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Pastor Joel Osteen speaks out after Harvey: 'The city didn't ask us to become a shelter'

Houston pastor Joel Osteen answered criticism that his megachurch didn't immediately take in evacuees from Hurricane Harvey.
/ Source: TODAY

In an interview on TODAY Wednesday, Houston pastor Joel Osteen disputed that his megachurch turned away evacuees from Hurricane Harvey and countered a wave of criticism by saying city officials initially didn't ask him to use it as a shelter.

"(The city) didn’t need us as shelter then,'' Osteen said. "If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked.

"Once they filled up, they never dreamed that we'd have this many displaced people, (and) they asked us to become a shelter. I think this notion that somehow we would turn people away or we weren't here for the city is about as false as can be."

Osteen received heavy criticism on social media starting on Saturday, with people writing that he had not offered the church as a sanctuary for those affected by the cataclysmic storm, which could dump up to 50 inches of rain in some areas.

"Our church doors have always been open,'' Osteen said. "We took people in right when waters started to recede, which was a day or two after the storm hit."

The church had also flooded before and there were safety issues, so they were initially being precautious by not immediately opening the doors to refugees from the storm over the weekend, Osteen said.

"The fact is that I don't know that we would've opened any sooner because again there were safety issues,'' Osteen revealed. "I think some somehow social media can be very powerful and they can create this false narrative.

"It's easy to say, 'There's that big building, and they're not using it,' but we don't have volunteers and we don't have staff that could get here.' If they would've asked us to be a shelter early on, we would've prepared for it all."

Osteen said he did not pay close attention to the social media firestorm.

"The main thing is social media doesn't run our lives,'' he said. "We run our ministry, we do what we're called to do. Everybody that's making a difference is going to have critics.

"Think of the story if we had housed a whole bunch of evacuees and the building flooded, that wouldn't have been a good story."

On Tuesday, Osteen tweeted that his megachurch, which can hold more than 16,000 people, is providing shelter for hurricane victims.

Hundreds of volunteers soon arrived to help collect donations from local residents.

"In 2001, Lakewood housed 3,000 people during tropical storm Allison, so we're all about helping people,'' Osteen said. "We'll be here five years from now helping these people, so we feel good about who we are and what we're doing."