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After Social Media Pressure, Joel Osteen Opens His Doors to Harvey Victims

Joel Osteen’s megachurch is finally opening its doors, but only after a social media storm.

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Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Hurricane Harvey has left thousands of victims in its wake, destroying homes and claiming lives across southeast Texas. In Houston, the flooding has left many people trapped in their houses, waiting for emergency responders or volunteers to transport them to temporary shelters. The George R. Brown Convention Center—which initially set its capacity for evacuees at 5,000—is housing over 9,000 people as of Tuesday morning. And though the convention center hasn’t begun to turn people away, dozens of Houston churches and schools have opened their doors to displaced Houstonians.

Until Tuesday, Lakewood Church, a 16,800-capacity arena located in the former home of the Houston Rockets, wasn’t one of them.

On Monday, a debate arose over whether millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen’s megachurch had been affected by the storm, or had uncharitably closed its doors to those in need. The church canceled services and closed its doors by Sunday afternoon, announcing in a Facebook post that the church was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and directing parishioners to other nearby shelters and rescue organizations. In a now-deleted Instagram post, associate pastor John Gray added that flooded highways had made the church unreachable.

But many were quick to call the church’s bluff. By Monday morning, locals were tweeting photos and videos of a comparatively dry Lakewood.

 

 

Neither Lakewood nor Osteen’s official accounts responded to these initial queries, which only fueled suspicion as to why the normally vociferous evangelical was so tight-lipped. Photos emerged of a flooded Lakewood, but they didn’t come from any official accounts, and dubious tweeters were quick to point out that the photos were taken in only one part of Lakewood’s parking garage. (Fact-checking site Snopes.com later determined the photos came from near the church, but not at it.) Both Lakewood and Osteen’s Twitter accounts further jeopardized their credibility by apparently blocking users who questioned why the megachurch wouldn’t open its doors to aid the tens of thousands of people displaced by Harvey.

The debate gained national press attention before Osteen or other Lakewood leadership provided an official statement about the church’s involvement in hurricane relief. Late Monday night, photos emerged of a Lakewood hallway lined with air mattresses, and the church soon announced that they’d open as a donation distribution center Tuesday at noon. Osteen himself provided a statement to ABC News that Lakewood “will continue to be a distribution center for those in need” and is “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity.”

Less than an hour before Lakewood was set to open as a distribution center, Osteen finally broke his Twitter silence. After a social media storm, Lakewood is now open as shelter.

Lakewood spokesman (and Osteen’s father-in-law) Don Iloff told the Houston Chronicle that the church was never officially closed during Harvey. “It’s not our unwillingness, it’s just practicality. It’s been a safety issue for us.” That may be true: The church never officially said it was closed, only that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” But the lack of an official response, coupled with Osteen shutting out those who pressed him on Twitter, didn’t assuage the concerns of those questioning his sincerity. Still, at least the church is now providing aid to those displaced by Harvey. Opening more doors to those in need is a good thing—even if it takes a Twitter scandal to do it.

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  • stormkite

    Anybody questioning Osteen’s sincerity doesn’t know him. Those who’ve dealt with him are aware that faking sincerity is one of his strong suits. (Don’t expect it to be real, though… homie don’t play that.)

    • johnbales

      I’ve met the type before (several that looked very much like Osteen…something about the eyes and the smile that belie what crosses their lips).

      • stormkite

        Just exactly. He photographs reasonably well but that’s a limitation of the way cameras work….

        • Jed

          the flash washes out the devils horns?

          • stormkite

            LOL… not exactly what I meant, but close enough.

  • José

    People show their true selves when forced out of their scripted and contrived public roles. No one can serve two masters. This week Osteen showed us that his priorities are quite different from those articulated by Jesus of Nazareth.

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  • Chris McShan

    I definitely don’t mean to defend Osteen because I’m very leery of the man and his true motives and I am extremely suspicious of his whole business (it is mainly a money-making enterprise to him and his family), but during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, Lakewood Church, which at the time was still the Summit, seriously flooded, destroying the WNBA Comets’ floor. Where the Comets and Rockets both played basketball at that time is presumably the main floor of the church now. Assuming that the water levels in the Hwy 59 South part of Houston this time around matched or exceeded Allison’s rain production, it’s possible that they did indeed sustain water damage. If none of this occurred, however, shame on him, his family, and the whole outfit who are echoing his excuses for not opening their doors. Now that they have, which is too little too late, perhaps someone should go in undercover and investigate to see if there is any evidence of water having made it inside recently. If their expensive blue velvet carpets are ripped out, then they more than likely did take on water. My opinion is that he just didn’t want any people from the wrong side of town dirtying up his church.

  • johnbales

    Had Osteen and Lakewood’s “board” been following the teachings of Jesus as they claim, Lakewood would have been open from the the beginning of the storm. It should never take such public shaming of a church and its leaders before they finally “choose” to do the right thing in a calamity such as hurricane Harvey. That Osteen blocking Twitter followers who were asking the tough questions suggests a thin-skinned televangelist who is happy to take your money but then doesn’t want to part with it. And what’s all this “Victoria and I will be praying for them” business. That’s the very least they can do since it doesn’t cost them anything from their bank account. Lakewood members have helped make this man and his family very wealthy. Time for him to pay back the community.

    • stormkite

      It bothers me that he’s getting the credit for opening at all, after everyone else has. He’s gone to some effort to word his promises carefully so as to not actually obligate himself to anything. I remember when I was a nestling we had a natural catastrophe in town and the dozen or so members of our little very poor mission church were the first volunteers on the street, before most of the police and firefighters got up and running. We fed about a hundred people out of a church that was a converted 2-bedroom house with a single 4-burner household stove, and gave 4 families living space for a month… because it was what Christians did. No money from anywhere, no support, nothing. Just a few families, none of whom were particularly well heeled, helping people because they needed help. And here’s this f*cker claiming to be a man of God and hanging as far back off the front lines as he can get. Jesus wept. (among other more active responses…)
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/900f481521ff90f19523c9a3c9873e5ac2864404015841675b6831c1590ab9cc.jpg

    • Jed

      “Had Osteen and Lakewood’s “board” been following the teachings of Jesus as they claim, Lakewood would have been open from the the beginning of the storm. ”

      had osteen followed the teachings of jesus, they wouldn’t have a church in the summit on the first place.

  • Jill Turner

    Garbage reporting. No facts. Emily should be ashamed of herself for writing this garbage. Must have missed Ethics in Journalism class. He was working with the city shelter. Try listening to the man tell you why and what happened instead of making up stories and tweeting them on the Internet Charles Clymer. Ugh. Colored, biased crap.

    • Justin Mayes

      To quote JR Ewing “he is as fake as a $7 bill”.

  • Jeronimo Dan

    Joel Osteen’s and wife, now known as two of Houston, Texas biggest Grifter’s, have been caught with their dry wading pants down around their ankles. Souls are nice, neat and clean, it’s those wet, muddy flesh and blood bodies that will sour a clean and pristine Mega Church! Let Us Bow Our Heads?