In an interview with Today, pastor Joel Osteen of Houston’s Lakewood Church defended himself against the chorus of critics railing against him for offering prayers but not actual shelter in his megachurch for Hurricane Harvey evacuees.
Speaking from the lobby of his church, which was the former home of the Houston Rockets and regularly receives 40,000 or so weekly attendants, Osteen stood in front of mountains of diapers and other supplies and calmly told Natalie Morales, Craig Melvin, and Hoda Kotb that he certainly would have opened the doors if only the city had asked.
“I think sometimes social media can be very powerful and it can create this false narrative,” Osteen said, perhaps referring to various tweets and Facebook posts Monday showing that the entrance to the church was easily accessible. “This building was one foot from flooding. If we didn’t have our floodgates, it would have flooded,” he said.
He may also have been referring to this tweet from former NFL quarterback and current sports radio host Sean Salisbury, who, according to the Houston Chronicle, heard on the radio that the church was inaccessible and therefore closed to evacuees and decided to investigate.
Shortly after this video and many others like it circulated on social media, Osteen opened the doors of his church on Tuesday. His smarmy defense of why he waited so long is as follows:
“If we needed to be a shelter, we would have certainly been a shelter when [the city] 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.’ 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.”
Many other Houston-area churches and mosques have opened their doors to evacuees. To think that you’d have to wait for the city to ask when it’s abundantly clear that shelter is desperately needed is a thin excuse: when Osteen’s church finally opened its doors Tuesday, a line of cars full of volunteers and those seeking shelter stretched for a half mile to the church’s door.