Hurricane Harvey continues to bring out the best in many people. Over the past five days, we’ve seen footage of hundreds of citizen-led rescues. These are men and women who climbed aboard their boats and went searching for their stranded neighbors. These are the people who formed a human chain to pull a driver from his sinking car. Even as Mother Nature does her worst, it is gratifying to see humankind do its best. One particularly uplifting story comes from Houston’s own Jim Mcingvale. Mcingvale, better known as Mattress Mack, opened his two furniture stores to shelter people who’d been displaced by the flood. The images of his warehouse-sized retail stores filled with men, women, and children sprawled across recliners, sofas, and, of course, mattresses, have become a staple on the evening news. And there are many other examples of ordinary business owners and citizens who’ve opened their doors to people and pets during this terrible storm. But we’ve also seen the example of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, who was slow to open the doors to his nearly 17,000-seat church. Osteen was berated on social media for tweeting out bland missives about praying for the storm victims without offering up access to his church. He has since bowed to pressure and opened the doors.
Osteen says he didn’t immediately offer up his church as a shelter because no one in the city asked him to do so. He also said there may have been some safety issues, but that’s been disputed by others in the area. Here’s Osteen speaking about his decision:
“It’s easy to say, ‘Wow, there’s that building. They’re not using it.’ But we don’t have volunteers,” Osteen said. “We don’t have staff that could get here. We’re all about helping the city whenever we could ― if they would have asked us to become a shelter early on, we would have prepared for it.”
So basically Osteen is saying that his church is not prepared to help the helpless. It is prepared to bring in thousands of people on Sunday mornings and it is prepared to pass the offering plate and process their tithes, but it doesn’t have the capacity to welcome people in need in the midst of a crisis. And it didn’t occur to Osteen that he should prepare for such a thing.
I doubt Jim Mcingvale had an army of volunteers standing by when he posted an online video with his personal phone number and invited any evacuees to shelter in his store. He did it because it was the right thing to do. When he heard the storm was coming, he prepared to help people. He didn’t wait to be asked.
My guess is Mcingvale does okay for himself. He owns two large stores in a large city. He seems successful. I’m sure he lives quite well. But I’ll bet he doesn’t live half as well as Osteen. Osteen owns two multi-million dollar estates in Texas, as well as a yacht and a jet. I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet one of his suits costs more than most people make in a year. He is not just rich. He is extraordinary wealthy. And he says it’s because God made him so. Osteen is one of the preachers of the prosperity gospel, the idea that righteous living and faith will inspire God to shower riches upon your family. It is ludicrous and shameful. It is in no way supported by the Bible. In fact, one of the things that sticks with me the most from my days as a churchgoer is this advice from Jesus: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
Jesus felt so strongly about this that he said it twice. And yet we live in a world where Kenneth Copeland has a reported net worth of 760 million dollars. Compared to that, Osteen’s 40 to 60 million dollar worth seems almost paltry. Osteen built his enormous wealth on the backs of ordinary people. He claims he takes no salary as pastor of his mega-church, and yet he uses the pulpit to shill his own books and seminars and merchandise. He needs the church way more than the church needs him. But when it comes time to help ordinary people, he has to be asked to open the doors of that church.
When I look at men like Osteen and men like Mcingvale, I don’t have to wonder about which one is living his life in a more Christ-like manner. I have no idea what Mcingvale’s beliefs are, but he is more like Jesus than Osteen could ever hope to be. There is no way Jesus would fiddle his thumbs and wait to be asked to help people. I hope Osteen is enjoying his earthly kingdom, because it looks like the Kingdom of Heaven might be a tough place for him enter.