Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! -- Isaiah 5: 20 (ESV)
Joel Osteen broke the Internet over this past weekend. When you run the largest church in America, tour the country with "Nights of Hope", and live in a 10 million dollar mansion I expect a little more than fumbled PR stunts and trying to recreate history. When people were shaming Osteen over the weekend I waited because I do not want to be unfair to anyone and I do not live in Houston. Come Tuesday morning however, we had enough credible reporting and the words of Joel Osteen himself to be able to draw several conclusions -- none of which were favorable to Osteen and the way this debacle was handled. Nevertheless I expected the Kool-Aid sycophants to come out in full force and they have not disappointed because in the last days church you can preach a false gospel but don't you dare say a word about my cult of personality pastor. But as the saying goes, politics also makes strange bedfellows and that includes the politics of church. Beloved, the church is a multi-million if not billion dollar industry and Joel Osteen is one of the kingpins. I remember when Mark Driscoll was trying to claw his way back into the sphere of church relevance Brian Houston agreed to interview him as part of the annual Hillsong conference on one condition. He had to apologize publicly during the interview to Joel Osteen for criticisms leveled against him earlier in Driscoll's career. After Driscoll was done kissing the ring he was soon back in good graces and welcomed back into the complex with loving arms. I say this as a backdrop to an article today (linked above) on Charisma News from Ed Stetzer, who claims to not be an Osteen fan but felt compelled to defend him. Of course he did. Though he may not agree with his false gospel they are both part of the same machine and rule number one is protect the brand. Let us reason together in reviewing this article and clearing up some of the smoke and mirrors being utilized by the Osteenites over the past couple of days.
"So, I never thought I'd write a post defending Joel Osteen. But, seriously, the floodgates of media unleashed against Joel Osteen, based on an unclear church statement and fanned by agenda-driven social media, tells me that we have a cultural problem. The fact that many Christians have joined in shows me it is a Christian problem. It's wrong in both cases, but disturbing to see some Christians joining in. It seems some Christians hate Joel Osteen more than they love the truth. I'd expect that from the world, but I hoped for better in the church." -- Ed Stetzer
Let the excuse making and recreation of history commence! The unclear church statement was actually a very clear statement that the church would be closed due to the storm making the surrounding access ways inaccessible. This was not vague or ambiguous. It was simply false. By the way, if they had just come out later and said they had mistakenly made that post then I think everyone moves on but instead they tried to cover up and pretend they were doing things they were not. It is not about hating Joel Osteen. I could care less. It is about the people of Houston. The world was busy helping the victims while "America's Pastor" was holed up in his mansion. Even local churches of much more meager means and resources had listed themselves as open shelters. How do we know this? Because in the follow up post from Lakewood on Sunday they directed people to shelters and listed other churches. Do you know who wasn't listed? Lakewood Church. So the notion that they did not close their doors is a lie. They purposefully guided people away from Lakewood and gave them other churches they could go to if they needed shelter. So there was no agenda driven social media. There was righteous and it appears correct outrage that a man who preaches puppies and pancakes for everyone was AWOL for the entire weekend while his city drowned. It is not a cultural problem. It is not a social media problem. It is a church problem because we refuse to call what is evil good, as the key verse teaches us we must.
"So we are clear, Osteen and I are not on the same page theologically. And I have serious problems with the prosperity gospel. Furthermore, his platitudes and lifestyle have not helped in this moment. But do we have to join the deluge of hatred toward him for what is a questionable situation--at best? In other words, I get people upset about Osteen's theology and approach to his work. But why are so many Christians joining in on spreading a false narrative about his actions in Houston? Apparently, Osteen had canceled church on Sunday, and the church indicated (perhaps inarticulately) that the church was impassible. (They did not say it was flooded, though who needs to worry about facts when we hate someone, right?) The church directed their people, and presumably others, to take shelter with friends, family or at the George Brown Convention Center. As the waters rose in Houston, social media spread the word that Lakewood Church, housed in a 16,800-seat arena, was turning people away who were seeking shelter. Nope. They said that is not what happened. Fast forward 12 hours, and the facts began to surface that the church itself was flooded in a few sections. And Lakewood responded that only three people came for shelter, and they had all been helped. So, well, maybe we might see that facts are our friends." -- Ed Stetzer
Only the corrupt church can paint Joel Osteen as the victim here. Let's examine this alleged false narrative argument. Osteen actually cancelled all weekend services and as outlined the reason was not "inarticulate." It was a lie. The post stated the church was inaccessible due to flooding but that was untrue. Ed Stetzer's comment here that they never mentioned flooding is equally untrue. Here is the post from Lakewood's Facebook page and to Joel's credit it is still up:
"Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!" -- Lakewood Church Facebook Page