On Sunday, as Hurricane Harvey began to crush parts of Texas, Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston megachurch Lakewood, tweeted that his church was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” and then let his Twitter followers know that they could go to an area shelter should they need help.
Followers who were near the church then took video and photos of the “severe flooding” to show that the roads and entrance to the church were actually accessible. Those on Twitter then began bashing the pastor, who quickly blocked those on social media who called him out.
Lakewood church staff began posting photos of their own, showing that parts of the parking area were, in fact, flooded. Shortly after that, the narrative started to shift. The news became that the church had always been willing to help, but church officials were more comfortable with the facility being used as a supply station rather than a shelter. They would, however, allow the church to become an emergency shelter if all of the area shelters were filled.
On Tuesday, as the story grew of Osteen’s reported unwillingness to house area residents in need of relief from a reported 51 inches of rain that fell on the area, the church opened its doors.
Then early Wednesday, Osteen appeared on Good Morning America to say that the doors of the church had never been shut—except that contradicts Osteen’s earlier tweet and statements made by Donald Issof Jr., the church’s chief of communications, who told BuzzFeed News that “Lakewood didn’t declare itself a shelter because the surrounding area was flooded and ‘people just couldn’t get here.’”
“To get to this building, you’ve got to cross that highway,” Issof told BuzzFeed News, adding that he didn’t care about “Twitter haters” or those who have been critical of the church’s response.
It also doesn’t help Osteen’s position that Fred Blaylock, a parking attendant employed by the office park where the church is located, told BuzzFeed News that “he had been working around the complex since the storm struck and had not seen much flooding on the roads next to the church.”
Now, which one is it? Are the roads flooded, or are they not? Is the church a shelter, or is it not? Was the church a shelter before it got dragged on Twitter? Did the city ever ask the church to help? Or did the public shaming force the church into opening its doors? Did the church allow anyone inside before it got dragged on social media?
Something doesn’t smell right, and Osteen isn’t helping himself the more he keeps talking.
“We were here for people. We were a shelter,” Osteen told GMA, adding, “We were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded.”
If this statement is correct, then the waters didn’t began receding until Tuesday, after the church had been publicly embarrassed on social media.
“I’m sure we’d have done something differently,” Osteen said in defending his decision not to open the church’s doors sooner.
Which means that the doors weren’t open or, as one reader pointed out, “the doors were never closed because they were never open.”
Osteen also shifted the blame to the city of Houston, noting that if the city “would have asked us to become a shelter early on, we would have been prepared and ready to help.”
Something isn’t making sense, and it sounds like the church made a huge mistake not being available to the people who may have needed it. I’m not sure how the church could have been all the things, while not being any of these things, at the same time, but then again, I understand the church about as much as I understand Chinese arithmetic. However, I did grow up with winos and druggies in my neighborhood, so I know how to smell a lie. And something doesn’t smell right.