Joel Osteen, whose giant teeth and vaguely Tim Allen-esque countenance you may have seen asking for money on TV, is Senior Pastor at Lakewood Church, a Houston megachurch that literally used to be a professional sports arena. (It was home to the Houston Rockets from 1975 to 2003, according to the Miami Herald.) The area where the church is located was relatively unaffected by Hurricane Harvey, but is close to areas that were hit hard. The church seats 16,800, and could potentially shelter thousands of displaced people. So, what would Jesus do?
Close the church, exaggerate its flood damage, and finally open its doors only after receiving a thorough Twitter shaming, apparently. Osteen, who’s been criticized as a proponent of the so-called “prosperity gospel”that basically preaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, initially responded to the devastation amongst his flock with the old “thoughts and prayers” shuffle. That didn’t sit well with Twitter:
Then, a post on Lakewood’s Facebook page claimed the church couldn’t be opened because of “severe flooding!” (punctuation theirs). Amid collective cries of “bullshit,” the church provided photos showing water in a hallway and in its basement, but once again, social media was on the case:
Then, finally, air mattresses were spotted being set up inside the church last night. Now Osteen spokesman Donald Iloff denies that the church was ever closed to displaced Houstonians, telling the Houston Chronicle, “It’s not our unwillingness, it’s just practicality. It’s been a safety issue for us.” (They also had to wait for the checks to clear, presumably.) He adds in a statement to CNN, “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.” Speaking to The New York Post, Iloff continues to imply that the poor and unwashed would be better off relying on government assistance, saying the George R. Brown Convention Center “has everything inside there. It’s amazing what they’re doing there to make people comfortable.”
The church will open at noon today to collect donations of supplies and good old-fashioned American currency, the Chronicle adds. Those will, reportedly, go towards flood relief.
UPDATE: Lines have reportedly begun to form at Lakewood Church, which is now opening its doors to people displaced by the flood.