Joel Osteen is the pastor of one of the largest mega-churches in the country which happens to be located in Houston. Sunday morning the church posted a message on Facebook which said, “Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to help make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!” This was followed by a list of multiple shelters in the area.
That led to a flood of criticism on social media that the church was, in effect, turning people away when they were most in need. Today, a spokesman for the church said the building was genuinely flooded Sunday. From the Washington Post:
Lakewood Church spokesman Don Iloff said the building itself had been flooded, with water getting close to spilling over the facility’s floodgate. Taking in a crowd of storm refugees over the weekend would’ve been unsafe, though Iloff maintained that the church’s doors have always been open.
“We were never closed,” Iloff 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.”
Water had receded by Monday, and the building was designated as a shelter by Tuesday, Iloff said. He pushed back at critics who say the church should’ve let people in sooner.
As you might imagine, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the church was flooded Sunday. A reporter for Gizmodo noted two pictures which haven’t been verified:
There have been two unverified photos posted that purport to show Lakewood Church flooded. But the church still hasn't said they're flooded. pic.twitter.com/9ef1zDltde
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) August 28, 2017
The Washington Post also published a photo which appears to show significant flooding outside the church. But by Monday whatever flooding there might have been the day before was gone:
Oh, thank you, sweet, merciful lord for sparing Joel Osteen's 16,000 seat Lakewood Church. Now, if only it had opened its doors to the needy pic.twitter.com/4lzn1MsMcW
— The Hoarse Whisperer (@TheRealHoarse) August 28, 2017
Monday Joel and Victoria Osteen released a statement saying the church would partner with aid organization Samaritan’s Purse on relief efforts. The statement also said the church was working with the city to coordinate volunteers. By Monday afternoon, an update stated, “Coordinating with the city, Lakewood is a collection site for distributing supplies to the Houston area shelters.”
Tuesday morning, Osteen announced on Twitter that the church would now be open as a shelter:
Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 29, 2017
The Houston Chronicle reports that by noon today about 50 people had taken shelter at Lakewood. So it seems this is a case of better late than never. The church may indeed have been flooded Sunday but it’s unclear why it took an extra day for Osteen to announce the building would accept people who need shelter 24 hours after it became accessible. If there’s a problem here it’s that the Osteens didn’t appear as eager to help as they might have. To be fair, the Post notes that the church, when it was located in another building, housed around 5,000 people who needed shelter after flooding in 2001.