Even if Joel Osteen Did the Right Thing, He Lost a Chance to Teach Christianity

It’s easy to point out the hypocrisy of some churches, especially a church like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood, which says it has the largest regularly-used worship center in the United States and welcomes more than 38,000 weekly attendees. And when reports surface of Osteen’s congregation turning away Hurricane Harvey victims in need of food and shelter, it might seem like they deserve that censure.

We may never know the truth behind the day when a few rain-soaked Houstonians came to the doorstep of Lakewood Church — just the type of people that Jesus told his disciples to look out for — and were instructed to look elsewhere for shelter. From new reports according to church personnel, it looks like Lakewood staff were justified in sending people to government shelters. But that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters, as is often true, are the optics.

And Lakewood Church has become a PR nightmare.

Photos offer conflicting narratives. On one hand, social media warriors posted photos of clear roads, debunking Lakewood’s claim that their building was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” But those in the building retaliated, revealing the true “situation of our church,” showing murky water in a parking garage.

If the flooding was real, then it would make sense to send the few evacuees requesting shelter to the much larger George R. Brown Convention Center less than six miles down the road. Flood water is a dangerous threat — often carrying raw sewage, toxic chemicals and diseases — so with more rain on the way, it made sense to direct those in need to a place of real safety.

So yes, perhaps Lakewood was justified in sending evacuees down the road. Perhaps Lakewood did serve as a distribution center and later opened their doors for evacuees. Perhaps they’re undeserving of such social media vitriol.

But when people hear that the third largest church in the U.S. said they couldn’t fit a small group of shelter-seekers in a 16,000-seat arena because their basement was flooded, that doesn’t add up.

The casual observer would expect the church to do something. And this church in particular has perhaps a bit more to prove than other churches.

Their lead pastor, Joel Osteen, is notorious for spreading what is widely called a “prosperity gospel,” an watered-down version of Christianity that has an unbalanced emphasis on God’s promises to bless those who follow His commands, rather than personal sacrifice and pursuing holiness.

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Kirkland An