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Hurricane Harvey dumped water, mud and debris over a large swath of land. The reaction from most was beautiful. Volunteer efforts to help, donations to crisis response charities swell, and prayers go up from most Americans, and people around the world. Then came a bizarre turn. A few decided to dump their water, mud and debris on one whom they judged to be not charitable enough. A fellow minister, Greg Locke, blamed Joel Osteen for his church’s slow response in opening up to shelter victims of Harvey. http://www.christianpost.com/news/pastor-greg-locke-joel-osteen-shamed-opening-lakewood-church-harvey-victims-197349/ Similarly, Seattle commentators “Ron and Don” offered a biting comparison between Olsteen and Mr. Rogers. http://mynorthwest.com/736400/mister-rogers-would-not-be-happy-with-pastor-osteen/ I get it. Olsteen’s rich, and it’s somehow soothing to our fragile souls to blame the rich, megachurch pastor for his failure to be loving and charitable enough. It’s also ugly. Olsteen explained his church’s response, and folk will either believe him or they won’t. Frankly, I’m troubled that he is having to defend himself in the court of public opinion. Perhaps LDS folk will get what I am saying better than many of my fellow traditionalists. You know what it is to have some pretty loathsome people condemn you, or your church, for seemingly minor offenses—insisting on the worst possible interpretations. Bottom line: I’d love to see how much Olsteen’s critics donated to Harvey relief efforts. Then I’d like to see how they respond the next time their good intentions are subjected to the most negative, cynical interpretations possible.
Imagine watching video tape from two classrooms. They are identical grades. The first is from a rough neighborhood, where about 80% of the students are on free/reduced lunch. There are drugs aplenty in the nearby apartment complexes, the majority of the homes have one parent/guardian, and many of the children come to their classroom with empty bellies and angry, confused hearts. The second classroom is from an upper middle class neighborhood. The homes usually have both parents, they are full of books, and the children have frequent interaction with educated adults. However, you do not know any of this. You only see the students and their teachers interacting. Can you not picture yourself concluding that the first teacher must be incompetent, while the other is a master-professional? What does this have to do with religion? I recall a Bible verse that says we should judge a tree according to its fruit. In other words, we can determine how good something is by its product. Then I thought that practical assessments like that might put Christianity—especially Evangelicalism—in a bad light. I work as a chaplain in a jail, and there are many Evangelicals serving time as inmates. Some are accused of heinous crimes. There are other religions with a lower proportional representation. How to explain this? The first school teacher might point out that her kids advanced tremendously over the course of their school year. Their improvement rate might far surpass that of the second classroom. Likewise, Christianity, Evangelicalism, and Jesus himself—we don’t seek out nice people to teach niceness to. Christ said he came for the sick, the lost, the blind, the widow and orphan—“the least of these.” The one rich, righteous young man that came to Jesus was all but turned away. Sell everything? Give all the proceeds to the poor? I have seen those convinced that God could not love them gain hope, and then faith. Their countenance changed so beautifully in a manner of a few months! One young lady struggled terribly with a powerful drug addiction. She came back to the jail several times over a few years’ period. A failure? No! Her faith kept her going. God wouldn’t give up on her, so she didn’t give up. Perhaps one of the most poignant examples was that of an inmate who had been faithful to my chapel for over three years. He told me he was finally sentenced. It did not go well. He received three consecutive life sentences. Obviously the accusations against him were horrific. What do I say to give hope to a man around 40, who faces such a future? I gave mild assurances, and we shared a short prayer. The next Sunday he was in chapel. The Sunday afterwards he was in chapel! My religion may not be pretty. It might not garner the best taste award. However, Jesus and his church definitely win the “Most Improved Believers” Award. That just might be the most relevant outcome of all!