Houston megachurch owner Joel Osteen has responded to an onslaught of social media criticism after people slammed the pastor for allegedly not opening his massive Lakewood Church for those seeking shelter from Hurricane Harvey.
Osteen said in a statement late Monday that he never shut his doors to those in need and shared pictures that appeared to show the church, which seats thousands, had experienced flooding in order to back up claims the church was “inaccessible.”
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” Osteen said. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.”
On Saturday, Osteen wrote on Twitter that he was praying for the safety of those affected by the flooding.
“Victoria & I are praying for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please join us as we pray for the safety of our Texas friends & family,” Osteen wrote.
Hurricane Harvey dumped as much as 20 inches of rain on parts of Houston, leading to “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding,” according to the National Weather Service.
“This may end up being one of the worst flood disasters in U.S. history,” the Weather Channel warned.
Approximately 3,000 rescues have been carried out in Texas since the storm hit and nearly 300,000 people were without power in southwestern parts of the state.
On Sunday, Lakewood Church posted on Facebook saying the facility was “inaccessible” due to “severe flooding.”
But after several people posted videos on Twitter appearing to show the location relatively unscathed and unaffected by flooding, a swarm of Twitter users began questioning why Osteen’s megachurch, which has the capacity for more than 16,000 people and was once home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets, hadn’t been opened as a shelter to those in need.
“Houston’s Joel Osteen has a net worth over $50m and a church that holds 16,800 but this is all he’s offering,” Mark Elliott of the Economic Mobility Corporation tweeted in reference to Osteen’s tweet.
Singer Travis Garland tweeted that he was “deeply disappointed” by Osteen’s actions.
“deeply disappointed @joelosteen. that House belongs to God + was built for people in need. you should have been the first to open your doors,” Garland wrote.
However, Osteen shared images that appeared to show standing water inside the building’s parking garage and surrounding areas.
Osteen also reached out to his congregation, offering prayers and explaining how they could volunteer for a relief effort the church was organizing.
“Over the last couple of days, as the enormity of this storm was being realized, we have been working to organize relief efforts for the Houston area with our friend Franklin Graham and the disaster relief organization that he oversees, Samaritan’s Purse,” the release said.