Joel Osteen, pastor of the Houston-based Lakewood megachurch, is pushing back against headlines questioning his Hurricane Harvey response. During an appearance on Good Morning America Wednesday, Osteen attempted to clarify Lakewood's apparent delay in announcing that those seeking shelter could utilize their facilities.
"I think, George, the narrative that we didn't want to take people in or that we didn't open in time is, you know, it's totally not true," Osteen told George Stephanopoulos Wednesday morning. "We were here for people, we were a shelter, we were taking people as soon as the flood waters receded when several people came here to take them in. The city has a shelter four miles from here. We work with the city all the time. When their shelter was totally full, they started bringing people over here. And here we are again today, doing it like we did in 2001 when we housed 3000 people."
As for the backlash surrounding Lakewood's initial statement claiming their facilities were "inaccessible," Osteen said Wednesday that the narrative was created by someone else. "I don't know," he said. "I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry, and none of that is true. This building was a safety issue and we took people in from the very beginning."
Osteen also made appearances on CNN, CBS News, and the Today show following the controversy, blinking heavily while speaking on unity and Lakewood's Harvey relief fundraising efforts:
"I think sometimes social media can be very powerful and it can create this false narrative, but if you're sitting in another state and you're not here—I mean, my niece was stranded right across the street from this building with nowhere to go," Osteen told Today. "This building was one foot from flooding. If we didn’t have our floodgates, it would have flooded."
Following Lakewood's "inaccessible" statement over the weekend, social media posts—some including photos of the property—suggested the 16,000-capacity venue was, in fact, accessible. As the backlash grew, Osteen and Lakewood released new statements announcing that those seeking shelter were welcome at the church. "Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians," Osteen said on Twitter Tuesday morning. "Lakewood's doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter."
As of Wednesday morning, the controversy continues:
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