You’ve probably heard it by now. But you may be wrong in what you heard.
Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, the man with the smile that never seems to stop, doesn’t believe in God anymore. At least that was the “headline” running across the Internet days ago. There was an accompanying video, screenshots of stories from The Drudge Report, CNN and other media outlets. People shared this “story” and said thing like, “I knew he was a fake.”
Turns out, Joel Osteen never said any of those things. It was a hoax perpetrated by a guy who just wanted Joel to get “more real.” Impressively enough, even the one-stop shop for debunking Internet rumors, Snopes.com has a page addressing the issue. (Seriously, please go there if you read something or are forwarded something. Bill Gates does not really want to send you $5,000 for forwarding a text or Facebook message. Seriously.)
What would cause someone to do something like this? Why is Osteen so darn polarizing? Let’s look closer.
For starters, his theology has been tossed around as being weak. Now, I’m not a big Joel Osteen fan. His theology is suspect, to say it kindly. Dr. Albert Mohler, the cultural commentator of our times, keeps a close eye on Osteen and his doings. He’s written about him several times on his blog, here, here, and here for instance. He does a good job keeping things theological and not personal. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I think if he would just say he was a motivational speaker and not a minister, I’d be more comfortable with him.”
Or maybe it’s his smile. It throws a lot of people off. He’s been called a shyster, a liar, a used car salesman. To his credit, he’s run a very clean ministry. He has 7 million people who follow him regularly and you’ve probably met someone who just loves his preaching or books.
I really don’t know. But the hoax that came about did bring a problem to light. A very serious one. One that even hit me.
No, I don’t really care for the man’s theology. I’ve skimmed his work, watched him on television on occasion. I don’t wish ill will upon him and if someone asks me my opinion, they can have it. Personally? I don’t want anything awful to happen to the man. And the hoax that was perpetrated upon him was terrible. It was. No one should have to endure an attack of lies like that.
But here’s what bothered me. Thousands of Christians read the “hoax.” Their immediate response, regardless of how they felt about Osteen was to say, “Of course he did this.” And you know, I suppose if they had stopped there, no damage would really have been done. But they forwarded it to people they knew. It was a lie. Did they know? Nope, but they had a responsibility to check it out. I think we all know what that’s called – gossip.
And even if you don’t like the guy, it’s still wrong to do it. Even if you don’t like his books, his preaching, his theology, it gives none of the right to engage in character assassination. Even if you believe he’s not saved or he’s preaching the wrong gospel or whatever conclusion you’ve arrived at, it is wrong to perpetrate incorrect information about an individual.
But man, how much do we dislike some people in our world? We dislike them so much that we are ready to believe the first bad thing we hear about them, right? That’s how gossip gets continued. That’s how it continues and grows. This was a perfect example. And a few months down the line, you’ll still hear someone say, “I heard Joel Osteen doesn’t believe in God.”
Friends, if you’ve been the victim of gossip, you know how it feels. You should always check facts before you hit “send.” In fact, if we hear something bad about a friend, church member, or relative, our first instinct ought to be compassion and love. To reach out and help, not to further destroy.
On a final note (and reiterating that I am not an Osteen apologist), I’d add that even if you don’t like the guy, he is to be commended for how he has handled this situation. He said in a statement that he wasn’t angry and he didn’t feel like a victim. Great response and very humble. If I had been in the same situation, I can’t say I would have been as gracious.
Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Fallen World.” He also writes for Provoketive Magazine. He is available to speak at your event, church or function.