Monday, 4 September 2017

Controversy At Lakewood? Osteen's Six-Minute Response

"There's been so much misinformation about the church this week, I wanted to clarify some things," Pastor Joel Osteen told the congregation of Lakewood Church Sunday morning.


On most Sundays, the non-denominational megachurch draws some 16,000 worshippers - a crowd appropriate to its building, formerly the Compaq Center arena for the Houston Rockets.

But that wasn't the case this week.

That morning, during "Hope for Houston," special services held in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the garage, checkpoints and aisles were relatively empty.

In the days immediately following the hurricane, the church was criticized for not opening its doors as an emergency shelter.

Then the controversy shifted into a higher gear.

According to KRTK-13, on Sunday, Aug. 27, Lakewood associate pastor John Gray explained, on Facebook and Instagram, that "flooded highways had made the church inaccessible." Those posts have since been deleted.

On Sunday, survivors of Hurricane Harvey in the greater Houston area have reported that they are still unable to return to their homes, however as floodwaters continue to recede, many have had the opportunity to assess the damage and begin the long process of repair. At Harvey’s peak, water levels reached an unprecedented four-feet-high in some parts of Houston and surrounding communities, submerging vehicles, downing power lines and flooding many roads, homes and other buildings.Media: WochIt Media
Controversy At Lakewood? Osteen's Six-Minute Response
The internet fired back. The next day, widely-circulated videos and photographs showed the church's entrance and parking lot without any sign of flooding.

Tuesday, amid a nationwide backlash, Lakewood Church welcomed several hundred evacuees and issued the following statement: "We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need."

The final, conflicting blow landed Wednesday, when Osteen appeared on NBC's "TODAY" show.

"We were just being precautious," he said live, "but the main thing is the city didn't ask us to become a shelter then."

This Sunday, Lakewood's two services each drew between 1,000 and 1,200 worshippers - a much smaller attendance than usual.

Lakewood regulars report that Osteen typically preaches 20 to 30 minutes Sundays. During the first "Hope for Houston" service, his message ran just six minutes.

At the 8:30 service, the crowd cheered after Osteen offered to clarify the church's position.

"I know y'all love me," he said. "You need to get on social media."
"This building flooded in 2001, when the Rockets were still playing basketball here," Osteen explained. "It was over five feet of water in this lower bowl. Knowing that, when we took possession, we installed large flood gates around the building."

The water, he said, came within a foot or two of reaching the new gates and flooding the building again. "So (it) receded late Sunday, maybe early Monday; we felt it was safe to start taking people in on Tuesday. I don't mind taking the heat for being precautious, but I don't want to take the heat for being foolish."

He repeated, "We're not victims in Houston: We are victors" at least three times during the service.

His signature "prosperity" style of preaching attracts a devoted following.

"He preaches hope, and sometimes you need to hear that message," said one member of the congregation - a young woman who, like other churchgoers approached for comment, declined to be named. Controversy At Lakewood? Osteen's Six-Minute Response.
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