Celebrity televangelist Joel Osteen took to several morning shows on Wednesday to respond to backlash over not opening up his Houston megachurch sooner to help shelter Harvey victims.
Lakewood Church, which has the capacity to seat more than 16,000 parishioners, began accepting displaced residents Tuesday morning, following several days of public criticism as evacuees began filling up other local shelters by the thousands.
Asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo whether the online outcry changed the church’s plans, Osteen said, “It really didn’t,” saying he hadn’t personally read any criticisms but was made aware of them by his staff. But he added that the backlash “probably helped us to step up some things, to do it faster.”
He continued: “It’s not easy when we have our own staff members and pastors that are being rescued – how do you get people to the building to take care of people? It’s a big building, you can’t just open it up. So it was a big storm, maybe next time we would be a shelter before – get people housed before the storm.”
Osteen told CNN that Lakewood Church’s doors had always been open and willing to take in residents, although a Facebook post on Sunday had said the megachurch was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” The church provided photos to media outlets that showed standing water in parts of the building.
— Lynne Gabriel (@heyitslynneg) August 28, 2017
Some social-media users quickly rebuked the notion that the church was flooded, posting their own photos and videos of what appeared to be a dry building and parking lot. A Lakewood Church spokesman said Tuesday that the floodwaters had already begun to recede by Monday.
Osteen also blamed the backlash on a “false narrative” that had been pushed across social media, saying he had been reluctant to open up immediately because the church – a former basketball arena – is prone to flooding.
“I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry and none of that is true,” he told ABC News.
“Think of the story if we had housed a whole bunch of evacuees and the building flooded. That wouldn’t have been a good story,” he said on NBC’s “Today.”