God, Without the Fuss
The head of the nation's largest church preaches a self-help Gospel to millions of people. Thomas Golianopoulos find's out what's behind pastor Joel Osteen's smile.
The pastor of the country's largest congregation thinks we've got God all wrong. If you need a parking space, God can help out. He also wants you to be rich, and doesn't particularly care if you're Christian. It's all part of Joel Osteen's new brand of self-help spirituality, and it's sweeping the nation.Joel Osteen has divined a foolproof way to build consensus. During meetings, the pastor will often field ideas from his staff. If he likes one, great. If not, he'll just say, "Let me think about that." In fact, there's a joke about it around Lakewood Church's offices: When Joel says, "Let me think about that," he's just passed on your idea. "No" is too harsh a word. Too negative. And that wouldn't befit America's most successful pastor.Onstage, Osteen is similarly upbeat. He's so careful not to offend that he won't name specific players when talking about his disappointments as a sports fan in Houston, let alone discuss whether or not his non-Christian followers-and they are many-will make it into Heaven. "I feel like it can almost divide the audience I'm trying to reach," he says. And what an audience it is. Every Sunday, the largest congregation in the country gathers for Osteen's sermons about self-betterment and positivity inside a renovated basketball stadium in Houston; millions more tune in to his TV show.
|\nOsteen on the JumboTron inside his Lakewood Church, a converted stadium in Houston\n|
|It's the Bless-Me Club. It is self-help, and that kind of message plays very well in America. It's the opposite of the message of salvation, which is that you are saved by grace from God.|
|Some people are just never going to understand or never going to agree with me....They think I ought to go out and tell people all that they are wrong and all that. And that's just not me.|
|\nJoel Osteen and his wife Victoria, who often preaches with him\n|
|\nOsteen's congregation sings along to uplifting Christian rock songs.\n|
|The reason [Osteen is] so popular is because of the infantilism of America. He feeds the Paris Hilton, Britney Spears culture. It's all me. Benefit me. What can I do for me? How can I feel better? It's all me-centered.|