Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Why Joel Osteen Avoided Being Called an “Evangelical”

In our interview, Joel Osteen mostly steered clear of controversy. (My full take on his recession-proof message here; full transcript here).
But given that he seems the very model of a modern major mega-church preacher, Osteen may raise some eyebrows with his explanation of why he’s avoided the label “evangelical.”
I asked him why he thought surveys had shown an increase in the number of people declaring no religious affiliation. Conservatives say that’s because the mainline Protestant denominations have become too watered down and inclusive. Others suggest it’s because religious conservatives became associated with controversial culture war issues.
Osteen that he, too, had avoided the word evangelical because it had become too associated with the Republican party and divisive political issues:

BELIEFNET: Do you think it’s possible that kind of engagement in culture war issues has driven people away from Christianity?
OSTEEN: I’m sure it could. I can’t say for sure if I believe it but I do agree with some of that philosophy because I feel myself many times in those same shoes in that there was a time where I thought I don’t want to be known as “an evangelical” because at the time that meant you were a Republican that was against everything. I think that’s changed. That was a few years back.
I don’t want people to look at me as their minister and say he’s a Republican and he’s against this, that and the other because my church is made of up of all different types of people. In some ways I would agree with that. That’s again probably back to a belief my dad had that he didn’t get political because he didn’t want to divide the audience. I feel that same way. I don’t want to be categorized. Our message is about spreading Christ’s love to everybody. If you look at somebody and say he’s against that or that or he’s on that side, to me people start turning you off because of that.”

Of course, people on either side of these important issues — abortion, gay marriage — may find this a cowardly position. Osteen responds that he doesn’t begrudge anyone from working on those causes. It’s just not his “gift.”
I tried to approach gay marriage from an Osteenian perspective, emphasizing a self-esteem angle. How can gays love themselves when the church is telling them their inherently immoral? “It’s an interesting point of view,” he politely says, before gently suggesting that it’s still better to “follow God’s word.”
What about reparative therapy, in which gays are encouraged to reject their homosexuality? He was open to that — comparing being gay, implicitly, to having a drug or alcohol problem — but wouldn’t “push anything down people’s throats,” though he hopes they’d want to change.
And if they don’t want to change but rather want to love themselves as they are?
“I would encourage the person, I would pray with them, I’m not going to force anything down their throats. I would just tell them in a loving way, probably already know, that I believe God’s best is when you come in accordance with his word, that’s when you’ll be the most fulfilled.”
Osteen literally didn’t mention gay marriage in either of his books. He seems to take a traditional position when confronted but tries to avoid the topic.
Somewhere between the conservative Christians fighting against gay marriage and the progressive Christians fighting for it, are folks like Joel Osteen who have a traditional view but want to move it waaaay to the bottom of the agenda — a formula that might be called, “Don’t Ask. Don’t Preach.”

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Appalachian Prof

posted April 13, 2009 at 8:29 pm

He avoids the topic because if he’s typical of his background, he just doesn’t have the intellectual knowledge base and logical equipment to defend traditional Christian ideas. “The Bible says so” is simply not a defensible position, and he knows it, deep down in his heart, where he keeps his “joy, joy, joy, joy” (This is a SONG reference, for those of you who did not grow up with this stuff). Hence his waffling. What he needs is the Tradition, and actual theology and philosophy, and by that I mean REAL philosophy, not “Evangelical” accommodationism.

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posted April 13, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I agree with Osteen. He is not a one size fits all preacher — then again, the Apostle Paul’s ministry was quite different from the Apostle Peter’s or James. I think most people admire Osteen because he is unafraid to preach about a good and loving God that wants the best for those who believe. Most preachers don’t preach sermons that dwell on God’s goodness because they dont’ know how to explain why bad things happen to good people. How can they preach to their congregation that God loves them and then explain why children die of cancer. So they call God vengeful and they preach a “gospel of dispair.” Then they criticize Joel Osteen because he is doing what they cannot. It takes guts to preach God’s goodness. Good for you Joel Osteen!

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posted April 14, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Luke 9:49-51 tells of a person the diciples met who was casting out demons in the name of Christ. They forbade the individual because he was not a follower of their particular Group. Jesus’ answer to them in verse 50 claifies his position. “Forbid him not, for he that is not against us is for us. I find that Joel Osteen stays in the category where he is gifted and where he is called. Every minister is called to reach a specific group of people and like Noah and Paul to preach a specific message. His happens to be the love of Christ. I repeat Christ’s words, “Forbid him not, he who is not against us is for us.”

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posted April 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I would also not want to be known as an evangelical. What ever happened to Christian?
“there was a time where I thought I don’t want to be known as “an evangelical” because at the time that meant you were a Republican that was against everything. I think that’s changed. That was a few years back.”
Osteen is wrong about Republicans no longer being against everything – at least the ones the make the headlines. The supposed party of values only proposal is to reduce taxes by 10% for the wealthy and cut funding for education.It is sad to watch members of Congress and their leaders- Limbaugh, Hannity, Glen Beck, and other fill people with hate and misinformation.
Dobson and Warren are unbelieveable. Warren is a liar and a hypocrite. I lost total respect for Warren when he called mainline church members, “Marxist in Christian clothing.”
I have only half-way listened to Olsteen, but I completely agreed with, “I’m not going to force anything down their throats.”
I think it drives people away from churches.
I do think individuals such as Olsteen should have address the unjust war, torture, and starving individuals.

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Your Name

posted April 19, 2009 at 4:09 am

The reason Joel doesn’t come straight out and tell you that homosexuality is an abomination to God is because he does not want to seem Judgemental towards a snsitive group of people.

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posted April 25, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Osteen preaches a soft gospel, if any gospel at all. He won’t tackle the sin issues because he can’t take the chance of losing pew sitters. So he like Rick Warren should talk about what God says, especially about sin, but they don’t because like Obama it’s above their pay grade, it’s not their thing. Everything in the Bible should be a Christians thing. But for these mega pastors……got to keep those tithes coming in, got to say the politically correct thing, got to preach what people want to hear so they can leave church feeling good about themselves. I thought we went to church to GLORIFY GOD? Someone in their church should point that out to them.
Christ talked about hell more than he ever talked about anything else. He came for the sinner and thats everyone. The scriptures make it plainly clear what sin is. Osteen and Warren should concentrate more about this. They should take the Great Commission more seriously. Neither one cares about abortion, the single most controversial issue of our day. They could make a difference in this area but they won’t, for selfish reasons.
I pray that God changes their hearts.

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posted May 11, 2009 at 10:41 am

We pray God will change your “heart” (and “mind”), but we are not holding our breath.
“Everything in the Bible should be a Christians thing.”
Including the part that says we should put disobedient children to death? The part that says we should put the victims of incest to death? The part that says we should deny communion to the disabled? The part that says women should not be allowed to preach or teach in the Church? The part that says eating shrimp is “an abomination”? The part with the talking snake? The part with the talking donkey? The part with the living in the belly of a great fish for 3 days? The part about getting one’s father drunk and having sex with him?
Are “Christians” and their “thing” that naive/gullible?

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posted December 20, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Mr. Osteen being a spokesman of Jesus Christ failed most miserably by omitting to speak against man’s sin nature. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, therefore the whole world is in need of Gods forgiveness, through repentance, and gays are not different, they need to repent, like anyone else, and turn away from their fornications in order to be forgiven by God through Christs blood, shed on the cross.
The fact is the wicked, proud of their loathsome conducts, and acting out like brazen prostitutes have taken over America, while nominal wimpy Christians are too preoccupied with their sensitivities, worshiping the trinity of self, which is composed of, “ME, MYSELF, and I” and in search for a Jesus that is more in touch with their inner sensibilities, and for a Jesus that is more harmonious with their own perversions.
They don’t see Jesus as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; they see Jesus as the Wimp of Wimps and the Dumb of Dumbs. These so-called wimpy Christians talk the talk but they do not walk the walk. They know all the songs, and the Christian lingo, but they wobble and fall down when they are supposed to stand up against the wicked, therefore they are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked, and separated from Christ.
The proof is all around, we live in a nation overrun by religious leaders, and wimpy sheep chasing after filthy mammon, chanting, “I love God,” but what they mean is “I love money.” Acting out like spiritual babbling baboons, easily manipulated by the vultures of Washington DC, and the buffoons of the mainstream News Media. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told his disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” But today’s typical so-called Christian is as gullible as a toddler, and as dumb as a house. How in the world these wimpy Christians could be effective soldiers in the fight against the wicked? They don’t have a leg to stand on. You can all thank your politically correct Pastors of America, self-gagged under the IRS 501c3 Tax-Exempt Code.

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