Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen did damage control Wednesday on “Good Morning America” after he was deluged by criticism over his response to Hurricane Harvey.
The “prosperity gospel” minister insisted to ABC News his Lakewood Church had offered shelter to hurricane victims, although the 16,800-seat church was closed until Tuesday afternoon — after social media users rained scorn on him.
“The narrative is that we didn’t want to take people in or we didn’t open in time, you know, it’s totally not true,” Osteen said. “We were here for people, we were a shelter, we were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded, when several people came here, to take them in.”
Osteen spoke in front of a pile of donated diapers, and producers showed photos of flooding outside his church near downtown Houston.
“The city has a shelter four miles from here,” Osteen said. “We work with the city all the time, and when their shelter was totally full, they started bringing people over here, and here are again today doing it like we did in 2001, when we housed 3,000 people. So I don’t know — I think somebody created that narrative, that somehow we were high and dry, and none of that is true. This building was a safety issue, and we took people in from the very beginning.”
The church formally opened its doors at noon Tuesday, more than 80 hours after the hurricane first made landfall, when congregants were invited to drop off donations, and about 50 people showed up seeking shelter.
“We were fearing that it would flood,” Osteen told ABC News. “The last thing we would do is put people in it right at the beginning but, yeah, you know, we would probably be, you know, do some things differently, obviously.”
Osteen said his niece was stranded by the flood on the freeway near his church, which he said illustrated the severity of the situation.
“It was a big flood, and it affected all of the people that run this facility, as well, but, you know what, we’ve been here 16 years helping people and we’ll be here long after this dies down helping these people, as well,” Osteen said.