Amid criticism, Joel Osteen's church says it was 'inaccessible' but not closed during Harvey

Amid criticism, Joel Osteen's church says it was 'inaccessible' but not closed during Harvey
Posted at 5:49 AM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-29 01:51:58-04

(RNN) – A popular TV evangelist is facing criticism over his church's response to Hurricane Harvey. 

Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, an arena with more than 16,000 seats, was not designated a hurricane shelter as Harvey deluged the Houston area with historic rainfall.

The decision was met with cries to open the doors on social media. 

The church’s Facebook page reported on Sunday that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.”

Spokesperson Donald Iloff told the Houston Chronicle the church has never been closed and staff was instructed to help anyone who came asking for it. 

"It's not our unwillingness, it's just practicality. It's been a safety issue for us," he told

He also noted the city of Houston has a shelter set up at the local convention center.

“It has everything inside there, medicine, doctors, places to sleep,” Iloff told the New York Post. “It’s amazing what they’re doing there to make people comfortable.”

The church has since said it is mobilizing volunteers at city shelters and serving as a collection site for supplies, including baby formula and food.  

It is not clear whether Osteen evacuated ahead of the storm.

As Harvey approached the Texas coast, Houston’s mayor did not order an evacuation of the city, a decision some have called into question.

"You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.”

The city has seen nearly three feet of rain and crews have performed more than 3,000 water rescues in the area. 

Lakewood Church has opened its doors for storms in the past. 

The church hosted a benefit concert for flood relief in 2016 and sheltered 5,000 people during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

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