By Elizabeth Tenety
Known for his focus on uplifting Christian messages and ability to stay away from controversial social and political issues (Read Newsweek’s “No Politics From This Pulpit“), Texas megapastor Joel Osteen has found himself in the headlines this week for telling CNN’s Piers Morgan that homosexuality is a sin.
Osteen and his wife Victoria are among America’s most influential religious figures. Acording to his Web site at Lakewood Church, the 16,000-seat Houston church he pastors, Osteen’s “weekly sermon is broadcast into every U.S. television market where it is viewed by seven million Americans each week and more than 20 million each month. His weekly broadcast is also seen in nearly 100 nations around the world.” His book “Your Best Life Now” was a New York Times bestseller and his influence crosses religious and national boundaries. Osteen’s inspirational-message approach to Christianity has its critics, and after his interview on CNN, he’s likely to gain a few more.
Asked point blank about homosexuality by the eponymous host of Piers Morgan Tonight, Osteen was forced to address an issue that he’d just as soon avoid.
“Yes, I’ve always believed Pierce the scriptures show that homosexuality is a sin. But I’m not one of those who is out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible, too. And I think sometimes the church –and I don’t mean this critically –but we focus on one issue or two issues, and there’s plenty of other ones. So I don’t believe that homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life –sin means to miss the mark.”
Osteen’s beliefs on homosexuality are not unique within Christianity –though many (as Morgan suggests) may find them offensive or even hateful.
The pastor told On Faith’s Sally Quinn in a 2008 interview that he tends to not “focus” on sin, but instead forms his preaching around a positive “abundant life” approach to Christianity.
Osteen believes that Christ came so that his followers may live a life to the fullest on earth –an interpretation of Christianity that has many critics. This kind of blessings-based spirituality is often called (mostly by those who oppose his teachings) the “prosperity gospel.” While Osteen denies that his message is focused on financial gain alone, he does teach that financial success can be a sign of God’s favor. He told Business Week in 2005:
“I believe that God’s dream is that we be successful in our careers, and that we be able to send our kids to college. I don’t mean that everyone is going to be rich, and I preach a lot on blooming where you’re planted. But I don’t have the mindset that money is a bad thing.”
“[My views] may go against some of the older, traditional teachings. But I think we should have a mindset that God wants us to prosper in our relationships, our health, and our finances. God’s desire is that we excel. And we see business leaders who are good strong Christians running [big] companies.”
So while Osteen has ruffled Christian feathers by his unorthodox message, the headlines he’s making this week on homosexuality are sure to agitate a whole new group: those who blame ministers for homophobia.
Should Osteen stick to inspirational preaching and steer clear of this kind of controversy? (Billy Graham told Christianity Today’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey this week that one of his life’s regrets was that he had waded too much into non-spiritual territory by getting involved with politics –“Looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”) Or is it inevitable that religious leaders are going to take heat when their beliefs clash with popular opinion? What do you think about religious leaders who advocate a ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ (or in Osteen’s case –dislike the sin but inspire the sinner) approach to homosexuality?