Joel Osteen is not your typical fire-and-brimstone pastor. Rather than speaking about waiting for heaven's reward, Osteen preaches the “prosperity gospel,” succinctly described as God making his believers wealthy and healthy on earth. Not surprisingly, Osteen’s gospel is popular in the United States. Osteen, who is wealthy himself, preaches to a 47,000-member strong church in Houston and his sermons are broadcast to more than 100 countries and 7 million people.
Prosperity theology was created by Oral Roberts following World War II, but took off in the 1990’s when espoused by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on their weekly television show and, later, the Osteens. The idea of the gospel takes New Testament verses and applies them to the specific contexts of wealth and health. According to the magazine Christianity Today, "believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the 'sowing of seeds' through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” In other words, as long as believers have a strong faith and give offerings to the church, God will bless them with health and wealth.
It seems fair that a person is not automatically cast out from the church if they are wealthy or healthy. A passage Deuteronomy 8:18 in the New Testament says, "But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” In some respects, this verse seems to say that God is giving his followers wealth; according to Christian theology, God is supposed to take care of all of his followers' needs.
But perhaps Osteen and other proponents of the prosperity gospel are interpreting this and other verses too literally—and to too much of an extreme. The verse seems to say that God is the reason that Christians are able to make wealth, using their abilities, good health and other gifts. However, this verse says nothing of extreme wealth and doesn’t talk about Jesus’ teachings about blessings coming in other forms, such as a loving family, interesting work, etc… The prosperity gospel seems dangerous to Christians who are not healthy or wealthy, making them feel that they are not properly faithful. But the bottom line is that, in terms of this gospel, money as the best measure of success is very, very American and very, very modern.
So, one can’t help but wonder who the Osteens will endorse for president in 2012.
Unlike other mega-church pastors like Jerry Falwell who moved-and-shook the Religious Right in the 1980’s, Osteen and his wife Victoria, say that politics cannot mix with religion in an interview with Larry King. Joel says that he will not give his support to any of the presidential candidates in 2012, but he does say that if a president asked for counsel on a political issue, Osteen would give it.
However, in this same interview, which took place in 2009, Joel said that Obama is doing “a great job.” He also says that it is important to him that Obama loves the Lord and that helps him, Joel, when he is making his own voting decisions. Osteen certainly steps lightly when talking about Barack and Michelle Obama, saying what a nice job they have done as president and first lady.
This kind of talk may, too, just be to appease the liberal media. Osteen does support mixing politics and religion, saying that he supports Christian leaders who have pushed the Christian agenda in politics in years past. Speaking with The Christian Post back in 2008, Osteen says that a religious leader talking politics is fine, but the place for it isn’t the pulpit. Osteen says, “There’s a fine there, but I think we can’t just sit back and let everybody else express their views. I think it’s important that we as believers in Christ express our views.”
It remains to be seen if the Osteens will endorse a candidate for 2012, but it seems difficult to bring Osteen’s two statements discussed here—that pastors and pulpits should not mix, but that Christian leaders should be able to state their beliefs—when a person is both a pastor and a superstar. In a sense, it doesn’t matter where Osteen endorses a candidate—his followers will find out about it and, presumably, vote in the same way. He is essentially doing the same thing that Falwell did in the 1980’s, but now he’s got television, Twitter, Facebook and the Internet. Osteen certainly has the power to unite a new Christian voting bloc.
Also, in living in the earthly realm that he does (rewarding himself and his followers with lots and lots of--very earthly--money), Osteen should not be so blasé in stepping into the realm of American politics, which has (unfortunately) always been pseudo-religious itself. If Osteen is seen counseling a candidate, he will be perceived as supporting that candidate. If he says that he says he supports a candidate, all of his supporters know, even if his words don't come from the pulpit. Osteen should come out and endorse a candidate already instead of masquerading as apolitical—he and his followers really need a president who can turn this economy around.
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