***Update*** (10:56p): The church may finally be opening its doors to hurricane victims.
While hurricane Harvey wreaks havoc in the city of Houston and surrounding areas, a lot of people on social media are wondering why one of the largest churches in the country isn’t opening its doors as a shelter.
Pastor Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church is the former home of the Houston Rockets. It seats 16,800 people and has the kind of indoor capacity that you’d think would be incredibly helpful while the city is suffering. But the church hasn’t opened its doors to strangers. Rather, they’ve posted information about resources on Facebook for visitors. (Even the Superdome in New Orleans was a “shelter of last resort” after Hurricane Katrina, and a shelter during other less threatening hurricanes, but it wasn’t ideal for a host of other reasons.)
So what gives in Houston? Why aren’t the Osteens and the folks running Lakewood offering their religious home as a shelter for those in need? Wouldn’t that be the “Christian” thing to do?
There are plenty of people online who think this is a sign of hypocrisy:
Hey Joel, don't you have the biggest and richest church? Why don't you open up the doors and the wallet in the name of Jesus for the people!
— Mozez713 (@Mozez713) August 28, 2017
Why isn't Joel Osteen mega church in Houston Texas is not open to the public in need of shelter, food and protection?
— Mr. Weeks (@MrDane1982) August 27, 2017
Joel Osteen has a HUGE church in Houston that would make a great shelter. pic.twitter.com/byqHxXrHQn
— Brasilmagic (@Brasilmagic) August 28, 2017
Why haven't you opened your massive church there in Houston to shelter #Harvey flood victims? a real Christian would do that
— Nancy G (@Nancylyn1) August 28, 2017
It’s tempting to bash the Osteens. Believe me, I would love to point out the hypocrisy of a Prosperity Gospel preacher leaving poor people out in the cold. It’s easy for an atheist to criticize a wealthy pastor for offering only prayers in a time of need when he could be doing so much more.
But that’s just not the reality of the situation.
As Lakewood Church has pointed out on its social media, the church is literally “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” That’s referring to the roads and highways leading to the church, but one reporter notes that the underground parking garage is flooded as well. In addition, think of the chaos it would create to invite thousands of people into the building — knowing that many more may be trying to get in — and the amount of people and resources they would need to manage everyone. By turning the church into a temporary shelter, it may create more problems than it solves.
The church actually has a history of helping people during natural disasters, so it’s not like this is part of a pattern where they turn their backs on their community in a time of need. After a tropical storm in 2001, the church became a shelter for about 5,000 people. And just last year, after local floods in April, Lakewood held a benefit concert with all proceeds going to the Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund.
The point is: I’m sure they’d open up the building as a shelter if they could. (Just think of how much good publicity they’d get!) The fact that they haven’t done it suggests they’re unable to help, not that they’re refusing to help.
That said, for a guy who makes as much money as he does, Osteen could earn some goodwill by announcing any donations he’s making in the wake of the disaster. He hasn’t done that yet. Instead, he’s just rattling off a bunch of prayers as usual.
***Update***: Snopes says the claim that Lakewood Church is inaccessible is “unconfirmed,” all the more reason to be skeptical about claims that this is Christian hypocrisy. We just don’t have any information that says Lakewood Church is able to function as a shelter right now, yet refusing to do it.
(Screenshot via YouTube)