As flooding swelled throughout Houston, critics of Joel Osteen said he has not done enough to help victims of the Harvey storm by not opening the doors of megachurch to serve as a shelter. Osteen, in his defense, refuted that he had shut the doors at all.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that both he and his wife “care deeply our fellow Houstonians,” and that “Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.”
Criticism from the nation intensified over the weekend when it seemed that Osteen had turned a cold shoulder to the crisis. Greg Locke, a fellow megachurch pastor of the Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, tweeted Monday, challenging Osteen.
Lakewood Church spokesman Don Iloff said the building itself had been flood, and that receiving evacuees would have been unsafe; however, he said that Lakewood’s doors have always been open.
“We were never closed,” he told The Washington Post. “This is crazy. People are saying we’ve locked the church. The church has been open from the beginning, but it’s not designated as a shelter.”
By Monday, water had receded enough that on Tuesday the church was designated as a shelter, and evacuees began arriving at the church in buses. The 606,000-square-foot facility was originally home to the Houston Rockets and was purchased for $7.5 million.
By Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of volunteers had arrived to help distribute blankets, clothes, diapers and other supplies, which were scheduled to be shipped to the nearby George R. Brown Convention Center, home to many displaced residents from the storm.
In addition, 100 air mattresses from an upstairs room were available for use, as well as a medical area staffed with volunteer nurses and doctors ready to help. Iloff noted that because the first floor was still flooded, care would have to be directed to the second floor.
“We would be hesitant to put anybody on the first floor as long as there’s rain coming. … We got two more days of rain,” he said.
Osteen defended his reasoning for why he has handled the crisis with his Lakewood Church as a shelter, using Franklin Graham for his defense. Join the conversation on our Facebook page.