Yet, one of the largest religious events in the region since Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit is coming together pretty much outside of the organized church world.
With a few exceptions, there will be no church bus groups or pastor promotions, and many — if not most — of the people who paid $15 for a ticket didn’t hear about the event through their church, because they don’t go to one.
They are probably among the 10 million people who Osteen’s group says watch his weekly TV broadcast, the crown jewel of a megaministry built on the concept of a totally positive, in-your-corner God whose list of “don’ts” is pretty short: Don’t lose hope!
The show flashes ads for the monthly “inspirational” events more frequently than it flashes verses from the Bible. And for people who live within 200 miles of the ballpark, they started getting e-mails 90 days ago, part of the regular communications for the 1 million people who his group says have asked to be zapped inspirational messages from the Osteens. Or maybe they bought one of his best-selling books or downloaded his podcast — one of the most-downloaded in the world — or follow him on Twitter, where he is considered one of the most-followed religious figures.
People love him for the same reason that many others, pastors in particular, shun him: his near-total silence on the subjects of sin, suffering and detailed doctrine.
“My message isn’t real religious,” Osteen said in an interview. “I’ve stayed good in my sweet spot, which is encouraging people, and hope.”
Even local pastors who sometimes collaborate with Osteen’s ministry were cautious about characterizing it. One declined to comment beyond saying that Osteen’s focus on stories of financial prosperity and his lack of emphasis on sin made him too controversial.
But Michael Collins, pastor of the Extraordinary Life Church in Glen Burnie, who has a video of himself with Osteen on his church’s Web site, said: “There are very few pastors who say ‘Let’s go to this as a church.’ People want him to preach all this deep doctrine, and that’s like trying to get a 5-year-old to play” pro sports. “Most people don’t have the basic aspects of faith, and Joel meets them right where they’re at.”
Others were withering about the thinking behind super-popular Osteenisms such as this one: “No matter what may be happening today, God has good things in store for your future!”
“Why do con artists work? Why do multilevel marketing schemes work?” said Kevin Lewis, a theologian at the evangelical Biola University. “The Bible says, if you want to be prosperous, work hard and gain wisdom. Not, ‘Say the right words, and spiritual forces will make you healthy and wealthy.’ ”