‘We were never closed’: Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch disputes claims that it shut its doors – Washington Post

 In U.S.
Lakewood Church, a 606,000-square-foot megachurch in Houston where Joel Osteen preaches, is being used as a shelter from the flood. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

HOUSTON — Joel Osteen, Houston’s celebrity televangelist, pushed back against accusations that he closed off his 606,000-square-foot megachurch amid a flooding crisis that has displaced thousands of residents.

Lakewood Church spokesman Don Iloff said the building itself had been flooded, with water getting close to spilling over the facility’s floodgate. Taking in a crowd of storm evacuees over the weekend would’ve been unsafe, Iloff said, although he maintained that the church’s doors have always been open.

“We were never closed,” Iloff told The Washington Post. “This is crazy. People are saying we’ve locked the church. The church has been open from the beginning, but it’s not designated as a shelter.”

Water had receded by Monday, and the building was designated as a shelter Tuesday, Iloff said. Media footage showed evacuees with bags in tow arriving at the church as several vehicles lined up outside.

By Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of volunteers waited in line to check into Lakewood Church to help organize blankets, clothes, diapers and other supplies to be shipped off to nearby George R. Brown Convention Center, where displaced residents have flocked over the past few days.

The church had 100 air mattresses set up in an upstairs room, according to Iloff’s wife, Jackelyn, who said she didn’t know how many people the church had taken in. There was a medical area with volunteer nurses and doctors ready to help with everything from small cuts to insulin needs.

Storm evacuees will be housed on the second floor, Iloff said, because placing people on the first floor would still be too risky.

“We would be hesitant to put anybody on the first floor as long as there’s rain coming. … We got two more days of rain,” he said.

Darrell Clingman and his 11-year old twins, Tyler and Haley, came to Lakewood Church after an Army vehicle evacuated them from his neighbor’s home in Riverstone, about 25 miles southwest of downtown Houston. Clingman, whose wife was at an out-of-town wedding, arrived with his wallet and a couple wet book bags of clothes.

In the midst of evacuating, Clingman hadn’t heard the uproar about Houston’s largest church.

Osteen was criticized Monday on social media, where people accused him of keeping his church closed during a time of need.

“Joel Osteen, as a Pastor you have a huge obligation to show the love of Christ at this very moment. OPEN THE DOORS,” a fellow megachurch pastor, Greg Locke of the Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, tweeted Monday.

Pictures showing the church’s entrance and parking lot without any sign of flooding also surfaced Monday afternoon. Those were taken after water had receded, Iloff said, adding that photos taken from inside and outside the church the day before show significant flooding.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Osteen and his wife, Victoria, said: “We are working diligently with the city of Houston to mobilize our many volunteers at shelters around the city as well as various other points of need in and around the Houston area. In addition, we are working with Samaritan’s Purse on major relief efforts.”

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