Joel Osteen’s gay problem: The religious right is history if he can’t solve it

Evangelicals need to tone down their views to stay relevant. The slick Houston pastor is showing them how it's done

Topics: Joel Osteen, southern baptists, Southern Baptist Convention, Christianity, Conservatism, Gay Rights, Same-sex marriage, Religion, Editor's Picks, ,

Joel Osteen's gay problem: The religious right is history if he can't solve itJoel Osteen (Credit: AP/Pat Sullivan)

Joel Osteen has a problem, one that all Evangelicals in the U.S. are facing. The anti-gay position of mainstream Christianity has fallen out of favor with the public. Every reputable poll currently shows uncontested majority support for gay marriage. And the cultural shift happened more quickly than the churches can follow.

The Huffington Post’s Josh Zepps recently asked Osteen about this passage from his new book, “Break Out: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barrier and Live an Extraordinary Life”: “It doesn’t matter who likes you or doesn’t like you, all that matters is that God likes you. He accepts you, he approves of you.”

Zepps wanted to know if this included gay folks. “Absolutely,” Osteen offered without missing a beat. Evangelicals are notoriously tricky on the subject. It’s common theology to claim that God accepts absolutely everyone because being gay is viewed as an affliction, not an identity. What makes Osteen’s statement so unusual is his claim that God “approves” of gay folks.

The Texas megachurch pastor has always been relatively soft on the issue compared to his colleagues, notably the Evangelical behemoth Southern Baptist Convention. In the past, Osteen at the very least claimed homosexuality was unacceptable. He told  Fox News’ Chris Wallace in 2012, “I believe that Scripture says that being gay is a sin, but every time I say that, Chris, I get people saying, ‘You’re a gay hater.’”

Osteen is quite a bit more slippery on the issue than his straightforward answer to Wallace would imply. In the same interview, Osteen immediately followed his anti-gay pronouncement by saying, “Gays are some of the nicest, kindest, most loving people in the world.” Osteen never says a bad word about LGBT individuals without offering some sort of olive branch afterward, often a condescending one. In a particularly weird moment with CNN’s Piers Morgan, he even professed a love of Lady Gaga while his wife prefers Madonna.



Sometimes, Osteen drops the anti-gay facade entirely. In Boston, I once witnessed him personally intervene during a 2011 stop on his “Night of Hope” tour. The decidedly apolitical touring event is a mixture of top-notch live music and inspirational sermons by the Osteen family. During the proceedings, local ministers are invited to offer blessings. One pastor offered a thinly veiled attack on LGBT individuals by rambling on in gendered language about stable heterosexual families.

Osteen rushed the stage claiming God had laid something on his own heart. He proceeded to bless “all families and those we love,” curiously imploring god to help “every single person to find someone to love.” The husband/wife dichotomy of the previous minister had just been passive-aggressively knocked to the floor.

Some Evangelical church leaders are already going the full distance and embracing change. The controversial minister Rob Bell, also a multiple New York Times bestselling author, announced full support for marriage equality earlier this year. But he didn’t end with the endorsement. He pointedly criticized  the Evangelical church for its role in anti-gay discourse: “I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told, ‘We’re gonna change the thing,’ and they haven’t … And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church also made history this year by ordaining its first openly gay bishop to a six-year term in May. Many Presbyterian congregations in the U.S. also welcome LGBT parishioners and leaders.

The anti-gay position is becoming increasingly problematic in churches given support for LGBT equality among young people, even including white Evangelicals. Ministers are being forced to either embrace a dying ideology or risk ejection from their churches. The “because God says so” answers derived from the Bible’s handful of homophobic passages are headed the way of biblical slavery defenses, and young Evangelicals aren’t buying. (It’s also of note that the nation’s largest Evangelical denomination, the previously mentioned SBC, was originally formed to protect the rights of slaveholders. They’re sorry now.

Complicating matters further is Catholicism’s recent tonal shift on LGBT issues, which could create a ripple effect throughout the Christian world. Pope Francis made Christians around the world do a double-take when he claimed they were “obsessed” with gay people and needed to get over it, even going so far as to muse, “”Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?”

It won’t be surprising when Joel Osteen, along with the rest of the Evangelical community, announces an Obama-style evolution on the issue. While some denominations will hold onto existing prejudice until the bitter end, most are likely headed the way of the Evangelical Lutherans. Until then, many Evangelicals across the nation will be forced into an uncomfortable gray area as church leaders furiously argue over an issue the rest of the country already decided.

Chris Sosa is a Boston-based media personality and cultural analyst. He previously served as a national editor for EDGE Media Network. His debut non-fiction book “Bitch-Slapped by Jesus” is currently in development. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...