UPDATE: After weathering severe criticism, the church announced that they will open their doors Tuesday at noon. Photos provided to CNN show standing water due to earlier flooding. Several hundred people can be housed on the second floor above the flooding, a spokesman said, once city and county shelters reach capacity.
Which of you, if your brother asks for bread, will give him a stone? If he asks for fish, will hand him a scorpion? Or if he asks for shelter from cataclysmic flooding in your 16,800 seat megachurch arena, conveniently located near downtown Houston, will you send him a tweet?
Joel Osteen, that's which one. The televangelist won't open the doors of his church to the thousands of men, women, and children looking for shelter from Hurricane Harvey.
Plenty of critics have complained, including one man who drove to the Lakewood Church and filmed the high and dry facilities. "I'm a Joel Osteen fan and I am a God-fearing man," Sean Salisbury said in a video posted to Twitter, "but there [are] ways to get here and people right around here are suffering."
Just offer shelter and a dry place for those who need you and want to know you care. .@JoelOsteen those who can't get here still need you! pic.twitter.com/MdHAHWGprR— Sean Salisbury (@SeanUnfiltered) August 28, 2017
The church responded, telling the New York Post that their locked facilities couldn't be reached by flood victims because of flooding, directing them to a nearby convention center instead. But Osteen didn't completely turn his face away. "Jesus promises us peace that passes understanding," the pastor tweeted to his flock before leaving them in the rain. "That's peace when it doesn't make sense."
That statement predictably caught significant heat. A church spokesman later told reporter Ruth Graham that no government official asked them to serve as a shelter like they did during a 2001 tropical storm. No one in need would be turned away, the spokesman insisted, noting that the facility remains open with just a "skeleton staff."
While Osteen appears to be completely hypocritical, his response offers an instructive parable, if only by comparison. As Houston finds itself at its worst, maritime Samaritans from across state lines have risked their lives to help others. That Cajun Navy has done hard things when Osteen doesn't seem able to do something easy.
When Texas dries out, his congregation should ask for a full account of Osteen's inaction.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.