He doesn’t scam his congregation, he doesn’t cheat his congregation, and he doesn’t trick his congregation.
By Sean Hartman
Shortly after the recent devastation of Hurricane Harvey, a major fake news story broke that Pastor Joel Osteen and his church, Lakewood Church, was denying people access to shelter in the sanctuary.
The reason Lakewood Church gave was due to flooding, which made the Church inaccessible. Despite many fake news journalists attempting to discredit this with out-of-context videos—videos that were 1) only showing part of the Church, 2) did not show the damage or inside the actual property of the Church, and 3) was taken after flooding subsiding, thereby not taking into consideration post-flooding structural damage which could be a major safety hazards—the evidence is clear that Lakewood was denying access due to safety.
The Church had already planned to open when it was safe, and even before the other “fake news” story that the Church caved to public pressure, had taken 300 displaced Houstonians. In addition, it was already planning to provide free items for victims, and partnering with other charities, with Pastor Osteen himself donating thousands of dollars of his own income to help his fellow Houstonians.
This however, does not matter to the fake news critics of Pastor Osteen, as they see him as a consistent enemy of their Christian faith. Yes, many of these critics are Christians themselves, who like to argue Pastor Osteen is a “false prophet” preaching heresy and selling snake oil.
Now, I am a fan of Pastor Osteen. I listen to his sermons before going to bed, and I consider him my main pastor, albeit one with a digital relationship. And I had always known he had his fair share of critics within Christianity. Even myself, I began questioning his validity as a Christian pastor.
But at the end of the day, I realized that Pastor Osteen was sound in his knowledge of Scripture and his abilities as a reverend. Certainly not to be deified, as many of his church do, at the same time, I feel many of the criticisms of Rev. Osteen are unfounded.
Right now, I want to delve into three of the biggest criticisms of Rev. Osteen, and counter-argue those critiques in hopes of clearing the air.
Before I begin, one final note. Rev. Osteen is very much a positive individual. The “Smiling Preacher” had had many sermons about not addressing enemies and critics, which is why he rarely does, and also why he blocks critics. It is NOT to hide from the truth; rather, it is because he believes in positivity and negative people are, to him, agents of Satan, to which I would agree.
Now on to the criticisms:
- Rev. Osteen “Prosperity” Preaching Is Heresy
This tends to be the main argument against Pastor Osteen, that his sermons and teaching are in fact heretical. They feel his main tenet, about God wanting us to be “prosperous”, goes against mainstream Christian teachings, which alone immediately should lead to his excommunication.
But what I find from those who criticize Pastor Osteen by his sermons is that they are not well-versed in them. Again, I spend almost every night listening to a sermon of his before bed. A different sermon is on almost hourly on his radio station.
What I have learned, that many of his critics fail to realize, is that though his sermons do delve primarily in “prosperity”, he delves into many other aspects of Gospel and Scripture.
He has delved into morality and sin at least three times in sermons I have heard, specifically into how to turn from temptation, and how to be righteous with God.
He has delved many times into the forgiveness and love of Christ. How if you are a sinner, then God still loves you and always will. How you must forgive yourself, for God has forgiven you.
He has delved into God as vindicator and defender. How should your enemies seek to destroy you—like certain people are trying to destroy Rev. Osteen—God will go before you and protect you.
He has delved into trusting in God, that God has provided your path for you, and that every struggle you experience was put forth by God to make you better.
He has delved into the importance of family, of being a good spouse, a good parent, a good son or daughter.
Yes, his sermons have delved quite a bit into prosperity teachings, and those are the most famous and most shared. But any devout Lakewood follower knows that Pastor Osteen has delved many times into a wide variety of mainstream Christian topics, just as often as prosperity teachings.
Which brings to the second point here—the “heresy” of prosperity.
A lot of Christians feel that teaching about God wanting us to be prosperous is heresy, because it teaches greed and promotion of self. God wants us to give, not to receive.
Let’s dismiss Item #1, that prosperity is heresy. The Gospels delve many times into God wanting us to be prosperous. The most obvious of this is in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open for you.”
In fact, Christ many times talks about not worrying about material things, stating that God would provide such things. Christ is clear, that by being righteous, you will be provided with what you need.
So, what is “prosperity” than? Just that—what you need. Pastor Osteen delved into this issue many times in his sermons. Prosperity is not a greedy thing. It is gaining wealth for wealth’s sake. In fact, prosperity has nothing to do with wealth.
Even further, prosperity is not always what you want it to be. Rev. Osteen delves many times in his sermons that sometimes the thing you desire or ask for is not what God will give you, and you must accept it, for God will always have something better in store.
To Rev. Osteen, prosperity is essentially about security. It means having good health, it means having a strong relationship with your family. It does mean strong financial security, but not just for your prosperity, but so that way you may give unto others as Christ asks of us too.
In fact, any time Rev. Osteen mentions wealth, he follows it up with the moral necessity to use that wealth for good works.
One can reasonably not help others if one is not able to help themselves, i.e., be prosperous. If you do not have good finances, or good health, or have troubles elsewhere, you cannot be out there assisting the less fortunate. Prosperity, to a Lakewood follower, is less about greed and more about security of self.
- Rev. Osteen Is Too Wealthy
This is a major one too, and one that I will admit I have the most trouble with. Bbefore I begin, I want to be clear—I do absolutely believe that Pastor Osteen should have a lesser net worth and should use more of that wealth to help the poor.
It seems however that people are angry less that he is wealthy, but that he has money. Many bring up the doctrines about Christ stating to potential followers that should they be perfect, to sell everything and follow Him.
To those who make that criticism, I ask—have you done so? As a Christian, have you sold all you have?
Let’s even argue you haven’t, and that doing so is illogical, of which I agree. You may argue that Pastor Osteen, as I do, should have less wealth and give more to others.
But then I argue this: have you used your personal wealth for luxuries? Have you or your family gone on vacations recently? Did you have to, or could that money have been better spent on the poor?
Do you have a nice car, a nice house? Do you need that, or can you sell that to help the poor? Will you allow the homeless to stay in your house?
Did you eat at a nice restaurant? Could you have eaten cheap and used that money to feed a homeless person?
As Christ has said “First cast the beam out of thine own eye.” Many of the critics are angry Pastor Osteen lives in luxury, yet fail to recognize that they themselves live in their own luxuries comparative to the poor, luxuries they would not want to sacrifice.
In fact, let’s argue it even further. To those critics, how many have volunteered to help the poor? How many have donated to the poor? How much of their net worth have they donated?
Many will say slim-to-none. Yet Pastor Osteen has donated a good portion of his income to charitable causes.
Again, “First cast the beam out of thine own eye.”
- Rev. Osteen Is a Scam Artist
One of the biggest misconceptions about Pastor Osteen is that he is a part of the “Prosperity Gospel” Movement. The Prosperity Gospel Movement is a scam movement by many preachers who preach that by giving alms to their church, you can bring forth the desired prosperity that they, and Pastor Osteen, preaches.
You have heard of the Prosperity Gospel after it was covered on Last Week Tonight w/ John Oliver. Oliver discussed the sad truth that many of these Prosperity Gospel churches use this scam to line their own pockets, with preachers like Pastors Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar living much more luxurious lifestyles than Pastor Osteen.
The reason for the association is primarily guilt by association. All of those preachers preach prosperity as an aspect of God’s gift to the righteous. All three reverends also tend to be associated with the Charismatic Movement, a movement dealing with spiritual gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, as well as the Word of Faith Movement, which focuses a lot on vocal, positive confessions to God.
But if one watches that special, at no point does John Oliver mention Pastor Osteen. And that’s because Pastor Osteen does not scam people using his church.
Pastor Osteen never states that by giving to his church you will gain prosperity. If you experience the whole Sunday service, he does not even bring up alms giving outside of the normal plate collection process that occurs at basically every worship service throughout the nation.
Pastor Osteen’s wealth is made from his income from his church, as well from the sales of his successful books and products. You may argue he is overpaid, but it can’t be argued that he was paid unfairly. He doesn’t scam his congregation, he doesn’t cheat his congregation, and he doesn’t trick his congregation.
Now can you argue his “positive thinking” preaching is a scam? Yes. But sort of in the same way that one can argue all religion is a scam. If one preaches anything out of the ordinary, certainly logical skeptics will find reasonable fault. But at the end of the day, he is not purposefully scamming or embezzling from his church. It’s all on the up-and-up.
Sean Hartman is a Junior at the University of Central Florida, studying Political Science. He previously served as the Vice President of the Southwest Florida Young Republicans and as Assistant Regional Coordinator to the Ted Cruz For President campaign. He described himself as a “Professional Political Nuisance” and labels his political views as “classical liberalism”.