Social media is taking Joel Osteen to task for closing his church during Harvey

What happens when a megachurch that seats 16,000 shuts its doors in a time of crisis?

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 29, 2017 7:54AM (EDT)

Joel Osteen     (AP/Pat Sullivan)
Joel Osteen (AP/Pat Sullivan)

As Houston continues to reel from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, Pastor Joel Osteen is facing a social media backlash for closing his megachurch at a time when people are in need.

After the pastor kept Lakewood Church closed during Hurricane Harvey on the grounds that it was "inaccessible due to severe flooding," a major backlash occurred, with many on social media posting pictures which indicated that the church was usable, according to a report by CNN. The church, which can hold more than 16,000 people, eventually responded to the criticism by shifting its story.

"We have never closed our doors," Osteen said in a statement quoted by ABC News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We will continue to be a distribution center to 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 2015, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Lakewood Church's reported annual budget was $70 million and that it received $30 million each year in mailed donations. There are no official statements available.
Not surprisingly, Twitter users have been calling out Osteen for delaying his humanitarianism, with some claiming that the tales of the church's inaccessibility were inaccurate.

Although Osteen has some defenders under his Facebook post regarding Hurricane Harvey, many other individuals are skewering him there as well.

"Although you may be surrounded by water, like every other part of Houston, what an incredible facility you have to host those who will be devastated by this destruction long term," said Joanna Morris. "Any plans on opening up Lakewood for salvation for those in need? I mean it's nice you keep posting other places that have opened up as a shelter, but you are a church after all . . . would be great to hear your plans for helping your community!"

By contrast, Carol Gottshall-Crifo wrote, "Just saw this and checked it is flooded inside making it inaccessible. People need to settle down with the negativity."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Hurricane Harvey Joel Osteen Texas