Celebrity televangelist Joel Osteen has opened the doors of his megachurch to those displaced by Hurricane Harvey—after some controversy.
Lakewood Church, a 16,000 seat venue located in Houston, Texas, was founded by Osteen’s father in the 1950s. Today, it reaches almost 20 million followers per month, and has helped Osteen and co-pastor wife Victoria amass an estimated net worth of over $50 million.
The pastor was under fire recently for not offering Lakewood Church as a shelter to flood victims. The church shared on Sunday, via Facebook, that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.”
Joel Osteen Bashed By Social Media
Osteen’s immediate response to the hurricane was of course met with backlash on social media, with many accusing the Christian pastor of hypocrisy:
all gallery furniture stores are open. But #JoelOsteen still has not opened up the biggest church in America for shelter!!????— Zach YAGA (@yaga_zach) August 28, 2017
You're like Noah, if he said to the animals, 'hope you can float.' #JoelOsteen— Sylus Rothchild (@SylusRothchild) August 28, 2017
Joel Osteen's Church Responds
The church, however, provided photos showing water in the hallways and parking lot, causing safety concerns, according to Lakewood spokesman Donald Ilof. “When it floods, it floods in a torrent,” he told CNN. “And it floods quickly.” He added that they had concerns “from the very beginning as far as the safety of people in this building and that was too great a concern for us.”
In response to the backlash, Iloff told CNN, “The Twitter critics don’t determine who we are or what we do. We’re going to act as we should act. They have nothing to do with our mission.”
Nevertheless, Osteen seemed to respond directly to the social media backlash, tweeting on 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.— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 29, 2017
Lakewood Church, in turn, has now tweeted several times that their “doors are open to anyone needing shelter.” In addition, the church is also collecting baby food, baby formula, and other supplies for Hurricane Harvey victims.
Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also coordinating with the city as a collection site for distribution.— Lakewood Church (@lakewoodch) August 29, 2017