In the wake of the massive shaming megachurch pastor Joel Osteen received from Twitter users last week, you wouldn’t think that inventing a narrative would be necessary to outdo the one he’s written for himself. But thanks to the never-ending cycle of the internet publisher’s outrage machine, every move Osteen makes can be manipulated and packaged to drive enormous clicks.
This weekend, a video went viral showing Osteen’s sister, Lisa Osteen, leading a prayer service for Hurricane Harvey victims. In the video, she takes the stage, thanking the audience for their “generosity” while the word “Houston” is emblazoned in giant letters behind her. She then asks those affected by the floods to stand up so surrounding parishioners could pray that God moves “supernaturally in their favor.”
As the camera pans to the audience, scattered groups of people, some looking disheveled and holding children, look around while others raise their hands in prayer. As Osteen ends her preaching, she tells the audience, “God bless you as you give,” and exits to the left of stage. As the camera pans away, collection baskets can be seen being distributed by ushers into the audience.
The optics were tailor-made for media outlets to return to the already battered corpse of Osteen’s public image and rip it some more: Osteen is now taking money from already destitute hurricane survivors!
From Jordan Freiman at deathandtaxes:
Feels like maybe you can skip a night of donations here and there, especially when you’re making a point to pray for people in your audience who may have just lost nearly everything they own in a historic flood. It seems pretty obvious that the people forced to take shelter in a church that only let them in as a last resort probably aren’t swimming in cash.
The anger in the comments was palpable. “This is appalling!” wrote one person. “Passing the collection plate was only adding insult to injury,” wrote another.
Piling on, the liberal mega-content mill Occupy Democrats published an article titled “Joel Osteen’s Megachurch Just Handed Out Collection Plates To Hurricane Evacuees,” which, as of this writing, has been shared almost 20,000 times from their Facebook page.
It’s an astounding amount of engagement for an article headline that simply states something that’s a routine occurrence. Collection baskets are how churches, regardless of how corrupt or unsavory, support themselves. I’ve never attended a service at Osteen’s church, but I grew up going to church and have even attended some huge services at arena-type venues. One thing is always a constant: the collection baskets will make the rounds at each service — sometimes twice, and no one is forced to give anything.
We don’t know exactly where those donations at Osteen’s church go, but there’s a chance that at least a portion would go towards whatever relief effort the church cobbled together after its shaming. “Churches have collection plates. That’s what they do,” one commenter wrote on the deathandtaxes piece. “Not everyone in the audience was flooded and no one is forced to put anything in it.”
The point is, you don’t have to invent a narrative to be offended by the video. I get offended anytime a person steps on stage to promise salvation with a capitalist incentive and I view every breath of Osteen’s ministry as an insult. But again, I don’t have to invent things in rder to be outraged at the sight of Osteen. Either way, one thing is for sure: Osteen’s image as a grifter is no longer just a periphery meme on the internet. This is big time, baby.
Featured image via screen grab