Joel Osteen Defends Decision to Close Megachurch in First Sunday Service Since Deadly Storm

Photo of Joel Osteen Defends Decision to Close Megachurch in First Sunday Service Since Deadly Storm

Pastor Joel Osteen addressed the backlash he faced during Hurricane Harvey from the one place he knows best: the pulpit.

The celebrity televangelist sparked outrage last weekend when he briefly refused to open the doors of his massive Lakewood Church in Houston to victims fleeing Hurricane Harvey’s deadly rising floodwaters. During the church’s first Sunday service since the storm, the 54-year-old began by clearing his name.

“There’s been so much misinformation about the church these last few days. I want to clarify some things,” he began. Osteen recalled a 2001 storm that left the church under about five feet of water, noting that leaders then installed floodgates in the building (which can hold more than 16,000 people) to prevent future water damage.

The tropical storm touched down Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, dumping punishing rain on the Texas Coastal Bend. Photos of the church showed the floodgates nearly running over with water, but Osteen faced harsh criticism after briefly closing the church, writing on that the building was,“inaccessible due to severe flooding.”

“Without the floodgates we wouldn’t be here tonight. The water started to recede, I guess, maybe Sunday night — slowly, maybe early Monday morning. And we felt like it was safe to start taking people in Tuesday,” he said. “Had we opened the building sooner and someone got injured — or perhaps the building flooded — and somebody lost their life, that would be a different story.”

He added: “I don’t mind taking the heat for being cautious, but I don’t want to take the heat for being foolish.”

And take the heat he did.

As the destructive storm has consumed headlines, many criticized Osteen on social media, calling the man a “con artist” and referring to the church as a “bank.” He opened the church days after the storm touched down, and many took to the building with donations for evacuees.

In the wake of the controversy, Osteen appeared on the Today show, explaining that the city, which holds several shelters, did not initially need the building — “If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked.”

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