No room in the megachurch

Megachurch and reality TV pastor, Joel Osteen, drew fire on social media this week over his refusal, which he denies was a refusal, to open the Lakewood Church, seating capacity of 16,000, to people seeking shelter from Hurricane Harvey. Osteen is a relative newcomer to the world of fleecing the public in the name of religion, having only put himself in the limelight in 1999 upon the death of his father, also a pusher of salvation from imaginary dangers, in his case in the days before reality TV became “real.”

Osteen’s favorite book in the Bible is Second Pollyanna, but I would expect him to have read the rest of the text. In particular, especially since the story that I have in mind is repeated ad nauseum from Labor Day until the Greek Orthodox Church gets done with it in early January, I have to wonder whether Osteen is familiar with the second chapter of Luke, specifically verse seven, in which Mary and Joseph find themselves in need of a room, Mary finding herself ready to give birth.

Perhaps Osteen has the same reading schedule as Donald Trump, and A Charlie Brown Christmas has Linus start reading at verse eight. But “no room at the inn” is a saying that has entered into popular culture, so he can’t claim to have any excuse for not knowing.

Admittedly, the residents of coastal Texas are the putative son of a deity, but I recall Jesus saying something about whatever is done to the “least of these,” the most disadvantaged members of society, is done to him.

Some may say that I’m not a theologian or that since I don’t belong to Osteen’s club, it’s not my place to tell him how to read the book that he claims to preach, but I have spent decades analyzing literature, and I do know how to find themes in texts. And while we can debate the degree to which the Bible disparages wealth, but it takes a lot of work to explain how a Christian could refuse aid to his neighbors in need.

Or perhaps not. He may be the beneficiary of the commercialization of Christmas. Right wingers whine about the War on Christmas, and I wish it were it so. Indeed, let it be exactly the Marxist critique that they fear, the admission that the holiday as it’s currently endured is late and soon, getting and spending, in Wordsworth’s phrasing. Osteen missed a chance to put the latest Shitsherself Barbie on sale at the pulpit, allowing the desperate to line up in the damp parking lot in the hopes of gaining admission to work out their own salvations.

I try not to harass genuine Christians — by genuine, I mean the ones who seek to do good for their fellow human beings. The narrative that guides their lives isn’t the one I follow, but in pragmatic terms, a focus on the needy is something that I support. But people like Osteen remind me of the Pharisees who put themselves on public display to maintain the illusion of piety, while jealously guarding their positions of privilege.

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