Famed pastor Joel Osteen captivated and overwhelmed our nation’s capital over the weekend with more than 40,000 people at Nationals Park. His prosperity message was in full gear when he delivered his feel-good sermon to the faithful.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Osteen - who also recently served as guest chaplain at the House of Representatives, by invitation from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat - indicated that homosexuality is a sin but seemed quite uncomfortable saying so. He quickly added that homosexuals would be welcome in Heaven just as people who commit other sins will be welcome.
What he did not emphasize is the fact that all of us sinners must repent of our sins and strive to replicate the character of Christ, rather than just remaining in our sins - much less be proud enough of them to throw parades - and expecting Heaven to be given to us. This does not mean that the saved are perfect and never sin, but that they have established goals and strive for perfection on a daily basis, hoping to get closer and closer to it. We are blessed that God is much more merciful than we are, and that He takes pity on the weak and encourages us in our journey toward Him.
Theology aside, I was struck by how quickly the pastor had to change the subject, as it were. The moment he said anything difficult, anything that challenged the status quo and said that people have to change, he had crossed a line.
This is a hard saying, who can hear it?
I do not mean to focus on Mr. Osteen too much; this is just one example of how the church’s salt has lost its savor, abandoned its role in society, and in many cases will not speak out against, for example, crime, abortion or gay activities. Look at how these sins have flourished in our times, and yet the church is too afraid to do anything about them.
And look what happens when Christians do speak up. The Roman Catholic bishop of Peoria is now being audited by the IRS because of comments he made comparing President Obama’s violation of religious freedom to Adolf Hitler’s attitude toward the church.
Alexis de Tocqueville noted the importance of mediating institutions in American democracy - essentially, that they were a stabilizing force that served as something of a check on the size of government. He was impressed, pleased with how religious Americans were.
Does anybody really think of the church as a check on the state today? I don’t even think the clergy do. If anything, they seem to be complacent, almost apologetic for the condition of our society. While John the Baptist was thrown in prison for telling a brutal dictator that his marriage was illicit, many of today’s Christians are more passionate about their political views - about Caesar - than about God.
Even more than politics, some care more about the Redskins!
I cannot help but notice that the church stopped testifying like John the Baptist around the same time that the government took over many of its ministries. Of course, there has always been cowardice among religious and nonreligious alike - consider how many Southerners twisted Bible passages to suit their own purposes before the Civil War; consider how many churches turned a blind eye to racism during the Jim Crow era.
But at least in those days, it mattered what the churches said.
Churches are tax-exempt; it would be very unwise of them to risk losing that status. So many simply aim to maintain the status quo. Like the politicians who let us down year after year, many do what they have to do to remain popular, rather than do what is right. You can almost use the same terminology: chasing an elusive, illusory “permanent majority,” they pander, they appease, they make promises that they know they cannot keep.
Is it any wonder, then, that the nonreligious are the fastest-growing religious group in our country today? The church cannot be an effective witness in the world if it is not united, or if it is not obviously different from the secular world in which it, like a mustard seed in the dirt, grows and lives organically.