Evangelist Joel Osteen denies closing his megachurch while thousands sought shelter from the ravages in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Addressing harsh criticism in the face of social media backlash accusing the evangelist of not welcoming flood victims, Olsten said on Tuesday that his Lakewood Church has been taking people in “from the very beginning.”
“We were here for people. We were a shelter,” Osteen said Wednesday via satellite on “Good Morning America.” “We were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded,” he added.
“We have never closed our doors,” said Osteen, Senior Pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church. “We will continue to be a distribution center to those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm.”
Pastor Joel Osteen gives an interview at his Lakewood Church in Houston, Aug. 29, 2017. Osteen and his congregation have set up their church as a shelter for evacuees from the flooding by Tropical Storm Harvey, (Photo Credit: LM Otero/AP).
Osteen insisted in a statement Monday evening that he and his church are “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity.”
Osteen tweeted Tuesday, “Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.”
“Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter. ”
Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 29, 2017
Osteen came under fire over the weekend after the Lakewood Church posted a message on Facebook saying the church, with approximately 52,000 attendees weekly, was “inaccessible” due to severe flooding.
The church’s message directed displaced evacuees to other shelters in the area despite many on social media questioning how Lakewood was flooded if the surrounding neighborhood was not. The church has previously been active in relief efforts, including sheltering displaced people during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Houston blogger Lynn Gabriel responded with photos of the flooded church interior:
“Seriously quite sickening when people spread negative news without knowing the situation. This is the situation of our church.”
— Lynne Gabriel-Caine (@heyitslynneg) August 28, 2017
Responding to his critics, Osteen said it was “totally not true” that the church, which can hold more than 16,000 people, did not open early enough for the residents of Houston after the nation’s fourth-largest city faced the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
“I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry and none of that is true,” he said. “This building—it was a safety issue and we took people in from the very beginning.”
A Lakewood Church spokesperson told ABC News Tuesday its doors have always been open and the church, which does not have showers or a kitchen, is waiting for city officials to designate it as a shelter so it can obtain cots and other materials to help
Olsten said church officials initially feared flooding in the church with the goal of not putting staff members and volunteers in immediate danger.
When asked if he would do anything differently, Osteen replied, “We would probably do some things differently, obviously.”
“It was a big flood and it affected all of the people that run this facility as well,” he added. “But, you know what, we’ve been here 60 years helping people and we’re going to be here long after all this dies down helping these people as well.”
On Tuesday, Lakewood Church officials said the building would open Wednesday around noon and will also serve the community as a donation center. Several hundred people may be housed on its second floor if necessary, they added.
“Our hearts are breaking as we see the images of the damage and destruction in our city and the surrounding areas from Hurricane Harvey. We are praying for everyone’s safety in Houston and Texas,” Osteen said. “We are working diligently with the city of Houston to mobilize our many volunteers at shelters around the city as well as various other points of need in and around the Houston area.”
Lakewood megachurch opened its doors for donations and evacuees as volunteers brought donated items to the megachurch in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston. (F. Carter Smith/Splash: Photo Credit)
Osteen said the Lakewood Church has designated teams to help Houston residents in the days and months ahead and added that he has already spoken to “hundreds of pastors” and humanitarian organizations, such as World Vision International and Samaritan’s Purse with offers of help.
“They’ll be here for a couple of years with us and that’s just, you know, that’s just pulling out the sheet rock, you know, helping those, especially the elderly, and just being in it for the long haul,” he said. “That’s the key.”
By LeNora Millen 08-30-17