HOUSTON — Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch to those seeking shelter after social media critics slammed the televangelist for not offering to house people in need while Harvey swamps the city.
Lakewood Church, a 16,000-seat former arena that was the longtime home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, announced on Twitter that it was receiving people who need shelter late Tuesday morning. Osteen announced the move himself shortly after, adding in a tweet that he and wife Victoria Osteen “care deeply about our fellow Houstonians.”
The church didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but the move followed a day of online criticism from those who claimed the church closed its doors while other places of worship, including several mosques, opened theirs to people who needed help.
In a statement to ABC News on Monday Osteen said the church “never closed its doors” and was serving as a relief supply distribution center. He said it would “house people once shelters reach capacity.”
Osteen’s comment stood in contrast to a church Facebook post and a since-deleted Instagram remark by Lakewood associate pastor John Gray, who said flooded highways had made the church inaccessible.
“For the people spreading lies about my church. If WE could get there WE WOULD OPEN THE DOORS,” Gray’s comment read. “As soon as the highways aren’t flooded please know lakewoodchurch will do all they can alleviate the pain and suffering of as many people as possible. Love y’all! #CantStandLiars.”
Photo and videos posted to social media appeared to show at least some parts of the church’s property could be reached Monday. Lakewood shared its own photos with media outlets that it said depicted flooding inside and around the church.
Lakewood Church served as a shelter for about 5,000 people displaced during Tropical Storm Allison at its previous home in 2001, when more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain were dumped on the city. It moved to the arena formerly known as The Summit and the Compaq Center in 2005.