— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 30, 2017
As Hurricane Harvey battered Houston and the surrounding area earlier this week, megachurch pastor Joel Osteen took heavy criticism on social media for not opening Lakewood’s doors to evacuees. Located due west of downtown, Osteen’s massive house of worship was once the Compaq Center (the home of the Houston Rockets), and could easily house tens of thousands of displaced persons. Yet its doors remained closed at first, with Osteen and the church issuing statements claiming parts of the building had flooded, but subsequent reports cast doubt on whether or not Lakewood had suffered such damage.
On Tuesday, the church finally declared it was “receiving people who need shelter,” as well as “supplies such as baby food, baby formula and other shelter needs.” Even so, Osteen’s critics didn’t falter, so the pastor appeared on several Wednesday morning talk shows on broadcast and cable news channels to calm the storm. “I don’t know if it’s unfounded,” he said of the criticism, “but I think if people were here they’d realize there were safety issues. This building had flooded before, and so we were just being precautious, but the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
“If we needed to be a shelter, we would have certainly been a shelter when they first asked, but once they filled up — never dreamed we’d have this many displaced people — they asked us to become a shelter and we said, ‘Hey, we’d love to be a shelter,'” Osteen explained. “That’s what Lakewood is all about. I think this notion that we would somehow turn people away or that we weren’t here for the city is as false as can be.” Considering the magnitude of the situation Harvey has put the greater Houston area in, there very well may be some truth to the pastor’s comments here.