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Joel Osteen: Who is the Houston megachurch pastor accused of not sheltering Harvey victims?

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Pastor Joel Osteen defended Lakewood Church after critics claimed the megachurch turned away Tropical Storm Harvey victims in Houston.
USA TODAY

Houston pastor Joel Osteen is responding to widespread criticism on his megachurch’s decision to not open doors of its 15,000-plus seat arena to flood victims seeking refuge after Hurricane Harvey.

Osteen said Monday that his Lakewood Church was “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity” in a statement to ABC News, despite an earlier Facebook post from the church that insisted it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.”

The church announced plans Monday evening to act as a collection site for Houston-area shelters. “We know the need is great. That much is clear,” a church statement said. “We do not yet know all the ways we can help.”

Then, on Tuesday, the church announced it was currently “receiving people who need shelter” in addition to distributing supplies. 

Meanwhile, thousands of victims sought shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center about six miles northeast of the church, ABC News reported. The facility held 6,000 evacuees — 1,000 past its stated capacity.

Who is Joel Osteen?

Osteen is senior pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church. Osteen took over the church after the death of his father and the church’s founder, John Osteen, in 1999. From there, the church skyrocketed in attendance from about 5,000 people per week to more than 50,000. Osteen’s wife, Victoria Osteen, serves as co-pastor.

How big is the church? 

Lakewood Church meets in the former Compaq Center in the heart of Houston, where the NBA’s Houston Rockets once played. When the church moved into the arena in 2005, the $75 million renovation involved two waterfalls, jumbotrons and concert-style lighting.

The exposure from the church, which also broadcasts services on television, helped Osteen become a best-selling author. The success of his book Your Best Life Now enabled Osteen to refuse his church’s six-figure salary in 2005.

No stranger to criticism

Since his emergence, Osteen has faced criticism both for his church’s operations and his messages, which emphasize positive thinking. When Lakewood moved into its arena, the facility did not feature a cross or other obvious Christian iconography, opting instead for a giant, spinning globe.

At the time, one liberal Christian magazine, The Christian Century, accused Osteen of neutering the Bible into “digestible categories of self-help and self-improvement.” Osteen’s mother, Dodie Osteen, responded to the criticism: “We don’t preach the gospel sad, we preach it glad.”

The Associated Press and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean contributed to this article.

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

More: Walmart ships 2,000 kayaks to affected area as Harvey rain moves away from Houston — for now

 

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