Commentary: Slow down before passing judgment on Osteen
Editor’s note: The following editorial appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.
We love Twitter, but let’s face it: The social media site feeds folks’ outrage and tempts us all to amplify hot uninformed takes on the day’s news.
Whether the topic is protests gone bad around Confederate statues or tweets from our nation’s president, checking your Twitter feed — or piling onto the opinions of others — is a feel-good excuse to “give me half a headline, so I can have a big reaction.”
This week’s twitter punching bag? Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.
Southeast Texas is drowning under the weight of Harvey, yet people nationwide — particularly those outside the state — have settled on making Osteen the villain.
After the pastor’s staff announced on social media Monday that his massive Lakewood Church, formerly an arena used by the Houston Rockets, was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” the flame-throwing began: Megachurch pastor with great hair and giant bank account hating on poor people.
Lakewood Church has since announced that it’s serving as a distribution center and preparing to take in evacuees. And it’s worth noting that the initial church post, which so fired up the internet, included helpful information regarding shelters and emergency help.
We aren’t writing in defense of Osteen. Insufficient facts are available to responsibly assess if his church was slow to open its doors to those in need.
But the backlash is an excellent example of what too often happens in the midst of crisis these days: The chance to fire off pre-written narratives without pausing for any evidence.
Not just today — as Houston and its neighbors are locked in a life-and-death crisis — but every day, how about if we all tap the brakes on the rush to jump on any headline and fasten to it every preconceived bias we hold so desperately to.
The Osteen tweet storm threw a match on a tinderbox of easy fodder: wealth, religion, red state. The perfect combination for a 140-character verdict without the facts.
Those who distrust megachurches and cringe at the cult of “personality pastors” have no love for Osteen. Many critics think he’s shallow and presents only an easy, feel-good gospel. His supporters say otherwise — that he is genuine, humble and believes the same fundamental truths that other U.S. pastors preach about the Christian faith.
No doubt jealousy and self-righteousness ooze from all sides of that debate. Now add to that fire the fact that so many people still furious about President Trump’s election lay that outcome on the residents of Republican states like Texas.
But the wrath aimed at Osteen also represents something much bigger. Simple, snarky and stabbing — that’s how too many of us want things delivered up these days: Don’t let facts get in the way of my strong opinion, even if I don’t know nearly enough to have an opinion.
Sadly, for too many Americans, this loud shot-from-a-canon outrage has become a lullaby of sorts — the soothing sounds of confirmation bias. We need a new melody.
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