Why Evangelist Joel Osteen’s Church Is Defending Itself Against Its Hurricane Harvey Response
Richard Vogel

This article originally appeared on Time.

Famed evangelist Joel Osteen and his church are defending themselves after being accused of refusing to shelter people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Lakewood Church and its pastor Joel Osteen spoke out after drawing criticism for not offering its 16,800-seat space to people in need during the hurricane, which has killed at least nine people and forced mass evacuations. In a Facebook post on Sunday, the church said it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” and provided a list of shelters located in the Houston area where people could go. On social media, people blasted the church for not taking anyone in.

The church’s spokesperson Don Iloff denied reports that the church was closed during the hurricane, and 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.”

Iloff said the church would collect baby food and formula, and both baby and adult diapers for the city on Tuesday, and that the church would host people displaced by the storm once other shelters fill to capacity. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Online, people lobbied criticism at Lakewood Church for not being there for the community.

 

 

Earlier this week, Osteen and the church offered prayers and tweeted in support of Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that raises money for communities struck by natural disasters. They did not elaborate as to whether people could seek shelter at the church.

“We are praying for you and we are praying for our city, and for all of those affected by the devastating flooding and rains caused by Hurricane Harvey,” the church wrote on the donation page. “We love you and we love this city. And we want to help.”