In August 2017, just after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and inundated Houston with record rainfall and flooding, celebrity pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, which is based in the region, drew criticism for not making itself available to people affected by the storm.
On 27 August, the church posted:
Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to help make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!
A day later, a post on Lakewood's blog read, in part:
Over the last couple of days, as the enormity of this storm was being realized, we have been working to organize relief efforts for the Houston area with our friend Franklin Graham and the disaster relief organization that he oversees, Samaritan's Purse. Samaritan's Purse has been, since it's inception, organized to respond to situations just like Hurricane Harvey, and we are grateful to be able to partner with them to provide assistance to the Houston area.
We know the need is great. That much is clear. We do not yet know all the ways we can help.
The church reportedly seats more than 16,000 people.
Osteen, whose own Houston home is worth a reported $10.5 million, has not made any comments regarding possible flooding near the church. A map of the area surrounding the church shows it is under a flood advisory, but not a warning. (Houston police told us that they have no pending calls from the area.)
Several Twitter users have posted pictures questioning the church's statement, including an image posted by writer Charles Clymer that was apparently taken from near the church showing no flooding near the building. Popular vlogger Keaton Milburn responded:
maybe your anonymous source would like to see these photos. ones of the church actually flooding. know your facts first
The caption on the photos, though, suggest that they were taken near the church, not inside the facility itself. Another Twitter user posted pictures of her own showing no apparent street flooding near the church:
Clymer also posted pictures from a third user which purportedly showed no flooding near either the church's near entrance or loading docks:
Another local man, Jorge Colmenares, posted a video on Facebook showing a lack of flooding in a garage he identified as belonging to the church. The footage has received more than 70,000 views. He told us:
I was doing recon around my surrondng area and checking up on my work location. Lakewood is always on my route. I was expecting to see flood in the garage area but it wasn't at all.
However, he added, "Lakewood and it's surrounding area was legit flooded out" on 26 August 2017, shortly before the calls began for Osteen to make the church available. Colmenares said he had seen pictures online reflecting effects on the church:
The church was flooded on the inside, garage level, basement level, not where the main floors are. It's a huge place.
We contacted the church seeking additional details about why it was inaccessible — for example, if there was possibly flooding nearby or damage to the building — but we have yet to receive a response. However, Osteen did put up the following tweet:
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 28, 2017
The tweet linked to the following statement:
Dear Lakewood Church family,
We want to let you know that our hearts are with each of you and your families during this difficult time. We are praying for you and we are praying for our city, and for all of those affected by the devastating flooding and rains caused by Hurricane Harvey. We love you and we love this city. And we want to help.
Over the last couple of days, as the enormity of this storm was being realized, we have been working to organize relief efforts for the Houston area with our friend Franklin Graham and the disaster relief organization that he oversees, Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse has been, since it’s inception, organized to respond to situations just like Hurricane Harvey, and we are grateful to be able to partner with them to provide assistance to the Houston area.
We know the need is great. That much is clear. We do not yet know all the ways we can help. However if you would like to register to volunteer with us, please do so by clicking the link below. Or, if you would like to donate to our relief efforts, please do so here in this page. We are working just as fast as we can on this and will update you with more information as it becomes available.
In the meantime, know that our prayers for strength and comfort for each of you will continue, as well as our prayers for God’s help as we navigate the upcoming days and months together.
We love you. And we are praying. Together, we will make it through this difficult time.
Osteen and the church later released a second statement:
We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of thris storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.
Clymer also posted a picture of what he described as "countless air mattresses" bought by the church, saying that it was "prepping to open its doors".
Lakewood is receiving people who need shelter. We are also coordinating with the city as a collection site for distribution. Lakewood is also collecting diapers, baby formula, baby food and other supplies. Please bring these items to Lakewood at Circle Drive.