In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a Christian televangelist has made headlines for not sheltering Houston residents affected by the flooding in his megachurch. But who is Joel Osteen? The Lakewood Church pastor has relented after facing widespread backlash over his decision to close his megachurch — with its 16,800-seat arena — to flood victims.
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.
Earlier: On Monday, Osteen released a statement to ABC News saying that his megachurch was "prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity." "We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need," Osteen said. "Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives."
And though it seems like at least the city's largest shelter is overflowing with Harvey victims — Houston's convention center housed over 9,000 individuals, though it has a capacity limit of 5,000 — it remains unclear as to when Osteen will make good on his statement. Lakewood reportedly turned people away from the church on Monday, directing them to the packed convention center, according to CNN.
"Before you argue that Joel Osteen's church is too sacred to be a shelter, know that I saw Guns N' Roses play there in 1992," tweeted Washington Post reporter Lavanya Ramanthan, referring to the stadium's past life as the home to the Houston Rockets.
According to Lakewood's website, the church is accepting donations and organizing volunteers for post-Harvey relief. "Victoria & I are praying for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please join us as we pray for the safety of our Texas friends & family," Osteen tweeted on Saturday after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm — the strongest to hit the continental U.S. in a decade.
Criticism of the conservative Christian Osteen on social media came from people across the political spectrum. "Cmon @JoelOsteen open up your church and begin helping the victims of Harvey," tweeted conservative activist Charlie Kirk. "God blessed you with amazing gifts & facilities. Use them!"
According to recent media reports, at least four people have died as a result of the damage caused by the Harvey storm system, which is expected to dump at least another foot of rain on the already overwhelmed Houston area. "Jesus promises us peace that passes understanding," Osteen tweeted early on Monday morning. "That’s peace when it doesn’t make sense."
Those seeking shelter in Houston should call 713-426-9404 to ask about shelters and call 713-881-3100 if they need to be rescued by officials.