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The claim: Joel Osteen closed his Lakewood Church to those suffering from cold weather and power outages in Texas
Famed Pastor Joel Osteen is facing criticism on social media for purportedly closing the doors of his Lakewood Church in Houston and not offering shelter to those who are dealing with freezing temperatures and rolling blackouts.
In a Feb. 16 Facebook post, a user wrote, "In Houston, megapastor Joel Osteen not opening his 18,000 seat arena to the freezing homeless." Some versions of that post misspell his name as "Olsteen."
In a similar version of the claim, which has over 400 shares, a user alleged that Osteen received $4.4 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans but did not open his church in Texas to "shelter people freezing to death at his door." Accompanying the post is an image of Osteen's Lakewood Church, which seats thousands of worshippers.
Some users pointed to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when Osteen was similarly accused of refusing to immediately accept evacuees at his church.
"While Texans need heat, food, and shelter, Joel Osteen's church remains closed...just like it did during and after Hurricane Harvey," reads a text post.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook users for comment.
Lakewood Church is open
Osteen did not close the doors of his Lakewood Church; it has remained open to assist those without power and shelter, according to local media reports.
Lakewood Church has had as many as 300 people coming in and out of the building, including those who are homeless and families who are looking to escape the cold, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Church staff are screening attendees for COVID-19 symptoms, as well as requiring masks and maintaining proper social distancing.
Lakewood Church is providing beds, blankets and other needed supplies, and church officials said no one will be turned away, Click2Houston reported.
"If you need a warm place to stay, Lakewood is open. Hundreds arrived last night & more today due to power outages. Staff & volunteers are on site ready to help," Osteen tweeted on Feb. 16. "We have beds, blankets, a hot meal and supplies for those in need. Stay safe, continue to pray for Texas."
The city of Houston also shared on Twitter that the Lakewood Church is open as a center for those needing a warm place.
Lakewood Church was formerly the home of the NBA's Houston Rockets. The church now draws more than 45,000 weekly attendees. Osteen faced backlash in December when it was reported that Lakewood Church received a $4.4 million PPP loan.
This is not the first time social media users have criticized the pastor for allegedly keeping his church shut.
In 2017, Osteen came under fire when the church posted a notice saying the building was closed due to "severe flooding" following Hurricane Harvey, USA TODAY reported.
Osteen refuted the claims that he turned away flooding victims and said that "the church has always been open" and that "we received shelter victims in the first day or two." He added that the church initially flooded and could not immediately open its doors.
Our rating: False
The claim that megachurch pastor Joel Osteen is not allowing Texans without heat and power to shelter in his Lakewood Church in Houston is FALSE, based on our research. Tweets from Osteen, the church and the city of Houston all confirm that the church is open to those needing shelter. Numerous local outlets have also reported on Lakewood opening its doors to residents in Texas.
Our fact-check sources:
- Houston Chronicle, Feb. 16, "Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church opens doors during bitter-cold weather"
- Click2Houston, Feb. 16, "Lakewood Church opens as warming center as millions go without power for days"
- Lakewood Church, Feb. 14, tweet
- City of Houston, Feb. 16, tweet
- Joel Osteen, Feb. 16, tweet
- Joelosteen.com, About Joel
- KTLA5, Dec. 15, 2020, "Pastor Joel Osteen criticized after Houston megachurch receives $4.4 million COVID-19 loan from CARES Act"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 30, 2017, "Joel Osteen: 'We never turn away' Hurricane Harvey flooding victims"
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church is open to Texans amid devastating winter storm