Joel Osteen’s Theological Faux Pas

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joel osteen
Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen. [Photo: Salon.com]
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Joel Osteen says he didn’t open his church for shelter from Harvey because nobody asked him to.

I read that headline and silently wished that Osteen would simply stop trying to fix what cannot be fixed.  Whatever happened to “I’m sorry?”

The uproar began with the church’s initial tweet.  It read:

Fellow 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 list with those in need!

Pictures of the church posted to Twitter by a person who went by to check showed that the grounds around the church were not in fact flooded.  Cars parked outside the church were sitting on wet, but certainly not flooded, pavement.

A storm of criticism erupted.  The Lakewood Church occupies a 17,000 seat facility, and critics complained that it was not doing what it could to help out storm victims.

Osteen responded, explaining that the decision not to open the church was based on “a safety issue.”   The building had flooded once before, he said.  But this has been tweeted and retweeted so many times it does not need another comment.  His theological faux pas, however, does.

Osteen said, “I think if people were here, they would realize there were safety issues. This building had flooded before, so we were just being precautions.  But the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”

Talk about foot in mouth.

That “main thing” statement–  for me, at least– was hugely disappointing.  I assume he was reeling from the internet whipping he was taking, and just slipped up.  But to the uninformed person listening to the pastor of a megachurch, such a statement could be very damaging.  It is not the government’s responsibility to tell a church it should do what God has called it to do.

The words of Jesus provide the motivation and impetus for believer action.  We are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked– not because the city has asked or not asked, but because Jesus said “inasmuch as ye did it not unto the least of these, ye did it not unto me.”

Osteen knows the message of Matthew 25, as well as the words of Luke 6:38.  His spiritual advisers probably should have spoken to him before he got embroiled in this defensive war of words, and said ‘just open the church and apologize for the misunderstanding.’  Because every word he utters in defense of that initial decision only brings his first words back to center stage and reinforces the idea that he only opened his church to avoid negative publicity– not to fulfill the commands of Jesus Christ.

He should shut down the storm he can control, and join the rest of the nation in concentrating on the one he can’t.