Why Did Joel Osteen Shut His Doors During Hurricane Harvey?

Unto the least of these

Politics Features Joel Osteen
Why Did Joel Osteen Shut His Doors During Hurricane Harvey?

Update: Since this post was published, Paste has received word that Osteen has opened the doors to his church. CNN reported today the megachurch had decided to receive “people who need shelter and also helping evacuees with supplies such as baby food, formula and other shelter needs. … ‘Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter,’ Osteen tweeted Tuesday, referencing his wife who is also Lakewood’s co-pastor.”

The church released pictures showing some flooding in the area, but video taken Monday morning shows that even the flooded parking lots were largely dry.

Friends, suppose Jesus was in Houston. Suppose Jesus was there when the sea and sky sent down thirty inches of rain. Suppose Jesus ministered to a congregation of 52,000, one of the largest in the United States. Suppose he was worth millions and millions of dollars, with a $10.5 million mansion in River Oaks, complete with pool. Suppose Jesus had a church in downtown Houston that could hold thousands of people in a time of crisis. What would Jesus do?

Whatever he would do, celebrity preacher Joel Osteen isn’t doing it. Osteen has everything I described above. He’s the evangelical pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston. His books have been atop the Times bestseller lists, and he is watched across America, every Sunday morning, right there on your television. Joel is the son of John Osteen, who founded the church in 1959. When John died in 1999, Joel took over, and has become famous since then.

Lakewood is a special place, we can all agree. Physically, I mean. It’s in downtown Houston. You might remember it from when it was called the Compaq Center. It hosted the Rockets between ‘75 and ‘03. The facility holds just short of 17,000 people. Lakewood moved to the Center in 2005, and bought it outright in 2010. It’s Joel Osteen’s place, in other words.

And since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, how has he responded? According to HuffPo:

The storm and ensuing flooding have left at least 300,000 people without power and roughly 30,000 displaced to temporary shelters. Thousands of people were still awaiting rescue as of Monday morning. Dozens of Houston-area churches, schools and community centers opened their doors to offer temporary shelter to survivors, while other local houses of worship organized volunteer teams to help with relief efforts. One church, however, drew criticism online for remaining shut. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, a 16,800-seat indoor arena, announced on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.”

“Severe flooding” is a curious way to put it. According to witnesses, there was no visible hurricane damage, or flooding marks on the church.

Writer Charles Clymer retweeted photographs taken by Houston’s branch of the political group Indivisuble USA.

How was Indivisible able to access Lakewood, which was “severely flooded”?

According to these images, the Lakewood building was locked shut as Harvey flooded Houston. As the rains came, the prosperity pastor kept his doors closed. Like a newswire-watching politician, Osteen rolled out the “prayers” line during the tragedy, but that was all he was willing to give.

According to the New York Post:

The perpetually smiling pastor told followers on Twitter on Monday to lean on their faith. “Jesus promises us peace that passes understanding,” he wrote. “That’s peace when it doesn’t make sense.” But Osteen’s comforting words didn’t sit well with critics … “You have taken so much money away from your people to live like a king,” entertainment publicist Danny Deraney blasted. “It’s the least you could do.”

According to HuffPo, back in the early days of his ministry, Lakewood helped with relief:

Lakewood Church has previously helped with relief efforts in the city, most recently hosting a benefit concert in 2016 after heavy flooding. In 2001, the church sheltered roughly 5,000 Texans displaced by a tropical storm.

Osteen was roasted over social media, and he deserved every bit of it. Raising money a year ago isn’t bad. You know what a real gospel would be? Opening your doors. Did you help out people fifteen years ago? Wonderful. But your church was not at the heart of the city back then. It is now. This is the right place, the right time, and the right cause. Why are your doors locked?

Is Osteen only for his fellow man when his own livelihood is not at threat? Or perhaps when the flood is not directly at his door? Preachers and other ministers of the gospel are not called upon to be good when it is convenient, but all of the time. The prosperity Osteen preaches is a narrow one. It’s a familiar story: riches to the fox, not the hens. Apparently, false prophets are also without honor in their own country.

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