The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up side-by-side billboards in Houston urging churchgoers, including Joel Osteen followers, to stay home.
The 14-by-48-foot bulletins, featuring a stained-glass window motif, offer advice to “Sleep in on Sunday” and “Enjoy life now — there is no afterlife” instead of displaying bible verses. The Houston boards, positioned on U.S. Highway 59 South, are part of a campaign FFRF is taking around the country targeting what the state/church watchdog calls “irresponsible megapreachers.”
Osteen is known for promising “The prosperity gospel,” a self-serving brand of evangelism preaching that the biblical deity blesses with material wealth believers who give the most to God’s chosen — such as Osteen.
The prosperity gospel has certainly been prosperous for Osteen, who is worth millions of dollars and has a home valued at about $10 million. Osteen’s wealth is the source of much consternation and speculation. Lakewood Church is the largest church in the United States, with a ministry to match, according to the Houston Chronicle, spending roughly $90 million during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. (As a church, Lakewood Church, of course, is not required to divulge to the IRS or the public its tax-free income and expenditures.) Despite its wealth, the church has received a highly controverial $4.4 million Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. government.
Osteen’s reputation took a hit a few years ago when he only reluctantly opened up the doors of his 16,000 capacity megachurch — which was once home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets — to serve as a shelter after Hurricane Harvey.
FFRF, the nation’s largest association of nonbelievers with 35,000 members (including 1,400 members in Texas), is advising the good folks of Houston to “kick the habit — and become a None [as in unaffiliated].” Gallup revealed this year that America’s reported church attendance dropped below 50 percent for the first time in eight decades, with a minority of Americans (47 percent) saying they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque.
The proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly a third in the last few decades, with a corresponding rise of the “Nones.” Roughly one in four adult Americans now have no religion.
“Sleep in on Sunday — spend relaxing time with your family or communing with nature or volunteering to help someone — instead of wasting time and money with a parasite like Osteen,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The only afterlife that ought to concern any of us is leaving our descendants and planet a secure and pleasant future.”
FFRF aimed similar billboard messages last month at Nashville megachurch pastors Kent Christmas and Greg Locke, who are both Christian nationalist proponents.