Hello, Joel Osteen

Jay Bakker joins Soulforce as they bring American Family Outing to Houston’s Lakewood Church on Mother’s Day.
By Leigh Bell

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Soulforce ED Jeff Lutes (the adult on the left) and partner Gary Stein with their children Jolé, Niko (standing), and Trei.

Silence can say harsh things. Joel Osteen’s refusal to speak an opinion on God and homosexuality has ruffled either side of the issue—those who say it’s a sin and those who believe it’s not. Both opinions mostly agree on this. A man who reaches more than 40,000 people at Lakewood each week and another 200 million television viewers worldwide (not to mention those who bought his best-selling books) should take a stand on one of today’s most pressing societal issues.

Osteen has said little about homosexuality, gay marriage, or how it all sits with his church.

Mr. Osteen, if you care to do so, my e-mail is [email protected] Meanwhile, expect a group of at least two dozen gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, along with their families and supportive church leaders, to visit Lakewood on Mother’s Day.

Lakewood is the first of six mega-churches that The American Family Outing will attend through Father’s Day hoping to address family, faith, and sexual orientation in friendly sit-down conversations with members of those congregations. If you want to learn more, you can visit www.soulforce.org/afo.

The American Family Outing is the idea of Jeff Lutes, Soulforce executive director, a gay man who has three children with his partner. Lutes saw a new generation of evangelical leaders emerging, and with their large audiences and global reach, he realized their influence.

“These mega-churches are all about family,” Lutes says from Austin, where Soulforce is based. “We have families, too. What would it look like if we set up a meeting where they could see that, too? I just want to humanize the issue. . . . Like any dad, I’m proud of my family and my children, and I know families in these churches are equally as proud.”

Jay Bakker (c) and life partners Jose Ortiz (l) and Steve Parelli are involved with the American Family Outing

Leaders of The American Family Outing have tried to arrange such a meeting with Lakewood members for several months, starting with a letter to the church on December 3, 2007, Lutes says. They have since sent more letters and made a few phone calls. No one has responded.

“It’s disappointing, and it obviously says something,” Lutes says.

As a reporter, I contacted Lakewood Church to request an interview with Osteen or another representative of the congregation to discuss The American Family Outing. After my second attempt, I received an e-mail from Andrea Davis of Lakewood Church that reads, in part: “No one seems to know about this [The American Family Outing], but perhaps their request went to our group scheduling office. We get hundreds of requests from groups as you may know. Sometimes they get a bit overwhelmed.”

Mr. Osteen, if your church has responded since this article went to print, I apologize and Laura Pursell probably thanks you. Her mother is a lesbian, and the 21-year-old wants to tell Lakewood Church members her story.

“I got through school, and my friends and family accepted it,” Pursell says. “If other kids have this issue, I want to let them know they’re not the only ones out there. If I did it, they can, too.”

Maybe if churchgoers see that gays and lesbians can raise loving, Christian, and yes, straight children like Pursell, they’ll view sexual orientation and God with new light.

“Joel [Osteen] is inspirational and influences a lot of people,” says Kim Beggs, Pursell’s mother. “If they see that we have family, that we are strong Christians, that Jesus loves us just the same, then we have made a big step.”

Historically, Osteen gives non-answers when asked publicly about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He told Larry King, “I don’t go there.”

However, Osteen doesn’t jump right on the evangelical bandwagon with James Dobson and Tony Perkins, who strongly oppose gay marriage.

“On one hand, it gives me some hope,” Lutes says. “I have hope, but I also have sadness that he doesn’t seem ready to use his influence to make a real difference to people.”

Apparently, the closest Osteen has come to a public statement on homosexuality was in September 2006 when he was asked about gay marriage during a visit to Massachusetts, the only U.S. state to allow same-sex nuptials.

“I don’t think it’s God’s best,” Osteen said, according to the Boston Herald. “I never feel like homosexuality is God’s best.”

A reporter pressed Osteen, who appeared to backpedal and said, according to the Herald, “I don’t feel like that’s my thrust . . . you know, some of the issues that divide us, and I’m here to let people know that God is for them and he’s on their side.”

“What is God’s best?” asks Jay Bakker, co-founder of Revolution Church, who leads families to Lakewood on Mother’s Day.

“We are not going to discuss that with him [Osteen]. We just want to see if we can have some compassionate dialogue, and if we are in the same room with each other, it takes that fear away.”

Bakker has met the unforgiving side of Christianity. Not because he’s gay. He’s straight. But because he’s the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who were tossed out by many Christians after Jim Bakker’s dishonesty with funds and infidelity in marriage came out in the 1980s.

Unlike Osteen, Bakker very publicly discusses his belief that homosexuality is not a sin and has labeled his church in New York a gay-affirming one.

“I think the church has been wrong on the issue,” Jay Bakker says. “I encourage them to take a deeper look [at the Bible], and when you’re ready to do that, we can sit down and talk. There is a majority of Christians who say that I’m compromising. . . . I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere if we just make quotes to newspapers or magazines or on television. We have to sit down and have a conversation. That is what we’re trying to do.”

Mr. Osteen, if you’d like arrange this, let us know.

Kim Beggs (r) and her daughter, Laura Pursell, join the Outing.

The American Family Outing (AFO) campaign from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day is made of GLBT families and supportive straight families seeking peaceful dialogue about faith, family, and sexual orientation with six of today’s most influential evangelical leaders and their mega-churches. AFO is a collaboration of Soulforce, The National Black Justice Coalition, COLAGE, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. AFO still wants families to participate. If you are interested, visit www.soulforce.org/afo.

The scheduled church visits are: May 9–11: Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church, Houston • May 16–18: Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House, Dallas   • May 23–25: Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. and Hope Christian Church, Beltsville, Md. • May 30–June 1: Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga. • June 6–8: Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill.   • June 13–15: Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.

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