As Houston attempts to recover from the devastation of Tropical Storm Harvey, people are criticizing celebrity pastor Joel Osteen and his Houston-area Lakewood Church for their response to the disaster.
Lakewood Church, a staple in Houston that Osteen's father founded, holds up to 16,000 people. On Sunday the megachurch announced that the building was "inaccessible due to severe flooding."
However, people online grew increasingly frustrated with Osteen and Lakewood for not initially opening their doors to the thousands who are stranded in the Houston area.
Joel Osteen has a HUGE church in Houston that would make a great shelter.
Why isn't Joel Osteen mega church in Houston Texas is not open to the public in need of shelter, food and protection?
Many were angry and confused, citing the size of the church and the resources it has access to. They noted that many much smaller venues have become hurricane shelters.
Houston's Joel Osteen has a net worth over $50m and a church that holds 16,800 but this is all he's offering.
Mattress stores opened their space. Joel Osteen's megachurch didn't. #houstonflood
While some followers of Osteen and his church defended him, others continued to raise questions and concerns over the church's response to the disaster.
They also questioned whether the church was actually "inaccessible" and flooded, as the initial statement read. Defenders of the church quickly claimed the church was "underwater" and not suitable to house anyone.
However, eyewitnesses who claim they've since seen the church IRL said it appeared the church had not been flooded.
Front of @JoelOsteen's huge Lakewood Church in Houston at 11 am. Closed due to "flooding". Person who took it asked… https://t.co/0yQci61zJ2
@jatrujillo72 @cmclymer @indivisible_usa @JoelOsteen i live 2 minutes walking distance from lakewood. i can literal… https://t.co/vpiyZ53AEz
Although eyewitness and photo accounts did show the lower parking and below-ground levels of the church had been struck by massive flooding.
Another eyewitness account from a Houstonian regarding the "flooding" of @JoelOsteen's Lakewood Church. Asked not t… https://t.co/T3bkNvVkiP
On Monday evening, Osteen finally responded to the growing backlash. In a statement to CNN, he claimed neither he nor the church ever closed their doors.
He said they are "prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity."
"We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need," church spokesman and Osteen's father-in-law Donald Iloff said.
"We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county 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, people raised an eyebrow to his "once ... shelters were full" statement.
@AnastasiaElyseW @JoelOsteen Note how he said he'd open his church's doors once shelters were full. Wouldn't want t… https://t.co/x5VPT7LEfq
They also called him out on the confusion over whether the church was flooded and inhospitable or not. BuzzFeed News has reached out again about these inquiries.
.@JoelOsteen apparently opened his church to storm refugees. Good. Now can the "Christian" explain WHY he lied about it being flooded?
The frustrations have now turned into meme material.
Joel Osteen: We will pray for the people of Houston. Houston locals: Can we use your church for shelter? Osteen:
Joel Osteen: "Pray for Houston" Citizens: "Can we take refuge in your house of the Lord?" Joel Osteen:
Other Christians are starting to publicly distance themselves from Osteen.
Dear non-Christians, Joel Osteen is not an example of the rest of us Christians. Sincerely, someone who actually values the Bible.
As a person who is very proud of their Christianity, to @JoelOsteen , I say to you: you are no Christian that I know or admire, sir.
"What would Jesus do?" one person retorted.
What would Jesus do? @JoelOsteen https://t.co/ABHYDidtMW
After all this pressure, on Tuesday, Lakewood Church announced that it is now "receiving people who need shelter."
Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also coordinating with the city as a collection site for distribution.
BuzzFeed News reporter Albert Samaha, who arrived at Lakewood Church shortly after they announced they will house evacuees, observed long lines of cars waiting to get into the church.
After Lakewood Church opened its doors this morning, long line of cars to get in. #Harvey
Heaps of donations had also come pouring in shortly after Osteen and the church officially opened their doors to the public.
Tall piles of clothing, blankets, dog food, diapers, and bedding filled the lobby of Lakewood. Groups of volunteers also quickly arrived to offer their services.
Mountains of donated clothes, blankets, shoes, pillows, bedding at Lakewood. #harvey
Local residents and Lakewood Church go-ers, who were informed of the church's opening through social media, told Samaha they wished the church had open its doors sooner.
So yes, they wish Lakewood had opened sooner
Ryan and Miles Chandler, who go to church at Lakewood most Sundays, think they should have opened the doors sooner
If you've been impacted by the storm in Texas or have a tip about rescue, relief, government, or aid efforts, call the BuzzFeed News tipline at (646) 589-8598. Find us on Signal, email, SecureDrop, and more here.