By Rafi Schwartz
After finally opening the doors to his massive Lakewood megachurch on Tuesday, pastor Joel Osteen spent his Wednesday morning doing interviews on a string of morning shows to defend his decision to delay sheltering Houstonians fleeing Hurricane Harvey.
“We’re all about helping people. This is what our church is all about,” Osteen insisted on the Today show.
“I think if people were here, they would realize there were safety issues. This building had flooded before, so we were just being precautions, he added. “But the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
Osteen’s apology tour comes after days of intense criticism following his initial offer of “prayers” for those affected by the massive storm system. Osteen originally claimed that his massive, 16,000 capacity megachurch was “inaccessible due to severe flooding”—a charge seemingly refuted by social media users who posted multiple pictures of a relatively sedate landscape around the facility.
By the time Osteen announced that Lakewood would soon open its doors, at least four Houston-area mosques had already transformed themselves into 24-hour relief shelters.
“This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others,” Islamic Society of Greater Houston president M.J. Khan said told Mic.com. “When you give, you don’t give only to your own family. … You give to anybody who needs help.”
Mic’s Anna Swartz later tweeted that the decision to turn the mosques into shelters was done entirely without city request.
A representative for the Houston Mayor’s office pushed back on criticism of Osteen’s delayed decision, telling BuzzFeed News:
We are appalled that your organization is trying to give Lakewood Church a bad reputation. We appreciate all the help we can get from all of our great partners across the city.
However, even Osteen seemed to understand that it all looked very bad. “I’m sure we’d have done something differently,” he told the Today show, after blaming social media for the “false narrative” surrounding his decision.
Which isn’t to say he would have necessarily acted on that regret.
“I mean, think of the story if we housed a whole bunch of evacuees and the building flooded,” Osteen said. “That wouldn’t have been a good story.”
According to NBC News, the Lakewood megachurch is currently sheltering approximately 300 people.