As criticism continues to swirl around Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen for not immediately opening church doors to Hurricane Harvey evacuees, several other faith leaders have shared their thoughts on the controversy.
As reported, on Saturday, Osteen wrote on social media that he was praying for the safety of those affected by the flooding. A day later, he said the church, which is housed in the 16,000-seat former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets basketball team, was "inaccessible" due to "severe flooding."
The backlash on social media was swift, with several people re-posting images online refuting that Lakewood Church had been affected by Harvey. However, on Tuesday morning, the church opened its doors, housing hundreds of Hurricane Harvey victims and serving as a donation center for supplies.
"The idea that we wouldn't receive people - we've been here in this community for 60 years," Osteen told Chris Cuomo Wednesday on CNN's "New Day," adding that: "We've always been open . . . How this notion got started, that we're not a shelter and we're not taking people in is a false narrative."
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, told Charisma News that Osteen "has a big heart" and praised the church for opening its doors when it could.
"I think [Lakewood's] doing the right thing," Jeffress says. "It takes a little bit of time-especially when you're right in the middle of the disaster like Lakewood Church is-to formulate the best way to help people. I thought it was an unfair criticism."
Israel Houghton, former Lakewood worship leader of 15 years, told TMZ that Osteen is the "real deal" on and off stage.
"Every time there's been a natural disaster in Houston, Lakewood has always been on the forefront of helping out and this is not gonna be any exception," Houghton said, adding that parts of the church were indeed flooded.
"They were criticizing out of ignorance we know the whole story. The bottom floor of Lakewood was in danger of being flooded. Now that it receded, everybody's good," Houghton said.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also defended Lakewood on Fox News.
"We've gone through this, one year ago our church was a relief center. Look, it's chaotic in the first 72 hours and who knows what happened," Perkins said. "I can tell you the heart of Joel Osteen is to help people so I can't believe that that would be true."
However, popular internet preacher and leader of Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, Greg Locke, wasn't quite as charitable.
"Joel Osteen, as a Pastor you have a huge obligation to show the love of Christ at this very moment. OPEN THE DOORS. #HoustonStrong," Locke tweeted.
In a video later shared on Facebook, Locke said he believes it was the social media outrage that forced the eventual opening of Lakewood.
"People are coming out saying, 'Oh, why would a fellow pastor lambaste another fellow pastor. He doesn't have all the facts. Yes, we do have all the facts. Do you know why there are busloads of people at Lakewood Church right now? Because of the media firestorm," Locke asserted.
"The tweet was only 24 hours ago. Are you gonna tell me that all the water in the building completely assuaged and went away and the entire building was cleaned up so that now they can take refugees? No. It was just as clean then. They're only doing this to save face because of the media firestorm," he continued. "They can do with their building what they will, but don't lie to us about it. At the end of the day, I really hope and pray they help a lot of people. But no, I'm not going to apologize for the tweet because megachurches shouldn't have to be shamed into helping their community."
He also explained he wasn't out to "lambaste" Osteen.
"I wasn't lambasting him, I wasn't saying anything trashy about Lakewood Church. It was a simple tweet. That's it. I was merely asking the man to do what was right throughout his community. Let's be honest about it folks, if I'm really going to say some things against Joel Osteen, it'll have very little to do with Hurricane Harvey and a whole lot more to do with not what he preaches but rather what he refuses to preach," Locke said.
Meanwhile, Osteen said that he's not too concerned about the criticism his church received: "We don't run our lives by what happens on Twitter," he said. "Many of those people, some of them possibly, don't care for us. They're in another state, they're not in our shoes where you can't necessarily open your building when it's very close to flooding itself."
He added that at the end of the day, the church is dedicated to their mission to serve and love others and God.
"I just feel like when you do what you're called to do, you're always going to have critics, but we just keep moving forward and helping people," Osteen said. "That's what Lakewood is all about."