One Problem With Joel Osteen’s Response

What We Can Learn From It

Joel Osteen’s response to Hurricane Harvey created a social media firestorm. Lakewood Church’s response is problematic, for at least one significant reason.

Several days ago, Hurricane Harvey ravaged parts of the Texas Gulf Coast, including parts of Houston. The storm took the lives of some and displaced thousands. Many churches, mosques, and even furniture stores immediately opened their doors to shelter victims.

Joel Osteen’s Response

But, Lakewood Church, the largest church in the country, initially closed theirs. According to Lakewood officials, the church did not open its doors because the flood waters made it inaccessible. Based on pictures, the church did appear to have taken on a lot of water from the flood. But, then Pastor Osteen gave another fascinating reason why they did not immediately open their doors. They did not immediately become a refuge because the City of Houston didn’t ask them. Lakewood didn’t initiate compassion; they waited for Houston to ask them to show compassion. The fury of the social media onslaught was quick, ferocious, and unrelenting, making Pastor Osteen a walking meme. Probably, rightfully so. This explanation is unconscionable.

Let’s Be Gracious

With that said, because he is a brother in Christ, we are obligated to give grace to Pastor Osteen. To be fair to Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church, they did open their doors to shelter people who have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey, albeit after a boat load of pressure. Moreover, in 2016, Clay Walker, along with Joel Osteen and Lakewood, hosted a benefit concert when a flood displaced thousands in Houston. They raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city of Houston. So, I think we should give him a little grace because God has been gracious to us. Also, when we make mistakes like this, we, too, will want and need grace. With that said, his response to Hurricane Harvey, however, was unGod-like and a major leadership mistake.

One Problem With Joel Osteen’s Response

His response and posture were very problematic, for at least one reason. Joel’s Osteen’s response is problematic because of the nature/character of God.

Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. Exodus 3:7-9

God doesn’t wait to be asked to show compassion; he lovingly responds to the suffering of his creation. Here is an additional sampling of Scriptures where God initiates.

Genesis 1:1, 26; 3:15, 21

John 1:14

John 3:16

Romans 5:8, 10

Ephesians 1:4

Ephesians 2:8-10

Waiting on Houston to ask Lakewood to become a shelter, rather than taking the initiative to be a haven, Joel Osteen was so unGod-like. Now, I am not saying Joel Osteen is not a believer. All I am saying is, in this instance, his initial response did not adequately reflect the nature of God.

Initiating Compassion

God initiates compassion, and he expects his kids to do likewise. In fact, the Father’s love for his children creates capacity in them to initiate compassion towards others.

When we live under the reign and rule of God, we will reflect the nature of God through initiating compassion toward others. Matthew 25:31-46 is one of the clearest passages in the New Testament to highlight this truth. In the Kingdom of God, practicing mercy and justice on behalf of “the least of these,” is what ultimately separates those who enter life and those who do not. If we see needs and do not initiate a response, then it proves that we have not yet been gripped by this good news that renovates and revolutionizes the heart. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive to the cries and suffering of people in our world.

God Gives Second Chances

Yes, Joel Osteen’s response was a leadership mistake and his reputation is taking a big hit for it. If he had to do it over again, he probably would initiate compassion rather than waiting for someone to ask him to show compassion. Like Pastor Osteen, I will make mistakes – big and small – but I am glad God continues to initiate compassion toward me, giving me second, third, and fourth chances to get it right.

With what needs, in your sphere of influence, will you initiate a response? 

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  • Karen Hossink

    Thanks for this response, Pastor.
    It’s good to hear someone I respect weigh-in on the issue.

    • Marvin Williams

      Karen, thanks for your encouragement. My intention was not to pile on, but to bring high support and challenge to the issue. When I write somewhat controversial pieces, I try to be as fair and balance as I possibly can. Moreover, I am open to people pushing back as well. I desire to remain teachable. Again, thanks for your encouragement.

  • W Eric Croomes

    I like Joel Osteen, like his positive theology. What arrested my attention was his constant referencing the “shelter within four miles” of Lakewood. It appears you are correct in surmising he was waiting to be asked to take action. It was a gaffe. Osteen appeared taken off-guard. Hopefully he will learn from it.

    • Marvin Williams

      Croomes, I appreciate you leaving a response. It means a lot to me for you to take time to read and respond. I think Pastor Osteen did make a gaffe – one that could have been easily corrected with “I misspoke and Lakewood is willing and ready to serve the community as we have done in the past. I do believe he will learn from it. At least, I hope.