Houston-based Christian pastor Joel Osteen tried to deflect blame from how his Lakewood Church responded to the devastating toll that Hurricane Harvey took on the city’s residents, saying Wednesday on NBC’s “Today Show” that he didn’t take in storm victims because the city of Houston “didn’t ask.”
“If people were here, they’d realize there were safety issues,” Osteen said during the TV appearance. “We were just being precautious, but the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
Osteen also went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to respond to criticism that he was slow to open up his Lakewood Church — a former arena for NBA’s Houston Rockets that seats 16,000 people — to evacuees of flooding from the storm.
“We would probably do some things differently, obviously,” he said on ABC’s “GMA.” “We were here for people. We were a shelter… We were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded.”
“I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry and none of that is true,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopolous. “This building — it was a safety issue and we took people in from the very beginning.”
Lakewood Church remained closed over the weekend, with the congregation’s Facebook page on Sunday said the church was “inaccessible due to severe flooding,” though the message didn’t clarify whether the church itself was flooded.
But many online questioned that assertion, pointing to pictures taken after Harvey made landfall that showed puddles and no signs of severe flooding — especially compared to other areas of Houston devastated by the storm.
Osteen maintained that the church was closed at first because of safety concerns, and opened as soon as possible.
“It was a big flood and it affected all of the people that run this facility as well,” the mega-church pastor said. “But, you know what, we’ve been here 60 years helping people and we’re going to be here long after all this dies down helping these people as well.”
Tropical Storm Harvey, which began as a Category 4 hurricane, first made landfall on Friday, has produced as much as 51 inches of rain in some areas of Texas, causing severe flooding and displacing thousands. 11 people have died in the wake of the storm in the last four days.
Watch Osteen’s response in the videos above.