Pastor Joel Osteen has responded to criticisms he received on social media for allegedly closing the doors of their megachurch in Houston amid the devastating Hurricane Harvey. People said that the Lakewood Church would not accept displaced residents because the church was also flooded. However, some photos surfaced that there was no sign of flooding at the megachurch.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Osteen said that the church has always been open and the notion that they were not allowing people to come in “is a false narrative.” He added that the church received people during the first day or two of Hurricane Harvey. However, there was a point over the weekend that the church was flooded and the water was close to spilling over the floodgate. While they didn’t turn any people away, the facility was inaccessible over the weekend due to the flood at the back, which they didn’t deem safe.
They didn’t want to put people on the first floor while there was still rain because when the “building starts to flood, it floods in an instant,” said Lakewood Church spokesman Don Iloff, per Chicago Tribune. “So we had concerns, you know. From the very beginning as far as the safety of people in this building and that was too great a concern for us.”
On Sunday, the Lakewood Church announced on its official social media page that the church was inaccessible due to severe flooding following Hurricane Harvey. It provided a list of safe shelters around the city, which those in need can go to instead. Many on social media, particularly Twitter, blasted Joel Osteen for not taking people in.
Iloff clarified that the photos of the church’s entrance and parking lot with no signs of flooding were taken on Monday after the water had already receded. There were photos taken inside and outside of the church before Monday that showed a significant amount of water in the church during the strength of Hurricane Harvey.
By Tuesday morning, the church announced that they are receiving Hurricane Harvey flood victims. They are also receiving supplies such as blankets, food and baby supplies that would be distributed to the shelters around the city. The Compaq Center, which is the former home of the Houston Rockets, can accommodate about 16,000 people.
Amid the criticisms, Pastor Joel said that the storm caught them by surprise, not expecting that Hurricane Harvey would bring in such amount of flood. He said that the criticisms made them step up their efforts and do things faster. In the future, he said that maybe they should be more prepared and become a shelter before the storm.
[Featured Image by Cindy Ord/Getty Images]