The most outrageous advice Joel Osteen has ever given

Joel Osteen is the leader of the largest megachurch in America, with roughly 43,500 weekly visitors (via CBS News). His famous megawatt smile charms churchgoers, and his sermons keep them coming back for more. A cursory look at Lakewood Church's sanctuary, the former Compaq Center in Houston seating more than 16,000 people, might lead a skeptic to wonder how the church amassed enough wealth to purchase an arena-sized worship hall. While a slew of charlatan televangelists have preyed on their parishioners' generosity in a very un-holy way to bankroll a lavish lifestyle, Osteen appears to be on the straight and narrow.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the megachurch pastor was a reserved kid unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role at Lakewood in 1999, when his father, John Osteen, who founded the church along with wife Dodie in 1959, passed away. Since taking the helm, the younger Osteen's financial success has been largely derived from the sale of books, calendars, and other merchandise. In fact, People reports, Osteen stopped taking his $200,000 annual salary in 2005. While Osteen's financial transparency is refreshing, he is not without controversy. Sometimes, his advice raises eyebrows instead of raising the roof.

Don't fear God

There is a wide variety of doctrines under the umbrella of Christianity. The age-old battle between Catholicism and Protestantism is well-documented, but differences in teachings among and between Protestant denominations are vast. One area where Joel Osteen's gospel splits from that of fundamentalist Christians is the idea that God need not be feared. Osteen sparked an evolution of the meaning of "evangelical" when he found his own voice, according to the Houston Chronicle. While his father's sermons had a much more traditional bend, Joel Osteen has all but abandoned themes of judgment, fear, and guilt in favor of an inspirational message: God has good things in store for all of us. Osteen's prosperity gospel surrounds the central idea that God blesses each of us when we are a blessing to others.

Osteen told CBS News, "Most people are beaten down enough by life ... I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up." This approach does not appeal to more conservative Christians, who prefer a ministry that strictly follows the bible, with a focus on salvation. Osteen told the Houston Chronicle he views himself as a preacher-cum-life-coach, explaining, "I realized I wasn't like my father. He was more of a traditional pastor. I'm more of an encourager." And that encouragement seems to resonate with his ever-growing congregation. Osteen's sermons are broadcast in more than 100 countries and more than 100 million households.

Careful not to rob God!

According to an article on Lakewood Church's website, the prosperity gospel is a strange marriage between the Law of Attraction and Christianity, where people are encouraged to give what they want to receive, ostensibly material riches, while also obeying the teachings of Christ. More traditional Christians view the prosperity gospel as disingenuous to the Bible's teachings about giving, and it isn't hard to see why.

Joel Osteen doesn't ask for money during his broadcasts, but Lakewood Church's website lists plenty of different ways to give. The church has a $90 million annual budget, per the Chron, and Osteen says expanding the reach of Lakewood Church is his biggest priority, telling the paper, "I know what my gifts are and where God has blessed me, and I'm trying to be a good steward of that." When they moved into the church's current location, donations and a loan allowed for a $115 million renovation of the sports arena.

To those who scoff at his wealth, he told CBS News, "I do think there is a certain thought, especially in the church world, that you're supposed to be poor and broke and defeated to show that you're humble. And see, I don't buy into that." The pastor can afford to buy into just about anything else — and trust us, Osteen owns some expensive items.

Pope Francis is A-okay

Joel Osteen had the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014, thanks to a trip organized by The International Foundation. He was part of a small American delegation visiting Rome "to promote ecumenical prayer and interfaith understanding," as revealed by Deseret News. This journey to see the pope drew ire from one of Texas' fundamentalist preachers, Pastor Mark Herridge Sr. of Pentecostal Lighthouse Church. Herridge told Christian News Network, "Any Protestant ministry that links up with the pope and Catholicism is betraying the sacrifice of millions of faithful Christians that have died at the hands of this brutal, dictatorial and oppressive religion that has never represented the Church of the Living God as outlined in New Testament teaching."

Still, Pope Francis and the head of the Lakewood Church share one main goal: expanding church membership around the globe. On the pontiff's vision, Osteen told Chron, "I like the fact that this pope is trying to make the church larger, not smaller. He's not pushing people out but making the church more inclusive. That resonated with me." 

While the megachurch leader is quick to dole out praise, Osteen's prosperity gospel doesn't resonate with Pope Francis. Two of his top advisors wrote a piece entitled "The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different" for the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica – and they called Osteen out by name.

He said some dicey things to Hurricane Harvey victims

Following Hurricane Harvey's tour of destruction through Houston in 2017, Joel Osteen could not win for losing. First, there was the shame of Osteen not offering his church as a shelter to evacuees and people whose homes were destroyed by the storm. Then, he was shamed for what he said to those evacuees once they were there. There's tone-deaf, and then there's the concept of telling people who've lost their homes to flooding to stay positive sort of tone-deaf. Unfortunately, Osteen was the latter.

Osteen had already received swift backlash on social media for not opening up Lakewood Church to displaced victims immediately following the storm, and he probably thought his bad-PR stint was in the rear-view mirror once he offered shelter. But, then, he said the following during his sermon (via Newsweek) to the displaced Houston residents: "We are not going to understand everything that happens but, you know, having a 'poor old me' mentality or 'look what I lost' or 'why did this happen,' that's just going to pull you down." Osteen was trying to tell the parishioners to stay positive and trust that God will help them out of this terrible situation. 

Naturally, some interpreted his statement as, "Quit your whining!" Open mouth, insert foot.

Don't waste your time dwelling on past mistakes

Members of all Christian denominations are taught to seek repentance for their sins. While Joel Osteen does quote scripture and reference the core tenets of Christianity in his sermons, traditional hellfire-and-brimstone preaching never really appealed to him. Instead of telling parishioners to confess and repent, he encourages them to "shake off the shame."

There are no crosses at Lakewood Church, and Osteen told Vanity Fair that both he and his father chose to instead have a globe or world map behind them to symbolize Jesus' directive to "go forth and preach hope to the world." Discussing the role of Christ with Church Executive, Osteen said, "When Jesus was here, he lifted the fallen, he restored those who were broken ... I believe in sin and repentance from sin, but we've all made mistakes. Life beats us up, and I feel like my message is to tell people to get back up and go again." 

Positivity in lieu of punishment helped earn Osteen the rank of third most influential evangelical in America by Newsmax in 2017, second only to Billy and Franklin Graham.

Avoid news and war movies

Joel Osteen believes finding "the rest of God" is immensely important. News about disasters can prevent us from keeping the peace of mind found in God's rest. After watching a war movie with his wife, Osteen recounts a struggle. Per his blog, "It was very violent ... I arrived there in peace simply wanting to be entertained. But when I left, I was on edge. I felt like I had been run over by a truck. That whole night, I dreamed I was in the middle of that war," he said. "The next day, I had to get up and finish preparing my message for Saturday night. I learned my lesson! What you take in the night before affects your day."

According to Osteen, paying attention to our consciousness and erecting boundaries to keep the outside world at bay will mitigate intrusion into God's peace. "You can't watch the news 24 hours a day and expect to stay at rest," he writes. "Your mind wasn't meant to take in all the tragedies, accidents and killings over and over. That's going to pull you out of the place of rest. Do yourself a favor; turn it off." 

Who among us has not been utterly frazzled when focused on current events? We could all use a little peace of mind in this crazy world, but a full-on war might break out in real life if we try to limit entertainment options in the age of streaming.

Accept others as they are

This advice might fall on deaf ears for the subset of Christians in the "repent for your sins or you're eternally damned to hell" camp, but it is a good rule of thumb for the rest of us. Joel Osteen believes in loving others with unconditional acceptance as they are. However, he seems to toe the line on homosexuality. He told CNN's Piers Morgan in 2011 that it's an issue he doesn't fully understand from a religious perspective but that gays should never be relegated to "second class." Conversely, he said on The View (via Advocate) in 2009 that homosexuality isn't "God's best." Hmm.

Osteen told HuffPost in 2013, "I believe that God breathed life into every person and that every person is made in the image of God and you have [to] accept them as they are, on their journey. I'm not here to preach hate." Osteen's experiences with people of other faiths have shown him they can ultimately do good — just like Christians. On Larry King Live, the megachurch preacher said he doesn't feel it's his place to determine who gets to go to heaven. Hello, prayer palooza!

Don't be alone with a woman other than your wife

Joel Osteen told The Christian Post he follows the Billy Graham rule, which the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association defines as a mandate to, among other things, prevent sexual immorality by avoiding "any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion." This essentially mandates that a man can never be alone with a woman other than his wife. Some see the practice as respectful to marriage. Others find it regressive. Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse thinks the rule indicates weakness on the part of the man, suggesting that actions taken to avoid temptation "don't honor your wife," adding, "They just presume that your marriage vows are so flimsy that you can't be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you."

Mike Pence has also been under fire for this practice. He told The Hill in 2002 that he won't dine alone with a woman other than his wife or go to an event where alcohol is served without her by his side. A HuffPost piece describes the manner in which this adversely affects women's careers and asserts that men who engage in this practice should not be in a position of power to influence policy.

Don't let your problems overpower your life

Leaning heavily into the "Law of Attraction" aspect of the prosperity gospel, Joel Osteen doles out some strange advice about finding answers to our burning questions. One recommended method of finding love involves propelling oneself into marriage by placing an empty photo album on a table in your home — where you want your wedding album to be. The remainder of this particular plan seems to be blind optimism. A will-it-into-being approach might be an effective tool for getting people into the right mind space for life changes, but it doesn't deliver much in the way of discovering profound answers or finding bliss.

Osteen is fond of saying, "The question is not, Do you have a problem? ... The question is, Does the problem have you?" (via The New York Times). In other words, don't let your problems rule your life. If we are to unearth answers to life's great questions, Osteen says we need to accept that God is in charge of all of the moving parts. We're all out here like Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, solving a mystery hidden by an invisibility cloak.

You cannot expect victory and plan for defeat

Nobody wants a Debbie Downer, and Joel Osteen says God is a panacea for all that ails us. To get into the headspace to expect and receive positive outcomes, Osteen's advice is: "When you are criticizing yourself, you are criticizing God's creation. The next time you think something negative, turn that around, and say, 'I am God's masterpiece'" (via Salon). Not only are we a masterpiece, but we must expect only success! Osteen is famous for telling parishioners to be "victors, not victims."

The winning in this scenario, which arguably beats Charlie Sheen's winning, seems to be in God's hands, which negates the age-old adage, "Plan for the worst and hope for the best." 

Perhaps it's former US Central Command (CENTCOM) leader, General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who said it best: "Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everybody you meet." Everybody loves a good plan!

'There may be times when you just have to love people from a distance'

Long before a global pandemic necessitated social distancing, Joel Osteen advocated for loving people from afar. His Twitter post on the topic meant erecting boundaries for safe emotional space, of course. As he once said, "Life is too short to try to have peace with people who don't want to have peace with you" (via YouTube). If ever there was advice perfect for 2020, "love people from a distance" is it — unlike shamed televangelist Jim Bakker's bogus coronavirus cure.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Osteen's Easter service was delivered to an empty arena of seats, save a few staffers, with viewers eagerly tuning into the broadcast. TMZ first reported his star-studded program would feature Mariah Cary, Tyler Perry, and Kanye West (who later dropped out amid social distancing concerns). He told Grit Daily his already-existing broadcast capability for a global audience enabled him to go virtual immediately, saying, "Fortunately, we had our online platform, and this network of television stations already lined up. Other than not seeing everyone in person, it hasn't changed that much." Let's hope everyone who watched stayed six feet apart and wore a cloth face covering.