Joel Osteen, the Texas televangelist, spoke out on Monday after receiving a bevy of online criticism over not opening the massive Lakewood Church to flood victims for days.
Osteen told ABC News that the Houston megachurch would “continue to be a distribution center for those in need” and had been “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity.”
The megachurch announced late Tuesday morning it had begun receiving people displaced by Harvey, which made landfall in Texas on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane but has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
Osteen had faced intense backlash after tweeting prayers for Harvey victims while Lakewood Church – the former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets that seats 16,000 people – remained empty for days.
Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also receiving supplies such as baby food, baby formula and other shelter needs.
— Lakewood Church (@lakewoodch) August 29, 2017
A Lakewood Church spokesman, Donald Iloff, on Monday disputed to CNN the criticisms that had been levied against the church.
“We have never closed our doors,” Iloff said. “We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need.”
Yet a Facebook post on Sunday said the megachurch was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and directed residents to other Houston shelters, which have been taking in thousands of displaced victims.
Iloff told CNN that at least three people who had sought help from the church were redirected to Houston’s George Brown Convention Center, which has accepted roughly 7,000 people as of Tuesday.
The church provided photos that showed standing water in parts of the building, which Iloff said on Monday had begun to recede.
— Lynne Gabriel (@heyitslynneg) August 28, 2017
Social-media users had fired back at the church, offering up photos and videos that showed a relatively dry church parking lot.
— Charles Clymer?????????? (@cmclymer) August 28, 2017