Famed pastor Joel Osteen faced a wave of backlash this week when his church of pastoral residency waited until Tuesday to open its doors to victims of Hurricane Harvey, but Osteen has summed up the ordeal saying he feels "at peace."
Lakewood Church -- a massive Christian worship space that sits 16,000 and claims 38,00 members -- has been Osteen's religious home since 1999, and his televised sermons are seen by over 7 million viewers each week. When Hurricane Harvey blasted its way through Houston and the greater Texas area this past Monday, Lakewood remained closed to victims and evacuees, citing flooding as the reason. The prominent spiritual leader was then slammed with criticism over the massive venue's continued closure -- but Osteen says he's not worried about vocal attackers.
"You know, I'm not really concerned about the Twitter critics," Osteen told ET on Thursday. "We're concerned with these people [victims now at the church] and how they move forward. And there were safety issues that people don't understand. But, I really believe that if people were in my shoes, they would have done the same thing. When the building is clear, when it's safe, we can start taking people. That's what we have done for 60 years. We love helping people and that's what our message is all about."
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One day after the initial drama aimed at Osteen exploded on social media, Lakewood opened its doors to Houston residents displaced by the deadly storm.
Since that initial Twitter post, the church has posted a series of heartwarming images of volunteers, victims and Joel Osteen's own wife, Victoria, in the middle of triage.
"Everyone coming together to help those impacted by Harvey with supplies and to volunteer has been incredible," Victoria Osteen wrote on Thursday. "Thank you!"
Osteen in many ways symbolizes a southern, prosperous Christian identity that some Americans have found fault with throughout the years. Known for his massive mansion, iconically well-tailored navy suit and best-selling book, "Your Best Life Now," Osteen proudly touts a positive relationship with the "blessing" of wealth. When his home city was swept up in the greatest natural disaster the Lonestar State has faced in recent U.S. history, closed doors only added to this negative storyline of critique.
Despite the naysayers and adverse Twitter users, Osteen reflected on the past week admitting what could have been done differently, but also focused on the future.
"Knowing what I know now, I would have put staff in here before the storm hit, put beds, do everything we could to be prepared," the pastor told ET. "When it catches us by surprise, even when the cities overflow and, you know, nobody dreams that shelters will overflow. ... Hindsight, it's 20/20, but we got to move forward and do what we've done for the last 60 years and take care of these people, help them rebuild their lives, bring hope to their spirits and let them know that they can come out of this stronger than before."
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