Six members of a small, controversial Texas church were arrested after allegedly heckling megachurch pastor Joel Osteen during his Sunday sermon.
“Joel Osteen, you’re a liar,'” yelled the first of the six protesters as the Houston-based pastor began his sermon, according to churchgoer Anwar Richardson’s interview with local television station KTRK. Osteen, a popular nondenominational televangelist, draws crowds of about 43,000 for weekly sermons, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
Lakewood Church spokesman Donald Iloff Jr. told KTRK that the suspects were all members of the Church of Wells, a small congregation based in Wells, Tex., a church with a history of controversy. (Texas Monthly published an in-depth look at the church in 2014).
Iloff was not immediately available for comment to The Washington Post.
Jacob Gardner, one of the six men arrested at Lakewood, said in a lengthy emailed statement to The Post that the group of protesters are “convinced that the sins of Joel Osteen and Lakewood church have reached heaven and that God has remembered their iniquities.”
Gardner, who is an elder at the Church of Wells, went on to say that the church believes that Osteen will be the subject of a coming judgement from God, which will “devastate the man, the ministry, and the masses.”
Gardner said that seven members of the Church of Wells were involved in the protest, intended to “warn Lakewood Church of the coming judgment.”
“Sitting in Joel Olsteen’s church and it has been interrupted FOUR times by people against him. This is crazy!” tweeted Anwar Richardson, as the service was underway on Sunday. Richardson also captured video of the sixth heckler being ejected from the church:
Richardson tweeted how Osteen responded to one of the interruptions:
Richardson said that he left the service early, with the Charleston church shooting fresh in his mind. “All I could think of is you don’t know what’s going on, and I just can’t wait to find out, so I’ve gotta get out of there,” he told KTRK.
The six men were later arrested by off-duty officers who were hired by the church to work security, Victor Senties, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department confirmed to The Washington Post, noting that the hecklers were “said to be protesting against the church pastor and his teaching.”
Jacob Gardner, 26; Kevin Fessler, 27; Mark DeRouville, 25; Matthew Martinez, 27; Randall Valdez, 28; and Richard Trudeau, 32, were charged with criminal trespassing in Harris County, according to the criminal complaint. Gardner and Trudeau are listed as a church elder and a church deacon, respectively, on the Church of Wells Web site.
Although nationally and internationally popular, Osteen has long been controversial among those who believe that the pastor teaches the Prosperity Gospel – the idea that God will reward the faithful with earthly riches. Osteen has taken issue with the label, saying that “prosperity to me means good relationships, it’s having health, it’s accomplishing your dreams, it’s having money to pay your bills, it’s being blessed you so you can be a blessing.”
The high-profile church was also targeted by robbers last year, who stole $600,000 in donations out of a church safe.
“We have been burdened for this place for years (this past year especially) and were all of us united in fasting and prayer for three days preceding this event,” Gardner’s emailed statement reads.
It continues: “Joel Osteen has glorified himself and not God. He has heaped to himself riches, while he promises the poorest of the poor a life of health, wealth, and prosperity. Joel’s religion is a worship of SELF, and not of CHRIST.”
Lakewood told police that the same group of suspects “showed up at the church about a month ago,” but did not interrupt the service. Gardner was arrested in 2014 for allegedly causing a disturbance at a religious event held by several local churches.
[This post, originally published on June 29, has been updated to include a statement from the Church of Wells]