. Just look at the key verses today, which are only a portion of the biblical qualifications to be a leader in the body of Christ. Yes, Israel was not a pastor or elder per se, but a Worship Leader by definition is a leader in the church. His responsibility is no less important as he leads the people of God into His presence. Even still, I think many would certainly allow the fallen star to settle his life in private except for the fact that he keeps dragging it out into the public. After announcing his divorce last month, Houghton was recently caught on camera with his new girlfriend on a Mexican vacation. This forced him to not only admit to the relationship but get defensive about it in a Facebook post:
In the midst of all that's going on in the world... Suffering, terrorism, deciding a future for our country, and making the world safer; it is sad that I am even having to address this matter... I understand that gossip and salacious untrue speculative stories are far more interesting and entertaining than the truth & facts. But, it's incredibly unfair to allow someone to carry the burden, blame & shame of something they had nothing to do with...I met Adrienne Bailon a bit over 2 years ago, we worked together & became friends... Our circles connected & we remained good friends. From a friendship, as two single adults we have very recently begun to explore a dating relationship. As I previously wrote in a statement I released a while back, My marriage had been over for quite some time before going public with my divorce announcement. Where I shared, or as some have pointed out 'over-shared' my failure in my marriage... From over 5 years prior. It seems to be simple math that I had not even yet met Adrienne during the time my marriage was falling apart. It deeply saddens me that an innocent party would be dragged into this situation that I have taken personal responsibility for. Adrienne is a woman of integrity & character... Most of all she is a true friend, and she should not be blamed for my past indiscretions. I assure you - I am willing to own my wrongs and I have in the past. God knows & sees all things. I appreciate your prayers, and I join you in praying for the issues of life that truly matter today all over the world.
Sorting through this only makes me sadder. Sadder that someone who is so prominent in the Christian sphere could exhibit such biblical illiteracy. I guess that should be expected if the only place he gets his teaching from is Joel Osteen but still this is beyond the pale. First let's cast aside the attempts to use the current world tragedies to downplay the seriousness of his own situation. I guarantee you this. God is more concerned about Israel's infidelity and divorce than He is concerned about the future of this country or terrorism. As for blaming his new girlfriend he is right. No one is to blame but himself. But note this little nugget of illiteracy:
"As I previously wrote in a statement I released a while back, My marriage had been over for quite some time before going public with my divorce announcement."
Sorry but this is simply not how it works. It is how the world thinks however. Israel was separated from his wife for a few years prior to the divorce but that does not mean his marriage was over as far as God was concerned. You can consider yourself divorced in your heart all you want but God does not see it that way at all. So he may not have met Adrienne until his marriage was already falling apart but that does not mean she didn't help finish it off. He did not over share about his failings beloved. He hid them for several years until he wanted to be able to take Mexican vacations with other women and feel justified in doing so. Here is the other 800 pound gorilla in the room. Israel Houghton is no longer allowed to date according to the Bible.
"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. -- Luke 16: 18 (ESV)
Christians always try and portray these teachings from Jesus as a "get out of marriage free" card but the reality is He is teaching about adultery, not divorce. There is no question that God hates divorce. All divorce. Why? Because it is breaking covenant with Him. It is the spiritual state of Israel for most of the Old Testament. It is the current state of the apostate church. The adultery in Israel's marriage was perpetrated by him. He already is an adulterer. Does God forgive the truly penitent heart? Absolutely but that does not mean that the rest of Scripture goes out the window. Forgiveness does not mean the act is approved. There are consequences for our actions. Also, the world tends to view the unmarried state as somehow being lesser but the Bible actually teaches that it is more desirable to stay single and the only reason given for mandatory marriage is to avoid burning with lust. I understand that these are hard teachings and certainly they have never been uttered at Lakewood Church but they remain the will of God nonetheless.
So what does it say when the worship leader of the largest church in America behaves in such a manner? Mind you I am not even talking about the original adultery in the marriage from several years ago. The act of sin is terrible in all of our lives but what follows it is what matters too. Israel Houghton led worship for five years following this while, in his own words, his marriage was falling apart. He continued to record worship music and win Grammy Awards. He continued to perform concerts singing that he was a "friend of God", while he was separated from his wife and was heading towards divorce. Then after this long road, less than one month after announcing his divorce he is caught on vacation with his new girlfriend? And he defends it? As if this is somehow all acceptable to God. As if this is somehow not in violation of multiple teachings. Where is his pastor amidst all of this? Where is Pastor Osteen in all of this? Please, do not speak about privacy. Israel Houghton has amassed a small fortune by selling his talents encased in Christianity. His position is one of public record and image. The key verses make it clear that transparency is to be expected. Add to that the fact that if you want people to respect your privacy about the divorce you announced in February, maybe you should not be seen kissing your new girlfriend alone on the Mexican Riviera in March.
So yes we ought to pray for Mr. Houghton. But not for his marriage which is now over. Certainly not for his new relationship, which continues the adultery he claims to have asked forgiveness for. We ought to pray that someone come alongside him and teach him biblical literacy. We ought to pray for the people sitting under the deception at Lakewood who still continue to look up to this fallen star and now have been given an unbiblical blueprint for post-divorce behavior. We ought to pray that Joel Osteen does the right thing for Houghton and for his flock and place him on the leave that was rumored incorrectly. That doesn't mean he doesn't love him but exactly the opposite. Love is not allowing the people we claim to care about to think they can do whatever they want. True love is showing them what Scripture says so they are in right standing with God. True love in this case for Pastor Osteen is caring about the flock, not just your superstar worship leader. So that they realize it is far more important to actually be a friend of God, rather than just sing you are.