People Like Joel Osteen Are A Big Reason Why Americans Are Dumping Religion

Houston megachurch pastor was reluctant to help Harvey victims — after all, that’s not where the money is.

On Monday, mil­lion­aire pas­tor Joel Osteen taught more Americans via his actions than he’ll ever do in a ser­mon. At least ini­tial­ly, Osteen refused to open the doors of his Houston megachurch to peo­ple dis­placed by Tropical Storm Harvey. Even though he even­tu­al­ly reversed him­self and defend­ed his con­duct in eva­sive media inter­views, Osteen’s mes­sage was clear: Don’t count on reli­gious lead­ers to do what’s right.

That mes­sage is one that many have been hear­ing for quite some time, as American Protestantism has moved from focus­ing on hum­ble pub­lic ser­vice to greed and naked polit­i­cal ambi­tion. Some, like Dallas pas­tor Robert Jeffress, man­age to pur­sue both simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. In 2013, he fin­ished con­struc­tion on a $130 mil­lion church cam­pus in Dallas, a project which he claimed was about glo­ri­fy­ing God, instead of mam­mon.

In these tough eco­nom­ic times, we want­ed to use our gifts to build a church that pro­vides spir­i­tu­al growth and heal­ing while seek­ing to reflect the splen­dor and majesty of God,” he said at the time. A year ear­li­er, he had claimed that then-pres­i­dent Barack Obama was “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”

Jeffress made those com­ments dur­ing the 2012 elec­tion cam­paign, in the con­text of his sup­port of that year’s Republican nom­i­nee, Mitt Romney. Just four years pri­or, the Baptist min­is­ter had claimed that Romney’s Mormon faith was a “cult” whose mem­bers were going to hell. In a 2016 move that sur­prised no one, Jeffress was one of Donald Trump’s ear­li­est endorsers.

Osteen is dif­fer­ent from some of his evan­gel­i­cal col­leagues in that he has gen­er­al­ly shied away from polit­i­cal involve­ment. Despite hav­ing called Trump “a friend of our min­istry” and “a good man,” he has not endorsed polit­i­cal can­di­dates. What Osteen has endorsed, how­ev­er, is what many crit­ics have called the “pros­per­i­ty gospel,” the idea that God not only wants to bless believ­ers spir­i­tu­al­ly but wants to bless them finan­cial­ly as well.

Lakewood church

We just feel like this is God’s bless­ings,” he said dur­ing a 2012 inter­view with Oprah Winfrey. “You know, we’re big givers, we live what we preach, we’ve giv­en mil­lions of dol­lars. And I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong with hav­ing a nice place to live and being blessed.”

To his cred­it, Osteen does not draw a salary from his Lakewood Church nor does he direct­ly ask his fans for mon­ey, unlike many oth­er osten­si­bly reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions. Last year, a Canadian reli­gious group called Gospel for Asia was accused of abscond­ing with more than $90 mil­lion in dona­tions. Nonetheless, Osteen’s fol­low­ers have cer­tain­ly ponied up bigly. His orga­ni­za­tion report­ed­ly has an annu­al bud­get of more than $70 mil­lion, and the church facil­i­ty he orig­i­nal­ly declined to open up to flood refugees was pre­vi­ous­ly the home are­na of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

Osteen’s views on wealth and his osten­ta­tious style (he lives in a $10.5 mil­lion man­sion and is esti­mat­ed to be worth about $40 mil­lion) are a pro­nounced depar­ture from tra­di­tion­al Christian teach­ings about “the love of mon­ey” being the root of all evil, how dif­fi­cult it is for a rich per­son to live a life wor­thy of God and how the mate­ri­al­ly dis­ad­van­taged are regard­ed more favor­ably by the divine.

Osteen’s the­o­log­i­cal indif­fer­ence seems to be reflect­ed not just in his ini­tial refusal to fol­low Jesus Christ’s direc­tive to care for “the least of these my brethren” but also in his appar­ent lack of preach­ing inter­est in Christ him­self.

In the Google Play ver­sion of Osteen’s lat­est self-help offer­ing, “Think Better, Live Better,” a search turns up 599 match­es for “God” but only 45 match­es for “Jesus” or “Christ.”

A search through Osteen’s Twitter feed reveals that he almost  nev­er men­tions Jesus to his dig­i­tal flock. Generally speak­ing, he only men­tions the name of his alleged sav­ior around Easter, nev­er around Christmas. In fact, with­in the past three years, he has men­tioned “Jesus” or “Christ” only 14 times amid hun­dreds of tweets. (By con­trast, Rev. Billy Graham has men­tioned “Jesus” and “Christ” dozens of times this year alone.) http://​www​.salon​.com/​2​0​1​7​/​0​8​/​3​0​/​r​e​l​i​g​i​o​u​s​-​l​e​a​d​e​r​s​-​l​i​k​e​-​j​o​e​l​-​o​s​t​e​e​n​-​a​r​e​-​a​-​b​i​g​-​r​e​a​s​o​n​-​w​h​y​-​a​m​e​r​i​c​a​n​s​-​a​r​e​-​d​u​m​p​i​n​g​-​r​e​l​i​g​i​on/