Joel Osteen has been on television stations and in bookstores for years as the “smiling preacher.” Osteen has built and empire through a method of Gospel that does not focus on condemnation or hate; a direct contrast with Christian Right leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Osteen’s message has attacked huge audiences over the the last several years. His Lakewood Church has over 43,000 seats filled each week and his Television program is broadcast nationwide. Osteen has strong appeal to many religious Americans because of his happy attitude, less focus on culture war issues, and his promise that God takes care of those who believe.
However, Osteen’s image takes a huge downward trajectory when you begin to examine him in a more critical light. Osteen has been attacked by conservative Christians for his lack of focus on social issues. However, where Osteen’s real problems exist are his brand of preaching: Prosperity Gospel. This is a version of Christian thought, and a deluded one at that, that God rewards his followers with money, possessions, or other tangible items because of their faith. This view, beside contradicting numerous passages of the Bible, has been preached for centuries by those who wish to gather followers. After all, who doesn’t like the idea that God can be your personal ATM if you just pray hard enough. Osteen claims that he does not preach Prosperity Gospel, but almost every sermon or book talks about people who made financial gain thanks to their “faith in God.” During his sermons, Osteen will repeatedly use biblical quotes out of context to make it seem like the “rewards” or “blessings” of God are meant to be money, a house, children, or a new job. Osteen never directly says it, but repeatedly implies that God will intervene to financially help those who believe.
Thanks to Osteen’s appeal with Christians who don’t bother to actually pick up a Bible and just want to hear some smiling guy tell them God loves them, the smiling preacher has accumulated a net worth close to $50 million. In addition, Osteen’s Lakewood Church just finished $105 million in renovations. Yes you read that correctly, a man who has a national television show that can be viewed on basic cable by anyone, spent $105 million to renovate a church so that 40,000 people could attend. Again, let me stress this. ANYONE can watch his sermons on TV, on the church website, or download the podcasts. Those 40,000 could all watch/listen from home. But no, they spent $105 million to renovate a ridiculously lavish building. Guess how much money was spent on the Cross being used? None. Because there is no Cross outside the church.
Meanwhile, Joel Osteen, who loves to talk about how he doesn’t take a salary from the Church, makes his money from books, TV, and speaking tours. Osteen and his wife recently purchased a mansion worth over $10 million dollars. The Osteen’s live in the rich suburbs of Houston, not far from the Church. In addition, they own another house worth $2 million. Their lavish mansion has three elevators and six rooms. Let me contrast this with another well-known preacher in America. Rich Warren, who did the prayer for the 2008 Inauguration of President Obama, has the highest selling religious book, A Purpose Driven Life, in history. Meanwhile, Warren, indeed a rich man, still lives in the same house they have had for 16 years, drives a 10 year old car, and buys watches at Walmart. Warren and his wife, meanwhile, push charities and causes for AIDS, gun control, and in the wake of their son’s tragic suicide, mental illness awareness. Warren and his wife are worth 10 million. However, that is after they give up 90% of their money to charity. Yes you read that correct, they give up 90% of their money to charity. Warren has talked about this, saying it allows him to loosen his grasp on material things in this world.
What does Joel Osteen focus charity efforts on? He and his wife focus on Feed the Children, a charity that aims to give food to starving children, especially in the third world. However, the charity has received an F rating from charity watchdog groups. Much of the money goes toward staff, fundraisers, and administrative costs… little to food for children.
Look at where Osteen lives in Harris County. The following maps show the income and poverty rates of the county. Osteen and his Church are marked on the map.
Despite being modestly close to downtown Houston, Osteen’s house and church are located away from the lower income, higher poverty areas of the county. Osteen and his church are located in higher income areas of Houston. Osteen’s home is in the River Oaks suburb, which is the wealthiest neighborhood in all of Texas (and in the top 10 nationwide). Lower income area’s are close to the Osteen compound, but the Osteen family could get from their house to church without ever entering a low-income area.
Harris County is 40% Hispanic, and as such Lakewood offers a Spanish service to all who wish to attend. This sounds nice. However, look again at the Osteen church and house locations relative to Hispanic residents.
For a county that is 40% Hispanic, the church with a Spanish service is located in the whitest area of the county.
Osteen has made millions off his warped biblical view. And with that money, he pours little of it into the community around him. He has also isolated himself off from those who are in the most need. He lives in one of the most white, wealthy, Republican areas in the state. His Church cost more than the budgets of most county governments. It should be no surprise that Osteen has said that apologizing for wealth would be an insult to God. Osteen can claim he does not preach prosperity gospel. However, the smiling preacher makes no apologies for his wealth and regularly uses it for his own good. Osteen does not believe there is anything wrong with being wealthy as long as you put God first. However, from the way Osteen and his family utilize the money they have made, one cannot help but wonder what comes first for the smiling preacher.