Popular preacher and best-selling author Joel Osteen says political leaders are welcome to attend his church – but they shouldn’t expect access to the pulpit.
Osteen leads the 47,000-member Lakewood Church in Houston and has penned several best-selling books that blend evangelical faith with self help, most recently Become a Better You. He recently reiterated his policy of not allowing politicians or elected officials to speak in his church about politics.
Osteen also said he does not endorse political candidates. They are welcome to visit, he said, and he will note their presence – but that’s it.
In an interview with Newsweek magazine’s Web site, Osteen fleshed out his views on religion and politics, noting that his father, John Osteen, who founded the church, grew uncomfortable with local politicians who would seek pulpit time just before elections.
“It seemed like with city council races, everybody would come through two or three months before the elections,” Osteen said. “It just got to the point where it didn’t seem right. Now that we’ve grown, it’s the same thing. The way our services are structured here at the church, we have to keep it, if we can, 100 percent worship.”
Added Osteen, “Having said that, I’m a strong believer in honoring the people who have served and are giving their lives to run…. If one of the presidential candidates were to attend, they certainly deserve honor. I think we’d make an exception on that. I think we say we don’t let them speak because, well, who wouldn’t want to come to speak to 40,000 people here? We would introduce them and I would always put in a good word, whether they are Democrat or Republican.”
Osteen said he has no plans to endorse a presidential candidate.
“I like to keep that to myself,” he said. “Part of it is how I was raised. My father...kept it out of the pulpit. I think that part of our goal is to reach as many people as we can. Our reach is very broad. Even in the church we are very diverse. There are Republicans, Democrats, independents, everything.… I don’t want somebody saying, ‘He’s for this party or that party, and that turns me off.’”
It’s fine for Christians to express their views, Osteen said, but he warned against bringing religion and politics too close together.
“I do think, at times, the evangelical gets a label that becomes more political,” Osteen said. “That’s what I don’t like – when it’s so politicized.”
In other news about religion and politics:
• A coalition of Catholic and Protestant scholars, pastors and social justice leaders came together recently to oppose the spread of divisive religious rhetoric in the presidential campaign, saying it diverts attention from more pressing issues.
“We are troubled to see candidates pressed to pronounce the nature of their religious beliefs, asked if they believe every word of the Bible, forced to fend off warnings by a few religious authorities about reception of sacraments, compelled to confront derogatory and false allegations of radical Muslim childhood education, and faced with prejudicial analyses of their denominational doctrines,” the leaders wrote in a statement titled “Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail.”
Signers included J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University; the Rev. Les Schmidt, U.S. Catholic Bishops Liaison, Catholic Committee of the South; and Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University of America.