Pastor Joel Osteen, known for his televised weekly sermons, said Tuesday the claims that he didn't want to help Harvey victims were "totally false."
Osteen opened his Lakewood Church in Houston to Harvey flooding evacuees on Tuesday, but the timing of his decision caused a social media backlash.
That’s because Osteen didn’t immediately provide the venue as a shelter for those suffering after Texas was slammed by the storm. But the decision to open the church on Tuesday, Osteen told Fox 26, resulted from pre-planned discussions.
"You know, we work with the city all the time," Osteen said about the lead-up to the storm. “At that time the city was asking us to use city shelters, Harris county shelters and then when they got filled up that’s when we said, 'Hey, you need more room, Lakewood would love to help out.'"
On Monday, the 16,800-seat church posted on Facebook that its doors would remain shut "due to severe flooding." A series of social media posts, however, seemed to indicate that the church avoided flooding.
"You know, I didn’t pay much attention to it," Osteen said of the social media outcry. "I had staff tell me that there was this firestorm happening. But, we don’t run our lives about what happens on Twitter. I mean, many of those people, some of them possibly, don’t care for us, they’re in another state, they’re not in our shoes where, you know, you can’t necessarily open your building when it’s very close to flooding itself," Osteen said.
"And so, you know, I just don’t really…we’re set on our mission to help people, to love God and love others," he continued. "And so, I just feel like when you do what you’re called to do you’re always going to have critics but we just keep moving forward and helping people. We’ve been doing it for 60 years with my parents here and, so, that’s what Lakewood is all about."
Shelter in the state became dire by Tuesday afternoon with more than 17,000 people seeking refuge from floodwaters, the American Red Cross said. The George R. Brown Convention Center, which had been helping those in need, rapidly exceeded its capacity of 5,000 by Monday night as buses full of evacuees arrived.
"We were blessed to not have flooding here but we’re also very precautious about... before we put a bunch of people in here, let’s make sure that everything is safe," Osteen said.
The pastor also denied charges that he wasn’t looking to help, citing previous instances when the church provided hurricane relief. "Totally false," he said. "This is what we’re all about – helping other people."