Dear Evangelical, It’s Unwise and Unhelpful to Mock Joel Osteen

Dear Evangelical, It’s Unwise and Unhelpful to Mock Joel Osteen

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If you knew of a person or a group of individuals who were being deceived by someone, would you choose to mock them or their leader as a way to win them to the truth of God?

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In the 1993 movie Philadelphia, about a young gay lawyer (Tom Hanks) suing his firm for discrimination, there was a protest scene between those who were against gays and those who were for them. To spice up the antithesis of the moment, the scriptwriters hired a middle-aged white guy, gave him a big black Bible, and had him yell, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” It was a complete mockery to highlight our differences.

  • To the thoughtful Christian, it was an embarrassing moment.
  • To the uncaring pro-gay person, it was funny.
  • To both camps, it was divisive as it broadened the gap that is between us.

If your goal is to mock someone, you will not win them over to your point of view. That’s what I was reading when one of our evangelical thought leaders (ETL) recirculated a so-called humorous test written to mock Joel Osteen for his beliefs. It accomplished what it was intended to do. Thousands of people in the evangelical community had a big laugh, and the blogger’s stats got a bump. But Joel’s fans hated it.

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As I read dozens of thoughts on several Facebook strings where the evangelical community shared his mockery, it was sad. It was like an inter-office memo mocking a rival office, except the note was released to the public on purpose.

It is even more shameful after you take in the fact that this ETL strongly appealed to all Christians not to comment on the sexual abuse scandal that was ripping apart Sovereign Grace (Ministries) Churches a few years ago. He said the SGM problem was not our concern but a family matter.

After the “multi-year news cycle” had begun to dissipate, a man was convicted and received a 40-year sentence for sexual abuse, while several leaders inside SGC did not get any conviction because of a legal technicality.

Today, we hardly talk about that scandal within our evangelical family, while dozens of our brothers and sisters are still struggling with the consequences of being victimized by sexual abuse. Many of them will wrestle with their victimization for the rest of their lives. Sexual violence in our camp: do not speak about it. Mocking a person that is not in our group: let it go viral.

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We don’t talk about the division within our Evangelical camp while perpetuating division within the greater body of Christ. (To assume every person who follows Osteen is not a believer is not tenable.) Clear-headed thinking and courage to address our camp’s sins would be a better call to action for the humble, missional Christian.

There is no question Joel Osteen’s teaching is doing damage to the gospel. Every book and every interview are evidence enough that “his gospel” is not the gospel. This article is not about propping up and supporting Joel Osteen. I’m as embarrassed about Osteen calling himself a Christian as I am of the white, middle-aged Bible thumper yelling at gay people. Neither one of them is furthering the cause of Christ.

With that said, our questions do not center on whether Osteen is right or wrong. Many of his beliefs are wrong. There is no denying that. We focus our thoughts on how to cooperate with the Lord in the redemption of those who are being duped by him.

Mocking him may give you kudos and a round of high-fives in your camp, but it will ultimately marginalize those, if not mute your voice among those who need the gospel. It’s immature grandstanding within an exclusive echo chamber. What is more important to you?

Preaching to the choir is a natural temptation, especially in our stat-craving culture, but at the end of the day, my brother’s mockery of Osteen did not advance the gospel. He cemented the division that is between them and us.

He didn’t convince his blog fans that Osteen is wrong; they already know he’s wrong. But to our evangelical shame, he did not persuade Osteen’s fans of poor theology. They were hurt and angry—according to some of the comments that I read.

If you want to reach a gay guy, I recommend you don’t make fun of him or his tribe. Having a “limp wrist test” or some other way to demonstrate your superiority or rightness over his wrongness is for middle-school banter, not thoughtful broken Christians who weep over a person’s sinful choices and lifestyle. Our compassion must run deeper than this.

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Eternal Judgment

Let’s say Joel Osteen is not a Christian. It’s possible, and if so, he will spend eternity in hell. How do your soteriology and your eschatology inform your perspective on people? Do we have the time to make fun of them, which pushes the relational divide farther from us when their souls may be hanging over the fiery flames of hell?

I would hope that God has broken your heart for people like Osteen and his followers because what he is doing has eternal consequences. And our mockery of him and them also has an eternal impact too. Christians, we can do better. Mocking is not harmless fun—not according to their camp. It galvanizes them in their position of rightness after being jabbed by our laughter.

I have been counseling for a long time, and I can tell you that if you want to convince a person of their faulty position, making fun of them is not the way to do it. (I’m assuming your mind is missional, and you center your goals on persuading as many people as possible about the truth claims of the Bible.)

The husband who is spewing out anger toward his wife needs to change. Me making fun of him will not aid in that redemptive cause, and I promise you that his children would hope for more “heavy lifting from me” than making fun of their daddy. They are hurting, and I must be more mature than that.

Then there are some who will argue that Elijah mocked the false prophets. Yes, he did, for which I have two responses:

  • It is a bad hermeneutic to make narrative normative.
  • After he had mocked them, he called fire down from heaven to prove what was real and false.

If you have mocked Joel and Elijah is your proof text, what is your next move that will demonstrate the power of God in such a way that Joel and his people will have no choice but submit to the convincing power of God and His truth?

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