The living embodiment of corruption in organized religion, “prosperity” preacher Joel Osteen, was publicly pilloried last week for his reluctance to use his 16,000 seat megachurch to house environmental refugees fleeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
Fellow Pastor John Pavlovitz took Osteen to task for his most un-Christian behavior in an blog post that’s going viral on social media, calling him out for his greed and his selfishness in a time of desperate need.
Over the past few days you’ve faced an unrelenting wave of Internet shaming, and you’ve experienced the wrath of millions of people who watched the week unfold and determined they were witnessing in you and your megachurch’s response to the hurricane—everything they believe is wrong about organized Christianity; its self-serving greed, its callousness, its tone-deafness in the face of a hurting multitude, its lack of something that looks like Jesus.
Pavlovitz breaks down in surgical detail how the luxury and splendor that Osteen lives in is anathema to everything that the Christian religion is supposed to stand for.
For quite a while, Pastor, many people have rightly concluded that the kind of opulence you sit nestled in no way resembles the homeless, itinerant street preacher Jesus who relied on the goodness of ordinary people to provide his daily needs. They rightly recognized that mansions are not places that servant leaders emulating this humble, foot-washing Jesus occupy. They correctly saw the massive chasm between the ever-grinning, your ship is coming in, name it and claim it prosperity promise that is your bread and butter—and the difficult, painful, sacrificial “you will have trouble” life that Jesus and those who followed him lived in the Gospels.
He goes on to shame Osteen by reminding him of all the people who risked their lives and toiled and suffered to help save others while Osteen sat in his mansion, safe and dry.
They also see the great disparity between your coddled, cozy, stock photo existence—and the sleep-deprived, paycheck to paycheck, perpetually behind struggle that is their daily life.
And yet despite their difficulties and their deficits and their lack (the kind you have been well insulated from for a long, long time), these same folks understand that when people around you are in peril—you respond. You don’t wait for an invitation, you don’t wait to be shamed by strangers, and you don’t make excuses.
That’s why many of these ordinary, exhausted, pressed to the edge people, lined up as human chains in filthy, rushing, waist-high water to pull people out of submerged vehicles. It’s why they came from hundreds of miles with boats and at their own expense and using vacation days, to pluck strangers from rooftops. It’s why they gave money and clothing and food and blood (and some of them like Officer Steve Perez)—their very lives acting in the way Jesus said was the tangible fruit of their faith.
Many of the people whose very dollars helped build the massive, tricked out arena you call home every week, showed you how decent people respond to need. I hope you were paying attention. I hope you’re different today than you were a week ago. I really hope something penetrated that seemingly disconnected exterior and found a home in your heart.
He finishes by extending an olive branch and urging Osteen to learn the right lessons from this experience.
I don’t know you. I don’t believe you’re a bad person. You’re quite likely a good, loving, and decent man—but good, loving, and decent people lose the plot, they get distracted, they get it wrong, they need to recover their why.
You had a difficult week, but you are safe and dry, and despite the criticism and pushback, blessed with more abundance than most people will ever know. That’s good news for you. I don’t hold any of that against you.
The even better news, Pastor Osteen, is that you are alive. You are still here and you have a chance now to show people that Christianity is far more than their greatest fears about it, much better than the worst they’ve seen of Christians, and more beautiful than the ugliness they’ve experienced in the Church.
You have the chance to leverage your resources and your platform and your influence to show a watching world something that truly resembles Jesus.
Don’t wait for an invitation.
Jesus already gave you one.
Pavlovitz’s words are an important lesson that all the members of America’s plutocracy would do well to learn.