Millions love Houston-based megachurch pastor and TV preacher Joel Osteen. Millions more hate him. That’s par for the course in his line of work. Osteen, thanks to his ostentatious displays of wealth – the big house, luxury cars and custom suits – paints a target on his chest for those who believe he’s selling people false hope rather than giving away faith.
Others cling to his every encouraging word. They flock to hear him speak, buy his books and pass his messages around on social media as balms for weary and downtrodden souls. So, when Osteen was heavily criticized for his slow response to helping fellow Houstonians in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the story was sure to blow up … and it did.
In the early aftermath of the devastating storm, as shelters were opening their doors all across the city, Osteen’s megachurch remained closed and locked. Due to the size of the place and the resources available, many could not fathom why this would be so. The barrage of angry posts and tweets and headlines was blistering.
Finally, after days of constant abuses and public berating, Osteen responded. In his first message, he assured people that his church was “prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity…” He added that, at the time, the church was “inaccessible due to severe flooding…”
Despite the logistical challenges, Osteen told the media his organization would be open as a collection site for area shelters. “We know the need is great. That much is clear… We do not yet know all the ways we can help…”
That “wait and see” message was not nearly good enough for the angry critics out there in social media land. After Osteen’s statement, the critical commentary only escalated. The next day, Osteen announced his facility would be “receiving people who need shelter” as well as “distributing supplies.”
So, was this a case of people on social media finding an easy target on which to vent their fear, anger, and frustration? Or was the criticism over the “slow response” justified? That depends on who you ask. Some believe Osteen – and others – were right to get their proverbial ducks in a row before throwing open their doors to help.
Others don’t think that excuse holds up to scrutiny. They could have moved faster or done more, the critics argue.
For the time being, Osteen and his leadership team are trying to ignore the negative commentary and focus on doing what they promised to do. Will that win over his critics, and what will all this mean once the water recedes and the emergency abates? Tough to say. But Osteen is focused on action at this point, and that often speaks louder than words.