Megachurch pastor and best selling author Joel Osteen is finally opening up his 16,800-seat Houston church to the victims of Hurricane Harvey after an onslaught of social media criticism for initially staying shut. When the hurricane first hit the Houston area as many as 300,000 people were without power in southeastern parts of the state. But Osteen's church Lakewood Church posted on Facebook saying the facility was "inaccessible" due to "severe flooding."
However, after several people posted videos on Twitter appearing to show the location relatively unscathed and unaffected by flooding, a swarm of Twitter users began questioning why Osteen's megachurch.
On Tuesday after the onslaught of criticisms, Osteen tweeted that his church now open and is providing shelter for hurricane victims. "Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood's doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter," he wrote.
By the afternoon, hundreds of volunteers had arrived to collect bags packed with donations from locals. Cars lined the building's perimeter as people waited to hand in their donations.
"For the people spreading lies about my church. If WE could get there WE WOULD OPEN THE DOORS," Lakewood associate pastor John Gray posted on Facebook. "As soon as the highways aren't flooded please know @lakewoodchurch will do all they can alleviate the pain and suffering of as many people as possible. Love y'all! #CantStandLiars."
The church's spokesperson Don Iloff told the Houston Chronicle that church staff was instructed to help anyone who came to the church doors. It was unclear whether the church experienced flooding.
"It's not our unwillingness, it's just practicality. It's been a safety issue for us," Iloff said. "Lakewood Church has a heart for this city."