Joel Osteen is 61 years old this year. Twenty years of immensely clever Oprah-shtick have made him $100M+ or more. Decades of this fruitless heresy benefits no-one and is a damning indictment of the postmodern era. Regular readers will, as always, know this kind of article tends to be bad news for its subject and pre-date catastrophe.
Endless articles denounce and "expose" the Osteens for the typical crimes: poor scripture, prosperity gospel heresy, gratuitous wealth, hypocrisy, etc. Largely these charges are bad-faith politicking by covetous actors, and rarely involve anything illegal or improper; the Osteens are much too clever to expose themselves to such risk. Americans know it's a scam; they simply can't explain why to the secular mind. GotQuestions.org provides a handy cheatsheet: https://www.gotquestions.org/Joel-Osteen.html
However, in the aggregate, it is true there is much, much, much is wrong with this church and its royal dynasty. The strange facts add up to something deeply ignoble. We'll examine the objective, indisputable facts, and only those, rather than the heresy. But first, we must take a trip back through time back and up to the eighties.
1966: Name it and claim it, God wants health and wealth
Around the turn of the 20th century, "New Thought" and spiritualism were all the rage in the North America. Mesmer's "animal magnetism" and Phileas Quimby's "mental science" had captured public imagination. The fundamental idea behind it was we humans could bend reality to our will - mind over body - through the power of words and incantations; a more sophisticated idea of casting spells.
In 1886, Prentice Mulford published "The Law of Success", which later became "The Law of Attraction", then "The Secret" toted by Oprah.
This insanity invaded the Methodist church courtesy of Essek William Kenyon (E.W Kenyon, "What I confess, I possess"), and was developed on a secular level via Napoleon Hill ("Think and Grow Rich") and Norman Vincent Peale ("The Power of Positive Thinking").
Around 1966, Kenneth Hagin Sr, started publishing "Word of Faith" magazine. It evolved into the modern "Word of Faith" and “name it claim it” movements for "health and wealth". A beautiful summation is provided by the In Truth She Delights blog:
The Word of Faith is a movement led by a network of charismatic preachers who teach that it’s God’s desire for every born-again believer to have health, wealth, and prosperity.
Also known as the “prosperity gospel”, the Word of Faith movement teaches Christians that they can control the outcome of their lives through positive thinking and speaking. They hold that faith can be manipulated through the spoken word to make the promises in Scripture become a reality for the believer.
A great summary of the history is curated by the Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-kanye-should-know-about-joel-osteen/
As a result, we then got the televangelism channels and "preachers" such as:
- Oral Roberts
- Kenneth Copeland
- Benny Hinn
- Creflo Dollar
- Jerry Savelle
- Charles Capps
- Bill Winston
- Charles Nieman
- Hobart Freeman
And, of course, Joyce Meye, TD Jakes, and... Joel Osteen.
The root of the problem is Gnosticism, again, and in Genesis 3:5, as usual:
"because God knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God."
1980: Televangelism collapses into infamy
The most infamous TV preacher, Oral Roberts, hit a money problem in 1980. He claimed God would "call him home" (i.e. kill him) if he didn't raise $8 million for his university. He finally did, but not without some serious problems from the press.
Six years later, in 1986, Marvin Gorman, another televangelist, got into a fight with his arch-rival, Jimmy Swaggart. Swaggart accused him of adultery with multiple women in his congregation. He admitted to one case of it, and he was defrocked.
The year afterwards, in 1987, saw the most egregious fall from grace in televangelism history, with the saga of Jimmy & Taye Bakker. Jim was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. On Oct. 5, 1989, a jury found Bakker guilty on all 24 counts. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine.
Around the same time, a vindictive Gorman hired his son and son-in-law to photograph Jimmy Swaggart - his former rival - with a local prostitute in a seedy hotel room. He confessed on TV.
By 1990, televangelism was over; denounced widely as a financial scam. The Osteen family business - the "Oasis of Love" at Lakewood church - was in trouble for no fault of its own. By 1988, the time of the Swaggart disaster, the congregation needed a venue to hold its 8000 people.
For more: The Rise and Fall of American Televangelism, Jeffrey K. Hadden
1990: Oprah invents the spiritual TV show
At the same time as the height of televangelism scandal in the mid-eighties, a young black news anchor had started hosting WLS-TV's Am Chicago, and taken it past Donahue to the top spot. On September 8, 1986, the first episode of the more widely circulated Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast. She went on to become the richest black woman in the world and a lone black billionaire.
It created the "Oprah Effect":
The Oprah Effect refers to the boost in sales that followed an endorsement on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", which aired on TV for 25 years. A recommendation from Oprah, the queen of talk shows, turned many fashion and lifestyle products into multimillion-dollar companies.
In the mid-90s, Oprah started to run out of ideas. It was then she turned to bullshit. By 2002, Christianity Today had concluded that Winfrey had emerged as an influential spiritual leader.
"Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare for more edifying content, and 1998, when she began 'Change Your Life TV', Oprah's most significant role has become that of a spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality."
"The Church of O", Christianity Today
Young Joel Osteen had been watching. It had been eight years since he had been running the TV production behind Lakewood Church's international broadcast, and it would be another eight years before he would become its star, via his very own Joel Osteen Show.
Gary Zukav, Eckhart Tolle, and Rhonda Byrne all received heavy endorsements from Saint Oprah. By 2007, she had started to market the century-old "Law of Attraction", rebranded as "The Secret". FarLeftipedia summarises it well:
Byrne re-introduces a notion originally popularized by persons such as Madame Blavatsky and Norman Vincent Peale that thinking about certain things will make them appear in one's life. Byrne provides examples of historical persons who have allegedly achieved this. Byrne cites a three-step process: ask, believe, and receive. This is based on a quotation from the Bible's Matthew 21:22: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
Sound familiar? Another strand of it had emerged at the same time, eighty years before.
The Osteen family tradition of bypassing qualification
Joel Osteen went to the new charismatic Oral Roberts university in Tulsa, Oklahoma around 1981 aged 18, but dropped out in 1982. ORU lists his undergrad as "telecommunications", the Houston Chronicle says it was "broadcasting", whereas Lakewood lists it as "radio and television communications".
There seems to be confusion as to which course he was on. The university thinks he was wiring pipes and fixing radios, everyone else thought he was doing TV presenting and talk shows.
This was in true Osteen fashion, however. His father, John, decided at 17 to simply start preaching in Paris, Texas without any qualifications, after leaving a nightclub in 1939. Before his doctorate at ORU, records insist, he
"completed a bachelor’s degree at John Brown University, and his 1944 Master’s thesis at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary."
Joel was given an honorary doctorate by ORU in Divinity in 2007, the year he gave the commencement speech. Both dad and son have degrees from ORU.
Oral Roberts University is a virtual list of lunatic and charlatan alumni, and seemingly functions as a televangelist madrassa:
- Fred Price
- Michele Bachmann
- Kenneth Copeland
- Joyce Meyer
The new "pastor" of America's megachurch didn't feel he needed to learn anything about theology or obtain any qualification in the subject. He didn't even feel the need to study any theology at all, because he was more interested in TV.
Paul gives direct command to Timothy on who may be a pastor in 1 Timothy 3.
Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?). He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
John Osteen divorced his first wife, Emma Jean Shaffer, around 1953.1954 (unclear) and started experiencing religious hysteria - e.g. visions, and "speaking in tongues" (the fictional nonsense of glossolalia) in 1958. His daughter, Lisa, born the same year as the charismatic "gifts", followed with her own divorce in the mid-80s, inspiring a book - of course - blaming the Devil.
90s: Ambitious Joel merges televangelism + Oprah
By 1990 it was clear televangelism, in its original form, could not continue. It could never be trusted again and could never ask for money. The brand was forever tarnished. For televangelism to survive, it would have to pivot. TV was all about Oprah and her New Age ideas now.
Just as psychology student Mark Zuckerberg discovered his hobby, programming, could not work properly without psychology, television production student Joel Osteen worked out his family's religious business could not work properly without Oprah-ism.
Joel knew what the problem was.
Asked why he doesn't ask for money during his TV broadcasts, Osteen says, "We didn't want anything to distract people when they were watchin’ to try to turn off the message. 'Cause we know how people are skeptical of TV ministers. 'Hey, there's a guy, he just wants my money.' I didn't want any of that." (60 Minutes)
To seem genuine and recover trust, it would need to be able to say "we're not asking for any money."
It would need to make its money from syndication and indirect means, such as books and merchandise. The future of religious TV was the same as movies: 360-degree marketing and selling of the merchandising peripherals; the ancillary rights of the platform.
Instead of soliciting donations directly, you'd sell books and courses. You'd need to avoid the charge of being out for the money.
Soon after taking over, Osteen hired Duncan Dodds, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who was also a branding specialist. (Houston Chronicle)
The Devil deserves his due: Osteen's observation was sociopathically brilliant. It grew the "ministry" 10X over to hundreds of millions of dollars.
1999: Inventing the "accidental pastor" myth
Perhaps the most damning piece of commentary about Joel Osteen's tenure comes from a long, long article in the Texas press.
Every week, Osteen regurgitates a variation of his origin story, the standard patter of which goes something like this:
I shouldn't be where I am. I didn't train to do what I'm doing. I wasn't planning on being a minister. When my father went to be with the Lord and I stepped up to pastor the church, we never dreamed it would grow. This is the sovereignty of God. I came into a set time of favor that God had ordained for me before I was formed in my mother's womb. I couldn't have made it happen.
We had no idea it would grow. Apart from the enormous multi-million dollar marketing strategy we orchestrated for it with dozens of specialists.
Stepped up? Or was it an appointed coronation by "female pastor", momma Dodie? Wanting a congregation of 100,000 people?
Who exactly was going to be crowned with succession? Was there any kind of deliberation by elders or governors?
Eyewitnesses paint a very, very different story indeed. They speak of an unusually ambitious young man who was ruthlessly meticulous.
Phil Cooke, a theologian and media consultant who helped produce John's TV programs, watched the younger Osteen's pursuit of perfection with astonishment as they shot openings and transitions. Gentle but determined, he would cajole his father to do another take. Then another. And another.
"I'd have to be the referee," Cooke said. "He had a vision in his mind of how he thought that scene should be like, and he would not let it go."
In the same article, his new wife's fondness for expensive things became apparent.
He wanted to buy a watch battery. She persuaded him to buy a new watch.
The couple sought challenges to tackle together, sometimes buying old houses to fix and flip.
What kind of watch, exactly? A nice $10,000 one? (She had no idea he was the single bachelor son of a multi-million-dollar church pastor, of course.)
We're left with a gaping wide hole begging a serious question: who exactly is the real man? Is it the humble, trembling unexpected hero no-one saw coming?
- Branding consultants?
- Flipping properties?
- Jewellery shops?
Does that tally with the accounts of a meticulous, obsessive perfectionist who didn't think he needed a degree in TV or theology, and even picked out his father's ties for the on-screen colour-profiling? It's difficult to square both in the same body.
Can you be humble and meticulous? Of course. But can you be humble and obsess over perfection?
Is it non-denominational or Charismatic Pentecostal?
Denominations in Christianity refer to the differing branches of the church and their separate interpretations of scripture and ritualistic practices.
The Osteens' and Lakewood's claim is the church is "non-denominational". Most churches would openly refute this and label it "Word of Faith" or "prosperity gospel". They might even agree, saying it has no denomination because it's nothing to do with Christianity.
It is more accurately a offshoot of Pentecostal thought, because John Osteen (dad) was a pastor for the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. He's even referred to as the "Father of Modern Pentecostalism".
Pentecostalism is a fairly modern movement within Christianity that can be traced back to the Holiness movement in the Methodist Church. A major focus of Pentecostal churches is Holy Spirit baptism as evidenced by speaking in tongues. There are approximately 170 different denominations that identify themselves as Pentecostal.
It shares a central belief in Holy Spirit gifts with another branch:
The Charismatic movement traces its roots to 1906, at the Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles, California, a Methodist-sponsored revival. It was there that people claimed to have been “baptized by the Holy Spirit” in the manner recorded in Acts chapter 2 during the celebration of Pentecost. People speaking in tongues and miracles of healing roused people to a spiritual frenzy.
The difference between them is difficult to understand, but can be defined as:
- Pentecostals have their own denomination and churches;
- Charismatics belong to traditional denominations.
Lakewood originated in John Osteen's Pentecostal beliefs. It is not a "non-denominational" church. At best, it was a baptist Pentecostal church which dropped the moniker in order to become a charismatic one.
Is it 42,000 or 16,800?
The most suspect of Lakewood claims is a "weekly attendance" of 42,000 people, which is quoted endlessly by every news outlet covering it. Anyone who has visited knows that figure is extremely suspicious. The Summit (the venue's original name) was cleverly designed by its previous owners to work well for scale and illusory size.
Just google the following phrase:
"which draws about 42,000 people each week for services"
What is the source of this claim? It appears to be Lakewood itself. Posters on the wall of the church state this number from planted news articles published in the early 2000s. How were they counting these numbers? By hand?
From the Houston Chronicle (https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/How-Joel-Osteen-made-himself-the-smiling-12960441.php) which cites "Lakewood Church financial statements and website, NPD BookScan, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's Office, Chronicle research by Katherine Blunt."
16,000 – number of seats at Lakewood Church, formerly the Compaq Center sports arena.
50,000 – weekly attendance
10 million – estimated number of weekly U.S. viewers of Osteen's televised sermons
Joel's own site claims:
That first week, Lakewood added over 10,000 new members, and within a year became one of the most popular out-of-town visitor destinations in Houston. Over the next few years, Lakewood continued its growth and currently draws more than 45,000 weekly attendees.
Lakewood's building - aka "The Summit" - cost $27M and was completed in 1975. It had been owned by the City of Houston since then, and leased to different organisations over time, such as Compaq and Toyota.
The building's capacity has always been 16,800. When counting the indoor sports space in addition, it would seem to be more like 17,500.
To reach 42,000 per week, it would require 2.5 services of 16,800 people - or, of course, many smaller services. Given it held 2-3 services on a Sunday, it would have required a full capacity all day.
How likely was it a church of 8000 people went to 42,000 a week? 10,000 in a week? How plausible are those figures without official auditing? And if it wasn't the case, what is to be done about the dishonesty of asserting it publicly?
Perhaps they meant the overall membership database, or the total number of people writing inside cards for more information. But given any Sunday sees the stadium less than half full, we should be highly skeptical of those numbers.
$100M, $25M, $20M, or $7.5M?
In addition to their "accidental pastor" mythos, the Osteens have a compelling origin story for their church building. It goes something like the following, which doesn't make a lot of sense:
I thought we would build a new sanctuary when Lakewood needed more space, not move into the former Compaq Center where the Rockets used to play.
In my imagination I could see the Lakewood sign out front. I could see myself on the platform ministering. I could see the crowd long before they got here. Many times at night, Victoria and I would drive up to the building. If nothing was going on we would get out and walk around and pray and believe and dream..
That's right, the Osteens dreamt of a 100,000-person church but had no idea or desire for an arena, because they wanted to do something more expensive and lengthy like building one. They couldn't believe they could do it, apart from when they'd drive there at night and spend 3 years doggedly fighting the city council for it.
The city agreed to lease the area to Lakewood for 30 years (or is it 60?) if they renovated it for $95M.
According to statements given to the Chronicle:
- Church donors provided $35M;
- Selling a church TV station added another $60M (!!!);
- It took another $20M of loans from Bank of America to close the deal at $115M in 2005. They were paid off in 2023.
The full leasing agreement is publicly available: https://www.houstontx.gov/council/committees/bfacommittee/3.29.10/lakewoodpurchaseagreement.pdf
Five years later in 2010, the city put it up for sale. Which is odd, considering they'd leased it for 30 or 60 years.
Lakewood bought it outright for $7.5M without any real public tender. The language is always clever: we moved in, acquired, obtained. It was not bought for $100M, although it sounds perilously close to the "believe and you too can buy stadiums" line.
In 2023, Osteen claimed they'd paid off a $100M loan. Not $20M.
Osteen said it cost $12 million to sign the lease on the building — money he had left over from his previous church.
“We walked in there and never met them before,” he said. “They knew nothing about our finances. They had a $25 million check on the table. They said, ‘You can have this today.’ I said, ‘If you’ll give us $25 (million), will you give us $100 (million)?’ And they said, ‘We’ll do it’.”
Is it likely bank executives would behave this way?
So his humble beginnings where a nestegg daddy had left $12 million (and the $60M TV station). The church took in $90M in 2017, and pays no taxes.
He didn't technically lie, just omit that he borrowed 400% than he told the Chronicle. What was the other $80M of the loan for, after bridging the renovation cost?
Why be so unclear?
Jets, Yachts, Mansions, Lamborghinis, Ferraris
Wealth isn't, by itself, disqualifying. An unhealthy interest in wealth is; much so. It's particularly bad when it comes to pastors. The Osteens' wealth is estimated to be $40-100M.
According to the Chronicle, "the church is ineligible to join the Evangelical Council because its board is controlled by Osteen, his wife Victoria and his sister Lisa". Which, of course, always works out well - Ravi Zacharias had the same structuring, and we now know why.
The list of the Osteens' known spending is extraordinary:
- At least three homes, the main one being $13M (17,000 sq ft) in the wealthiest suburb of Houston (https://strangebuildings.com/joel-osteens-10-5-million-mansion/);
- A $325,000 silver/black Ferrari 458 Italia for him (disputed, but many claims of an extensive car collection, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/joel-osteen-ferrari/);
- A $68 million Airbus A319 private jet for friends too (https://aerocorner.com/blog/american-pastors-with-private-jets/#6-joel-osteen-airbus-a319);
Rumours of a family yacht were debunked.
The Trinity Foundation assert Osteen has his 2nd $7.4M house in Newport Coast, California. It was purchased by a Delaware LLC corporation. They claim the total is 3: two in Texas, and the California one.
It should be noted the Osteens' aren't alone here. Joyce Meyer, fellow ORU grad, also has her own private jet. For Jesus.
The teaching about wealth in the Bible goes on forever, and Jesus expressly confronts the conflict between riches and God in Luke 18:
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
2005: What happened on the plane?
Everyone gets tired. Everyone gets grumpy. Christians aren't required to be saints or to act passively. There are plenty of times and reasons for Christians to act in self-defence if necessary. It's not the end of the world to be involved in a fight.
That said, Victoria Osteen being fined $3,000 by the FAA is odd. A jury acquitted her of assault by an accuser seeking 10% of her wealth (!) via a frivolous lawsuit, but the circumstances are strange.
The New York Slime covered the story, and it's immediately clear the litigant was a race-baiting lunatic after their cash: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/15/us/15houston.html
In 2005, a serious argument occurred on Continental Flight 1602 over basically nothing.
No one disputes that an argument broke out between Ms. Osteen and Ms. Brown after a spill the size of a quarter was discovered on the armrest of Ms. Osteen’s first-class seat. The disagreement caused the flight to be delayed, and the Osteen family was escorted from the airplane.
Huh? The size of what?
Witnesses testified she was a bit of a nightmare passenger.
Another flight attendant, Maria Johnson, suggested in testimony that Ms. Osteen had been dismissive and abusive to Ms. Brown because of her race. The witness said Ms. Osteen had pushed past Ms. Brown and a second black flight attendant to take her complaint to Ms. Johnson, the only white crew member nearby.
The Denver Post has some more detail:
“She was demanding that attention be given to her immediately,” Johnson said. She added that Victoria Osteen kept saying: “This is ridiculous. I’m a first-class passenger.”
Johnson confirmed Brown’s claims that Victoria Osteen became so upset she tried to get into the cockpit and had to be physically restrained.
The Osteens' lawyer added a note, which is revealing in its euphemistic tone, in the same way being "tired and emotional" is an interesting way of saying "drunk":
Hardin admitted that Victoria Osteen can be a “very excitable and expressive person,” but that she was never out of control.
Passengers then testified they didn't any physical contact. However...
Ms. Osteen paid a $3,000 fine for interfering with a crew member, though she never admitted any wrongdoing.
How do you piss off 3 crew members so badly over a "spill the size of a quarter" that a plane is delayed for two hours and the FAA fines you $3,000?
And why did key passenger witness Barbara Shedden suddenly change her story at the last minute, which torpedoed the litigant's case?
It's not clear which statute Victoria was fined under, but what is clear is it is criminal behaviour and what was negotiated was about PR.
14 CFR § 121.580 - Prohibition on interference with crewmembers.
§ 121.580 Prohibition on interference with crewmembers. No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated under this part.
49 U.S. Code § 46504 - Interference with flight crew members and attendants
An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
Normal people do not do this. Whatever went on, the Osteens' own lawyer made clear it was the result of a tantrum which escalated in front of the wrong type of crazy people who went for a payday. She did it, but she had the luck her accuser was even dumber, greedier, and more narcissistic.
She didn't admit guilt, but she paid a fine for criminal behaviour. Which is admitting guilt. But the key thing for Lakewood and the Osteen family was she was cleared in the court of public opinion.
Pilot gossip sites list several complaints against "Queen Osteen", claiming she has been "booted off at least 4 or 5 flights". And staff at Continental are on record condemning the flight attendant for attempting to sue multiple people.
Paul explains Christians tend to be calmer in Galatians 5:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Most men can sympathise with an angry trophy wife who embarrasses them. Victoria Osteen encourages her boyfriends to buy watches, reportedly goes on spending sprees, and loses her temper in first class.
2007: How much plastic surgery?
One look at both Joel and Victoria Osteen and its clear both of them have had extensive plastic surgery: facelifts (possibly, earlobe is unaffected), tucks, more lifts, and so much botox, it's difficult for them to move their own faces.
Chicago plastic surgeon Dr. Otto Placik believes Osteen has had at least $36,000 worth of "botox, fillers, and an upper eyelid tuck."
A lot of botox fillers and some upper-eyelid tuck are some of the procedures Osteen has allegedly gotten done, believes Placik. "You couldn't even see his upper eyelid line 12 years ago, and now you can clearly see the upper eyelid skin and crease."
According to People magazine, it would tally with some interesting life goals.
"Eight years into his career as a minister, Osteen says he is just getting started: There are things he dreams of, like opening hospitals; things he doesn’t rule out, like plastic surgery (“I want to look good!” he jokes); and people he’d like to meet, like Bono and Barack Obama."
It is illegal or immoral? Of course not. But it's severe vanity, and as we learn in 2 Timothy 3 again:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
2014/2021: They found what in the walls?
On or around March 9 2014, Lakewood church reported to the police $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks had been stolen from its safe (apparently with credit card info). The church gave Crime Stoppers of Houston $20,000 to find out who did it. There were no security cameras installed then, and nobody had any idea which staff had access to the safe.
"The funds were fully insured, and we are working with our insurance company to restore the stolen funds to the church," according to the Lakewood statement.
Seven years later, a plumber named only as "Justin" called The Morning Bullpen with George Mo and Erik to explain how "500 envelopes fell out of a wall" as he tried to remove a loose toilet. The police allegedly asked him not to disclose how much was there.
Envelopes? Were they addressed? Addressed to the organisation? Was it the money from the safe?
The church was apparently grateful.
Someone who found the money would not qualify for the reward, unless the discovery led the police to a suspect, she said. Mr. Lindsey said he believed that the plumber was frustrated that he hadn’t heard anything from the church or the police since he found the stash on Nov. 10.
“Nobody said thank you,” Mr. Lindsey said. “Nobody has said a word to this guy. He has solved a case that has been on the books for seven years.”
He eventually got the money. It took the bad PR of an article in Christian Post for anyone to contact him.
And as for the theories? Sherlock Holmes has been hard at work.
“If you threw the bags [of money] up into the ceiling to maybe get them later or whatever and they fell down into the wall, you wouldn’t be able to get to the bags,” he said as a possible explanation for how the money may have gotten into the wall.
Iloff said the discovery by the plumber, who was doing his job, was “inexplicable in a way.”
So the safe was burgled, and the thief not only didn't take the proceeds with them, they kindly packaged them up into 500 envelopes like Robin Hood... and threw them into the ceiling. And nobody knows if it was all of it, part of it, or more.
Most likely an inside job by a disgruntled employee, but what was the end result of that insurance coverage, one wonders?
2017: Lying to get out of bad hurricane PR
Hurricanes are dark, wet, and hot. The power goes out and everything's flooded. No-one knows anything. They're genuinely not nice things to live through. Lakewood church's building sinks stories into the ground underneath ground level, which makes it prime target for gravity-compelled floodwater; it's understandable closing it for safety reasons.
Lying about it is not.
Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in south-central Texas on August 25, 2017, and brought 130 mph winds, heavy rains, and a six-foot storm surge that flooded coastal areas. As it moved inland, its forward motion slowed to near 5 mph and it meandered just north of Victoria, TX by the 26th.
100+ people were killed and it inflicted $125B in damage. 30,000 people were displaced.
Local LGBT agitators - one named Alan Spencer - decided to calumnify Osteen on Twitter after seeing local camera footage taken by survivors. It was sensational in its reach. It's not open to homosexuals, and in revenge, it's not open to flooding victims either.
Osteen told CNN, as reported by the Guardian:
The Osteens were not available for comment because they had temporarily left after spending the morning at the church, but Joel told CNN it was a “false narrative” to suggest that Lakewood’s doors had been shut. “There was a safety issue the first day or two,” he said. “We would never put people in here until we know that it’s safe, and it was not safe those days, let me tell you.”
Lakewood opened its doors later and provided for a lot of people. Which is commendable. The problem was one of communication, which is understandable.
Joel clarified in front of everyone, with some fantastic tears:
“There’s been so much misinformation about the church last week, I wanted to clarify a few things,” Osteen said, as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
The building previously flooded in 2001, Osteen said. Floodgates were later installed, but the water came within a foot or two of breaching the walls.
“If we had opened the building earlier and someone was injured, or perhaps it flooded and people lost their lives, that would be a whole different story,” Osteen said during a six-minute speech.
“I’m at peace with taking the heat for being precautious [sic], but I don’t wanna take the heat for being foolish.”
Unfortunately, during this mess, Lakewood staff simply couldn't keep track of the lying which was going on to "handle" the PR nightmare situation.
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” said the church’s spokesman and Osteen’s father-in-law Donald lloff. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and country shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.
John Gray didn't get the memo:
According to KRTK-13, on Sunday, Aug. 27, Lakewood associate pastor John Gray explained, on Facebook and Instagram, that "flooded highways had made the church inaccessible." Those posts have since been deleted.
One of those tweets was:
“For the people spreading lies about my church. If WE could get there WE WOULD OPEN THE DOORS,” Lakewood associate pastor John Gray posted on Facebook. “As soon as the highways aren’t flooded please know @lakewoodchurch will do all they can alleviate the pain and suffering of as many people as possible. Love y’all! #CantStandLiars.”
Joel then appeared on NBC's "TODAY" show.
"We were just being precautious," he said live, "but the main thing is the city didn't ask us to become a shelter then."
This appears to be similar to Lloff's quote:
Pastor Joel Osteen had said in a statement late Monday that he never shut his doors to those in need and shared pictures that appeared to show the church, which seats thousands, had experienced flooding in order to back up claims the church was "inaccessible."
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” Osteen said. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.”
Err, you already said you had to close the doors for safety reasons. On TV, they were apparently never closed.
Was it closed, or not? If it was semi-closed, why? Osteen won an award, of course. The question is... why all the mess? Why lie? Was the PR more important the truth?
So did it have to be closed for safety reasons, but it was never closed?
Perhaps the insurance company called, looking for the rest of the cash in the walls?
It's not clear if the building was ever flooded, at all. Or to what extent. Nor whether it was an actual safety hazard.
Hurricanes come with two weeks notice. If they knew the storm was going to hit and be as bad, they'd have been prepared? Really?
It was a screw up, but clearly not malicious in nature. They were protecting themselves, instead of helping others. And when they were challenged on it, they lied to get out of trouble for it.
The Bible is quite clear in Proverbs 6:16-19:
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Why lie? Why not tell the truth?
2018: Aventer Gray gets a Lamborghini
Speaking of John Gray, who remains an "associate pastor" at Lakewood, who #CantStandLiars. Like Oral Roberts, Osteen has produced proteges who are making a fortune. And Gray is one of the mouthiest; not to mention the most obese.
To thank his wife for eight years of marriage, he selflessly gifted her a $200,000 Urus SUV.
Gray said he has saved and planned his money for years, drawing on a variety of sources including his second book deal and the fourth season of his OWN channel reality show. (Greenville News).
Just as Jesus intended.
Gray was in trouble three years later in 2022, for.... wait for it, in true Zacharias style....
According to Kebe, Gray was involved with a Florida-based adult entertainer who specializes in providing erotic massages. The woman had allegedly been communicating and facilitating virtual sex with the husband of Aventer Gray and father of the couple’s two children, Theory and John IV.
He's managed all this, as his AAE bio says,
"under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen."
Osteen is not responsible for Gray's behaviour in the secular sense, even if he is in terms of the church. But Christ was quite clear in Matthew 7:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
2018: How much is given to charity?
It's extremely difficult to tell what Lakewood is up to, because it keeps its finances tightly hidden and opaque. The Trinity Foundation (based in Dallas, https://trinityfi.org/) keeps a close eye on these evangelists and is a great source of information.
They list multiple "warning signs" in church documents:
- Not Filing a Form 990 (public accounts);
- Unreported and Excessive Compensation;
- Tax Evasion and Large Financial Losses;
- Unreported Expenses;
- Large Legal Expenses;
The closest anyone has come is the Houston Chronicle in 2017, which examined public records and Lakewood's own submissions to them.
Starting there, it's disturbing: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4489169-2017-Financial-Statements-for-Lakewood-Church
The church spent 70 percent of its budget on television broadcasts, weekly services and programs and Night of Hope events. Almost all the rest went to administration and fundraising, leaving little for humanitarian efforts such as feeding the homeless or helping at-risk youth. Lakewood spent less than $1.2 million on missions and community service that year.
The church made $90M in 2017 (90% donated). It spent $1.2M on the poor. That's 1.3%.
The entire New Testament is 20+ books about how to run a church. It starts in Isaiah 58.
Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
2019: Osteen Effect: Kanye & birds of a feather
A lot of celebrities recognise the New Oprah, and how to sell to the middle class blacks they want to recruit for their cause: it was the Oprah Effect; now it's the Osteen Effect.
The rogues' gallery includes:
- Mariah Carey
- Kim Kardashian
- Tyler Perry
- Bill Clinton
- Oprah Winfrey
It would be interesting to cross-reference these with those who were flying on private jets over the last two decades.
More on Epstein's associates: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/who-are-the-newly-revealed-jeffrey-epstein-associates.html and his flight logs: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21165424-epstein-flight-logs-released-in-usa-vs-maxwell
In November 2019, famous Christian preacher Kanye West promoted his new album to a black Oprah audience at Lakewood by giving a 20-minute sermon. The LA Times documented the strange claims made during this hallowed lecture, which included:
- The devil “stole all the good” artists
- He’s “the greatest artist that God has ever created”
- “Closed on Sunday” is “the hardest record ever made”
While ruminating on his faith, West also commented on the state of music, which he argued is often sinful and misguided due to a collective desire among musicians to stay relevant.
In totally unrelated news, "Ye", - preacher of God and moral champion of the black population - discovered most of the lyrics to his "songs" were available on the Internet.
Whip that, bitch out
Tits out, oh s**t
My dick out, can she suck it right now?
F**k, can she f**k right now?
I done asked twice now
Can you bring your price down?
"Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1"
Now, if I f**k this model
And she just bleached her asshole
And I get bleach on my T-shirt
I'ma feel like an asshole
In other completely unrelated news, "Ye" went on Alex Jones' show to pronounce:
"I see good things about Hitler,”
Where are the outreach campuses?
Lakewood has been around for 70 years. It only has one campus. That's slightly strange, given the notion of the Great Commission. It wouldn't be strange at all, if it were a TV studio being used as a sales platform. Who moves their TV studio around?
Planting or seeding churches is a hugely important part of biblical evangelism. For example, let's look at some other megachurches:
- Life.Church (Edmond, OK) - 40+ locations
- North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) - 8+ locations
- Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) - 15+ locations
- Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL) - 7+ locations
- Gateway Church (Southlake, TX) - 10+ locations
- Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC) - 20+ locations
- NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) - 13+ locations
- Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX) - 8+ locations
- Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL) - 26+ locations
Interesting, isn't it? Only one megachurch doesn't invest in building more churches.
It's very little in and of itself, but in several decades, wouldn't it be strange not to invest in at least a second location to take the church's message elsewhere? Even Scientology does that.
How many peers have rebuked or condemned the church?
Every time another pastor turns up in the press criticising Joel Osteen, the same response is meted out: envy of his congregation size. Perhaps, but is there a common thread to the criticism, unrelated to his audience?
Evangelical heavyweight John MacArthur has never made any secret of his contempt for Osteen:
“He is a pagan religionist, a legalist, and a quasi-pantheist."
On the other side of that, MacArthur said that Jesus Christ is a footnote to satisfy [Osteen's] critics, thrown in at the end to get people off his back who are irritated by the absence of Christ in his ministry."
Super-campus legend Rick Warren neither disguises his dislike.
"This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?”, [Rick] Warren snorts. “There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”
John Piper has been equally vicious.
“I don’t know what you feel about the prosperity gospel—the health, wealth and prosperity gospel—but I’ll tell you what I feel about it,” Piper told a gathering of more than 1,000 college students in November 2005. “Hatred.”
Theological academic Michael Horton tore into Osteen's doctrine, with more diplomacy, despite labeling them heresy.
"I think it’s a cotton candy gospel," says Rev. Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif.
"His core message is God is nice, you’re nice, be nice," Horton says, laughing. "It's sort of a, if it were a form of music, I think it would be easy listening. He uses the Bible like a fortune cookie. 'This is what’s gonna happen for you. There’s gonna be a windfall in your life tomorrow.' The Bible's not meant to be read that way."
"My concern is that Joel Osteen is simply the latest in a long line of self-help evangelists who appeal to the native American obsession with pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Salvation is not a matter of divine rescue from the judgment that is coming on the world, but a matter of self-improvement in order to have your best life now."
Cross Church pastor Steve Camp was particularly damning of Victoria Osteen's ideas.
"It's the age old sin of idolatry - that it's not about God, it's about us," said Cross Church's Pastor Steve Camp to Christian News Network.
"She [Victoria] honestly believes that God exists to make us happy rather than holy. She honestly believes that worship is about our fulfillment rather than His glory. That's the bottom issue here." said Camp.
Even disgraced apologist Ravi Zacharias found Osteen distasteful.
"One of the most prominent of those churches draws about 20000 on Sunday. You can read his book. In that entire book of 'having a better life now', and 'best life now', and so on, there is not one mention of the Cross in it. There is no gospel there.
"I just recently saw a television preacher, whose name i won't mention, to protect the guilty. He made this statement, and it takes a lot to shock me in this day and age. But he said 'i don't care who you are, what you have done, or who you have done it with, God is not angry at you.' What does that have to do with with the New Testament view of God, of sin, of the cross?"
Down to Rick Henderson, pastor.
"If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you. It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus."
The theological consensus is Osteen is a scripturally ignorant false teacher. As Solomon observes, there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. When everyone is telling the same thing - you are promoting heresy and don't understand the Christian gospel - it's time to listen.
Osteen responded in an interview with Larry King, by saying,
“I see myself more as a [life] coach, as a motivator to help [people] experience the life of God that God has for them.”
"Motivators" and/or "coaches" do not run or lead churches.
Now, if you understand their serious charges and continue anyway....
It'll only take something small
Crooks are caught out by the smallest detail they forgot. The Osteens have "endured", as they say, longer than most. Joel Osteen is a brilliant man; a brilliant communicator; a highly perceptive marketer; and a sensitive PR manager. He's also clearly a good father; an attentive husband, and a loving son. No-one can deny him his good qualities.
And all of his (legal) activities are his right. But he must not do them as a "church" or under the banner of Christianity. He should change the name of the organisation to "Osteen Motivational Seminars, Inc".
A funny thing happens when you suppress corruption: you create super-corrupters as an unforeseen consequence. In an evolutionary system, the organisms adapt to the environment. Once it becomes hostile to corruption, they adapt to become resistant to the pressure of the hostility and learn to master it. Joel Osteen is an evolutionary adaptation to the televangelism scandals of the 80s.
In the West Wing episode "Bad Moon Rising", Sorkin writes in a fascinating observation the defence consul Oliver Babish articulates.
In the fictional drama, the President was caught out by one little detail: his wife signed a form for his daughter's university healthcare certifying there were no congenital health problems. While she concealing her secret treatment of her father for MS.
I mean, in the two and a half hours we've been sitting here have you discovered one thing that he's done wrong?
So, what's your problem?
That's my problem, Leo. Are you out of your mind? He did everything right. He did everything you do if your intent is to perpetrate a fraud.
Honest people make mistakes, and own up to them.
The trouble is no fraud can withstand the ravages of time. Time always reveals dishonesty. It's what you don't say and what is not present which give you away.
Evidence of absence, absence of evidence, etc, aside; a lack of evidence is not evidence of guilt, either. But instinctively, the Osteens seem to have done everything you do if your intent is to perpetrate a fraud.
Among the things the dynasty are in deep water about:
- Heretical and fraudulent scriptural teaching;
- Opaque financial structuring;
- Opulent wealth and extravagant spending;
- Tantrums and entitled behaviour;
- (Probably) misrepresenting accounts and attendance;
- (Almost certainly) concealing the origins of a serious theft;
- Dishonesty and misrepresentation to the public and the press;
They're too good at this and too meticulous about keeping out of trouble.
Joel Osteen transformed a doomed 80s family televangelism business by copying Oprah. She had a TV studio audience; he had a congregation. She had just herself; he had a family dynasty.
He turned a $12M church into a $120M full-stadium TV show to sell books, speaking tours, satellite TV channel licensing, merchandise etc instead of deliberately soliciting cash from the congregation and TV audience, so he could make the claim the church was genuine and not about seeking money. The church became a sales platform for the Osteen Effect.
It was a brilliant strategy.
And they have been brilliant at managing their PR. No photos of the jets or the cars. No bad behaviour from the children. Editing the religious pieces of the broadcast out which might weird-out customers. Massive fees to lawyers to get the wife's charges down. They're aware the party's over the minute anyone figures out it's the 80s all over again.
Laying low, exactly what you'd do if you didn't want the sunlight of disinfectant scrutinising your affairs. A luxury presidential candidates don't get and can't afford.
All it will take is a single financial leak. Or a secret recording. A form someone didn't fill out properly, or something found in the walls. The clock is ticking.