January 14, 2020

Joel Olsteen and His Shady Sides



 
  


BY JESSICA SAGER


Joel Osteen has endured plenty of criticism throughout his career. The toothy preacher has come under fire for everything from his physical appearance to his spiritual beliefs to his lack of theological training. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston, Texas-based pastor attracted a lot of heat for allegedly not doing enough to help, like so many selfless community members actually did, becoming heroes in the process. 

But this preacher had already weathered plenty of controversies prior to the waters of Buffalo Bayou rising up around the southeast Texas city. From not being quick enough to condemn some clearly objectionable behavior, to being accused of misrepresenting the basic tenets of Christianity in a variety of ways, Osteen's public image is far from that of a flawless saint.

Let's take a look at what potentially lurks beneath this holy man's bright smile. This is the shady side of Joel Osteen.
  
Though leaders of other mega-churches condemned white supremacists and racist attitudes after an August 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. left one woman dead and several others injured, Osteen kept noticeably mum. His only comment on the incident, and on the topic as a whole, was a vague Facebook post: "One of the biggest challenges we all face is getting along with people because everyone is different. We have different personalities, different temperaments. We come from different backgrounds. When somebody doesn't agree with us or not doing what we like, it's easy to get in conflict with them, to argue, to try to straighten them out, to prove our point. No, you have to be the bigger person. Just because they're doing wrong doesn't mean you have to engage." 

In March 2017, Radar Online reported that Osteen and Lakewood Church were being sued by a family accusing a church staff member of body-slamming its baby girl. Court documents obtained by the site claim that in May 2014, "A representative of the church grabbed a child safety seat housing Victoria Wedderburn, a minor, and threw the seat off the church pew... [Victoria] landed face-first on the floor, while still strapped to the safety seat...[causing] serious bodily injury and extensive mental and emotional damage."

Osteen's attorneys claimed the "incident [that] made the basis of this suit was caused by the actions of third parties over whom the [Osteens] had no control." Osteen also claimed the 

church and its employees he had no liability for the incident, based on the "Charitable Immunity Act." The church reportedly settled with the Wedderburn family for $15,000, despite asserting it had no wrongdoing and that the claims were entirely made up.

 In February 2010, a Lakewood Church volunteer in the church's special needs children's ministry, the Champions Club, was accused of "inappropriate" sexual conduct with a special needs child, leading to a Child Protective Services investigation into the organization, Radar Online reported. Court documents obtained by Radar revealed that a female volunteer "allegedly witnessed [Alvaro Daniel Guzman] touching the child assigned to [him] in an inappropriate fashion." The female volunteer reportedly told higher-ups, who "advised her that she should contact Child Protective Services and report to them what she had witnessed." Guzman was subsequently dismissed from his volunteer position.

By May 2011, Guzman was arrested and charged with "the offense of indecency on a child," though the charges were dismissed after a grand jury failed to indict him, reported Radar Online. In February 2012, Guzman sued Lakewood Church for "lost wages, damage to [his] reputation," and "anxiety, pain, and illness." He accused the church of negligence in its investigation of the indecent and claimed it "failed to properly secure video" that may have exonerated him. Guzman's lawsuit ended with "summary judgment in favor of Lakewood" in December 2012; a judge claimed Guzman presented "no evidence.

When talk show host Larry King asked Osteen about abortion and same-sex marriage in his 2005 interview, Osteen replied, "You know what, Larry? I don't go there." But he did go there in January 2011, telling Piers Morgan Tonight, "I've always believed, Piers — the scripture shows that it's a sin, but I'm not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them they're terrible people and all that."

During another interview in October 2011, Morgan asked Osteen if his views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality had evolved. The preacher said his belief "really never changes" and that he's "not against anything," but it's "based out of the scripture. ... Homosexuality is a sin." He added, "Again, I would just reiterate what I said, I'm not after — I'm not mad at anybody. I don't dislike anybody." 

CNN's Soledad O'Brien asked Osteen how he could call himself an "uplifting" pastor if he declares homosexuality a sin. "I don't necessarily focus on that," Osteen said. "I only talk about that in interviews. It seems like in Christianity we categorize sin ... I don't think [homosexuality] is God's best."

CNN's Soledad O'Brien asked Osteen how he could call himself an "uplifting" pastor if he declares homosexuality a sin. "I don't necessarily focus on that," Osteen said. "I only talk about that in interviews. It seems like in Christianity we categorize sin ... I don't think [homosexuality] is God's best."

In August 2017, Joel Osteen faced enormous criticism for not opening his Lakewood Church, which can house 16,800 people, to serve as a shelter after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas. However, Osteen's camp insisted the controversy was a misunderstanding. Claiming the church "never closed [its] doors," and that it would be "value to the community in the aftermath of this storm," a Lakewood spokesman told CNN in a statement, "We will continue to be a distribution center ... We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity." 

Osteen's reps told the press that Lakewood temporarily closed due to flooding, but first-hand reports of dry conditions in the area were picked up by TMZ and other outlets. In his defense, Osteen told Today that Lakewood was dealing with "safety issues" during the initial impact of the storm. He also said the church waited until the city asked it to operate as a shelter to start doing so. "I think some somehow social media can be very powerful and they can create this false narrative," Osteen told the morning show.


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