Joel Osteen has responded to criticisms accusing him of closing Lakewood Church’s doors to victims of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Houston on Friday.
Osteen, the famed pastor of the megachurch, took to Twitter on Saturday to post a prayer for those who have been affected by the storm, which has filled Houston with 20 to 40 inches of flood water.
On Sunday, Lakewood Church took to Facebook to announce that the megachurch is “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” and then proceeded to direct displaced Houston residents to nearby shelter resources.
The Facebook post soon received heavy backlash online, with Houston residents slamming the megachurch for allegedly shutting its doors to evacuees. Some residents posted photos of certain areas around the Lakewood Church to disprove the megachurch’s claim that it was impassable to those who might want to seek shelter from the storm.
“Shame on Joel Osteen,” tweeted @RuneK_15. “Jesus would open the doors and care for the needy.”
Donald Iloff, the church’s spokesperson and Joel Osteen’s father-in-law, issued a statement to deny the accusations, CNN reports.
“We have never closed our doors. 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.”
The megachurch announced that it’s going to open its doors on Tuesday at 12 p.m. to start collecting “infant and adult diapers, baby formula and baby food.”
Lynne Gabriel, a life and style blogger from Houston, criticized those who have “spread negative news without knowing the situation,” tweeting photos showing certain flooded areas inside Lakewood Church.
The tweet received online backlash, with some people pointing out that the areas she showed in the photos are located in the basement area and therefore shouldn’t give Joel Osteen enough cause to deny shelter to Harvey Hurricane victims.
Hurricane Harvey, which has evoked comparisons to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has since been downgraded to a tropical storm. Thousands of evacuees have streamed into Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest shelter used in the calamity. The shelter, which initially announced it can accommodate 5,000 evacuees, is now at overcapacity with 6,000. Officials said that around 10,000 evacuees are expected to require shelter on account of the heavy flooding.
On Tuesday morning, Osteen took to Twitter to call on volunteers to help Houston recover from the catastrophe, subsequently providing a link to a “Hurricane Disaster Relief” page from the Lakewood Church website.
Joel Osteen took over as Lakewood Church’s senior pastor months after his father died in 1999. Since then, the church’s followers have ballooned from 5,000 to 52,600. Now living in a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion, Osteen’s net worth has been estimated at $40 million.
[Featured Image by Cindy Ord/Getty Images]