On Monday, much of Twitter was abuzz after Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen didn't open his megachurch to Harvey victims. Osteen received extensive criticism for refusing the open the doors of the 16,000 seat megachurch, which the church's Facebook page initially claimed was impeded by floodwaters. However, now Osteen has reportedly changed his tune, saying the church will open after shelters have reached capacity.
Update: A Lakewood Church spokesperson told TMZ on Tuesday morning: "Lakewood’s doors are open now to anyone needing shelter. We are also coordinating with the city as a collection site for distributing supplies to area shelters. We are collecting diapers, baby formula, baby food and other supplies. Please bring these items to Lakewood Church, Circle Drive off Timmons St." The spokesperson said initial flooding was the reason it could not open earlier.
Many Twitter users were furious that Osteen had refused to open the doors of Lakewood Church. On the church's Facebook page on Sunday, it claimed that its facilities were "inaccessible due to severe flooding." However, some social media users began sharing photos of the parking lot area of the church, which appeared unaffected by floods, promoting outrage. Though, other social media users and the church itself also shared photos of what was reportedly the inside of Lakewood Church, which did appear flooded.
Either way, Twitter took Osteen to task for closing the church to Harvey victims. An abundance of users accused Osteen of operating a "tax shelter" (in reference to the church's tax-exempt status) but refusing to serve as a bonafide shelter for those in need. Indeed, one user pointed out the irony that a for-profit furniture store was willing to open its doors to those in need while Osteen's church was not.
Following Twitter's outcry, Osteen issued a statement noting that the church would be serving as a distribution center to collect supplies for Harvey victims and then would also serve as a shelter if necessary. In full, his statement read:
We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for 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 in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.
However, following the release of Osteen's statment, Twitter once again criticized the pastor, saying that his decsion to open the doors of his church only came as a result of being "shamed" on social media. Others also critiqued Lakewood Church's decision to first serve as a supply distribution site, saying that the need for shelter was more urgent.
Though many did criticize Osteen and Lakewood Church on Twitter, some did defend the pastor and the institution, saying Twitter users were" jumping to conclusions" and praising the role that the church is playing in collecting supplies for those in need.
Overall, it is clear that Twitter has very strong opinions on Osteen's actions and will likely be readily observing how the church continues to operate in the wake of the Harvey disaster, both in regards to operation of its distribution center and in terms of whether or not it eventually opens to become a relief shelter.