Joel Osteen, best-selling author and religious entertainer, says “Homosexuality is a sin” in an interview with Piers Morgan which will air on Wednesday, January 26. “Piers Morgan Tonight” previewed the Wednesday interview two days early in which Osteen, the pastor of mammoth Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, toes a fundamentalist, homophobic line on the interpretation of the Bible. In response to Morgan’s questions about his condemnation of LGBTQ Americans, Osteen retreats into the same literalist interpretation of a very few passages of scripture that right wing preachers have used to bash gay people for generations:
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.
Osteen tries to have it both ways in the interview with Morgan. Though he clearly condemns gay and lesbian people for parenting children, seeking marriage in monogamous relationships, and for forming same-sex loving families, Osteen claims that he is not a “gay basher.” The distinction will surely be lost on queer folk and their families when the widely popular preacher has just clobbered them with the Bible. ”The scriptures shows that it’s a sin,” Osteen says to Morgan in the CNN interview. “But you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible too…I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life.” Osteen has repeatedly peddled his own brand of “soft homophobia” as recently as November 2010 on television shows like ABC’s “The View,” as previously reported by the Unfinished Lives Project. Osteen betrays a simplistic form of Bible reading and interpretation that begins from a heterosexist and homophobic set of beliefs alien to the vast majority of reputable scholars and Bible teachers throughout the world. The Houston mega-church preacher apparently relies on a literalistic, legalistic reading of two texts in the entire Bible to arrive at his claim that God considers homosexuality a “sin.” In the Hebrew Testament, only two passages in the priestly code of Leviticus (selected verses in Leviticus 18 and 20), and one primary text from Paul’s letter to the Romans which is actually about idolatry and not homosexuality in any modern sense (Romans 1:26-28) are available to Osteen and his ilk to make such a universally condemnatory argument against a marginalized group of people. The consensus of progressive and moderate Jewish and Christian biblical scholars is that fundamentalist interpretations of these passages are off base at best, and dangerous at worst. Opinions driven by cultural bias and read back into the Bible such as Osteen’s have proven to be used to justify their religious intolerance and violence by those who attack LGBTQ people both verbally and physically. For a responsible and accessible book on the Bible that teaches biblical respect for LGBTQ people, see Dr. Peter J. Gomes, “The Good Book.” While Osteen seems to think he can appeal to his conservative base with condemnatory statements like those on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” and at the same time soften his rhetoric enough to convince the gullible that he is the very nicest of gay bashers (so they can be “nice” gay bashers, too!), his use of the Bible is irresponsible, uninformed, and contributes to the suffering of millions of people whose only offense is whom they love.