Hurricane Harvey has been an unintentional harbinger of truth for Houstonians displaced by floodwaters in the Houston area. On September 26th, 2017, the torrential rains of this storm began, and they continued to pour at an unprecedented rate for another 5 days. More than 87,000 people lost power in their homes in the first two days. 9,000 people lost their homes by the next day. By the end of the flood, more than 30 people had lost their lives. And, the pastor of the largest church in metropolitan Houston, the fourth largest city, did not offer his building as a sanctuary for residents made homeless by the storm. The Greater Houston area received 49.77 inches of rain in less than a week, which is more than the area usually gets in the average year. A devastating weather system of the magnitude of Harvey is only supposed to happen once in every 10,000 years, but the city has continued to be hit with unnatural amounts of rain every few years. Floods of a Biblical proportion are regularly engulfing the Houston metropolitan community, and the owner and pastor of one of the largest megachurches in the nation failed to shelter the people of the city who were stranded by the rising waters of Hurricane Harvey. Over the years, several different businesses, non-profit organizations, and religious establishments have come together to feed, clothe, and shelter people in their time of crisis, and Lakewood Church could seat 16,800 of the 30,000 people believed to be left homeless by the storm by itself. One kind gesture by a man who is a pillar of the community and the face of Christianity for millions of people could offset more than half of the problem created by the hurricane, but Joel Osteen failed miserably when confronted with this situation. Though he finally offered his facilities to the public on the August 30th, 2017, the time of crisis and thus the time for helping had passed. Ultimately, Osteen has proven himself to be a shrewd businessman worried about his bottom line rather than a man of God with a heart of service.
This is Lakewood Church.
I am always reticent to speak against people of faith regardless of their religion or denomination. I honestly believe that everyone has their purpose, and sometimes their end goal may be beyond my immediate understanding. Religion serves people on an emotional level even when they are confused about the message, and different messengers are needed to bring the ideals of peace and love to the masses. A motivational speaker like Osteen is needed for some people to find happiness. Others need a more aggressive message from someone like the Honorable Elijah Muhammad or a paradoxical question from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz to be centered. With age, I have learned that there is more to life than I could ever know or experience in the short time that I have here on Earth, and that everyone is searching for something that is unique to them. But, I have also learned that all people are flawed regardless of their position. And, their beliefs are transparent if you know what you are looking for. The way to see the motivations of a person is listen to what they say and watch their actions under stress to see if the words and actions match. A message of service and giving does not mesh with Osteen closing his doors to people in need. And, while personal flaws are forgivable, this case seems like purposeful negligence. Joel Osteen has had questionable motives for years, but Harvey exposed him. Profit really is more important to him than service.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s local newspaper, Lakewood Church had a projected annual income of around seventy-seven million dollars in 2005, which translates to about $1,480,769.23 per week tax free. Their income today has to have swelled well past those gaudy numbers in more than a decade. How much damage could the displaced citizens of Houston do to the church in a few days? 10K? 20K? 1M? Could transient Houstonians cause more damage to the church in a few days than they could recover with a weekly income that exceeds nearly $1.5M? A church of that size and space has to be insured, and Lakewood has the financial resources to cover the expenses. Osteen himself has made so much money that he gave up his annual salary of $200,000 years ago. And, the sole mission of any religion is to save people spiritually, to save them from themselves, and to save them from outside forces that attempt to rule their lives. Joel Osteen had a chance to literally save lives by temporarily giving an empty space to the unfortunate lives that he has vowed to serve. He floundered. Terribly.
These are actual Houstonians.
This man says all the right things. After the rains had nearly stopped, he promptly stood in front of a news camera and explained that his church doors were never locked and that he had reservations to proffering the stadium to the public because of potential flooding problems at the church. That explanation sounds great until you put it against the actions of Jim McIngvale, a local Houston businessman. “Mattress Mack” immediately opened the doors of his business to the drowning public and began pulling stock from the back of the building to accommodate stranded Houstonians. He let flood victims drenched in rainwater sit, rest, and sleep on the merchandise that he purchased with the intent of selling at a profit to the community. McIngvale displayed the type of heart that a man of service should have despite actually being a businessman while the man who took a vow of service sat idly by as flood waters assaulted Houston area homes.
The problem with Joel Osteen is that money has become more important to him than the people who give their hard-earned dollars to him. The problem is that Lakewood Church has become a symbol of potential service rather than a vehicle of actual service. How can a man who has a private jet and a 10.5M dollar home fail to offer shelter to the people of his community in a building that is completely empty? How can a man who publicly claims to be a leader of Christianity leave the homeless on the streets in crisis? That man can do those things if he is motivated by something other the service and love that he is pedaling to the masses. Joel Osteen is a fraud.