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.
Houston, Texas – Joel Osteen met his match on ABC Television’s The View as he tried to peddle his brand of “soft-homophobia” to the nation. The Advocate reports that Joy Behar took Osteen to task for denigrating lesbians and gay men as “not God’s best,” a statement he made on the program last year. Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, a megachurch boasting an average weekly attendance of 43,500 and a national television outreach, responded to Whoopi Goldberg that like God, he loved “everybody,” but while some of his friends were gay (“the nicest people in the world”), he couldn’t agree that God did the right thing creating people with a homosexual orientation (a remark he struggled to take back later in the broadcast). Osteen claimed a single biblical message on homosexuality, and when pressed by Joy Behar, classed gays and lesbians with “drunkards” and “people on drugs.” When Osteen was asked about his position on whether fellow megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, founder of the Conyers, Georgia Church in the Now, should remain as leader of the church, Osteen retreated into his anti-gay theology. Swilley, married twice to women and the father of four children, came out as a gay man recently in response to the rash of LGBTQ teen suicides, confessing that he could no longer remain in the closet while so many gay youth were dying. The death by bullycide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman, particularly affected Swilley, who says he knew he was gay since youth, but tried to live as a heterosexual person. As reported in thespreadit.com, Swilley said of his sexual orientation, “At a certain point, you are who you are.” Osteen said that scripture would prohibit a gay man from pastoring a church (though the Bible never mentions the subject of pastoral leadership and homosexuality). Still, Osteen labored to convince the women on The View that his church was welcoming to gays. Asked again about his inflammatory contention that homosexuality “is not God’s best,” he said to co-host Barbara Walters, “I should finish that sentence. I should make it clear. I don’t think it’s God’s best for your life. I don’t think it’s not God’s best making us.” Joy Behar pointed out that Osteen, who above all wanted to come across on national television as a nice person, was left with “a conundrum”: either God created homosexual people good (Genesis says that God pronounces all creation “good”), or God made a mistake by creating people as “less than God’s best.” Osteen hesitated to comment about the conundrum his soft brand of heterosexism and homophobia poses for church leaders who truly want gays and lesbians to attend their churches and contribute their money, but who disapprove of their existence as God created them to be. While less overt than many Christianist anti-gay positions, Osteen’s form of bias is perhaps the most insidious in American life today. While maintaining a smooth, pleasing public persona, such soft anti-gay prejudice feeds the internalized homophobia of LGBTQ people who yearn for church blessings, and grants a green light to homophobic exclusion from circles of “normalcy” and from church leadership positions (which are the true test of any church’s feelings toward LGBTQ people). Osteen further claims a simplistic “Bible-based” set of anti-gay teachings that plays well to the mob, which serious biblical scholars have debunked for decades. Osteen claimed in an exit interview that he “loved” being on The View, that he had “a great time.” The success of his appearance will be determined, to paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln a bit, by whether a charlatan can, indeed, “fool all of the people all of the time.”