Joel Osteen and Annise Parker: Strange Stage-fellows

Houston is the home of Lakewood Church – the mega-church that meets in an old sports arena that seats tens of thousands every Sunday. The leader of that church, televangelist and best-selling author Joel Osteen, gave the opening prayer as Houston inaugurated Annise Parker as mayor last week. Parker took the oath on her grandmother’s Bible, held by her partner, Kathy Hubbard.

That’s right, Mayor Parker is a lesbian.

Osteen blessed the new mayor, praying at her inauguration: “God, we just thank you for raising her up. We honor her today and other elected officials . . . We count it a joy and an honor to be here.”

Osteen’s presence was a bit puzzling to me. True, he’s probably Houston’s most famous pastor, but he chose to deliver a positive prayer for his city’s new mayor. It’s almost enough to warm my heart toward Osteen – who last year told the ladies on The View that homosexuality is not “God’s best” for people.

Then I read a statement from Don Iloff Jr., a spokesman for Osteen, on why he chose to pray at the event:

“If you ask Joel he’ll tell you ‘when I can pray at an event over government leaders and in Jesus’ name it’s hard to resist,'” Iloff said. Osteen prayed for the previous mayor, Bill White, at his inauguration.

“Annise says she’s a believer. Let her stand before God; that’s kind of where Joel is,” Iloff noted. “He’s not going to tell homosexuals they can’t come to our church. If the Holy Spirit convicts them, then they’ll change.”

Not to read too much into Iloff’s statement, but what I hear is that Osteen took the opportunity mix politics, religion, and friendship evangelism all at once. He got to pray “in Jesus’ name” at a government event for an elected official who happens to be an open lesbian, who says she believes in God – but the Holy Spirit still has a chance to convict her heart and change her at some point.

But, hey, perhaps I’m jaded and always tend to hear anti-gay messages when spoken by anti-gay people, even if it is spoken in pretty code.

Michael Jones over at celebrated Osteen’s appearance at the inauguration: “But give both Osteen and Parker some credit. Today was a day for the history books for LGBT politicians, and also a day where a socially conservative evangelical leader and a progressive lesbian mayor found some common ground in celebrating a victory.”

This was written before Iloff’s made his comments. After hearing from Iloff, I can’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t so much about Osteen finding common ground with Parker as much as it was simply Osteen taking another opportunity to be in the limelight and for his spokesman to once again remind the world that gays, while welcome to worship and run the city, are still not “God’s best.”