Joel Osteen presides over a megachurch near downtown Houston that seats almost 17,000. The famed televangelist canceled service on Sunday amid Hurricane Harvey—and hasn’t re-opened. Now he’s being criticized on Twitter for keeping the venue shuttered despite rampant flooding and community displacement.
On Sunday the Lakewood Church tweeted a list of Houston-area shelters, including, as KTNV notes, numerous other nearby churches. Lakewood did not suffer flooding, but adjacent streets were closed off due to storm conditions. The church was formerly the Compaq Center, which housed the NBA’s Houston Rockets from 1975-2003.
A church spokesman told the New York Post that the church would be superfluous as an emergency shelter, because the nearby convention center has all of the requisite infrastructure already in place. But the decision to not outfit the Lakewood Church as a shelter has drawn national outrage, topping Twitter’s Monday evening U.S. trending topics.
Osteen announced relief efforts Monday evening during the online backlash, with Lakewood pledging to coordinate volunteers and raise funds. As TMZ notes, Osteen has not as of Monday evening personally donated to relief efforts in Texas.
H/T New York Post
Update 7:12am CT, Aug. 29: Joel Osteen issued a statement on the matter, obtained by ABC.
“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center to those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm.”