Pastor Joel Osteen has a simple message for Utahns: God is on your side.
That is, of course, the same message Osteen, pastor of the 40,000-strong Lakewood Church in Houston, is bringing to people across the country Phoenix, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and so on during his 2013-14 "Night of Hope" Tour. And it is the same basic message in his weekly broadcasts and sermons, as well as his first five books, all of which have been best-sellers.
It's also central to Osteen's newest volume, "Break Out! Five Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life," copies of which he will be signing during his visit next week to the Beehive State.
God likes you, accepts you and approves of you, Osteen writes in "Break Out!" Does that include gays?
"Absolutely," Osteen told the Huffington Post this week, "I believe that God breathed life into every person and that every person is made in the image of God, and you have to accept them as they are, on their journey. I'm not here to preach hate or push people down."
He believes he is "called to uplift mankind," the popular pastor says in a phone interview. "Jesus didn't stay in the synagogue; he went to the marketplace. … I have a strong drive to help people be the person God wants them to be. In all my sermons, I push people to do better, to live a more godly life. But I do it from a positive perspective."
Though Osteen ministers to the nation's largest Christian church, and the Oct. 11 event at West Valley City's Maverik Center will include a "call for salvation," Jesus Christ is not mentioned in any news releases.
"Joel's appeal is universal, allowing him to cross over to audiences that are diverse racially, politically and socioeconomically," one release says. "His ability to speak directly to individuals and to connect personally with them is virtually unmatched today."
Critics do find Osteen's approach "one-dimensional," says Pastor James Ayers, of Lifechurch, a Pentecostal congregation in West Valley City, but it is effective at "opening the hearts of people who would never come into my church."
"Night of Hope" is a "good first step for a lot of people," says Ayers, who has sold hundreds of tickets to the event.
Christ is the reason he is doing what he does, Osteen says, but if his words can uplift a Muslim, all the better.
"I am here to love people and plant a seed in their hearts," he says. "I am not a Christian evangelist. I just try to teach people how to live the Christian life."
His "Night of Hope" isn't a "big religious event," he says. "I talk about letting go of the past. My philosophy is that a lot in life is pushing people down. I want to lift people up. "
That optimism is part of Osteen's appeal, but the smiling pastor bristles at the suggestion he is an advocate of the so-called "prosperity gospel," which teaches that true Christian living makes people wealthy and successful.
"I've never liked the term," he says. "In my mind that refers to someone who talks about money. I don't talk about money, just having peace in your mind. I get put in that category because my message is hopeful and positive."
Osteen's philosophy may not be focused on getting rich, but it hasn't hurt him, either. His net worth has been pegged at about $40 million, and his church is housed in the former home of pro basketball's Houston Rockets.
This marks the first visit to Utah for the televangelist and his wife, Victoria, but, he says, "We have a lot of supporters there."
Osteen won praise from many Utahns last year when he said, during Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, that "Mormons are Christians."
Ayers, who doesn't see Mormonism fitting under the umbrella of orthodox Christianity, says that Osteen "may not have been fully aware of, studied or looked into teachings of the LDS Church."
The Pentecostal pastor did, however, take a stand against the street preachers who protest outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' semiannual General Conference, calling on them to stop the attacks.
"We need to treat everyone with respect," Ayers says.
Sounds a lot like Osteen.
Osteen's Utah itinerary
What • Signing of his new book, "Break Out!"
When • Thursday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
Where • Barnes & Noble, 1104 East 2100 South, Salt Lake City
What • "A Night of Hope" with Joel and Victoria Osteen
When • Friday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.)
Where • Maverik Center, 3200 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
Cost • $15