Author and megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen responded to criticism that Lakewood Church had turned away victims of the recent Hurricane Harvey that plagued Houston, Texas over the weekend.
CNN reported that church spokesman Donald Iloff responded, “We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need.” He added, “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.”
Lakewood faced backlash on social media following a Facebook post that claimed the church was inaccessible due to the severe flooding caused by the hurricane.
The post included disaster relief information including on how to contact the National Guard. Osteen sent out a tweet in support of evangelist Franklin Graham’s charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse. The group is assisting areas in Texas affected by the hurricane.
Many social media users accused Osteen of turning away refugees of the flood despite the large amount of people that the megachurch can house on the inside.
Lakewood member and Houston blogger Lynne Gabriel also weighed in on the controversy by posting pictures of the inside of the church on Twitter. “Seriously quite sickening when people spread negative news without knowing the situation,” she wrote.
Iloff stated that the water had already started to recede from the inside and that Lakewood has already opened up the second level to people seeking refuge.
Starting at noon on Tuesday, Lakewood began to collect items for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey including blankets, food, clothing, and other necessary items.
Lakewood occupies the former Houston Rockets stadium and seats roughly 17,000 people every Sunday.
The criticism surrounding Joel Osteen from this event were based solely on the idea that people do not like him. It had everything to do with their distaste for prosperity gospel and not on whether Harvey had affected the church in Texas.
I am no fan of the prosperity gospel message, but in this case, as a former staff pastor of both megachurches and smaller churches, I can tell you that there are more logistics at play than simply opening your church up. Clearly, the surrounding area was flooded and clearly the inside was retaining water. If Osteen had allowed people in early and someone had died, the criticism would have immediately flipped to, “Why didn’t he wait until he knew the church was safe?”
I read no other criticism about mosques, synagogues, Ed Young Sr,’s massive church building, or anyone else. Osteen was systematically targeted because of his belief. That is called discrimination. Christians in my home state of Texas should be more concerned with helping the victims of the flood and not trying to smear someone. Again, I do not believe in the prosperity gospel, but in this case, the anger and vitriol coming at Lakewood Church is nothing but jealous Christian ironically allying with left-wing critics to malign a brother in Christ. That is shameful and it is not the Church.
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