Media Fails to Report on Joel Osteen’s Unsavory Choice of Charity

On April 25, 2009, Joel and Victoria Osteen brought their motivational message to the Big Apple. Approximately 40,000 people showed up at the brand new 1.5 billion dollar Yankee Stadium to attend A Night of Hope with Joel & Victoria. When asked at the pre-show press conference what he wanted to say to New Yorkers regarding the current financial crisis, Joel replied:

I would say to them probably what I’m going to say to most of the people today. Keep your head up. Keep beleving that good things are going to come, that this is a season that we will pass through. Really don’t get negative. Don’t get bitter. Don’t get discouraged cause that just draws in more of that negativity. So, I’m going to encourage people that we all go through difficulties. But I think God can bring us out and he can somehow bring us out better. So, just try to inspire them to keep believing.

Osteen delivered a similar response during his interview with Beliefnet founder Steve Waldman. Reflecting on Osteen’s message, Waldman wrote:

Osteen has been criticized for “cotton candy” Christianity because he de-emphasizes the challenging aspects of Christianity—the sinful nature of man, God’s judgment. But while one can mock Osteen for his relentless cheerfulness, he’s the one who’s best tapped into the current national mood—“it’s all about hope”—a weariness of culture wars, and a desire to focus on God’s love rather than his wrath.

New York Magazine offered this critique: “The real problem is that Osteen’s metaphysics can sound a lot like the kind of magical thinking that helped bring on the economic meltdown in the first place.” Most of the remaining media coverage focused on Joel coming to bless Yankee Stadium, as he hopes to make a hit with a few scant mentions that some folks criticize Joel for preaching a simplistic version of the Gospel.

None of these media outlets noted that this event is being carried throughout the world via Trinity Broadcasting Network’s (TBN) thirty-three international satellites. (For an overview of the controversies surrounding TBN, check out this 2004 article from the Los Angeles Times titled, “TBN’s Promise: Send Money and See Riches.” Given the amount of money TBN will be making from this broadcast, one has to wonder why they charged a $15.00 admission fee and then passed the bucket to solicit additional donations “to support future events like this one.” (Billy Graham’s NYC Crusades held in 2005 were free for all too attend with a free will offering for those who wanted to contribute.)

Then there’s the not so itty-bitty problem with their charity of choice. Feed the Children sounds like a noble gesture (though naming a facility “The Victoria Osteen Abandoned Baby Center” is just downright creepy.) But this charity has consistently received an F grade from the American Institute of Philanthropy for low program spending and high fundraising costs.

In a 2005 story on charity fraud, ABC News reported, “it is easy to confuse Save the Children—a well-run organization—with Feed the Children, a group that experts say is less efficient.” Their coverage on Osteen’s visit to Yankee Stadium makes no mention of this earlier reporting. Not even Forbes noted the financial discrepancies associated with the Osteens’ charity of choice.

Yes people flock to Joel because they love his hope-filled message. But just as the media warns the public about public health outbreaks, they should apply the same due diligence in alerting the public to avoid consuming faith fast food. Like McDonald’s, Joel appeals to the masses; but both McDonalds’ and Joel’s message contain ingredients that are bad for one’s physical and spiritual health respectively.

bgthedoor@aol.com'

Becky Garrison contributes to a range of outlets including The Washington Post's On Faith section, The Guardian, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, Killing the Buddha, Believe Out Loud, and American Atheist. Her seven books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (2013), and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (Jossey-Bass, 2006).