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Joel Osteen: Millionaire televangelist under attack for closing Houston church doors during Hurricane Harvey

Social media users criticise the 16,000 seat Lakewood church which insists it as ‘never' closed its doors

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Tuesday 29 August 2017 14:25 BST
Footage shows dramatic rescues in Houston after Hurricane Harvey flooding

Millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen has come under fire for offering prayers to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, but closing the doors of his 16,000 seat megachurch in downtown Houston.

According to the church's Facebook page, the building became “inaccessible due to severe flooding”.

But pictures on social media showed clear roads around the building, which was once home to the Houston Rockets basketball team. Others pointed out that mosques in the area had kept their doors open.

Mr Osteen had earlier written on Facebook that he and his wife and fellow pastor, Victoria, were “praying for everyone effected” by the hurricane.

Others had questioned why the couple had not opened their $10m (£7.7m) mansion nearby.

However, Mr Osteen’s father-in-law and church spokesman, Donald Iloff told CNN: “We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution centre to those in need."

The church has since revealed photos showing standing water inside the building, and said it will open its doors to be a donation centre and to help displaced people.

Lakewood church started life as a feed store in 1959. It now has a reported $70m a year budget.

The church into the sports stadium 12-years ago, because of the size of its gathering, which was around 30,000 people – the largest congregation in the US at the time.

The lease and refurbishment of the stadium, which holds 16,000 people, cost the church $95m (£73m) shortly after the move.

The Christian Post reported last year that it is still the largest church in America on a single site, with a weekly attendance of 52,000.

Mr Osteen reportedly has no theological training and instead learned to preach from his father, John, who he assisted for 17 years. After his father died in 1999, Mr Osteen took over the church’s congregation of 5,000 and grew it to 28,000 in the space of a year.

The Texan’s form of preaching has been criticised in the past as being light on theological teachings.

“When they say we’re light, all they have to do is come one week and attend a service," he told The Independent in 2005. "We talk about forgiveness and deal with all those issues

“A lot of churches have not moved with the times. If Jesus were here today he wouldn’t be riding around on a donkey. He’d be taking a plane, he’d be using the media,” he added.

The televangelist has a reported audience of seven million viewers for his TV sermons across the world and has an estimated net worth of more than $50m (35m), according to the MailOnline.

His website claims that each week his sermons are broadcast across every US television market and into more than 100 nations across the world. The sermons are also live-streamed online and followers can also listen to Mr Osteen’s own podcast.

But his personal wealth has not come from the church for many years and instead stems from his book sales.

Speaking to Forbes in 2009, Mr Osteen said: “I don’t mind saying, you know, that I don’t take a salary from the church, and God has blessed me with more money than I could imagine from my books.”

His first publication, ‘Your Best Life Now’, was a New York Times best seller and sold more than five million copies. His second book, ‘Become A Better You’ reportedly earned him $13m (£10m).

He has published at least seven books and has said he lives off the royalties he earns from them.

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