I’ve long held an interest in Mormons who supplement their weekly worship in Latter-day Saint congregations with occasional (or in some cases, very regular) attendance and participation in some other tradition’s meetings. That interest was initially sparked by my study of ungathered Latter-day Saint converts in the American South around the turn of the 20th century who, left to make of their new religion what they could in the absence of ordained priesthood and regular church meetings, continued to attend Methodist revivals or nearby Baptist meetings in between the often lengthy periods they would meet with other Mormons under the direction and priestly authority of the itinerant missionaries. That interest also results from my own appreciation (and in some cases, holy envy) for the liturgies of other Christian traditions’ as well. I’ve long loved the high church liturgy of Latin Mass in more traditional Roman Catholic churches and it will come as a surprise to no one that I hold a particular soft spot for the hymnody of the Methodist tradition. (It even appears that this has rubbed off on my wife a bit, who once attended a Methodist service in place of finding the local Latter-day Saint congregation while on a work trip in South Carolina).
I was reminded once again of this supplemental worship last week, when I noticed my father-in-law, an orthodox and faithful Latter-day Saint by all accounts, watching Joel Osteen on Sunday morning while getting dressed for church. We talked about it a bit, and my FIL admitted liking Osteen, even as he critiqued the content of his sermons as not exactly theologically-deep. I hadn’t before considered televangelism as a potential form of supplemental worship for Mormons, and am intrigued. Anecdotal experience (mostly from catching the assorted facebook status updates of some Mormon friends on facebook) suggests that my FIL isn’t the only Mormon tuning into Osteen’s sermons on Sunday mornings. I doubt Mormons make up even a tiny fraction of the 7 million viewers each week, but I’m curious how many other Mormons out there watch Osteen with any regularity. If you do, or if someone you know does, please comment and share more.
I’m curious whether there are other televangelists that Mormons sometimes watch, or whether there is something unique about Osteen that seems less threatening to Latter-day Saints. Maybe his admission on Fox News in 2007 that he believes Mormons are (or can be) “true Christians” won over some Latter-day Saints. Or maybe his the content and tone of his sermons—which emphasize the power of positive thinking and focus on inspiring people to live happy, productive lives, sometimes to the exclusion of more traditional Christian evangelical themes—seem less threatening to the beliefs of Latter-day Saints, who can simply add on his motivational messages without worrying whether his beliefs about the Trinity, priesthood authority, and other issues conflict with their own specifically Mormon take on those points.