Joel Osteen Responds to Harvey Criticism & Says Houston Didn't Ask Megachurch to Be a Shelter

During an interview on NBC’s “Today”, Pastor Joel Osteen responded to the social media storm of criticism that had engulfed him in recent days with allegations that his Lakewood Church didn’t open its doors to Hurricane Harvey victims. Osteen said that he hadn't opened his megachurch up to displaced people sooner because Houston city officials didn’t ask him to use it as a shelter, TODAY reported.

“[The city] didn’t need us as shelter then,'” Osteen said on TODAY. “If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked. Once they filled up, they never dreamed that we'd have this many displaced people, [and] they asked us to become a shelter. I think this notion that somehow we would turn people away or we weren't here for the city is about as false as can be.”

According to The Huffington Post, after several churches, mosques, schools and community centers opened their doors to hurricane victims (also without a direct request from the city), Osteen was inundated with criticism on social media for not offering his church as a sanctuary to those in need of shelter as Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston.

On Sunday, Lakewood Church posted on social media that the church was “inaccessible” due to the flooding and encouraged hurricane victims to look for other places to seek shelter.


After all of the criticism, a spokesperson for the church posted on Tuesday that the church would begin to provide shelter “once the city and county shelters reach capacity,” HuffPost reported. Later Osteen tweeted that the church would begin to take in those in need of shelter.

“Our church doors have always been open. We took people in right when waters started to recede, which was a day or two after the storm hit,” Osteen told TODAY. “It’s easy to say, ‘Wow, there’s that building. They’re not using it.’ But we don’t have volunteers,” Osteen said. “We don’t have staff that could get here. We’re all about helping the city whenever we could ― if they would have asked us to become a shelter early on, we would have prepared for it.”

According to HuffPost, when Osteen was asked if he would do anything differently to prevent the criticism. To that, Osteen said, “Yeah, I’m sure we would have done something differently. [But] [t]he fact is I don’t know that we would have opened any sooner, because again there were safety issues.”


Emily Veith is a recent Cal Poly SLO graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science (and a Law and Society minor). Emily loves writing and talking about politics. She has worked on political campaigns and in legislative offices, and aspires to be a politician someday. Emily has also written numerous inspirational and empowering pieces for Project Wednesday. She is an old soul who loves Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Glenn Miller. When she isn't writing about imperative news- and political-related topics, she can be found attempting new recipes, playing her guitar, or reading a good mystery book. You can follow her on Twitter @emilycveith.

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