Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen has come under fire after claims that his Lakewood Church, which meets in a stadium that seats 16,000, is not offering refuge for victims of Tropical Storm Harvey flooding despite having the space to do so. In a Monday statement to ABC News, however, Osteen denied the accusations, saying Lakewood is "prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity." "We have never closed our doors," the statement said. "We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need."
The controversy started when Osteen's initial public response to the storm Saturday offered promises of prayer but did not mention any tangible relief efforts:
As uproar was further fueled by another Osteen post requesting donations to the church for hurricane relief, internet sleuths tried to investigate whether the stadium was inaccessible or even flooded. The statement to ABC included photos indicating Lakewood is at this point dealing with its own flooding in and around the building, especially in what appear to be parking structures.
Slate contributing writer Ruth Graham called Lakewood to investigate, reporting that a church representative said the facility is ready to help but had not had the opportunity so far:
On Monday night, another Twitter user shared a photo of the church facility stocked with "countless air mattresses" and "prepping to open their doors." "Took a while," the tweet concluded, "but good news."