Joel Osteen better pay attention before he ends up in the same ugly mess as the Reverend Robert H. Schuller.
Schuller might soon be yanking a foreclosure notice from the doors of his Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The empire created by the 84-year-old Reverend has filed for bankruptcy. The ministry is a whopping $43 million in debt and is facing several lawsuits as a result of its financial woes.
The landscape crew and the professional window-washers have all been let-go. Dutiful volunteers are tending the 40-acre mega-complex. Sheila Schuller Coleman blames the bankruptcy on a bad economy. Ms. Schuller Coleman is the current senior pastor. She assumed the job after conducting a hostile take-over against her younger brother, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, who was their daddy’s pick to succeed him. (Whoever said middle names don’t matter apparently wasn’t part of the Schuller family.)
But long before Wall Street came to a jerking halt, transforming Lehman Brothers from an investment firm into a repentant prayer group, the elder Schuller implemented a bail-out scheme of his own.
Schuller’s plan was fairly simple: To woo investors one only need to build more buildings. Building your way to a better future, it is the American way. When the economy takes a nosedive, build a dam, build a road, build a mega-church. Build it bigger and better than ever before.
“It’s the myth of progress,” Pastor Ken Wytsma recently told his congregation. Wytsma is senior pastor at Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon. This popular resort and recreational community has seen its own share of troubles as a result of a wobbly economy. Bend leads the nation in home depreciation for a metropolitan area – values have dropped 52.5 percent since 2006. “We live under this myth that things should always get better and better, bigger and bigger,” Wytsma said.
It’s a lie. A myth loved by people everywhere, but a lie nonetheless. One that has earned Joel Osteen, like the elder Schuller before him, America’s most-popular pastor status.“God wants to increase you financially,” Osteen assures the thousands of devotees who attend Lakewood, one of the nation’s largest and wealthiest churches. The Houston, Texas church has an annual budget of more than $80 million.
God wants to make us bigger and better and richer in everyway, Osteen purports.
Try telling that to Miz Betty. She’s been homeless in Raleigh, N.C., for the past six years. When she was in her 30s Miz Betty was married and raising a family. She never envisioned spending her retirement years in the van she now calls home. But Miz Betty doesn’t blame God for the fix she’s in – it’s purely a money matter.
“I don’t have any,” she says.
Our nation’s veterans are waking up on the streets to the myth of progress that Schuller and Osteen and others like them have been wrongly preaching. According to the Veteran’s Administration over 6,000 women veterans are homeless just like Miz Betty. Women who fought for the freedom to make their lives bigger and better have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to find that they can’t even get a job washing the 10,000 or so windows at the Crystal Cathedral.
“Things don’t always get bigger or better,” Pastor Wytsma told his flock.
Sometimes you get cancer and your spouse walks out on you. Sometimes you lose your job and the custody battle. Sometimes you make one wrong investment decision that costs you everything. Sometimes your child or your sibling dies in war. Sometimes you discover that freedom isn’t everything — it may not even be the most important thing.
Sometimes you wake up an old man to discover that empire you spent a lifetime building is simply a glass house and the neighbors are staring while your kids are fighting.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? ‘cause I need more room for my plasma TV. Zondervan, 2010.