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16,800-seater US megachurch under fire for not opening doors to Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Joel Osteen, one of America’s richest pastors who leads the church, offered prayers for the victims.

world Updated: Aug 29, 2017 14:05 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hurricane Harvey,Houston,Texas
A convention center that has been turned into a shelter run by the Red Cross. A Houston megachurch came under fire for not opening its doors to those seeking shelter after Hurricane Harvey. (AFP)

One of America’s richest pastors has come under criticism on social media for not welcoming those seeking shelter from Hurricane Harvey into his Lakewood megachurch in Houston, Texas.

Joel Osteen, a televangelist, best-selling author and pastor, whose net worth is estimated to be $40 million, has been tweeting comforting messages of prayer and faith to his 6.17 million followers on Twitter.

But many social media users, among them Houstonians, have been sharply critical of Osteen for not offering flood-hit, stranded residents shelter at his sprawling Lakewood Church.

The nondenominational Lakewood Church has a seating capacity of 16,800 and hosts 52,000 attendees on a weekly basis, and looks more like an amphitheatre and stadium rolled into one. Here is a glimpse of the church from one of Osteen’s recent podcasts:

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Church stated that it was “inaccessible due to flooding” and pointed relief-seekers to other shelters. But many Houstonians took to Twitter to post pictures of the Church from outside, while others questioned Osteen’s decision to keep the church doors closed and not use his vast network to actively organise relief efforts. Many people seemed to feel that merely offering prayers was not good enough at a time when people needed help.

After being roundly slammed on social media, the Church issued a statement on Monday evening, saying they have never closed their doors. They also released photos of flooding in and around the Church.

“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” reads the statement. “Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm in helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.”

First Published: Aug 29, 2017 14:05 IST