Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen has come under withering criticism for not opening his church to Hurricane Harvey victims until after he was shamed into it. Fortunately, his Fox Friends were happy to serve up some unquestioning rehab.
In a scathing op-ed for The New York Times, religious studies professor Anthea Butler explained what the outrage is all about.
Before it began to rain in Houston last week, the spectacularly wealthy pastor Joel Osteen could have opened up his megachurch to serve as a logistics center. He could have announced that evacuees were welcome to take shelter there when Hurricane Harvey landed. Instead he wrote tweets like “God’s got this” and “don’t drift into doubt and fear … stay anchored to hope.” Only a couple of his posts on Twitter offered “prayers.”
On Sunday, Mr. Osteen’s church announced that it was inaccessible because of “flooding.” But intrepid journalists proved otherwise. After Mr. Osteen was humiliated on social media, he finally opened the 16,800-seat church to the public on Tuesday. When asked about the delay, Mr. Osteen said that “the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter.”
Butler also noted how Osteen and Trump are mirrors of each other. Sarah Posner, writing in Rolling Stone, came to a similar conclusion.
When Osteen visited Fox & Friends Wednesday, his PR problem got the Trump treatment: i.e. presented from one, Osteen-friendly side, only.
Cohost Brian Kilmeade set the mood before Osteen had even opened his mouth. In his introduction, Kilmeade called the Osteen criticism an “unbelievably ridiculous, mean-spirited story” about “a guy who’s always positive.” Kilmeade’s first words to Osteen were, “Great to see you, Joel. I wish it was better circumstances.”
Osteen just happened to be standing in front of a relief operation at his now-open church.
Osteen’s explanation was a bit suspect. First, he suggested people shouldn’t have expected his church to take in Harvey victims because there’s a big shelter nearby. That is, if you consider "maybe four miles" away as "nearby" in the middle of the worst flooding on record:
OSTEEN: The church doors have always been open. We took people in as soon as the waters receded. There’s a big shelter just down the street, maybe four miles where they have thousands and thousands of people.
Then, Osteen walked back the “flooded church” excuse, even as undated B-roll footage of flooding was shown. It was later identified as having been provided to Fox by Osteen.
OSTEEN: [Critics] don’t realize that the church was flooded - or the church flooded before, in 2001. And there was a point, during the heavy rains, where it was just one foot from breaching our floodgates. If we didn’t have those floodgates, we wouldn’t be here right now.
In other words, the church did not flood.
Predictably, not a single host questioned a word.
Instead, cohost Ainsley Earhardt slobbered over Osteen as if he were Trump.
EARHARDT: Gosh, I mean, you’re an amazing man. I watch you on Sundays. Your messages are always positive and happy and you have so much love for other people, and when you hear this negativity and you hear people saying that your church is closed, clearly it’s not. … We just showed pictures that you actually sent us inside your Church. What do you want to say to the critics?
Osteen claimed, “I don’t pay much attention” to the critics. “You just keep moving forward. Life’s too short to let that negative get in,” he said. “Social media’s powerful these days, and I think some of it is just people that don’t like people like me or people of faith.”
But if it weren’t for social media, it seems doubtful that Osteen would have done much more than pray for the Harvey victims (and continue to rake in the dough).
Watch Earhardt slobber over a megarich pastor who had to be shamed into helping his fellow Houstonians below, from the August 30, 3017 Fox & Friends.