Joel Osteen responds to criticism of church’s Harvey response: ‘We were here for people’

Pastor Joel Osteen said today that his Lakewood Church has been taking people in “from the very beginning” of Harvey as he pushed back against criticism that the church did not initially welcome evacuees.

“We were here for people. We were a shelter,” Osteen said today on “Good Morning America.”

“We were taking people as soon as the floodwaters receded,” he added.

Osteen also called it “totally not true” that the church, which can hold more than 16,000 people, did not open early enough for the residents of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city that has been devastated by Harvey.

“I think somebody created that narrative that somehow we were high and dry and none of that is true,” he said. “This building — it was a safety issue and we took people in from the very beginning.”

On Sunday, Lakewood Church posted on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and directed displaced residents to shelters in the city. The church has previously been active in relief efforts, including sheltering displaced people during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

SLIDESHOW: Slideshow: Hurricane Harvey devastates Gulf Coast

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Harvey, which first made landfall Friday in Texas as a category 4 hurricane, dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on some parts of the state. The storm is responsible for at least 11 deaths, all in Texas, over the past four days.

Osteen said church officials initially feared the building would flood and did not want to put staff members and volunteers in danger.

Asked if he would do anything differently, Osteen replied, “We would probably do some things differently, obviously.”

“It was a big flood and it affected all of the people that run this facility as well,” he added. “But, you know what, we’ve been here 60 years helping people and we’re going to be here long after all this dies down helping these people as well.”

A post on the church’s Facebook page Sunday drew criticism on social media after photos appeared to suggest that the massive building, once home to the NBA‘s Houston Rockets, had not been damaged by the torrential rains.

In response, Osteen insisted in a statement Monday evening that he and his church are “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity.”

“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a…

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