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Who is Joel Osteen, and why is everyone criticizing him?

The TV pastor ran aground for not offering his cavernous megachurch as a Hurricane Harvey shelter.
Who Is Joel Osteen
Photo: Getty Images

The Houston-based TV pastor Joel Osteen ran into controversy this weekend, for claiming his 16,800-seat megachurch, Lakewood Church, housed in the former Houston Rockets Stadium, was "inaccessible" and not able to accept evacuees from areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

What the Lakewood Church controversy was about

On Sunday, after Hurricane Harvey dumped feet of rain on Houston and tens of thousands of people were displaced, a message was posted on Lakewood Church's Facebook account saying that the building as "inaccessible due to severe flooding" and posted photos showing standing water in the hallways, but no pictures of the sanctuary or stadium seating.

Many Twitter users, led by a Washington D.C. writer and Army veteran, didn't buy it, and lambasted Joel Osteen for not offering the cavernous space as a shelter — thereby glossing over a fairly basic definition of a church as … a shelter.

On Tuesday, Osteen appeared on NBC's "Today" show to say that the building "had always been open" and that he didn't publicly offer it earlier because the city "didn't ask". Later that day, Osteen tweeted that the church was "open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter."

Church spokesman Donald Iloff said the building hadn't opened earlier because it had flooded eight feet during a previous storm, and there were concerns about it happening again with evacuees in the building.

Who is Joel Osteen?

Joel Osteen, 54, is the pastor of Lakewood Church, which was started by his father, John, in the 1950s. Joel, who worked behind the scenes at the church, reluctantly started preaching after the elder Osteen's death in 1999.

His weekly 30-minute TV show, "Joel Osteen," is seen by 7 million people each week. He has written seven New York Times bestsellers since 2004, including "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential" and "You Can, You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner." Arizona Sen. John McCain says Osteen is his favorite inspirational author.

He's married to Victoria Osteen and has two children, Jonathan and Alexandra. His net worth was over $56 million as of 2002, and he lives with his family in a $10.5 million home.

What Joel Osteen believes

Joel Osteen's sermons are often more reminiscent of an inspirational speaker than a traditional TV preacher. They're consistently positive in tone and avoid discussion of sin and punishment.

Osteen refuses to preach about, or generally discuss, controversial issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and politics. When asked, he has said that he is opposed to same-sex marriage and that homosexuality is a sin, but that he likes gay people and welcomes them to his church. His sermons depict a God that is loving and inclusive.

Osteen has been criticized for preaching the "prosperity gospel," claiming that material gain is a reward for good Christians. Osteen does not deny that characterization and defends it.

Joel Osteen has abs

Or had them fairly recently. In 2012, Osteen caused a social-media stir after Us Weekly ran photos of him body-boarding, displaying a God-given six-pack. "Megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen's 'Healthy' Physique Stuns Public," gasped an article in the "Christian Post." Even TMZ weighed in with the straight-to-the-point headline "Joel Osteen Shirtless -- Good God, He's RIPPED!!!"

 
 
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