Unholy Waters

Church pastor causes controversy during Hurricane Harvey

One of the many photographs from the public contradicting the comments of mass flooding at Lakewood Church in Houston.

Snopes

One of the many photographs from the public contradicting the comments of mass flooding at Lakewood Church in Houston.

Ian Obst, Online Editor

During the pouring rain of Hurricane Harvey, pastor Joel Osteen of the Lakewood Church faced criticism over his action to keep his megachurch closed as a shelter to hurricane victims.

Located in Houston, Texas, the megachurch holds a total of 16,000 seats for worship services. Though believed as a possible shelter, the church quickly denied this through a post made on their Facebook page on August 27.

“Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding. We want to help make sure you are safe,” the church stated.

This comment quickly came under fire, as a photo taken by an anonymous source and posted by writer Charles Clymer showed a lack of flooding leading to the church. A later video, posted on Facebook by Jorge Colmenares, also showed that flooding had not affected the church. Other videos posted later supported the original video. On August 29, following the appearance of these videos, the church officially announced its opening as a shelter through Twitter.

“Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also coordinating with the city as a collection site for distribution,” the church posted.

Another post came in shortly before the opening, stating that the church “never closed [their] doors.” When Osteen gave his service September 3, his first service since Hurricane Harvey hit, the story changed, giving a response to the media toward the end of the service.

“You know, there’s been so much misinformation about the church the last few days,” said Osteen. “I just wanted to clarify some things… I think it’s fair enough to say this… Had we opened the building sooner, and someone got injured or maybe the building flooded and someone lost their life, it would be a very different story. I don’t mind taking the heat for being precautious, but I don’t want to take the heat for being foolish. They would love to discredit the ministry and lessen our voice, but can I tell you they’re not that strong. The forces that are for us are greater than the forces that are against it.”

Since his service, Osteen has told the press that what was said before was anything but true, defending his actions by stating their constant openness to the community throughout Hurricane Harvey.

“The idea that we wouldn’t receive people… we’ve been here in this community for 60 years,” Osteen told CNN reporter Chris Cuomo. “We’ve always been open … How this notion got started, that we’re not a shelter and we’re not taking people in is a false narrative.”

Other comments made by Osteen, including saying for those affected to not have a “victim mentality,” have drawn similar criticism from journalists and the public, with public comments on websites like Yahoo News calling Osteen “a greedy slick individual” and “a complete fraud”.