Joel Osteen—author of such self-help favorites as Become A Better You and Living In Favor, Abundance And Joy—must have a hard time taking his own advice to interviews. When he’s up on stage at his Houston megachurch, it’s all joy and abundance and, well, betterness. But when he’s on the other end of the microphone, being asked questions about homosexuality, you can see the discomfort wash over him.
The ladies on The View cornered him on the subject back in 2009, and his evasive answer was that homosexuality was not “God’s best” for such people. He retreated to the tired “some of his closest friends are gay, and that they tend to be ‘some of the nicest people in the world.'” Just not God’s best.
Some of those nice, close friends of Joel’s may want to have a few words with him after his appearance this week on Piers Morgan’s new talk show on CNN. He again reiterates assessment of who might or might not get a good grade from God, and then takes it another step further to call some of his closest friends “sinners,” because “the scripture clearly shows that it’s a sin.”
OSTEEN: I don’t think homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life. Sin means to miss the mark, but I don’t think being prideful, or being, lying or …
MORGAN: You don’t normally talk about sin. That’s the first time I’ve heard you spell it out.
OSTEEN: I think I’ve grown in my knowledge. Those first interviews … I mean this is all new to me. I didn’t go to seminary. I was raised in this but in front of the camera. People say I don’t talk about sin, but I do talk about how we live our life and making good choices. I believe the greatest sin is to miss the mark and not know our creator.
MORGAN: When you see civil partnerships being sanctioned. Do you think that’s wrong?
OSTEEN: Yes, I think it’s wrong, but I’m not going to bash those people. I’m not going to be against those people. They’re good people. I say it’s wrong because that’s what the scripture says. I choose to live my life by what I read in the scripture.
MORGAN: Say a friend of mine like Elton John watching this at home, who with his partner—a civil partner, David Furnish—have just had a surrogate child which was born on Christmas day. They’re going to be pretty angry what they hear. They’re going to think who are you to call them a sinner.
J. OSTEEN: Yes. MORGAN: But why are they sinners in your eyes?
J. OSTEEN: Well, it’s strictly back to what the scripture says. I mean, I can’t grab one part and say God wants you to be blessed and live an abundant life, and not grab the other part that says, you know what? You know, live that kind of life. So it comes back to the scripture. I’m not the judge. You know, God didn’t tell me to go around judging everybody.
MORGAN: I think you are a kind of judge. I think you can’t abrogate that kind of responsibility, because of your influence – 7-million, 8-million viewers every Sunday. When you say things like “homosexuality is a sin” you are a judge, and you’re encouraging your congregation to believe that.
It’s almost sad to see Osteen’s defensiveness and confusion when it comes to this issue. As he said, he didn’t go to seminary, so he didn’t get the benefit of doing any close reading of the scriptures in their original Greek and Hebrew, or else he’d understand that the words used in these passages do not connote homosexuality as we understand it today, but instead describes behaviors associated with idol worship, or sexual abuse.
Despite having close friends who are gay, Osteen insists on painting gays and lesbians as living some odd, out of the mainstream lifestyle when he says they “live that kind of life.” I live in a house in a suburb where I have four dogs, two cats, a mortgage, a utility bill that makes my eyes pop, and I have to wash dishes and take out the trash. I go to church every Sunday (I’m the pastor, I kind of have to be there), and I kiss my wife when she leaves the house and when she comes home. It is, to quote Osteen, very much my best life now.
Three cheers for Morgan, though, who refuses to let him off the hook when he conflates homosexuality and addiction:
MORGAN: What would you say to a homosexual watching this. What do they have to do to change to be better people?
OSTEEN: I don’t know that I understand it all. Well, I believe it’s a process, but I believe that God can give us grace to change. We’ve seen people break addictions and do other things as well.
MORGAN: Addictions? I don’t want to bang on about this, but an addiction to alcohol or drugs or something is one thing, but being gay, you’re gay. There’s not much you can do about it. I don’t believe it’s something you choose to be. I don’t think Elton john woke up one day and thought ‘I quite fancy being gay today.’ It’s much harder than an average addiction.
OSTEEN: It is. It’s a difficult issue. I don’t understand all the answers. I just come back to what I read in the scriptures. I can’t ignore that. I don’t know that I understand it all, but I come back to this, we’re for people. It’s not going to do any good to bash people and say you’re second class. We have gay people in our church. We have people from different faiths. It’s a hard issue and I don’t know that I fully understand it.
I’m glad to see Osteen admitting that he doesn’t fully have the answer here. Perhaps if he ever does, he’ll write a book about how everyone, really everyone, can live in favor, abundance, and joy.