The ever-sassy Rosie O’Donnell has told Joel Osteen, the star of Evangelical America, to “ask God for forgiveness” following allegations that the pastor was initially unwilling to open the doors to his megachurch as a sanctuary for Hurricane Harvey victims.
On Tuesday, O’Donnell, known for her fearless manner when criticizing prominent public figures, used her Twitter account to encourage Osteen to “fess up” to his reported “mess up.” O’Donnell also told Osteen that he should “be like JC,” in reference to the generous spirit of Christianity’s Jesus Christ.
Ever since the news broke that Joel Osteen hesitated in opening the doors of his 16,000 plus seat church to Hurricane Harvey victims, the pastor has been fending off criticism from multiple directions. Some have even gone so far as to create disparaging memes – slamming Osteen – that have been circulating widely online.
The enormous Lakewood Church was one of the last religious institutions that allowed Texas’ displaced people to find food and shelter indoors.
According to the HuffPost, the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) immediately sprang into action as Hurricane Harvey flattened and flooded parts of Texas, including vast swathes of Houston. Shazia Ashraf, a representative for ISGH, said that at least five mosques in the area were quickly converted into shelters and filled with supplies of food and beds.
“That’s the beautiful thing to see. A lot of people in [ISGH’s] leadership ― myself included ― have homes completely flooded but are still trying to organize to help the community. Some of our volunteers still set up shop on the second story of their flooded house.”
Meanwhile, Pastor Joel Osteen has maintained that there were legitimate reasons for keeping the Lakewood Church locked at first. In an on-screen interview with NBC’s Today, Osteen said that “[Houston] didn’t need us as shelter then.” The Evangelical leader believes that the megachurch was not necessary at first, but added that “if we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked.”
Following public outcry and pressure from the media, Osteen and his wife, Victoria, opened the doors of the church and began taking in victims of the devastating storm.
“Once they filled up, they never dreamed that we’d have this many displaced people, [and] they asked us to become a shelter. I think this notion that somehow we would turn people away or we weren’t here for the city is about as false as can be.”
Nevertheless, despite Osteen’s reasons for delaying Lakewood Church’s assistance, Rosie O’Donnell was not going to be cowed from voicing her opinion on the matter.
However, Joel Olsteen made it clear that he has no intention of apologizing, stating that he is not bothered by the backlash he has been facing on Twitter and other public media outlets.
“You know, I’m not really concerned about the Twitter critics.”
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Osteen said: “We’re concerned with these people [victims] and how they move forward.” According to the pastor, safety concerns were a major factor in his decision to keep his church’s doors closed.
“And there were safety issues that people don’t understand. But, I really believe that if people were in my shoes, they would have done the same thing. When the building is clear, when it’s safe, we can start taking people. That’s what we have done for 60 years. We love helping people and that’s what our message is all about.”
Joel Osteen has urged critics not to judge him after seeing videos online that purportedly show Lakewood Church in good condition, yet closed. According to Osteen, the building that used to be the home of the Houston Rockets has had problems with flooding in the past.
Nevertheless, Osteen admitted that “knowing what I know now, I would have put staff in here before the storm hit, put beds, do everything we could to be prepared.” He asserts that the storm came too quickly and fiercely to be able to predetermine the need for shelters.
“When it catches us by surprise, even when the cities overflow and, you know, nobody dreams that shelters will overflow. Hindsight, it’s 20/20.”
Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, as well as GRAMMY-award-winning gospel singer Israel Houghton, have attended services at Lakewood Church. The wealthy megastars have made generous donations towards relief efforts in Texas.
It is estimated that the high-profile nature of Lakewood Church has enabled the Osteens to amass a net worth of over $50 million. While many have criticised the idea of religious leaders acquiring significant personal riches via the church, the Osteens are part of an Evangelical group that believes God rewards his servants with material gains.
The 54-year-old Osteen says that ultimately it will be his God that judges him, and not the people who have lashed out at him online and on television.
“Hey, my reputation is in God’s hands and he can take care of that. We’re going to continue to help people.”
[Featured Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez and Cindy Ord/Getty Images]