Attacking Joel Osteen for closing Lakewood is stupid

Let me be absolutely clear: I'm no fan of Joel Osteen. I see him as more or less a Tony Robbins type with a Bible, someone who peddles in prosperity gospel and pop-psychology nonsense, and who has made a fortune off of people's gullibility. He also aligns himself with science-denying nutbags likes Franklin Graham. He lives in an absolutely extravagant mansion—something that seems a little un-Christian in light of Matthew 19:24.

But just for once, I'm going to come to his—and his church's—defense. Recently there was a piling on after word got out that Lakewood Church had been closed, despite the fact that it would presumably be an ideal place to house people who've been displaced by the flooding in Houston. Snide keyboard warriors have seized on the opportunity to criticize what they perceive as his hypocrisy. 

Osteen and crew claimed that the church was inaccessible due to flooding. Pictures then floated around the internet showing the streets around the church, and they looked... fine. Just fine. Definitely not flooded. Osteen? More like Booooosteen! Right, guys?!

However, there are a few things that no one seems too eager to consider:

• Even if the streets immediately surrounding the church aren't flooded, and even if the underground parking isn't flooded, that doesn't mean that the roads and highways that people would need to take en masse to get there are not flooded.

• Even assuming that you could get people spread across the city to the church (since, you know, it's a huge building so presumably we're talking thousands of displaced people), that doesn't mean that the church has the resources to take care of that many people. What are they going to eat? Where are they going to sleep?

• It's not like the church staff was hunkering down there. The building was closed and everyone left.

• For all of Osteen's preposterous indulgence, and for all the church's extravagant excess, I'd wager that the church and its huge community do more to help people in need—both in terms of volunteer effort and cash flow—than the self-righteous keyboard warriors who get off on their own misplaced outrage.

For his part, even Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist—certainly not one to pull punches on evangelical hypocrisy—has told people to quit blaming Osteen for closing the church. The church has since been opened to begin taking people in. Hemant also points out,
The church actually has a history of helping people during natural disasters, so it’s not like this is part of a pattern where they turn their backs on their community in a time of need. After a tropical storm in 2001, the church became a shelter for about 5,000 people. And just last year, after local floods in April, Lakewood held a benefit concert with all proceeds going to the Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund.
There are plenty of things to criticize Joel Osteen about. He's a snake oil salesman at best, con artist at worst. But on this one, his critics are wrong. 


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