Hurricane Harvey: Joel Osteen's church opens doors to evacuees after criticism

The famous pastor of a Houston megachurch is defending himself after being criticized fo rnot offering shelter at his church to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

On Sunday, Lakewood Church took to Facebook to announce that the megachurch is "inaccessible due to severe flooding," and then proceeded to direct displaced Houston residents to nearby shelter resources.

An additional 15 inches of rain is expected to fall on southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas in the coming days, pushing thousands more people out of their homes and into shelters. Photos posted on social media later suggested the church had not been damaged.

Osteen had faced criticism for not using the massive Lakewood Church as a storm shelter.

He added: 'I mean think of the story if we would have housed a whole bunch of evacuees and the building flooded. "We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need", he insisted.

Under normal circumstances, the tweets issued by the Lakewood Church and Osteen himself would be unremarkable, given that religious institutions are traditionally known for being charitable during times of hardship.

Osteen said church officials initially feared the building would flood and did not want to put staff members and volunteers in danger. Many posted photos that showed very little standing water in the church parking lot.

Joel Osteen took over as Lakewood Church's senior pastor months after his father died in 1999.

The church's reaction was met with fury on social media, with people accusing Osteen of failing his duty as a Christian to care for the most vulnerable in society.

US Coast Guard Lt. Mike Hart said the coast guard is receiving up to 1,000 calls per hour from people needing to be rescued.

Lakewood is a nondenominational church that hosts about 52,000 attendees weekly and is one of the largest congregations in America. The bottom floor of the building flooded eight feet during Tropical Storm Alison in 2001 and they had safety concerns of what might happen if they sheltered people in the building, he said.

  • Jacqueline Ellis