Institutions News

Joel Osteen’s church defends itself after social media storm

Volunteers Brenda Tcoc, right, and Hugo Wilson help sort bags of donated clothes for victims of the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey after a shelter opened at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Evacuee Will Sutton, left, holds his 11-month son Jayden at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2017. Joel Osteen and his congregation have set up their church as a shelter for evacuees from the flooding by Tropical Storm Harvey. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

(RNS) — Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston is helping Texans cope in the wake of Hurricane Harvey — and trying to counter a flood of comments on social media accusing the church of turning its back on storm victims.

The church has taken in about 400 people from the overflow at the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center, a Red Cross shelter, church spokesman Don Iloff  told RNS Wednesday (Aug. 30).

But to many, it seemed as if televangelist Osteen could have done more, sooner, to make the 16,000-seat congregation a haven for those hit by the massive storm, which made landfall Friday.

Emily Brandwin was one of many on Twitter who took Osteen to task, tweeting: “When You Know Better, Do Better. Joel Osteen You Knew Better. The city shouldn’t have to ask you to open your Church doors, you knew better.”

Osteen took to the airwaves to defend himself and his church this week, explaining on national television that contrary to his critics’ claim that the church had remained dry, parts of Lakewood had flooded, and that city officials had initially designated the church as a distribution center, not a shelter.

Iloff too disputed the charge that Lakewood had locked out a needy public: “I can’t repeat it enough: We never closed our doors. We’re a church, for goodness’ sake.

“In fact, late, late Sunday [evening] or early Monday, we took in three different people who needed shelter,” he continued. “We had staff on site through the storm, and some of those staff were there to take people in if they came.”

Now serving as a shelter, Lakewood has become a receiving station for what Iloff said “must be at least a ton” of infant supplies and other goods.

Volunteers Brenda Tcoc, right, and Hugo Wilson help sort bags of donated clothes for victims of the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey after a shelter opened at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

He said about 200 people — “most of whom were probably our members” — were on hand to receive donations from lines of vehicles that stretched around the church complex. From Lakewood, volunteers are sending the supplies to the two main Red Cross shelters in Houston.

Iloff said the church property is drying out from waters that nearly breached levees and floodgates around the complex. In 2001, when the church building was the city’s Compaq Center, a basketball arena, it flooded during Tropical Storm Allison.

Lakewood will be responding to Harvey “for years to come,” Iloff added. “We have ministries that go out into the community on an ongoing basis — and have before the storm — but now everything we do is going to be related to this storm. That’s where the need is going to be.”

And while Iloff admitted it was “surreal” to see Lakewood trending on Twitter thanks to the intense criticism, he said the controversy hasn’t fazed the ministry’s leadership.

“If Twitter can derail your mission, you’ve got the wrong mission,” Iloff said. “It’s not going to destroy us.”

About the author

Mark A. Kellner

16 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • The rush to judgement and petty nitpicking between the Left and the Right regarding Harvey is tiresome. Focus on people like the mattress king who opened up his furniture showrooms to the displaced.

  • The story is a good sign. That there are still people with some position of public authority who are not complete sociopaths. People capable of feeling shame and can be guilted into doing the right thing.

  • There are hundreds of churches in the Houston area, southeast Texas and southern Louisiana. Except for buildings with standing water, what percentage are providing shelters to displaced persons? Not very many.

  • I don’t know about you, brother Mark A. Kellner, but in situations like this, I go by the simple rule apostle Paul had laid down for his disciples, including me & brother Joel Osteen: If people go against us because we do bad things, woe to us, and all the more so because we’ve proved them right in the eyes of the Father God and His Son. But if people go against us because we do good things, woe to them, and all the more so because they’ve proven us right in the eyes of the Father God and His Son. So let’s see if & how that apostolic rule applies in this case, just by asking, What’s wrong with this picture?

    Here’s what’s wrong with this picture:

    (1) People are going against Osteen NOT because he does good things in reaction to the disaster on Houston’s residents. Like having “taken in about 400 people from the overflow at the city’s … Red Cross shelter”. Which he did do. Or like making “Lakewood … become a receiving station for … infant supplies and other goods.” Which he did do. Or like delegating “200 people … to receive donations [then] sending the supplies to … Red Cross shelter”. Which he did do.

    (2) People are going against Osteen NOT because he does bad things in reaction to the disaster on Houston’s residents. Like “turning [his] back on storm victims.” Which he didn’t do. Or like NOT “hav[ing] done more, sooner”. Which he did do, even if eventually. Or like “lock[ing] out a needy public”. Which he didn’t do.

    SOMETHING ELSE is going here. It’s not about the good or bad things Osteen has done, but about who he is and what he’s all about: like you said: “organized religion … preachers … Christianity … rich-man … ultra-large megachurch”.

    America in the Era of Trump & The-81% just can’t take it anymore.

  • Osteen did the right thing eventually. So I won’t be too harsh on him. He had just enough scruples and humanity to be capable of seeing an error in his actions and correcting it.

  • Something about needles and desert quadrupeds comes to mind, but for the life of me, I can’t think of who said it.

  • What, “harsh”? I’d be the harshest on Joel Osteen when it comes to the fruits of our common born-again Christian faith. But this news, I don’t know. I can’t believe I’m actually defending the guy.

  • Seems somewhat fair criticism except shelters need manpower and food so not all would have the wherewithal in terms of those type of resources to shelter folks. I am surprised that I have not yet heard of people offering to temporarily house those dislocated on a personal rather than larger scale. Just seems like one of the easiest things to do.

  • Hey hey warm all over – a good friend indeed you are. Thanks for reaching out. Often I’m neither here nor there. Christianity (like Jim Johnston said of late) is so, so tiring. Homeless, my friend. Thanks for accepting my truce. No not truth, silly. Wipe your glasses. It says truce. My white flag waving to you.

    Good long weekend, Spuddie. I’ll mention you to my Better 5-Eighth.

  • I am sure many folks have taken in family and friends. I witnessed that with Hurricane Sandy and those who lost homes due to tornados. However, I suspect many of those in shelters would not be welcomed in many middle class neighborhoods . A large number of those who linger in shelters will be poor, racial minorities, and the disabled without the social net work to find a welcoming private home. If even half the churches and other houses of worship took in a few folks each, the staff demands might not be that great. There could be central locations with extensive services beyond shelter.

  • The man’s right about one thing. If Twitter foolishness can stop your ministry, you never had a ministry anyway.

  • No problem Spuddie, I get it.

    (I am no fan of Osteen anyway, but unlike some of his recent Twitter critics, at least Osteen ain’t got one foot in Hell and the other on a Banana Peel.)

ADVERTISEMENTs