Charles Dickens Was Right, Though the Law Is a Bigger Ass Than He Thought

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They "co-pastor" the largest church in America. That explains why Joel and Victoria Osteen were flying to Vail, Colorado on December 19, 2005: Christmas is usually the clergy’s busiest season, but hey, when you fleece the flock as strenuously as these two do, you need a little R&R at the holidays. Besides, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas boasts 60 other ministers for lesser duties like funerals, counseling, and whatever doesn’t involve television cameras. We’ll presume, then, that the co-bigwigs boarded Continental Airlines flight #1602 that winter’s day with clear consciences while visions of sugary slopes danced in their heads.

Alas, the vacation got off to a rocky start when Victoria noticed "liquid" on her first-class seat. Encountering dirty accommodations at whatever exorbitant prices Continental charges first-class passengers “clearly" angered her. Rage has become one of the aviation gulag’s biggest crimes, however richly the airlines deserve it and especially if it’s in response to shoddy service.

Accounts differ as to whether Victoria asked the flight attendants for napkins or told them to mop the mess; they continue to differ when neither napkins nor clean-up were forthcoming. The crew claims Victoria "grabbed" one of them by the "right forearm" and "led" her to the seat in question. Touching a flight attendant becomes "assault" under Title 49, United States Code (USC) 46504 if the touchee complains that it "interfere[d] with and lessen[ed] the ability of the flight attendant to perform his duties." But Victoria’s casualty was a hardy sort: despite the assault, she was still able to perform her duty of calling for clean-up and accordingly headed for the cockpit. Victoria followed her, only to bump into — literally, it seems, thereby committing her second assault — another flight attendant, Sharon Brown. Sharon alleges that Victoria "push[ed] her out of the way and elbow[ed] her in the left breast."

Victoria counters that when one of the crew handed her napkins, she protested, "’It’s not my job.’ I didn’t say it in an ugly tone of voice." Nevertheless, that was enough to antagonize the flight attendants, which "freaked" Victoria "out. I asked a simple question,” she told a packed courtroom Friday. Sharon retaliated by "accusing me of stuff I didn’t do…. I was dumbfounded.” She testified that she apologized to Sharon, saying, "If I’ve done something to offend you, I’m sorry," before returning to her seat and cleaning it herself.

Everyone agrees the Osteens then disembarked, though they disagree about whether that was voluntary. "‘[Victoria] failed to comply with the flight attendant’s instructions, and they were asked to leave the flight,’ FBI spokeswoman Luz Garcia said." Yes, in our silly times, the FBI actually concerns itself with cat-fights on airplanes. But this one was so ridiculously trivial that even an agency eager to persecute innocuous passengers couldn’t think of any charges to file. That didn’t stop the flight attendants or the media from exaggerating and gossiping, so Victoria’s spokesman tried to set the record straight the next day: “The account of the event which has come to our attention is inaccurate and overblown. The misunderstanding was minor and was resolved when Victoria voluntarily removed herself from the situation.” Hard to quibble with that. Even if the "event" unfurled precisely as the flight attendants averred, it was decidedly "minor" and definitely "overblown."

When the spokesman’s efforts didn’t settle the furor, Victoria herself took a stab at doing so on the church’s website. "Regardless of how some have portrayed the situation, please know that it was truly a minor misunderstanding and did not escalate into what you saw or read in the news. Contrary to those reports it was my choice to remove myself from the situation. Nonetheless, it was a most unfortunate event and I truly regret that it happened." Oh, I’ll bet she does: Our Masters fined her $5000 despite the lack of charges or even the remotest trace of criminality, then scaled back the extortion to only $3000. Victoria paid it, "not because she was guilty," her attorney explained, "but as a way to conclude the matter and avoid any embarrassment for her church."

That bought off Leviathan, but not Sharon Brown. She realized that a very wealthy woman had treated her like the flight attendant that she is — and this in neoconservative Amerika. We serfs may persist in seeing Sharon and her co-workers as little more than sky-high waiters and waitresses, but that only shows we don’t understand the miracle of 9/11. They do. They know it transformed them from menial employees whose jobs depend on pleasing customers into high-ranking officers in the Feds’ War on Terror. Mere passengers no longer dare question nor cross them. And so Sharon is suing Victoria for 10% of her net worth. The case went to court last week.

It’s a toss-up as to which woman is the bigger phony. Reputedly a follower of Jesus Christ, Victoria "co-pastors" a church that says it believes "the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error." Except, of course, those passages in which God designates men to guide, protect, and succor their families and His church. The Almighty forgot to add that women should share those roles. Joel and Victoria have graciously corrected His oversight.

The Osteens and their congregation also differ with the Lord when it comes to humility. They repeatedly brag that Lakewood is the largest church in America. Yet the God of the Bible delights in small, spurned agents: an army of 300 men to fight masses of Midianites; slave girls who tell their powerful, prestigious masters that Yahweh heals leprosy; a Newborn in a manger.

Then there’s the "gospel of prosperity" the Osteens so slickly sell, an ancient heresy that’s fooled not only Lakewood’s multitudes but far smarter folks. Life can be horrifically depressing, squalid, unfair, and tragic; insisting that God blesses good people with good things ignores the realities of this fallen world. How can such fallacy possibly comfort the parents of a murdered son, Christians persecuted for their faith, or a 14-year-old paraplegic confined to a wheelchair because of the car accident that killed his parents? Imagine the flawlessly dressed Osteens squatting in the filth and ashes beside Job as he scrapes his stinking sores with a potsherd. "So, Job," Joel pontificates as Victoria gags, "it’s easy to get into a survival mode when times get tough and things aren’t going our way…If we’re not careful, we’ll develop this survivor mentality, to where we’re not releasing our faith, we’re not believing to rise any higher… The ‘Voice of Victory’ is found in God’s Word. It says, ‘You are blessed.’ ‘You are prosperous’, ‘You can do all things’, ‘Your best days are still ahead’."

On the other hand, we can probably absolve not only Joel and Victoria but Lakewood as a whole of hypocrisy so long as we remove the word "Christian" from their prattle. They may truly believe the positive-thinking baloney they’re recycling from Norman Vincent Peale, and why not? Look how far it’s taken them. Actually, Lakewood itself avoids the terms "Christian" and "Christ" on much of its website. It talks instead of "Lakewood’s [not Christianity’s] positive message of hope" while assuring us that "Joel and Victoria Osteen [not Christ] are proven leaders for this generation." We laugh at such preening, but at least the Osteens don’t add nationalism to the brew. In fact, critics complain that aside from the obligatory exhortation to vote, Lakewood eschews politics. Other "Christians" aren’t as fastidious. James Dobson, for example, "believe[s] that God has ordained the social institutions of family, church, and government for the benefit of mankind and as a reflection of His divine nature. Therefore, Christians are called to support these institutions…"

So, however small their saving grace, the Osteens have one. Which is more than we can say for the larcenous Sharon Brown. Saner times and Americans would have laughed this woman back to her dunghill if they didn’t horsewhip her for theft: her case against Victoria is about as strong as a politician’s promise. First, she routinely accuses folks of assault: "Brown had previously claimed she was attacked in another incident by an airport employee…" Wonder whether the poor sap brushed past her down the concourse or tapped her shoulder to get her attention. Whatever, Sharon apparently didn’t pick his bones clean enough and was lying in wait for Victoria, She of the Allegedly Lethal Elbow. You don’t want to block Milady’s way, as Sharon can attest. Not only did Victoria’s elbowing her aside destroy Sharon’s faith in God, it gave her hemorrhoids. Yes, indeedy, you read that right. And your taxes are paying a judge to hear this crap.

I guess that makes Leviathan the butt of the joke. But then we’ve always known the law is an ass.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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