Joel Osteen has been having a tough time; some of it due to Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged parts of Texas, and most of it due to his response to it and now-revisionist storytelling (can we say “lying” and not be struck down?), akin to the current president and resident liar in chief, Donald Trump.
Let me catch you up to speed: On Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey hit and it flooded whatever it didn’t destroy. Osteen, who is the pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, wasn’t letting folks inside the doors of the megachurch to shelter.
First his father-in-law claimed that the roads were flooded, a claim that social media users near the church proved to be false, with receipts. Then Osteen himself said that the church did let people in (which has yet to be proved true) but that no one really showed up. Then he said that the church was flooded, or parts had been flooded, and photos were posted showing a flood wall doing what a flood wall is paid to do, which is hold back the flood.
Then he said that the flood wall was near flood levels, which it was, but the church hadn’t flooded, which means that it could’ve been used as a shelter. Then he said that he wanted the church to be a donation center because a 16,000-seat church can better serve a community, in which many have lost their homes, as a warehouse rather than a hotel.
Then he said that the church hadn’t been opened earlier because the government hadn’t asked him to, and that he was fine with the church being an overflow facility if all the other shelters end up full.
Finally, on Sunday, while giving his first sermon since the hurricane hit, Osteen had another story he wanted to float:
Osteen claimed that there was so much “misinformation” about the church and that he just wanted to clarify some things, claiming that people wanted to destroy his ministry by spreading misinformation, and, he added, “people that don’t have the facts and don’t want to have the facts continue to stir things up,” which sounds a lot like Trump declaring bad press against him is “fake news.”
Osteen also claimed that he doesn’t care about social media: “I don’t pay attention to social media. I don’t read the negative comments. If you let social media run your life then you’ll never fulfill your purpose.”
But the day that Hurricane Harvey landed, whoever was manning Osteen’s social media account reportedly blocked several users who pointed out that the megachurch wasn’t letting people in. He claimed that those who wanted the pastor to do the Christian thing by letting the church help people in need were trying to “discredit” and “ruin his reputation” like David of the Bible, whose reputation took a hit.
“They cannot keep us from our destiny,” Osteen said.
I’m unclear how Osteen, whose family was safe and sound in his million-dollar home miles away from the devastation, has become the biggest victim of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. But doesn’t that ministry sound like a page out of someone else’s playbook: making yourself the victim while discrediting those who merely report what’s happening?
And in the end, when all else fails, you change the narrative and make the sermon about how churchgoers must rise above the hatred, when the truth is that you didn’t help the people in need, and that before you got burned at the Twitter-stake and shamed into opening the church doors, you really didn’t want to.