Joel Osteen, and Our Need For A Scapegoat

I don’t particularly like Joel Osteen. I find him hugely annoying to watch, with his closed-eyed, big-toothed televangelist’s smile… But what I find way more troublesome than his face is his theology. He is a peddler of an overly-simplistic, watered-down, fortune cookie gospel that sells people on the idea that if they do the “right” stuff for God, God will “bless” them with material gain. His theology is a bumper sticker mashup of a charismatic faith and “the power of positive thinking.” He is a divisive figure, and an easy one to focus our outrage on in a time like this. Some people really love his hopeful, feel-good message… I mean, he’s sold millions and millions of books. But he is not Jesusy and pro-Trump enough for the “religious right,” while progressives and people who care about social justice are grossed out by a multi-millionaire televangelist (with good reason, by the way. His church leased a sports stadium in Houston for $11.8 million, bought that stadium from the city for $7.5 million, and then spent about $100 million on renovations to the building… Not to mention his $10.5 million mansion that he bought with sales of his books, which are just written versions of his sermons). Any pastor with a house LIKE THIS is going to get his fair share of criticism.

So it’s easy to see why nearly all of Twitter absolutely crushed Joel Osteen when they found out that Lakewood Church (Joel’s church in Houston, and one of the largest congregations in the nation) closed its doors rather than taking in local people who need after being displaced by one of the biggest floods this nation has ever seen. He didn’t offer to open up Lakewood Church (which holds 16,800 people) to victims, but he did offer his prayers…

So social media had a field day. Twitter especially. They dragged him… hard.

And then he only made it worse by blocking a whole lot of people who were critical of his decision…

So I just want to say a few things about this whole deal. I am a high empathy sort of guy. When I see pictures of the devastation in East Texas, I feel it deep inside me. Many of us do. When we see pictures of old folks in water up to their chests and kids sleeping on counters surrounded by water, we want someone to blame. Believe me, I know the alluring and satisfying draw of outrage. I am a connoisseur of Christian hypocrisy. After reading about this, I was ready to tear into Joel Osteen with everything I had… Exposing the “fakeness” of his brand of “christianity.” And I think parts of it ARE fake. I don’t know if Joel Osteen actually believes the stuff he says… Or if he is aware of the grift. There are conflicting stories as to how affected Lakewood Church is by the flooding. I’ve seen interviews with him, and he seems like a really nice guy. I don’t know… But as I looked closer at this desire IN ME to tear Joel Osteen apart, I realized that much of what I was feeling was a desire for a scapegoat. His faults are OUR faults. His sins are MY sins. And rather than dealing with the reality of that, I want to send him away.

The real feeling we are experiencing is POWERLESSNESS. And it is terrifying. And depressing. So many of us are experiencing the disorienting emptiness of the offer of “thoughts and prayers” in the face of such destruction. We want to believe that something… SOMEONE is in control of all this. People are desperate for someone to be in control… For this to be part of a plan. So it comes as a relief to some when we have people like Joel Osteen tweeting garbage like this from his $10 million mansion…

… all while folks are waiting on their roofs for help. While folks are losing their homes and all of their possessions and trying to “power-of-positive-thinking” their way out of that reality. But the nagging thought bouncing around in your head is this: Isn’t the same God who’s “got this” and answers our prayers for help the same God who was in control of the hurricane’s path? Because this is the REAL awfulness of the god who is in control of everything: At its foundation, Joel Osteen’s god is the same horrible god of Pat Robertson… The god where every earthquake is a punishment, and every flood is an act of judgment. The god who rewards the pious, and destroys the wicked. The god who leaves us to figure out a REASON for cancer. And for child abuse. And for disasters like Harvey…

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 4.48.34 AM

Here we see Joel saying, “Cool your jets, Twitter. We’ll open up the friggin church.”

And falling short of those answers, we look for something… SOMEONE to sacrifice. And as good as it might feel to sacrifice Joel Osteen, it is not going to scratch the theological itch on my mind. Or yours. Not for long, at least. I don’t know how big of a house is too big. I don’t know how much money is too much money for a church building. I don’t know how much helping the community is enough helping. After the 24 hours or so of public shaming for Joel Osteen, it seems they are going to open their doors to flood victims… So I suppose that’s a good thing. Here’s a pic of their air mattresses:

Outrage isn’t going to solve this. We can use anger as a catalyst for change, but anger is an awful fuel. I believe we are designed to be fueled by compassion. And hope. And love. And when the extent of our actions is limited to praying to a god who is behind both the problem and the solution, the cancer and the treatment, the disaster and the rescue… It ends in hopelessness and despair and cognitive dissonance. We are not built for a continued state of outrage… We are built for hope. And we are not meant to pray for help… We are meant to help. 

With that, HERE IS A LIST OF TANGIBLE WAYS TO HELP–Money, shelter, food, blood, ways to help kids, ways to help animals–It is a fantastic list of things we can DO that will make us feel way more powerful than the feeling of casting our sins on a scapegoat, and sending him off to die.

Again, please CHECK OUT THIS LIST of ways to help. If you value this blog, and you’d like to help support it, you can do that HERE and HERE. If you’d like to stay in touch with me on Facebook and Twitter, you can do that as well. Stay hopeful, and when everything feels dark, BE THE LIGHT.

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11 Responses to Joel Osteen, and Our Need For A Scapegoat

  1. Debra Lee says:

    Be a Blessing. Not a Stumbling Block.

  2. Larry Kunz says:

    This one of the best blog posts you’ve ever written. Thank you. Like you, I’m no fan of Osteen’s. Like you, I saw the rage on Twitter, and it made me uncomfortable. But I couldn’t say why….until you put your finger on it. Osteen wasn’t being evil or unchristian — in fact, he was being who he’s always been. People were just looking for a scapegoat, and maybe for an excuse to pile on someone they’ve just never cared for.

  3. I know VERY little about him. I intentionally avoided his world for a long time. I only know that hours of people seeing no substantial water (comparatively) near the place, and at the same time other “for profit” businesses being opened for relief sure make the actions chosen and the perceived lack of timeliness glaring. I shared info after much thought. Now my perspective get a blanket smack down by several. Seems pretty skewed. I *am one who helps with abandon though and have been brutalized in the process though. I guess I’m missing something and my “heart is not right”? I sure didn’t think so but maybe it’s my “mega” sized church trauma showing.

  4. Gary Blinn says:

    Darn it Boeskool, took all the fun out of outrage, how could you. Great post,

  5. joesantus says:

    “We are not built for a continued state of outrage… We are built for hope. And we are not meant to pray for help… We are meant to help.”

    Neither of which, hoping nor helping, requires belief in the existence of any deity, Christianity’s nor otherwise.
    But both of which, continued outrage and continual excuses for “the powerlessness” and “unanswered prayer” are fueled by beliefs in deities, Christianity’s versions and otherwise.

    • theboeskool says:

      I agree with you on the first part.

      I disagree with you on the second part.

      God is not all powerful, Joe. Does that make the existence of a higher power more of a possibility?

      • joesantus says:

        BOESKOOL — Determining “possibilities’ and “probabilities” is based upon information. So……….where do you obtain your information about how powerful “god” is?
        How do you KNOW that “god is not all-powerful”, in contrast to theists who “know’ that “god is all-powerful”?

  6. LMcCJ says:

    You claim the problem is that we feel powerless to help. Is it surprising that we are enraged to see someone with the power to help, not helping? We are enraged at the price gouging. Joel deserves every slam against him. He had the power to help, but not the will. People who have lost everything are out saving pets. Joel has everything and did nothing until he was shamed into doing it. And, cut me a break, you know when a house is too big and when a church is too expensive.

    • theboeskool says:

      I agree with you. I think it’s way too much money to spend on a church, and I think that it’s way too much money to spend on a house… Especially for a “pastor.” He should be getting criticized for not helping.

      I’m just writing about how there is more to it than that…?

    • LanaT says:

      I can’t stand Joel Osteen. However, just because I feel powerless to help doesn’t give me the right to determine how much others should be helping. It’s easy to say, “Look how much he has, he should be doing more to help!,” but someone in a less fortunate position than me could also say the same about me – it’s all relative. I gave what I consider to be a substantial amount to several different charities that are on the ground helping in Texas. Could I have given even more? Probably.

      I also agree that his church and home are WAY OVER THE TOP, so in this particular case, it’s easy to agree that it’s too much. But I think Boeskool’s point is (or maybe it’s just my view) that we don’t know exactly where to draw the line of “that’s too much.” Are there certain situations in which it would be ok for a pastor to make millions? To make $500,000? $100,000? I don’t know if there is a distinct line, and the only reason I know that Joel Osteen’s lifestyle is over the line, is because he’s so far over it.

  7. There should be an open exposure of osteen blocking negative comments and relies. He should be arrested for fraud like other mega church fraudsters!.

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