Joel Osteen’s PR Nightmare

Joel Osteen’s PR Nightmare

Joel Osteen’s PR Nightmare

I have no love for creepy Lakewood megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. On a personal level, he gives me the creeps. Everything I’ve read about him screams “CHARLATAN!” – from that freaky fake smile, to his gargantuan $10.5 million home and his other, smaller nearly $3 million house, to his weird prosperity gospel preaching.

Look, I have no problem with prosperity. If you’ve earned it, you have the right to it. If the value of your labor to others has made you stinking rich, more power to you! What I don’t like is people who use religion, charity, and goodness to bully the naive and desperate for spiritual enlightenment, and enrich themselves in the process, while doing little to actually help others. I despise those who beg for money on behalf of God, as if giving your earnings to their idea of a deity (using them as a conduit, of course, and allowing them to keep a portion of those contributions like a typical money launderer) is somehow a benevolence and a ticket to heaven.

That money helped Osteen to build this ginormous facility with strobe lights and lots of production value. It helped him sell books and DVDs. It helped him live in a massive mansion and drive expensive cars.

But there’s certainly debate about just how much Osteen and his “church” have helped those in need.

Criticisms came out recently that Osteen kept his church closed, instead of opening the doors to the former home of the Houston Rockets, to house those who have lost everything in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Osteen closed the church, cancelled religious services, and classes, but did little else to help the victims until criticism started pouring in, after which Osteen tweeted the following:

Sorry, but this strikes me as a too little, too late reaction. Not that I think anyone should be forced to help. That’s not it at all. But if you’re going to be all pious while bringing in millions of dollars for your church, I think there’s a certain amount of responsibility you must take.

Osteen also claimed in a statement that the church never closed its doors.

“We will continue to be a distribution center to those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm.”

But I’m finding this statement hard to swallow, when the church’s Facebook page explained the facility was inaccessible due to flooding, and provided information about other resources in the area, and photos sent to Snopes showed flooding that appeared to have taken place near the church, rather than in it, while other photos showed the outside of the church wet, but accessible. How is a church supposed to be a distribution center if it’s inaccessible due to flooding? Does this strike anyone else as contradictory?

I’m going to be a little bit contrarian here and say I’m not going to hammer Osteen too hard for not immediately opening its doors to evacuees. I was there during Katrina. I saw the kind of havoc that was wrought when thousands of people piled into the Superdome in New Orleans and the Civic Center at Lake Charles. I saw the multiple fire code violations and security issues, as well as the filth and failing plumbing infrastructure that occured when thousands piled in to the Coliseum for weeks. It wasn’t pretty.

I don’t know whether the church was, in fact, inaccessible due to flooding. Some photos suggest that is not the case. But I also understand that piling people into a structure such as this without proper preparation can end up in disaster, to include crime, unsanitary conditions, and disease. Lakewood has hosted evacuees in the past, after Tropical Storm Allison, so I won’t be too harsh on him here. Also, it appears that the church is now ready to open its doors to evacuees, according to this morning’s CNN report, having ostensibly prepared air mattresses to house those displaced by the storm.

On the other hand other churches have already taken in evacuees, including Forest Home Baptist Church and other Longview-area churches, two churches in Belton, and the Grace Christian Center in Glenmora. Those were relatively small numbers of people, though, so it may not have been a huge strain on these churches’ resources. That said, it’s hard to believe that the Lakewood megachurch that could fit roughly 16,000 people took so long to offer its refuge to the needy.

I do find that Osteen created a PR disaster by acting not like a man of God, but a charlatan, who is using the disaster to collect yet more donations. The church’s relief website claims it has teamed up with Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and is once again soliciting money, while being traditionally silent about how much of said money is going directly into Lakewood’s bank accounts, but of course, they’re praying for everyone. A lot. All the time. Praying, praying, praying.

We also don’t know how much the filthy rich Osteens, whose estimated net worth is roughly $40 million, have personally donated to help the victims of the storm. While I’m not a fan of bragging about your contributions, there are also smart ways to motivate others to donate (putting on my former career hat as a writer of direct mail fundraising letters) – for instance by accounting exactly how the donations will be spent, by noting how much of the money donated (preferably every damn penny) will go directly to shelter, feed, and clothe those who have lost everything, and to point out that for every, say $100 donated, you will personally give $x amount.

But instead, Osteen chose to spew praytastic platitudes about how God is with the victims, and only began to publicize efforts to help after he was eviscerated in the press and on social media.

Osteen’s timing is terrible. It shows zero self awareness. A church with so many resources and a pastor with millions in assets should have been ready to help as soon as disaster struck. Someone with as many media appearances under his belt as Joel Osteen should have understood that spewing religious bromides instead of issuing direct and immediate help to the needy, until widespread castigation for said vapid, hackneyed word salad spurred him into action, was going to backfire on him as opportunistic and tone deaf.

Sometimes messaging is just as important as action, and if done right, it could inspire others to help.

Someone ought to hit Osteen with that clue-by-four.

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

  • GWB says:

    the Lakewood megachurch that could fit roughly 16,000 people

    Well, how many it sits would be much different from how many it can sleep.

    I tend to agree that they handled this poorly. I wonder if they believed the local gov’t that said it wasn’t worth evacuating? (That would explain planning to be a distribution center, but not a refugee center.)

    However, this also makes me ponder how my church should/would react to a real hurricane (as opposed to the weak ones we normally get). We have a decent fellowship hall, and some other spaces we could use. We have a decent kitchen and a food pantry. But none of it sits terribly high above the surrounding areas, and a decent hurricane might flood it all. But, something I should address with the leadership, I think.

    • Marta Hernandez says:

      Might not be a bad idea. When I deployed to Louisiana post Katrina, we spent a couple of nights in a church. It was a pretty large group of National Guardsmen, and while we weren’t sleeping comfortably, we were sleeping. On the floors, in our sleeping bags, on the stage, in the aisles, etc. It wasn’t ideal, but it was something.

      And yes, how many it sits is vastly different than how many it sleeps, but it would certainly be more than the smaller churches I cited that allowed 50-100 folks in the community in. I’m fairly sure they could accommodate several thousand.

      • Beverly Parchen says:

        Your blog is spot on …there was something just a little shady about this .. when you have one of the largest congregations in the U.S and per Wikipedia avg 52,000 attendees per week would have thought advance planning even if it was with church family themselves just in case some of their own members needed help — contingency plans — communicating w/local authorities on your availability — Max the Mattress guy.. one man — immediate action – helping 400 plus providing hot meals — speaks volumes — — it’s not like this storm was a big surprise —

  • GWB says:

    Well, here’s some more info, from the “friendly atheist” at Patheos:

    the church is literally “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” That’s referring to the roads and highways leading to the church, but one reporter notes that the underground parking garage is flooded as well.

    The driveway might be high and dry, but all the roads are submerged. (That’s exactly my situation when I get storms – the road in front of my house is too deep to drive through, though I’m high and dry; and a block away, you can drive in the road just fine.)

    Church services were canceled over the weekend, as were classes run inside the building.

    That said, for a guy who makes as much money as he does, Osteen could earn some goodwill by announcing any donations he’s making in the wake of the disaster. He hasn’t done that yet. Instead, he’s just rattling off a bunch of prayers as usual.

    So, you ain’t the only one. 😉

    (My quotes are from what was posted on PJMedia. I can’t get to the link, for some reason. Our internet is screwy.)

  • Mrs.M says:

    I’m no fan of the guy. I think he’s a false prophet and a “Pharasee” myself. But, as I attempt to give some defense on other posts on FB, it’s only because I worry that the media is attempting to use him as a reason to try to give all the churches in the are a black eye. If they can smack the biggest one, they can make it appear that all the churches are closing their doors or refusing to help.

    • SueZQ says:

      I honestly didn’t consider how all other churches would get lumped in with that church’s actions. Or lack thereof. I hate that that’s the only reason I can think of to defend him.

    • Marta Hernandez says:

      I understand that concern, but at the same time, we need to police our own, so to speak. It will look a lot worse for us if we defend him, no matter how unconscionable, than if we heap rightful criticism on those among us who are outright jerks.

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