In Defense of Joel Osteen (sort of):
I don't share Joel Osteen's politics. I find his understanding of scripture to be overly simplistic and his theology to be shallow at best.
I do appreciate Joel's commitment to sharing a positive attitude. And, I do not begrudge him the success of his ministry. People judge him harshly because of his huge congregation, and the apparent affluence of his ministry. But success isn't necessarily a "bad" thing and if people flock to his services by the thousands, they must feel they are receiving something useful from the experience. Are they more hopeful? Kinder? More generous? More determined to grow spiritually? If so, then how could I condemn a ministry that apparently brings healing to human hearts?
I don't know the helping ministries his church offers. Do they feed people? Offer education? Do they have support groups? Do they have hospital visitation teams? Do they pray for the sick, the lonely, the fearful? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I wouldn't simply assume that they don't. In fact, for so many people to find their church compelling I would be more likely to assume that they do offer life-enhancing ministries to people with various needs.
Earlier today, there were many posts on social media condemning Osteen's church for not opening up their property to displaced people after Hurricane Harvey. Since then, there are reports that they have done so. Were they planning to do so all along? Were they, like so many, overwhelmed by the suffering and needed some time to decide what they could do? Were they reluctant to become a temporary shelter until they were criticized and then changed their minds? Again, I have no way of knowing, but it does seem as if they are now helping people displaced by the storm. Why they are doing it isn't for me to judge. I assume human compassion has something to do with it.
As I said before, I don't share J.O.'s politics and I disagree with certain points of his theology. But I also assume from his success that people are getting needs met in his church, that they are supporting it with time, talent, and treasure because it is important to them, and that it is at least possible that Joel is motivated by high ideals and goodwill even if he and I disagree on many things.
I can disagree with Joel without needing to be jealous of his success or demonizing his every action. There are people who use religion to promote hate, defend bigotry, and sow discord (Jefress, Falwell Jr., Robertson, and F. Graham come to mind)...I can't tell (so far) that Osteen is in that camp. I don't have to sign up for the Joel fan club, but neither do I need to paint him as evil. There are bigger (or at least more hateful) fish to fry. I have no energy for attacking Joel Osteen...and unlike some of the Bible thumping glitterati, Joel actually seems to give people hope and affirm their dignity...and that is something I can appreciate.