Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen has responded after coming under fire from the media for allegedly refusing to open church doors to Hurricane Harvey evacuees and called such reports "false narrative."
"We're housing hundreds of people that have been displaced by the flooding. All day today and yesterday, we've been receiving supplies," Osteen told CNN's Chris Cuomo, adding that he wasn't sure "how this notion got started that we're not a shelter and we're not taking people," calling it a "false narrative."
The trouble began on Sunday after the megachurch posted on social media, "Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding!"
The secular media and Twitter users were quick to criticize Osteen, arguing the church should have been opened sooner.
"Joel Osteen's Church Was Fully Accessible During Harvey, Neighboring Hotel's Biz Was Booming," claimed a TMZ headline.
"He'll offer thoughts and prayers, but Joel Osteen won't open his $50M church that could hold 16,800 people in Houston area," tweeted Shannon Watts.
However, speaking to Cuomo, Osteen explained that the church was indeed "inaccessible due to severe flooding."
"The church has always been open, we've received shelter victims the first day or two," Osteen said. "There was a time, Chris, that the place was flooded. There was a safety issue the first day or two. ... We would never put people in here until we know that it's safe, and it was not safe those days, let me tell you."
He later reiterated to CBS: "Our doors have always been open. We receive people even as soon as the water started receding. We worked with the city constantly. The city set up a shelter about four miles from here that can house 10,000 people, showers, dormitories, kitchens, security, all that. They didn't need us as a shelter at that point. They wanted us to be a distribution center."
Osteen admitted that the criticism "probably helped us to step up some things, to do it faster... maybe next time we would be a shelter before" the storm.
Lakewood Church members also jumped to Osteen's defense, sharing pictures inside the church that showed extensive flooding.
"Seriously quite sickening when people spread negative news without knowing the situation. This is the situation of our church @lakewoodch," tweeted church member Lynne Gabriel.
Gabriel later shared photos of both Joel and his wife, Victoria, assisting volunteers in handing out food and supplies to evacuees.
Another member shared a photo of the Lakewood Church steps covered in members waiting to help those affected by the hurricane.
Lakewood Church also tweeted a video of dozens of volunteers sorting through supplies.
"Thank you Houston! We appreciate the volunteers who came out today to help so many people displaced by Hurricane Harvey," reads the caption.
Donald Iloff, church spokesman, told CNN that the bottom floor of the building flooded eight feet during Tropical Storm Alison in 2001 and they had safety concerns of what might happen if they sheltered people in the building.
"When it floods, it floods in a torrent. And it floods quickly. We installed floodgates, but you know, you have to have a lot of faith in those if you are going to put a lot of people into the building.
"So we had concerns, you know. From the very beginning as far as the safety of people in this building and that was too great a concern for us," he said.
He added, "The Twitter critics don't determine who we are or what we do. We're going to act as we should act. They have nothing to do with our mission."