Houston pastor Joel Osteen and feel-good homophobia

Lakewood Church leader part of new breed who couch anti-gay teachings in forgiveness, love

Osteen.Joel

Joel Osteen

When the Michele Bachmanns or Glenn Becks of the world do their public rants about rampant homosexual perversion and the decay of American values, I’m happy to let them talk.

As painful as it is to keep the free flow of ideas going, it is important to let people fly their colors. This way you know where they stand and you get to fly your own big neon flag in response. When activists called to have the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status yanked for its role in California’s Prop 8, I took the church’s side — not because I approved of their bully tactics, but because I didn’t want to see other churches lose their right to fight for us one day.

So you’d think I’d be OK with Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s recent remarks recently to Oprah Winfrey: “I believe that homosexuality is shown as a sin in the scripture. I do.” I’m so not OK with this I almost foam at the mouth whenever I think about that nuclear white Osteen smile.

True, Osteen was just sick about having to say that we’re sinners, and almost apologized for it. He went out of his way to opine that Christians make too big a deal about homosexuality and that it’s about as sinful as being prideful or fibbing. I’m glad that my marriage only offends God somewhat.

I’ve heard that Osteen has a big gay following, and I know one of those fans well. Once I emailed him to report that Osteen called homosexuality “not God’s best” on Larry King. My friend wrote back, “Well, nobody’s perfect. You take what’s good and leave the rest.” He continues to be inspired.

Dees.Abby

Abby Dees | Thinking Out Loud

This all sounds reasonable, and you could argue that my friend was reminding me of my own professed philosophy about free speech and religion. And yet I shrieked out loud when I read his email.

The reason Fox News gets a pass but Osteen has incurred my wrath is because his message is so insidious. It’s feel-good homophobia, so couched in God-loves-you talk that Osteen avoids all responsibility for the fact that real people take his words to heart. Not everyone can “leave the rest” as my friend does.

Whenever Osteen answers the question about homosexuality he hems and haws, but always comes to the apparently painful conclusion that the Bible is unambiguous about it.

He’s quick to add that he does love gay people, welcomes them in his church, doesn’t judge, that there are worse things to be, etc. The message that it’s still a sin to be gay gets quickly obscured by smiley faces and glitter glue for hope.

Curiously, Osteen is rarely willing to take a stand on any other issues. He’s gotten criticized by the religious right for staying out of politics and being unwilling to talk about sin as much as he talks about positivity. It’s all about being “the best you can be” — God’s plan for you. When Mike Wallace asked Osteen if he thought Mormons were true Christians, he humbly responded, “I haven’t really studied them or thought about them…I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know” and “I’m not one to judge the little details of it.”

Hmm. Why so vague about the folks who have an entirely different set of scriptures, but so damned clear on the disappointing truth about homosexuality? Perhaps some serious re-examination is in order.

Another pastor whose language and selective choice of issues is spookily similar to Osteen’s is the purpose-driven Rick Warren. Also a proclaimed political abstainer, he encouraged his flock to vote against same-sex marriage and has disturbing ties to the recent wave of anti-gay policies in Africa. Warren still insists that he loves gay people and works closely with “a number of gay organizations,” though no one ever asks which ones. These men are entitled to their opinions, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy of this new breed of influential pastors who want us all to bathe in the light of God’s forgiving love. Except that LGBT people must still deny how God made them if they want “God’s best” for themselves.

California-based writer Abby Dees is the author of  ‘Queer  Questions Straight Talk.’ She can be contacted through her website QueerQuestionsStraightTalk.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Megachurch wants choir to sign anti-gay covenant

Associated Press

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Several choir members at Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral say they’re upset over a document they’ve been asked to sign that takes a strong stand against homosexuality.

The “Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant” recently handed out to members states that they should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.

Former and current choir members say they are particularly offended by a statement in the document that refers to homosexuality. Longtime church members say this is the first time they have seen the cathedral take a firm stand against homosexuality and are disturbed by it.

“I understand that in an era where images of family relationship and personal sexuality are often confused, Crystal Cathedral Ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view,” the covenant reads. “I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.”

Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the founder and senior pastor of the megachurch, issued a statement saying the document is intended to “clarify expectations placed on them as ministry leaders.” Coleman also apologized for the pain the covenant has caused some choir members.

Ann Moore Waltz, a longtime church member and former choir member, said she does not agree with the statement in the covenant.

“If I were still in the choir and if that was presented to me, and if a gay person had walked out, I would have walked out with him or her,” she told the Register. “If you are a Christian group and people come to you, you should be a good servant, love them and shine the light of Jesus on them — regardless of who they are.”

Don Neuen, the cathedral’s longtime choir director, left the church last year because he disagreed with Gretchen Schuller Penner’s view that choir members should be “vetted” to make sure they are good Christians, the Register reported.

Penner is a producer for the cathedral’s Hour of Power program, broadcast to audiences worldwide.

Larry LaBonte, a church member for more than three decades, said he disagreed with the clause in the covenant with regard to homosexuality as well.

John Charles, a spokesman for the cathedral, said this does not mean gays are banned from the choir.

“This contract is to educate choir members about what our church believes in,” he said.

The megachurch has dealt with a series of controversial issues over the last several years, including a family rift that prompted the founder’s son, Robert A. Schuller, to split from the church and salaries and housing allowances for Schuller family members.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 18, citing debts of more than $43 million. The church has ordered major layoffs, sold property and canceled its annual “Glory of Easter” extravaganza.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Houston megachurch pastor Joel O’Steen equates gays to drunks, drug addicts

We honestly thought Barbara Walters was going to ask Joel O’Steen whether he’s homosexual when she brought up the issue of an evangelical pastor in Georgia who recently came out (Jim Swilley) on Tuesday’s The View. She didn’t. But if O’Steen were gay, he says he would probably have to step down from Lakewood Church, even though he could still be a member: “We don’t have a sign at the door: ‘No gays, no drunkards, no people on drugs.’ We’re for everybody.” Well that’s great, pastor, because so is this!

—  John Wright

Georgia: Megachurch pastor comes out of the closet

And he was married for 21 years and has children, but he decided to come clean after the rash of very public gay teen suicides. (WSBTV.com):

The pastor of a Rockdale County megachurch has publicly announced he is gay. Jim Swilley, bishop of Conyers’ Church in the Now, said he hopes his coming out will change attitudes toward homosexuality.

“I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not,” Swilley told Channel 2′s Diana Davis. I think some women marry gay men because they really think they can change them,” Swilley said.

He says he’s received support from many in his congregation, but at least one conservative Christian blog has called him sick, twisted, unclean and an instrument of the devil.

“I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever,” Swilley said. “To think about saving a teenager yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

GEORGIA: Megachurch Pastor Comes Out

The pastor of a massive Georgia church has come out, saying the recent rash of gay teen suicides made it impossible to continue living a lie.

Jim Swilley, 52, founded Rockdale County’s Church in the Now 25 years ago. His wife, Debye, was the associate pastor, and together they had four children. Swilley says he’s known that he’s gay since he was a boy, and his wife knew when they got married. Jim and Debye are now divorced, but they kept his secret for more than 21 years. Earlier this year, Swilley says, Debye told him she thought it was time he stop living a lie. Swilley says he decided she was right after reading stories about kids being harassed by antigay bullies and committing suicide.

The below news story notes that some Christian websites and blogs are condemning Swilley, calling him “sick, twisted, and a tool of Satan.”

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

GA Megachurch pastor comes out: ‘To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that’


Compare this to Tony Perkins who said gay kids know they are “abnormal,” which is why they kill themselves.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Schuller’s megachurch Crystal Cathedral Ministries seeks bankruptcy protection

I guess God wasn’t taking any calls during this recession…Schuller’s house of worship didn’t qualify for a heavenly bail out.

The Southern California megachurch Crystal Cathedral Ministries will enter bankruptcy, as it faces lawsuit-filing creditors and a rapid decline in donations because of the recession, church officials announced Monday.

An unspecified small number of creditors have sued the church and obtained writs of attachment, said church spokesman John Charles.

…”Challenging situations are nothing new to our 55-year ministry,” said Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman, senior pastor at the church.

“In 1977, countless persons predicted that our plans to build a 2,800-seat all-glass church in earthquake-prone Southern California would never get off the ground, but we have made history,” Coleman added. “Our announcement today to file for the protection of Chapter 11 is just one more chapter in the book that he is continuing to write — and we know that God’s plans are good — we have no doubt his chapter will be good!”

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Megachurch pastor keeps mum on sex allegations

ERRIN HAINES | Associated Press

ATLANTA — On Sunday mornings, accused megachurch Bishop Eddie Long is usually draped in regal robes and dripping with diamonds and platinum — the kind of material rewards he often says are in God’s plan for those listening.

His message expected this Sunday, Sept. 26 will be the first in public since three young men accused him in lawsuits of having sexual relationships with them, which he has vehemently denied only through his lawyer and a Twitter posting.

Long built his congregation into a megachurch empire, telling his followers God wanted them to be wealthy and delivering fiery sermons with a secular swagger. He hangs with celebrities like rapper T.I. and donates money to charities and candidates. Even the county sheriff is among his followers.

Long spent more than 20 years building all that up, but his empire hangs in the balance. And his 25,000 followers aren’t about to let it all come tumbling down after the three men’s claims that the bishop abused his spiritual authority.

“I’ve always thought he was a very powerful man of God,” said Anshay Tull, a 27-year-old attendee of Long’s church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. “I’m just praying, trying to stay hopeful that it’s not true. If it is true, he has to take that up with God. But that can’t take away from the Word that he gives. I think he’s very gifted.”

He’s preached against gay marriage, and his church has counseled gay members to become straight — even though the men claim in their lawsuits that Long used money, cars, international trips, jewelry and other objects to lure them into sexual relationships when they were 17 or 18 years old.

Long came to New Birth in 1987, when it had just a few hundred members. He had a flock of 8,000 just four years later and moved the church into a $2 million building. By 1995, the church’s weekly television broadcast was airing in more than 170 countries. By Long’s 10th anniversary, New Birth paid off its debts and for 240 acres of land to build a multi-million dollar church complex.

The church grew alongside its home of DeKalb County, now the second-largest in the state. It has one of the most affluent populations of African-Americans in the country, many of whom attend New Birth. Long’s message of prosperity has dovetailed with their goals and dreams, as is evidenced by the many luxury cars in the parking lot on Sundays.

Long himself is a product of his message. His home was bought for $1.1 million in 2005.

`”He has a kind of celebrity status, given his megachurch leadership,” said Emory University religion professor Theophus H. Smith. “And Bishop Long has been especially noteworthy in terms of making a place for men’s spirituality and black male manhood in the church.”

Despite the church’s economic and political power, though, it faces a somewhat uncertain future.

“People who are members at that church probably felt better about themselves because they are members,” said Lester Spence, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Now, there are a whole bunch of people trying to figure out what their place is, what’s going to happen to the church and what’s going to happen to them.”

Today, New Birth operates more than 40 ministries. The centerpiece of its campus is the $50-million New Birth Cathedral, which opened in 2001 and seats 10,000. Membership stands at more than 25,000, and New Birth flags flying from car windows are a common sight around metro Atlanta.

Long is married to Vanessa — referred to as “The First Lady” of New Birth — and the couple has three sons and a daughter.

There are those turned off by the church’s size and its message, including former member Zack Hosley, 31, who criticized Long’s rich lifestyle.

“If you see (Long) out and about in Atlanta, he rubs elbows with celebrities and I just wouldn’t think a man of God would be hanging out with T.I,” he said, referring to the Atlanta-based rapper who served time on federal weapons charges and recently was arrested on drug charges.

He is beloved by his congregation, though, which has dismissed the accusations as a test from God. After he canceled both an interview on a popular syndicated radio show and a scheduled news conference, Long is expected to address New Birth members Sunday during church.

His lone remarks have been a statement read by his attorney and a Twitter posting: “Thanks for all the prayers and support! Love you all.”

“I wish the bishop would come out and make a comment and speak to us,” said Lance Robertson, a longtime church member. “We want to hear from him. I think the world wants to hear from him. Right now, in the court of public opinion, it does not look good.”

—  John Wright

Anti-gay Atlanta megachurch pastor denies sex with young men

ERRIN HAINES  |  Associated Press

ATLANTA — The prominent pastor of a 25,000-member megachurch near Atlanta denies allegations in a lawsuit that he coerced two young men from the congregation into a sexual relationship, his attorney said.

Lawyers for the men, now 20 and 21, say they filed the lawsuit Tuesday, Sept. 21 in DeKalb County Court against Bishop Eddie Long. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sexual impropriety.

President George W. Bush and three former presidents visited the sprawling New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia for the 2006 funeral of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Long introduced the speakers and the Rev. Bernice King, the Kings’ younger daughter, delivered the eulogy. She is also a pastor there.

The men who filed the suit were 17- and 18-year-old members of the church when they say Long abused his spiritual authority to seduce them with cars, money, clothes, jewelry, international trips and access to celebrities.

Craig Gillen, Long’s attorney, says the pastor “categorically denies the allegations.”

“We find it unfortunate that these two young men would take this course of action,” Gillen said late Tuesday after news of the lawsuit broke. He said Long had not yet been served with copies of the lawsuits.

Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage and his church counsels gay members to become straight. In 2004, he led a march with Bernice King to her father’s Atlanta grave to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.”

He also has released several gospel albums, authored books on relationships and spirituality, and hosts a weekly television program.

B.J. Bernstein, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that when the relationships started, the plaintiffs were past the legal age of consent in Georgia, which is 16.

“Defendant Long has utilized his spiritual authority to coerce certain young male members … into engaging in sexual acts and relationships for his own personal sexual gratification,” the lawsuits read.

When asked about a possible motive for the accusations, Gillen referred to a break-in at Long’s office in June.

Bernstein said one of the plaintiffs is facing a criminal burglary charge in the incident. She said the break-in was a way of lashing out at Long.

Bernstein said she contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office earlier this month when she became aware of the young men’s allegations. She did not know what action, if any, the agency planned to take.

Bernstein told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she has not contacted DeKalb County law enforcement because Long has ties to county officials.

Orzy Theus, a spokesman for the DeKalb County district attorney’s office, said he was not aware on Tuesday of an investigation in that office related to the allegations.

Long was appointed pastor of New Birth in 1987. Then, the church had about 150 members. Less than four years later, the church had grown to more than 8,000 members. Athletes and entertainers claim membership at the church.

Long’s church was among those named in 2007 in a Senate committee’s investigation into a half-dozen Christian ministries over their financing.

Today, New Birth sits on 250 acres and has more than 25,000 members, a $50 million, 10,000-seat cathedral and more than 40 ministries _ including the Longfellows Youth Academy, a tuition-based program for young men 13 to 18.

—  John Wright

Man in rape case also charged with assault in connection with HIV status

Tumbwe, former minister with Potter’s House, claims sex was consensual; 2 other women say defendant didn’t reveal his status and gave them HIV

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Nathaniel Tumbwe is on trial in Dallas for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The weapon is his penis and his bodily fluids are the bullets because he has AIDS, herpes and genital warts.

According to testimony in Tumbwe’s criminal trial, Tumbwe made repeated advances to Carolyn Hudson, which she refused. In October 2008, she reported to police that he raped her in her house. She said she invited him to her home twice to discuss religion and on that second visit he raped her.

Weeks later she learned he had AIDS.

The defense claimed that Hudson simply regrets having had a relationship with Tumbwe.

Hudson is a receptionist at Potters House, a megachurch in Southwest Dallas. Tumbwe refers to himself as a reverend who was affiliated with the church at the time.

Hudson has tested negative for HIV. Two other women who contracted the virus after unprotected sex with Tumbwe will testify at the punishment phase of the trial if he is convicted.

Ken Upton, staff attorney for Lambda Legal in Dallas, said that calling the penis a weapon is unusual.

He said that Lambda Legal has filed briefs in cases where police charged someone with assault when a person with HIV that was being arrested spit on the officer. Since that is not a method of transmission and spitting is not normally seen as assault, the courts dismissed the charges.

In a 2009 case in Michigan, a man with HIV arrested for assault was also charged with bioterrorism after biting his victim. Lambda Legal filed a brief in the matter.

“This charge leads to public misunderstanding of how HIV is transmitted, contributes to stigmatizing people with HIV and undermines important public health goals,” Lambda Legal attorneys wrote in their brief.
In June 2010, the bioterrorism charge was dismissed.

But Upton warned about having unprotected sex or not revealing one’s HIV status to a sexual partner.

“Knowingly having unprotected, nonconsensual sex puts it in a different category,” Upton said.

He said in Texas it would at least be a good argument for battery.

Why Dallas prosecutors would go for the assault with a deadly weapon charge, however, when rape has severe penalties, Upton said he could only speculate. He thought they might have added the charge in order to get a plea bargain. Once the case went to trail, he suggested it might have been to further bias the jury against the defendant or simply add charges.

Jamille Bradfield is the public information officer for the Dallas County district attorney’s office. She said she could not comment on the case because the trial is ongoing.

The charge has worked in North Texas before.

In 2009, a Frisco man was convicted of six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — his bodily fluids — because he was HIV positive. Ten women who seroconverted after having sex with him testified for the prosecution. The sex was apparently consensual. No rape was charged.

That case was the first in which DNA testing showed that the defendant was the source of the infection. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

In March, a Houston man was charged with having unprotected sex with a minor. The charges were upgraded to aggravated sexual assault when police learned that he was aware of his HIV positive status.

Enhancing the charges when HIV is involved is becoming more common according to The Center for HIV Law & Policy. They list about 60 current or recent cases across the country. Charges range from spitting and knowingly spreading infectious disease to assault with intent to kill.

The cases involving sex, rather than spitting or biting, all appear to involve heterosexuals.

The organization calls penalties for crimes involving persons with HIV “draconian,” with up to 25 years in prison even when no transmission occurred.

In the Tumbwe case, there was apparently no infection in the case of the rape victim. Hudson has not tested positive for HIV but is being told that she needs to retest once a year for 10 years.

Bret Camp, associate executive director for health and medical services at Resource Center Dallas, said that was ridiculous and unnecessary.

“Technology has advanced,” Camp said. “HIV RNA testing is now available at Nelson Tebedo Clinic through a partnership with Dallas County. It detects HIV in seven to 10 days after an exposure.”

He said for peace of mind, he’d recommend a follow-up at 60 days, but called even that medically unnecessary. He said he knows of no cases where someone suddenly tested positive years after exposure.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has been following the Tumbwe trial and said the case is of particular interest because of the trust people place in other people involved in their church.

He said that prosecuting crimes involving churches are particularly difficult.

“Often people associated with a church are reluctant to speak up,” Clohessy said. “By cooperating with law enforcement, churchgoers are strengthening their congregations and making them healthier communities.”

And many churches are reluctant to discuss HIV prevention. By going public, Hudson may have helped open the discussion of several topics at the church including HIV testing and revealing status to partners as well as sexual abuse by church elders.

At press time, the trial was still in progress. Tumbwe faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas