Hurricane Harvey dumped historic amounts of rain on Houston and the surrounding areas since first making landfall a week ago (it went on to make landfall two more times as a tropical storm). Amid all the chaos caused by the storm there was a lot of criticism directed at Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church for not sheltering people displaced by the storm.
Osteen’s Lakewood Church is in the former arena for the Houston Rockets basketball team, and so it has a lot of space. The arena seats 16,800 people. The church posted on Facebook Saturday a request for prayers for those affected by the storm, and included some links to various resources.
The Lakewood Church itself, however, was not mentioned as a physical resource for those needing shelter. This led to rampant criticism and public shaming of Osteen and the church. Osteen and another spokesman for Lakewood, Don Iloff, attempted to do damage control. They pointed out that there were safety concerns and flooding of some areas of the property (see the photos below), like the parking garage. Iloff also told reporters that the rainwater nearly spilled over Lakewood’s floodgate.
Now, while it could be that Osteen and Iloff were just trying to save face following the public outcry, there is not really any reason to doubt them. After all, things got quite bad at the Louisiana Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. So it is possible that they did not want to invite several thousand people to their church and cause more chaos than the residents of Houston were already facing. Additionally, helping the residents of the community would of course have been great publicity, so they would have had good motivation to do it if they could.
Late Tuesday morning, though, the church was opened to those needing shelter. The ceaseless public shaming of Osteen and the church apparently gave them the extra motivation they needed to open their doors. They also posted on their website that they would be collaborating with Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse ministry to help the people of Houston.
Tuesday also happens to be when news broke of Quebec’s Minister of International Relations, Christine St-Pierre, offered blankets, beds, and hydro crews to help Texas. The Texas Secretary of State, Rolando Pablos, declined the offer and instead just asked for “prayers from the people of Quebec.” Uh, prayers to the same God that sent the storm in the first place? So what exactly should the people of Quebec be praying for?
Back to Osteen. He and the other people working at Lakewood Church are offering real help now to people who need it, and that is something to be happy about. While I am sure that those seeking shelter at the church, or those who get help from Franklin Graham’s disaster ministry will be proselytized to, since these ministers seem unable to stop themselves from “spreading the good news,” hopefully people who need tangible things like beds, food, and clean clothes will get them. They need a hell of a lot more than just “thoughts and prayers”.
And in the meantime, while Osteen has given us plenty of things to criticize him over, the delay in providing shelter at the church might not be another one to add to the list.
If you would like to donate to help with hurricane recovery here is a link to a secular charity effort: https://foundationbeyondbelief.org