The Internet exploded with surprising vehemence a few days ago when atheists and Christians alike excoriated televangelist Joel Osteen over social media posts that Lakewood Church, the former Compaq Center Sports Arena, was closed and not assisting stranded Houston flood victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Osteen explained how Lakewood was coordinating fully at the direction of Houston officials on the type of aid and in accessing the necessary supplies and personnel to ensure the safety of the displaced Houston citizens. However, this was apparently not enough for the critics, who accused him only of helping in response to the social media vilification.

Roots of enmity and envy

Many on the secular and atheist Left gleefully piled on with accusations of hypocrisy, fleecing churchgoers ala Jim and Tammy Bakker, deriding his alleged right wing political positions, and smearing Christianity in general. Christians who claim Osteen is a false teaching preacher of the "prosperity gospel," or who feel he is insufficiently vocal about sin and other controversial issues, like abortion and LGBT marriage, accuse him of not being a "genuine" Christian.

Both camps try to use Osteen's wealth as a rationale for their vituperation.

With an estimated net worth of $50 million, Osteen's NY Times' best selling books and DVDs have been unquestionably very lucrative. However, the notion that men of the cloth are supposed to take a vow of poverty stems from Catholicism and is not part of most Protestant denominations. There is also no rule that states that ministers cannot have other careers - former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister, being just one famous example.

As someone whose father was hoodwinked in the past by Jim and Tammy Bakker, I am very leery of ministries that ask for donations every 10 minutes, or to attain a personal goal, like Pat Robertson or Oral Roberts. The notion that extra tithing will buy your way into material happiness and that the extent of one's faith is reflected in their material well being is my understanding of "prosperity gospel." That said, I have followed Joel Osteen for several years and even attended one of his live events, and I honestly do not categorize him in that group for the following reasons, which all debunk the "money grab" accusations:

  • Osteen emphasizes mention of other charities, such as Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse (which is working with Lakewood for Harvey relief), to check out and donate to if one so chooses.
  • I am not aware of multiple tithe requests within his services and certainly not at his live events.
  • Also like Billy Graham, he advises Christians to attend a local, Bible based church, not to eschew a real community for Lakewood on TV.

Too many people conflate one's calling with one's livelihood, and they are not always the same.

My father was a lay minister who never took a dime from the church. His profession was that of a CPA. Donald Trump makes his money from real estate, branding, and TV. He doesn't take any salary as President. Joel Osteen makes his money from writing and selling books, DVDs, and from touring in his live events. He has not taken a salary from Lakewood Church since his first book went on sale in 2005.

Some go so far as to make blatantly erroneous claims that he doesn't quote scripture, or emphasize sin.

A simple viewing of one of his sermons, replete with subtitled Bible verse references, and clicking onto the "What We Believe" section of the Joel Osteen website easily refute those accusations.

Fruits of the spirit

The false teaching accusation is one that most Christians opposed to Osteen readily level at the mention of his name. Surprisingly, the bulk of self-identifying Christian critics have never actually listened to much of his sermons and leap to an Antifa-like snap judgment without any analysis or evaluation.

While his message emphasizes forgiveness and positive faith more than guilt and self-castigation, I would compare it to that of Robert Schuller, or Norman Vincent Peale. Over the years, I would estimate close to three out of every four Osteen sermons emphasize turning the other cheek at micro aggressions, healing rifts between friends and family members, staying positive in faith during times of adversity, and patience during trials. No multiple calls for tithing to reach a ridiculous goal of getting him elected into political office or to fund an amusement park, or other kinds of snake oil salesman type schemes.

The fact that countless people have found God and Christian community through Osteen's messages show all the more how wrong the naysayers' Pharisee like judgments have been.

If Joel and Victoria Osteen ever get caught in a sex scandal, been proven to have stolen from Lakewood Church, or any other kind of irrefutable crime or impropriety, I am happy to re-evaluate my support, but unless that happens, I would ask the critics to judge their motives and values first, and look at the big picture the way God might, since all people are sinners.

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