Six arrested at Houston's Lakewood Church after heckling senior pastor Joel Osteen

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |
Joel Osteen is pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, one of America's largest churches. | Hatchette Book Group

HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) -- Six people were arrested and charged with criminal trespass Sunday after heckling Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church.

Houston's ABC News Affiliate reports the disruption began following the praise and worship.

"The praise and worship was good. His wife had just delivered a quick message. And the moment he started to preach, somebody gets up and they yell, 'Joel Osteen,' you're a liar,'" said Anwar Richardson who posted a video to Twitter of one of the arrests.

Richardson, his wife, and son were visiting from Austin, Texas. With thoughts of the June 17 shooting at Charleston, South Carolina's Mother Emanuel AME church in mind, the family decided not to stay.

"After the sixth time that it occurred, my son was sleeping in my lap, and I looked at my wife and she was nervous and we just decided we have to get out of here," Richardson said.

"All I could think of is you don't know what's going on, and I just can't wait to find out, so I've gotta get out of there," he said.

Osteen reportedly told the crowd, "Thank you all for your patience, and we'll just continue to receive what God has for us. It's a good day to be alive."

Another witness commended Osteen for his composure. "He kept on going. He really got the message out and he said no weapon formed against me shall prosper. So kudos to him for delivering a good service."

A Lakewood spokesman said the hecklers were from The Church of Wells, a controversial religious group from Wells, Texas labeled by some as a cult. The church made no mention of the incident on its web site or social media outlets.

The Houston Chronicle reports people from The Church of Wells were prevented by Lakewood Church's security from entering the worship center in a separate incident approximately a month ago.

The newspaper quoted another Twitter user from Houston who decided it was not safe to stay at the June 28 service: "Had to leave @LakewoodChurch because of people randomly jumping up and verbally assaulting @JoelOsteen and it was 1st visit. Still shaking."

Osteen himself has long been the subject of controversy for preaching what many call a "prosperity gospel" message.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler said in a blog post last fall that Osteen's message of prosperity does not differentiate between Christians and non-Christians, fails to mention sin as a fundamental human need addressed by the Gospel of Christ, and does not take into account that for most of church history Christians lived with poverty and persecution and still do in many parts of the world today.

"God's pleasure in his human creatures centers in His desire and will that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. The great dividing line in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, or even the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who, in Christ, have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God's glorious light," Mohler wrote.

Members of The Church of Wells -- described by some as reformed with puritanical leanings -- have been involved in various disputes with police and have been accused by some family members of "brainwashing" vulnerable young adults. While some maintain it has the markings of a cult, others have said its leaders are young and "misguided."