Popular preacher Joel Osteen's recent affirmation that homosexuality is a sin has garnered reaction from both gay rights advocates and evangelicals alike.
LGBT group the Human Rights Campaign called for an immediate apology, arguing that his statement "adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity."
"One would hope Mr. Osteen would use his pulpit, with an audience of over 7 million people, to tell all human beings that they are loved just the way they are," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "Instead he chose to send a dangerous and irresponsible message."
Evangelical leader R. Albert Mohler, Jr., who does not agree with Osteen's "updated version of prosperity theology," was glad to hear the renowned pastor – who reaches 10 million television viewers nationwide – affirm the Bible's teaching. But Mohler stopped short of praising Osteen.
"Thankfully, he did not deny that homosexuality is a sin. We can only have hoped that he would have given a more bold answer, followed by an equal boldness in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a commentary Thursday.
On Wednesday, Osteen and his wife, Victoria, appeared on CNN where they were interviewed by its newest anchor, Piers Morgan.
Though he had indicated his stance against homosexuality years before, Osteen was pressed during the show to spell it out more clearly.
"Is homosexuality a sin?" Morgan asked.
"Yes, I’ve always believed it," stated the pastor of America's largest church, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. "The Scripture shows that it’s a sin."
"I say it’s wrong because that’s what the Scripture says," Osteen added, explaining that he can't pick one part of the Bible (that says God wants to bless you) and reject another part of it (that states homosexuality is a sin). He also added that he's not "one of those to bash homosexuals and tell them they’re terrible people."
The Rev. Dr. Miguel de la Torre, a Baptist minister and member of the HRC Religion Council, disagreed.
"As a Southern Baptist and an ethicist I believe that we can’t follow Jesus’ commandment to love God and our neighbor as our self if we start with the premise that homosexuality is sinful," Torre argued. "Starting with the belief that people are sinful doesn’t allow us to get to know them, let alone love them."
A group of pastors from the Houston area, meanwhile, rejected arguments that Osteen's comments were hateful.
"No reasonable person can accuse Joel of being bigoted or hateful, but was very gracious in how he answered the question," asserted Pastor Willie Davis on behalf of the Houston Area Pastor Council.
"No pastor should take a poll about the popularity of his convictions if he is faithful to preaching from the Holy Scriptures, nor can Joel or any pastor be criticized or condemned for simply repeating what God Himself has said," he continued. "In fact, Joel nailed the essence of God’s love by also clarifying that the homosexual lifestyle is harmful to those who practice it or other extra-marital sexual behavior.
"If we care about people we must teach the truth that points us toward God’s best."
And that moment of teaching the truth will come for all Christians, according to Mohler, a Southern Baptist.
Though Osteen has tried to avoid talking about or focusing on sin since taking the pulpit in 1999, Mohler predicted the time would come for him to face the question of sin.
"To his credit, Osteen did answer his question, and by staking his position on the Bible’s teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, he took the only road available to anyone with any substantial commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible," said Mohler.