Pastor Joel Osteen, who came under fire last week for not immediately welcoming victims of flooding in Houston to take refuge in his megachurch, delivered a sermon Sunday to address the controversy.
“There’s been so much misinformation about the church this week,” Osteen said.
He explained that the flood waters from Hurricane Harvey came “within a foot or two” of breaching flood gates and inundating the Lakewood Church’s lower bowl.
The decision to not immediately welcome victims into the church sparked much criticism. Osteen said he did not want to risk the victims’ safety had the church been flooded.
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“I don’t mind taking the heat for being precautious, but I don’t want to take the heat for being foolish,” he said during the six-minute sermon.
The sermon was posted in its entirety to the church’s Facebook page, along with a brief message: “Our doors are always open. Joel addresses Lakewood.”
Thousands have commented in response to the sermon.
Ora DeLeon, a member of the church for 24 years, wrote, “Joel Osteen and his Pastors helped me deal with my sons death. Lakewood is a beautiful and spiritual ministry.”
Albert Esquivel added that he doesn’t believe what he has seen on social media because “joel osteen has inspired me in alot of ways god bless him and his good heart he has.”
Others further criticized Osteen.
“Wooowww reading these comments makes me feel like I am listening to a bunch of cultists following and protecting their leader. I am a christian but Pastors are men and therefore fallible; so I am not sure why people are acting like he can do no wrong,” wrote Katrina Jones.
Added Matthew Pruden: “Ok Devils advocate. How many people did you invite to that 8000 sq foot house you own during the flooding seeing that your church was flooded?”
Filmmaker Tyler Perry has pledged $1 million to flood relief, with $250,000 going to Osteen’s church.
“I know there’s been some controversy about Joel Osteen and him not opening the doors of the church,” Perry said in a Facebook video, the Washington Post reported. “Let me tell you something: Joel and Victoria (Osteen’s wife) are amazing people. There’s no way they would lock people out of the church and not let people in for shelter.”
Last week, Osteen appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and gave a different reason for why the church didn’t immediately open.
“The main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then,” Osteen said on the show. It was a “final, conflicting blow,” the Houston Chronicle wrote.
Videos and photos taken around the church showed some parts of the facility remained dry, a CNN report found.
In 2015, Osteen’s net worth was $56.5 million and the church’s annual budget was $70 million, with $30 million in mailed-in donations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In his sermon, Osteen framed the criticism following the flooding as an attack on his ministry.
“Some people are never going to like us,” he said. “We overcome evil with good and bless those who don’t like us. They cannot keep us from our destiny.”
He said the church has been a “lighthouse of hope and healing” to the city for decades.
At one point, collection plates were passed among congregants, many of whom had earlier identified themselves as victims of the flooding.
The death toll has reached at least 50 in the wake of Harvey’s destruction. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggested the state could need $180 billion in federal aid; Harvey may exceed the economic toll of Hurricane Katrina, The New York Times reports.