Following days of mounting outrage, megachurch pastor Joel Osteen announced on Tuesday he will open the doors of his 16,000-seat Huston arena to those devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
“Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter,” Osteen tweeted. “God gives us grace for every challenge. Stay strong and know that God has you in the palm of His hand!”
The announcement comes after the Lakewood Church faced fierce social media backlash to a post it shared on Facebook over the weekend saying their facilities were “inaccessible due to severe flooding.”
Shortly after, images began to circulate online appearing to show the megachurch in usable condition, with many online calling out Osteen for seemingly closing his churches doors when it could be housing thousands of Houstonians in need:
Prior to Tuesday's announcement that he would be opening the facility up to the public, Osteen initially offered prayers “for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey,” which many online viewed as not a strong enough response to the ongoing Houston catastrophe:
However, Osteen has disputed reports that he ever closed the doors to his church, releasing the following statement: “We have never closed our doors, we will continue to be a distribution center to those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community...”
A member of Lakewood Church also responded by sharing images that appear to show flooding inside the church:
Famous Houston mattress store, Gallery Furniture, has already turned two of its stores into shelters for Hurricane Harvey victims prior to Osteen announcing plans to use his church, which was the former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.