Joel Osteen: I Didn’t Choose to be Straight, but Being Gay is Still Wrong

Here’s Joel Osteen‘s predicament: His success hinges on his ability to inspire and uplift people. But, as a successful pastor, he knows he’s going to have to take stances on “controversial” issues like gay marriage. So what does he do?

He stays ignorant. It’s just easier for him. When he gets asked about whether homosexuality is a sin, he tries to avoid the line of questioning by saying he never talks about that in church and he “stays in his lane” and his areas of expertise. He purposely keeps those areas to a minimum.

Still, the man has thoughts, and those thoughts are important. Not talking about homosexuality is just a pastor’s way of avoiding the “bigot” label… even though, deep down inside, that’s what he is.

You can imagine how frustrating it must have been for Osteen when he went on CNN to promote his new book I Declare, only to get grilled on the issue by Soledad O’Brien and Richard Socarides:

“You are known for these uplifting services… and I always wonder when you say, homosexuality is a sin and there’s a bunch of people who clearly are gay who are in your church, you’re calling them sinners,” O’Brien said. “I mean, that is the opposite of uplifting, I would think.”

Osteen quickly responded, saying that homosexuality isn’t really an issue that he focuses upon. The faith leader went on to say that there are a plethora of sins and that Christians have a tendency to categorize them (something he doesn’t support).

To which the better panelists responded by basically saying you can change your behavior when it comes to lying and stealing but not when it comes to your sexual orientation.

Osteen has no real response. He admits he never chose to be straight, but somehow, homosexuality is still bad because the Bible said so, as if that makes it true.

But here’s how this will play out (and it’s what’s most upsetting about this whole thing): Osteen won’t solidify his views. He won’t get educated. He won’t talk to LGBT groups, he won’t talk to other pastors, he won’t read up on the issue. He’ll just bask in his ignorance, promoting a faith that he thinks is wonderful, while knowing that the faith has caused so much harm to so many people.

This isn’t a complicated issue. It’s not like most people can’t quite grasp it. Hell, even schoolchildren understand that it’s ok to be gay. But Osteen can’t rise up to that level of understanding. He’d rather just say he doesn’t know enough about the issue and mimic the other pastors who say homosexuality is a sin without getting into the specifics about how the laws based on those misguided views affect people all over the country, presumably including many who attend his church.

You can’t whitewash the problems away by not talking about them. Journalists need to keep pushing him on this issue — it shows his true nature. He’s all for making people feel better, but he can’t muster the courage to stand up for all those people who aren’t allowed to get married or adopt children because of the faith he wants to propagate.

It’s cowardice, and it’s coming from someone whose approval of homosexuality — something that many, many Christians have had no problem giving — might actually make a difference.

(Thanks to Dr. Matt for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kevin Lewis

    I’m usually just a lurker — and I love the blog — but I’m sorry, I absolutely have to weigh in here.  You mentioned that “the better panelists responded by saying that you can change your behavior when it comes to to lying and stealing, but not when it comes to your sexual orientation.”  I have to call you out on this.  While they’re better than the panelists who don’t call him out at all, they’re still 100% wrong – and it’s an error I see a lot coming from allies. 

    The issue isn’t that sexual orientation can’t be changed, because calling sexual orientation a sin wouldn’t somehow suddenly be morally OK if it could be.  I realize that mainstream science tends to indicate that it’s probably not a choice – and that’s fine, they know better than I whether it is or isn’t – but we need to be better about holding our ground when it comes to the fact that even if it is a choice, that’s okay.  Put succinctly, the problem with “pray the gay away” programs isn’t that they’re ineffective, it’s that being gay is just as valid as being hetero, or bi, or asexual, or poly.

    The proper response is that “lying and stealing are wrong – and secular morality recognizes them as such.  The decisions about who to sleep with, who to find attractive, and how to live one’s private life are not.   Putting the two together is a category error – even if you subsequently say that we have to tolerate gay people because unlike those nasty murderers and liars, they don’t have a choice about it, poor things.”

    • Levon Mkrtchyan

      Thank you for making this point Kevin.  It’s an important one and I agree with you all the way.

    • icecreamassassin

      Yes.  Very yes.

    • Heepsprow

      Absolutely, yes, this is what I keep trying to explain to people. Choice or set in ones genes, sex between consenting adults is not the business of anyone except the people involved, and it’s certainly not a “sin.”

    • Michael

      Wow.  I never thought of that way.  I mean… I HAVE, but I never thought of it that deeply.  My argument has always been that  you are born gay- and science backs that up.   But you’re absolutely right.  Even if you’re NOT born gay, it shouldn’t matter because even if you CHOSE to be gay, why shouldn’t you be treated equally and fairly?  You’re not harming anybody (unlike murderers), you just want to be happy.

      Bravo.

    • Ibis3

       Agreed. It also leaves bisexual people out in the cold, since, though they can’t choose to be attracted by people of different genders or sexes, they can choose to live a completely heterosexual life. They shouldn’t have to however, since having same sex relationships harm no one.

    • TiltedHorizon

       “I’m usually just a lurker”

      I congratulate you for breaking your silence and encourage you to do it more often.

    • Logalmier

      This this this this. It’s not the governments job to be telling us what to do sexually.

      Choice or no choice, it is the individuals choice, not the governments.

    • Patterrssonn

      Well put, all the likes.

    • John

       Pedophelia is also not a choice.

      • Marco Conti

        But pedophilia by definition involves at least one party below the age of consent and it has also been proven to create a great deal of distress and trauma in most of the victims.
        Gay marriage is between consenting adults and it has no negative ramifications for the participants or for society at large. 
        Try again.

    • Aaron Scoggin

      Exactly this. I used to make the argument that since people were born gay, that it was natural, and therefore OK. I’ve only recently opened up my mind about it a little and thought, “Well, even if it is a choice, isn’t that OK, too?” If someone wants to live that lifestyle and it’s not getting in the way other’s ability to live theirs (which, it isn’t), then who cares?

    • Concerned Citizen

      That’s because “allies” are just parroting the “correct” responses. Gay and straight are social / political concepts. Saying someone is “born gay” is as meaningless as saying they’re born a vaccination skeptic or a climate change denialist.

      • Kevin Lewis

        Definitely possible – I know virtually nothing of the current scientific state of the nature/nurture debate on sexual orientation.  My point, however, isn’t that it’s right or wrong to say someone is “born gay,” but instead to say that it’s a red herring – whether or not it’s a choice is irrelevant, because it’s wrong to criticize or curtail someone for their sexual orientation regardless of the reason/explanation/circumstances of that orientation.

    • Marco Conti

      Very good argument. I think the root of this fallacy, that the “gay” is some sort of congenital illness, is due to our own side trying to build a bridge for the religious they can trust to walk on.

      In the process we still demean sexual orientation. In a lesser way than they do, but we are basically playing the game on their terms, leveraging their moral structure,  rather than substituting our moral for theirs.

      While, like you, I find this a form of pandering , I can see good arguments for both approaches from a strategic and logistical point of view

      You are right it shouldn’t matter whether someone is born gay or they choose to be one, but building consensus with that approach would make it much more difficult to gain ground among believers. It would also legitimize their attempts to cure the gay away.

      …I guess I am thinking out loud now. The bottom line is that you are right. The reality is that it may be a good strategy to follow for the time being if we want to achieve equality.

      As far as I am concerned, the most valid argument I have is that two men or women marrying does not change my own marriage or those of just about anyone else. That alone should be a sufficient argument in favor of marriage rights.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    Every time I hear Joel Osteen my skin crawls a little bit –given that  smooth hypnotic cadence he uses is only to sell you on something. Of course he is mainly trying to sell you a book on how you to can follow a Prosperity Gospel without having to worry about those passages that might contradict that particular greed based idea.

    • WoodyTanaka

      You’re giving him too much credit.  He’s a huckster trying to scam you out of a buck.  If there wasn’t so much (tax free) money in this, he’d be selling penis enlargment pills or get rich quick schemes.

  • jose

    You need to read the sophisticated theologians about how the gay is
    objectively disordered. You have a couple of neighbors at patheos that
    will tell you that much. Being a math teacher, I think their concept of
    a well order relation will amuse you.

    • HannibalBarca

      Don’t feed the troll, kids.

      • jose

        Um, I thought the last sentence would give out that I wasn’t serious…

        • Patterrssonn

          Unfortunately you have to be more explicit. Self parody is already built into most Fundie troll comments.

    • Edmond

      Fantastic.  If being gay is a disorder, then the Americans With Disabilities Act will ensure our rights.

  • d.

    Aren’t pastors supposed to be leaders, or something?

  • Alex

    I don’t think Osteen is a coward. He’s more of a con man, and a pretty successful one at that. Why slaughter that cash cow, when he can sidestep hot button issues and continue milking it? That’s not to defend him or anything, but not everybody is as honest and straightforward as we’d like them to be. That glued-on smile of his alone should tell you something.

  • Octoberfurst

     Osteen is just another religious con man. He’s found his gravy train but does not want to talk about any issues in the Bible that might be controversial. It’s all “Jesus loves you and wants you to be wealthy, healthy and happy.”  It’s one big feel-good party with Jesus as the host.  He says life is sweet if you are a believer. If I were diabetic his preaching would put me in a coma. 

  • Ibis3

    Not talking about homosexuality is just a pastor’s way of avoiding the
    “bigot” label… even though, deep down inside, that’s what he is.

    Not saying it’s the case here, but it’s also possible that a pastor (or politician) might not talk about it to avoid being labelled a traitor or infidel by their own parishioners/partisans if they were to stand for equal rights.

  • Taylor

    Extremely disrespectful to put that “a faith that brings so much harm to so many people!!” Try being gay in Saudia Arabia and see what happens!! THEN come back to me and tell me how much problem it causes!!

    • Anna

      Your argument doesn’t make sense. How is that disrespectful? Christianity does bring harm to many people. Just because Islam tends to be worse doesn’t mean that Christianity is exempt. If both religions promote harmful things, then both are worthy of criticism.

    • Patterrssonn

      Sorry Taylor but Anna’s right, your post really doesn’t make any sense.

    • amycas

       So we should be proud that gays are ONLY treated as second class citizens in the usa and that they’re not also put to death. Since when did we start using Saudi Arabia as a jumping off point for our civil liberties?

    • tnayrb

      By using the phrase “A faith that brings harm to so many people,” I don’t think the writer was referring to Christianity as a whole, but rather to the bigoted breed of Christianity preached by many fundamentalistic celebrity pastors.

  • WoodyTanaka

    Osteen’s no fool.  Like any two-bit carny, he knows that the marks he preys upon have certain expectations and if he didn’t meet them, they’d take their money to some other scammer who’d be happy to play the game that separates them from their money. 

    No interview with any of these parasites that doesn’t start with, “Why do you take advantage of the gullibility of all those people?  How do you live with yourself?” is just playing into these vultures’ hands.

  • DougI

    Osteen is a rich man and Jesus condemns the hoarding of wealth while there are so many people in need.  Yet Osteen has time to condemn gays, because Osteen isn’t gay.  It’s so easy for Christians like Osteen to hold other people to his religious dictates but can’t hold himself to his own religious dictates.  That’s what we call a hypocrite.

  • Chakolate

    I disagree that he will never support gay rights.  He will, as soon as a significant majority of his followers do. 

    The man is nothing if not a believer in expedience.  

  • jumpjet2k

    Joel Osteen: “I didn’t choose to be rich, but being poor is still wrong.” 

  • ophu

    I’ll say it again: He only listens to dead people.

  • Rabidmob

    Homosexuality is a sin, but there are lots of things that are sinful. Having children is sinful also. We humans also survive by feeding on creatures incapable of stopping us from eating them, guess what that is.

  • Kaydenpat

    “Osteen has no real response. He admits he never chose to be straight, but somehow, homosexuality is still bad because the Bible said so, as if that makes it true.”

    Isn’t that the point of being a Christian?  You interpret the Bible as you please and then stick by it regardless of whether or not it contradicts reality.  This means that even though you have to admit that homosexuality is not a choice, because the Bible says it is wrong, it is wrong.

    I don’t think Osteen is brave enough to just come out and say that even though the Bible can be interpreted to denounce homosexuality, he advocates a different interpretation or advocates disregarding the anti-homosexuality interpretation.  He’s popular and rich.  I can imagine that he avoids sermons about homosexuality in his megachurch since he’s not trying to be controversial one way or the other.

  • seeker

    Schoolchildren don’t believe it’s o.k. to be gay, I’ve seen their faces of disgust when two guys hold hands or when two women kiss, I believe they are wired to know the difference between normal and natural and otherwise, just because society is pushing for a new normalcy doesn’t mean it is acceptable.

    • Edmond

      I believe their reaction is because they’ve already been TOLD to be disgusted, by bigoted adults.  There isn’t anything “new” about gay people, and there isn’t any reason not to accept people who are different.

      • The Starship Maxima

        Well said. And true.

    • GayIsOkay

      I’ve seen childrens’ faces of disgust when they see broccoli at the dinner table.  So I guess that means broccoli isn’t “normal” or “natural” and thus we should all just eat cookies and ice cream…

      • The Starship Maxima

        I see what you did there. Well played. :)

  • A reader

    “even schoolchildren understand that it’s ok to be gay” – wow, that is too much of a subjective statement coming from a math teacher who is supposed to be objective.

    Does it occur to you that there might be kids who think otherwise?

    If free speech and thinking is what we are standing for, why would you want to throw such a blanket statement to support your viewpoint? Just thinking perhaps you might need to be “educated” as well – coz I don’t know how objectively you would be able to define that :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/amawuko Ahiable Gabriel Mawuko

    No book has the credibility the Bible has. It may be hurting but the truth is one: Homosexuality is not only a SIN but also Unreasonable! Humans have larger cranial space and are expected to exercise great discretion. Not even animals chase same sex for sex. Money is never all: a human must behave as a human; with big brain!! Resolute gays will have themselves made like ROBOTS: without WILL POWER but alasa! that’s not human. Like all sins, a gay can easily quit this bondage lifestyle: a real encounter with CHRIST JESUS is all you need. There’s hope for all gays; Repent and be converted!! THE TRUTH MIGHT BE PAINFUL BUT THE TRUTH IS ONE!!! Love you all!!

  • http://twitter.com/Nae_Kimani NaeNae

    God set the standard at creation… He made Adam and Eve after which He said “For this reason A man shall leave His father and Mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24)The Bible is very categorical on this issue. Anything that goes against Gods Standard is Sin. The Bible is filled with stories that demonstrate this standard for how God wants Human beings to live. In the story of Lot and the two angels who came to inspect Sodom and Gomorrah the men of that land went to his house and almost killed him
    because he prevented them from accessing this heavenly being so as to
    “have sex with them”.. Lot said “do not do this detestable thing”
    meaning that it was an abomination even before God had given the Law. A
    few hours later God destroyed this two towns and the surrounding area as
    a judgement for this and other sins(Gen. 19). When He gave Moses the Law outlined in Leviticus 18:22 which says “do not lie with a man as with a woman that is detestable”. now then just because popular opinion is to be politically correct on this issue… God has not Changed His standard. It remains the same and we will all be judged according to His standard, not our rational or popular public opinion or our political correctness men laying with men is a sin women laying with women is a sin but all is not lost. whoever realizes his/her offense against God on this matter or any other can approach the throne of mercy and experience Gods forgiveness through Jesus Christ, because He died for ALL our sins. once a confession is made, live a holy life of obedience to Gods standard. i am not a bigot. i stand for Gods standard not Mans…

  • Lilly

    Been gay is a SIN! You are right, Joel is a coward, as a pastor and a representative of God, he should be able to stand firm on God’s Word, and tell the world, the same as lying, stealing, murder, and envy, been gay and practicing that lifestyle is a one way ticket to hell.
    Been gay is not worse than anyone of these sins, all sin is equal in God’s eyes, and we all do it, the difference is that when you except Jesus as your saviour, you are covered by his grace.
    This whole ‘let’s all be politically correct’ nonsense is sickening. Just because it is popular to support gay rights and not be seen as “a bigot” does not change how God views the subject. I am not a bigot, I do not hate the sinner, but the sin. It’s written as clear as day in the Word of God, Homosexuality is a sin and an abomination in the eyes of God. Plain and simple. Repent, except Jesus as your Lord and savior and turn away from your sin.

    • The Starship Maxima

      I agree with some of your points Lilly. Christians, some, oppose divorce, pre-marital sex, and yes, homosexual relationships, and yet, speaking against one of those gets you labelled a bigot. True.
      But, of that preceding list, only one group has been habitually targeted for violence, discrimination, and general mistreatment.
      I admire Osteen, no matter how many blogs such as this denigrate him. But the writer was correct; he could’ve made difference. He could have said, “Look, based on my faith, I believe homosexuality is wrong. I can’t and won’t change that because it’ll offend the sensibilities of some.
      But…….mistreating gays, paying them less, denying them civil rights, and committing violence against them is a FAR FAR more disgusting crime than anything any homosexual might do. My focus is on stopping that rather than on forcing people to obey a book they might not believe in.”
      That would make a huge difference. And it’s time more of us Christians do that.


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