Joel Osteen sparked outrage last weekend, with many accusing the preacher of closing the doors of his megachurch during tropical storm Harvey

Pastor Joel Osteen addressed the backlash he faced during Hurricane Harvey from the one place he knows best: the pulpit.

The celebrity televangelist sparked outrage last weekend when he briefly refused to open the doors of his massive Lakewood Church in Houston to victims fleeing Hurricane Harvey’s deadly rising floodwaters. During the church’s first Sunday service since the storm, the 54-year-old began by clearing his name.

“There’s been so much misinformation about the church these last few days. I want to clarify some things,” he began. Osteen recalled a 2001 storm that left the church under about five feet of water, noting that leaders then installed floodgates in the building (which can hold more than 16,000 people) to prevent future water damage.

The tropical storm touched down Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, dumping punishing rain on the Texas Coastal Bend. Photos of the church showed the floodgates nearly running over with water, but Osteen faced harsh criticism after briefly closing the church, writing on Facebook that the building was,“inaccessible due to severe flooding.”

“Without the floodgates we wouldn’t be here tonight. The water started to recede, I guess, maybe Sunday night — slowly, maybe early Monday morning. And we felt like it was safe to start taking people in Tuesday,” he said. “Had we opened the building sooner and someone got injured — or perhaps the building flooded — and somebody lost their life, that would be a different story.”

Houston Chronicle Newspaper Content
Credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP

He added: “I don’t mind taking the heat for being cautious, but I don’t want to take the heat for being foolish.”

And take the heat he did.

As the destructive storm has consumed headlines, many criticized Osteen on social media, calling the man a “con artist” and referring to the church as a “bank.” He opened the church days after the storm touched down, and many took to the building with donations for evacuees.

In the wake of the controversy, Osteen appeared on the Today show, explaining that the city, which holds several shelters, did not initially need the building — “If we needed to be a shelter, we certainly would’ve been a shelter right when they first asked.”

Osteen condemned the criticism on Sunday, noting that he doesn’t let negative talk get to him.

“It’s easy for people … for somebody from a distance to make judgements without having all the information,” he told the congregation. “Some people that don’t have the facts — and people that don’t wanna have the facts — will continue to try to stir things up.”

He added: “I don’t let any of that social media, I don’t let it bother me one bit. I don’t pay any attention to it. I never read a negative comment. If you let social media run your life, you’ll never fulfill your purpose.”

In the week since Harvey made landfall, thousands of residents in Texas and Louisiana found refuge in shelters across the states. Floodwaters overtook entire neighborhoods, damaging at least 49,000 homes in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. In all, some 785,000 people were part of mandatory evacuations in Texas and Lousiana, and more than 200,000 homes are still without power. Officials are now allowing a portion of evacuees to return to their properties, and the process of rebuilding their homes, and their lives, begins.

At least 30 people have died as a result of the storm.