In Which I Actually Defend Joel Osteen

Honestly, I can’t believe I am about to write a post in defense of Joel Osteen—but the attack launched on him by Albert Mohler Jr. for Osteen’s latest appearance on Piers Morgan’s show prompts me to do so.

Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, writes over at The Christian Post that Osteen’s inability to stand up for Christian convictions makes him the worst kind of Christian spokesperson. It’s true, Osteen spent a lot of time bobbing and weaving on topics like abortion and capital punishment.

On both topics, Piers Morgan pressed Joel to speak clearly, which he was clearly reluctant to do. On both topics, Osteen steered clear of disaster by saying as little as possible, in what can only be described as a garble.

Where Osteen stood firm was in his belief that homosexuality is a sin, saying:

You know, Piers, it really never changes because mine was—mine’s based out of the scripture. That’s what I believe that the scripture says that—that homosexuality is a sin. So, it—you know, I believed it before and I still believe it now. Again, I would just reiterate what I said, I’m not after—I’m not mad at anybody. I don’t dislike anybody. But, you know, you know, respecting my faith and believing, you know, in—in what the scripture says, that’s the best way I can interpret it.

But, it was the revelation that Osteen, while condemning homosexuality as a sin and refusing to perform same-sex marriages himself, has attended some same-sex weddings for people who “were dear to us,” that really got Mohler riled:

This is beyond mere incoherence. It is moral and theological nonsense. More than that, it is a massive statement of ministerial malpractice. Piers Morgan had the sense to see that much. You cannot celebrate what you say you know to be sin. You cannot honestly say that same-sex marriage defies the law of God, and then join in the celebration of that ceremony.

It’s not really beyond incoherence. Instead, it makes a lot of sense to me. I believe this is where the majority of people are in their acceptance of gays and lesbians and their right to marry. They are experiencing “cognitive dissonance,” which Mohler blasts Osteen for revealing. Instead of acknowledging that perhaps Osteen is trying to put together the outright condemnation of homosexuality that he’s been taught with the love he witnesses between two “dear” friends whose wedding he attended, Mohler simply slams him for not standing up for those long-held condemning convictions.

Unless convictions are deeply held, they will melt away in the face of cultural pressure.

Actually, it’s not “cultural pressure” that can reform deeply held convictions – but the reality of the situation before a person is what really changes them. Osteen and many others are witnessing the love between people of the same sex and their willingness to commit to one another through marriage and they are rethinking their position on the traditional message that gay and lesbian people are the personification of evil and moral turpitude.

While they’ve been taught from the pulpit that gays and lesbians tear at the moral fabric of our country, they simply fail to see it out in the real world beyond the church walls. Instead, they see loving, committed couples, living lives much like their own. It creates that “cognitive dissonance” that, in time, reveals those deeply held convictions as nothing but long held prejudices passed from generation to generation. I have hope that one day Osteen will change his mind because of that “cognitive dissonance” that Mohler so scorns.

It was that “cognitive dissonance” of believing in a God of love and freedom, yet seeing fellow human beings held in bondage that prompted the new abolitionists to propel their deep convictions about the rightness of slavery. That same belief prompted former racists to reject discrimination of any kind against people because of their race. It was that “cognitive dissonance” of believing in a God that created men and women equally that propelled former misogynists to give up their deep convictions about the subservience of women. What melts away is not deeply held convictions, but the false premises that those deeply held convictions were based upon. What former slavery supporters, racists and misogynists all have in common is that they allowed reality—not “cultural pressure”—to change their minds. They looked upon the plight of their fellow human beings and found their treatment to be unfair, inhumane, and, dare I say it, un-Christian.

Mohler also criticizes Morgan for asserting that scripture should “be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age.”

There you have the modernist worldview reduced to a single question. The Bible will simply have to give way to modern moral authorities, and have to be interpreted “in a way that evolves.”

The question for Mohler, then, is this — should we completely go back to those deeply held convictions about scripture in the past? Do we really want to go back to slavery, to the subjugation of women and division of the races (those last two may have some evangelical support, I think)? Do we really want to uphold the deeply held conviction of the ancient Hebrews that unruly children should be put to death along with homosexuals? The Bible still supports these things even though we—including most “modernist” evangelicals—have rejected these deeply held convictions because their interpretation of scripture has indeed “evolved.”

If Mohler is going to rake Osteen over the coals for what he believes is his wishy-washy view on homosexuality and for not standing up for deeply held convictions, then he must explain why most of Christianity has rejected so many past deeply held convictions. The truth is, it has always been that “cognitive dissonance” that has caused the evolution of how we perceive and interpret the message of scripture for the modern day. It has happened with other issues, and it is now happening with the issue of homosexuality. What should appall Mohler the most is not Osteen’s willingness to admit that his is of two minds on the issue, but that his own single-minded, unbending view in the face of “evolving” reality has always ended up in the dustbin of history.