On Saturday night, author and televangelist Joel Osteen will preach at Nationals Park to a crowd of 41,000. He talked recently with On Faith founder Sally Quinn and Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein. Here are excerpts:
Sally Quinn: If you have to sum it up in five or six words, what is your message?
Joel Osteen: My message would be that God is good, that he’s on your side. That he’s got good things in your future.
A lot of people feel beaten down, or they grew up thinking that they could never measure up to who God was. “I can’t talk to God’’ or ‘‘I can’t ask for anything; I can’t expect any help.’’ But I just see God different than that. I grew up with a loving, earthly father, and I think that’s where a lot of people get their image of God. It’s how they’ve been trained.
And I just think that our message is about overcoming — a big part of it is, you may have made mistakes, but you can still get to where you’re supposed to be.
Michelle Boorstein: This is D.C. It’s campaign season. Is preaching to a D.C. crowd somehow different?
JO: When we were deciding what city to come to this year, part of it was, it’s election year and it seems like maybe all the time, but now especially the country is really divided politically and our message is about bringing people together. We’ll have people from all walks of life, all the denominations, Republicans, Democrats . . . the message brings people together. When I speak here it’s historic. You can see the Capitol from some spots at the stadium.
SQ: Do you call yourself an evangelical?
JO:We don’t refer to ourselves as evangelicals. Not that we’re not ones. We just like to be known as believers in Christ, followers of Christ. . . . I believe in the Bible and Jesus with sharing our faith. The only reason why [he doesn’t call himself an evangelical] is because it seems to take on a negative tone. Now it’s a voting bloc. I don’t want to be Republican or Democrat. . . .
The audience we’re trying to reach — I don’t want to divide that audience. Even in our church at home, it’s 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 30 percent black. There’s Republicans, Democrats, people for this and against that.
SQ: What do you think that people who call themselves evangelicals mean by that word?
JO: I think it means that we’re believers in Christ; we believe in sharing our faith; we believe the Bible is true. I think we believe that’s what it means.
It’s not that much different than me — maybe it means that they’re more. . .agenda-driven. That “we’re against this and against that and we’ve got to fight because the nation’s going the wrong way.” That’s not just my calling.
MB: You have Muslims, Jews who listen to you; it goes beyond a Christian ministry.
JO: I know I sold a million books . . . in Indonesia. I thought: I’ve never been there, I don’t know where it’s at. But it’s a testament that the message is resonating with people.
I say all this respectfully, but people have been beaten down by religion. They’ve already been beaten down by life, so we try to be uplifting and life-giving and see the goodness of God. Some traditional churches, they wouldn’t see that as being, you know, not being hard enough. . . . But that’s the difference. I’m not as traditional as my father was, but I feel like I’m doing what God’s calling me to do.