Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen will be speaking at the HP Pavilion in San Jose next week. His visit has ignited a firestorm of conversation among gay advocates and Christians residing in northern California’s Bay Area.
Though popular with fans for his uplifting take on Christianity, Osteen has come under fire in past years for his remarks on homosexuality.
“He draws people in with his charismatic personality, seemingly constant smile and upbeat attitude,” commentator Michelle Bergeron said on San Jose Examiner’s Religion & Spirituality blog. “However, one thing that bothers many people in the Bay Area and elsewhere about this man is what he says about homosexuality.”
Osteen drew flak from the press and the public over his comments on homosexuality in 2009 on "The View" and "Larry King Live" for saying "homosexuality is not God's best." The comment enraged gay rights supporters.
Earlier this year, Osteen and his wife Victoria were invited to the new CNN show “Piers Morgan Tonight” where he was once again asked the question “Is homosexuality a sin?”
“Yes, I’ve always believed it,” answered the Houston megachurch pastor. “The Scripture shows that it’s a sin.”
“So I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life,” Osteen continued.
“This seems to imply that heterosexuals are somehow ‘better’ than homosexuals,” Bergeron argued on San Jose Examiner in reference to the remarks. “Many people realize that sexual orientation is not something people get to choose, and therefore the comment appears rather intolerant.”
The blogger also called Osteen “homophobic,” and said “preachers like Osteen simply encourage prejudice.”
As the founding pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston – America’s largest church – Osteen draws over 40,000 worshippers every weekend and 10 million television viewers nationwide.
The preacher has sold over 20 million copies of his books, including his bestseller Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential , and over half a million DVDs.
He draws thousands to his “A Night of Hope with Joel Osteen” event, which has been held in cities across the country.
Christians appreciated Osteen affirming the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. But many still have qualms with his overall theology. The “smiling preacher” has often been accused of shirking key theological issues, lacking fundamental scriptural reference, and preaching a watered-down message. Critics often point out that Osteen emphasizes only the goodness of God and not sin.
A local San Jose pastor expressed concern about Osteen’s core doctrines while speaking to commentator David McCaine on San Jose Examiner’s Religion & Spirituality blog.
“One of the very troubling reasons for Joel Osteen was when Larry King of CNN directly asked Osteen ‘Do you think that Jesus may be the best way to get at heaven?’ Osteen never answered the question. He continued for around 10 minutes without answering,” said Alan Hyatt, senior pastor of Camden Assembly of God in Campbell.
“The Bible is definitely an absolute,” Hyatt stressed. “There is just one method of getting to heaven and that’s through Jesus Christ.”
McCaine expressed the belief that Osteen may have been unfairly portrayed in the media.
“Secular press trying to find a sensational story will even try to nail Osteen recorded on the teachings from the Bible regarding homosexuality,” the Christian Perspectives blogger wrote. “Once that’s accomplished, then they can accuse Osteen to be ‘homophobic’ or intolerant, laughable accusations since Osteen rarely discusses sin.”
Therefore, calling Osteen “homophobic” may be actually part of the gay agenda, McCaine added.
“Predictably the media keeps mentioning exactly the same volatile subject hoping of embarrassing and discrediting Osteen on the highly charged social issue … not for knowledge or information, but to make an argument so gays and supporters might be aggravated,” he explained.
California remains the battleground in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, was overturned by a judge last year and is currently in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last month, the appeals court ruled that the amendment will remain in effect while the issue is under review in the legal system.
Osteen’s Night of Hope in San Jose is scheduled for April 15.