Joel Osteen Defends Delay in Opening Megachurch to #HurricaneHarvey Victims: ‘They Didn’t Need Us…’

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Pastor Joel Osteen says he would have gladly opened the doors of his megachurch to Houston residents fleeing Hurricane Harvey’s deadly rising floodwaters had the city asked him sooner.

During an appearance on Today, Wednesday, the celebrity televangelist explained why Lakewood Church (which can hold more than 16,000 people) didn’t initially welcome evacuees from the hurricane — a decision that brought a wave of criticism against Osteen.

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“[The city] didn’t need us as shelter then,” Osteen said. “We coordinate with them all the time. If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked.”

He added, “We work very closely with the city. Four miles down the road, the city established its biggest shelter with rooms for thousands. With beds, kitchen supplies — everything they need. Security. … Once they filled up, never dreaming we’d have this many displaced people, they asked us to become a shelter. And we said, ‘Hey, we’d love to be a shelter. That’s what Lakewood is all about.’ ”

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On Saturday, Osteen received heavy criticism on social media when he tweeted prayers for those affected by the storm — with many questioning why Lakewood Church was not being offered as sanctuary.

By Tuesday, Osteen had announced on Twitter that Lakewood’s doors were opening, and hundreds of volunteers gathered to help collect and organize donation items and supplies.

As of Wednesday, roughly 300 people had taken up shelter at Lakewood, according to Today. “Our church doors have always been open. In fact we took people in right when the storm started to recede, which was just a day or two after the big storm hit,” Osteen said on Today. The 54-year-old continued, “I think this notion that we would turn people away or we weren’t here for the city is about as false as it can be. We’re all about helping people. This is what the church is all about. …The main thing is, the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”

Looking back, Osteen said he doesn’t think they would have opened any sooner.

“There were safety issues,” he said — explaining that the building had flooded before. “It’s easy to say, ‘There’s that big building, and they’re not using it,’ but we don’t have volunteers and we don’t have staff that could get here. If they would’ve asked us to be a shelter early on, we would’ve prepared for it all. But thank God we can do it now.”

“We were just being precautious,” he added.


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