Joel Osteen, Social Media, and Hurricane Harvey – A Lesson in Truth
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a natural disaster that left hundreds of thousands without homes and needing refuge, efforts were quickly underway to offer help and support to those affected. People opened their homes to victims. Local businesses provided food and drinks to rescue workers. And people and organizations from all over the country made their way to Texas to offer help and supplies.
This is what makes America amazing; strangers putting themselves in harms way to help strangers.
Even celebrities got involved in the effort to help flood victims. JJ Watt, the defensive superstar of the Houston Texans football team, went online to rally people to come together and donate to relief efforts. It really is amazing to watch Americans come together after a disaster and work tirelessly to offer help and hope to the victims. Messages of love and support pour in from across the country to make sure people know they are not alone.
Not all messages are received with appreciation though. Some messages are tossed around social media with biting remarks and snarky jabs intended to hurt the messenger.
One example of this is the jabs aimed at Houston pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen used social media to let everyone know his family was praying for victims and that Lakewood Church, Osteen’s massive Houston area church would do their part to aid relief efforts. One article carries social media posts by Osteen in the aftermath of the storm directing people to an online site where food and shelter could be found. Another source says that Lakewood Church will be open to house victims once the local shelters are full.
But it didn’t take long for social media critics to wonder why Lakewood Church, which seats more than 16,000 people, wasn’t opening its doors immediately as a shelter. And with that curiosity, came a barrage of attacks based on speculation. One article showed photos from an eye-witness claiming that Lakewood Church was not flooded. That’s all it took for social media to erupt in anger.
I’m not interested in speculating whether Lakewood Church was flooded or not. Nor am I interested in discussing whether Osteen should or should not open his church to flood victims. I don’t care if he posts a sign on the front door stating that he’s on vacation and will be back in month. For all I care, Joel and his wife can do a live broadcast from their boat in the Caribbean reminding everyone that if they just believe a little harder they can have their “best life now.” I truly am not interested in what Osteen does with his church building.
But a lot of people are interested. And that’s the problem.
For the record, I am no Osteen fan. I despise his false Gospel. His fake brand of Christianity is leading people to hell. And I would prefer that he close the doors of his church and never preach another sermon. But that’s not the point. The point is, as Christians we should be more concerned with truth than with our disdain for people. If our dislike for another person, famous or not, blinds us from the truth or becomes a distraction for what is truly important, we are the one with the problem.
Ed Stetzer wrote a good reminder in his recent post:
“Fact-checking sites such as snopes.com give mixed reviews and no clear answer on the amount of flooding at Lakewood. But that’s not the main point.
We may never know just how hard it would have been to organize a relief effort at a facility that has been prone to flooding in the past…The truth is that many were casting and spreading judgment about a situation that they could not possibly know in its entirety. The response from many people spreading false information shows their character, not Osteen’s. The irony for some in this moment is clear: they hate Osteen because they believe he distorts the truth—and then they do the same when they critique him with false information. You don’t have to appreciate Osteen, but you do need to care about the truth if you are going to post about it.”
Some people are under the misguided understanding that if someone is a false teacher we have the right to slander him, or tear him down publicly with words we would condemn from anyone else. That’s not true. What does the world think of our witness when we publicly berate another Christian because we disagree with his theology? It certainly doesn’t commend our faith or Jesus to others.
Christians are supposed to be different. We’re supposed to live differently than everyone around us. This means we are supposed to react differently to the people and events we encounter day to day. Our theological differences are not a license to abandon truth and spread false information (slander) or jump on the hater bandwagon to verbally attack someone else. It is at these times that our love of truth and ability to speak the truth in love with set us apart.
I would also point out that we have no place to judge whether someone handled a situation properly or not. Just because Osteen didn’t do exactly what we think he should do, doesn’t mean he is wrong and it doesn’t give us the right to attack him. He is doing what he and his leaders believe is right and will be held accountable for it. We would do well to remember that people are under no obligation to handle a certain situation the way we think it should be handled.
What’s really important right now in Houston is seeing that people are helped. Whether that is through offering shelter, food, supplies, or helping to begin the rebuilding process, people in need are what is most important. What Joel Osteen does, or doesn’t do, is not important.
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