Pastor Joel Osteen appeared on NBC’s “TODAY” show Wednesday to push back on the fierce backlash he received over the weekend for not opening the doors to his 16,800-seat megachurch in Houston and offering it as a shelter sooner for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey.
The head of Lakewood Church claimed that the doors have “always been open,” but minutes later, he appeared to admit that the church hadn’t encouraged victims to seek shelter at his facility until days after the storm had made landfall.
“If people were here, they’d realize there were safety issues,” Osteen said. “We were just being precautious, but the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
Dozens of Houston-area churches, schools, community centers and at least one furniture store opened their doors to offer temporary shelter to Hurricane Harvey victims, according to the Huffington Post.
On Sunday, Lakewood Church shared a Facebook post claiming that the church complex was “inaccessible” due to flooding and encouraged people to seek shelter elsewhere.
— Santino (@santino_11) August 30, 2017
The post triggered a social media backlash which appears to have forced a spokesman for the church to announce on Tuesday that it was prepared to shelter displaced people “once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”
“Yeah, I’m sure we would have done something differently,” Osteen said when asked if he would have done anything differently to avoid the onslaught of criticism aimed at him on social media.
He added: “The fact is I don’t know that we would have opened any sooner, because again there were safety issues.”
Osteen insisted that he would have offered shelter sooner if only city officials had asked him to.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Wow, there’s that building. They’re not using it.’ But we don’t have volunteers,” Osteen said. “We don’t have staff that could get here. We’re all about helping the city whenever we could ― if they would have asked us to become a shelter early on, we would have prepared for it.”