In Houston, Texas, Joel Scott Osteen is an American lay minister, televangelist, businessman, and author. Osteen is one of the most prominent figures associated with prosperity theology and a target of its critics due to his weekly televised services and several best-selling books.
Early Life and Childhood
Osteen was one of six children born to John Osteen and Dolores (“Dodie”) Pilgrim in Houston, Texas. His father, a former Southern Baptist pastor, founded Lakewood Church in the rear of an old feed store, where Osteen currently serves as senior pastor.
He studied radio and television communications at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but did not graduate. In 1982, he returned to Houston, founded Lakewood’s television program, and produced his father’s televised sermons for 17 years until his father’s untimely death from a heart attack in January 1999.
What Is the Prosperity Gospel and Why Is Joel Osteen Criticized for It?
The prosperity gospel does not emphasize hell or the negative effects of sin but instead preaches that God will reward his faithful and generous followers with a healthy and financially prosperous existence. It frequently associates tithing, the practice of routinely contributing a portion of one’s income to the church, with a promise of prosperity.
According to his website joelosteen.com, he believes that “as children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors, and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life he has in store for us.”
It has been alleged that televangelism exploits the poor and vulnerable, who can least afford to contribute their meager resources to the church, and it has been criticized for tying faith to material compensation. Christianity Today refers to the prosperity gospel, which was strongly associated with disgraced 1980s televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, as “abnormal theology.”
The Christian Century, a liberal Christian publication, has also accused Osteen of reducing the Bible to “digestible categories of self-help and self-improvement.” However, Osteen’s mother, Dodie Osteen, responded to the criticism by stating, “We don’t preach the gospel sad, we preach it gladly.”
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Why Do People Like Joel Osteen?
His charisma and message appeal to a large number of individuals, including personalities. He and his wife, Victoria, pack stadiums across the nation with tens of thousands of fans for their “A Night of Hope” events, such as the one coming to Indianapolis.
In television interviews and church service broadcasts, he comes across as a presumably genuine, occasionally earnest, and always enthusiastic friend, although he occasionally seems more like a motivational speaker than a pastor. His congregation is comprised of individuals from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. His church service is viewed by more than seven million viewers each week.
What Did Joel Osteen’s Church Do During Hurricane Harvey?
In late August 2017, Osteen was criticized on social media for allegedly turning away people seeking refuge from Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that killed 89 people, caused $126.3 billion in damages, and displaced more than 30,000.
Soon after announcing on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” the church declared its intention to serve as a collection site for Houston-area shelters. “We are aware that the need is significant. That much is evident,” stated a church statement. “We do not yet know all the ways in which we can help.” It later announced that it was accepting refugees and distributing aid to the disadvantaged.
During the controversy, Osteen released an emotional video in which he stated that the perception that his church is not a shelter and does not accept people is false. “We have always desired to accept others. Our doors were open. Church doors have always been open.”
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What Is Joel Osteen’s Stance on Homosexuality?
Joel Osteen has avoided making public statements regarding LGBT marriage and homosexuality. During an interview on “Larry King Now” in January 2014, however, King inquired about Osteen’s views on homosexuality.
Osteen replied, “The same as they’ve always been. I believe the Bible teaches that it is an immorality, but I always add, “But you know what, we’re not against anyone.” But King pressed Osteen for further clarification, asking, “If you’re labeling it a sin, how can it be a sin if we don’t know what causes it? You have no idea why you’re heterosexual.”
“There are many things Larry that I do not comprehend, so I do not wish to pontificate on or about them. It is only brought up in interviews,” Osteen stated. The king then inquired, “Does gay marriage annoy you?” Osteen responded, “It doesn’t bother me. From a scriptural standpoint, I don’t believe it’s what my faith teaches, but it doesn’t bother me.”
How Did Joel and Victoria Osteen Meet?
Victoria Osteen worked at her mother’s jewelry store while attending college. According to a feature story about Victoria and her book “Love Your Life” in Houston Lifestyles & Homes, she first met Joel in 1985 when he strolled into the store to purchase a new watch battery. They have two children, Jonathan and Alexandra, who assist their parents in ministry at Lakewood Church.