(Posted originally on Facebook)
So last night I was really heated, and made a rare outburst on Facebook about Lakewood Church and the Osteens. I did leave room for correction and change for the facts I did not possess but sternly voiced my anger towards their passive response. After a day has passed and further details have come forward, and as I have had time to reflect what truly is at the core of my chastising of Lakewood church, a deeper issue has emerged that I feel that I need to share.
As of today, Houston has recorded over 50 inches of rain (a continental record from a single storm), and is still expecting to have rain all the way through Friday. Over 3,500 people have been rescued by emergency personnel and 30 people have been confirmed dead due to this tragedy. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/us/hurricane-harvey-storm-flooding.html) What we’re seeing is Hurricane Harvey is fast become the next Hurricane Katrina.
Current estimates indicate that 30,000 people are displaced from their homes, along with over 300,000 without power. The main shelter in Houston is the George R Brown Convention Center, which has a seating capacity of 3,600. The Red Cross is managing the shelter and have managed to fit 5,000 beds in this shelter, but as of tonight, over 10,000 people are seeking shelter there. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/inside-houston-convention-center-harvey-evacuees-double-capacity/story?id=49487937)
Jim McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture, opened up his two stores to shelter 400 people at the risk of losing all of his inventory. (http://insider.foxnews.com/2017/08/29/furniture-store-opens-doors-shelter-harvey-victims) And according to the Washington Post, David Mcdougle, the youth pastor of First Baptist Church was called by the fire department if the church could be used as a shelter. While his own house was starting to flood, he and his wife opened up the church and coordinated the sheltering of 300 people, which doubled its safety code of 150 max occupancy. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/thousands-pile-into-makeshift-shelters-big-and-small-across-texas/2017/08/28/01d3216a-8c0c-11e7-91d5-ab4e4bb76a3a_story.html).
Joel Osteen’s church announced on Sunday that their venue was “inaccessible” and encouraged shelter seekers to find alternative locations. Pictures later came out to show that at least the bottom parking lot had standing water, and I saw unconfirmed photos of inside showing water damage. In my first statement prior to this information came out, I said that “inaccessible” better be referring strictly to a safety risk and no other, and it appears that there is at least the concern of there to have been a safety risk. Other rationales have tried to explain that the 16,000 seat venue is not suitable for shelter, but that is nullified since Lakewood did end up opening its doors for shelter this morning thus proving it had capacity and the safety issues were either unfounded or conditions changed to now make it suitable.
So what is the big deal here? Well as for the immediate issue, it is primarily has been resolved, in that there appears to be justification for delaying shelter access and now Lakewood is in a position to accommodate in house shelter relief.
But what I was enraged about yesterday is stemming from a deeper place. To take this one step into it, their whole narrative was completely inappropriate. Since the severe flooding started to accumulate, Lakewood made two public posts leading up to last night: One to notify the inaccessibility of their facility and where to find help, and the other to express their remorse and heartbreak for the devastation. To boil this all down, the narrative was this “This is terrible; we feel heartbroken; we can’t use our resources; go look to others for help.” But Lakewood has been working to use their resources but were not in a position to, so why couldn’t they’ve made an easy but absolutely critical change in their narrative that went like this: “This is terrible; we feel heartbroken; we can’t use our resources YET; in the meantime these are who are currently ready and we will work with them until we can accommodate.”
Why this is important is the previous narrative is one that lacks personal responsibility. It says, “Hey don’t look to me! I’m struggling too! Stop demanding what I’m not in a position or willing to give, go over there, they’re the ones you need to go for help. If we can assist, great, but I’m not responsible here.” That is not a message that conveys hope that they are willing to struggle with those who are devastated right now, it conveys an attitude that it is an inconvenience and distraction from their main work.
And that leads to the core of my issue with this whole thing. I thought of that contrast in narratives last night and as I was driving to work this morning, I thought about why was that all so upsetting for me. Why is it important that the lack of sacrificial survice is not present in their narrative from my point of view? That is when I realized that it stems from what I actually now know to be a core belief that they have in this current time.
Joel Osteen and Lakewood CC are easy to criticize because they teach what is commonly referred to as “prosperity gospel” which is the narrative that deep faith and trust in God yield’s an abundance of God’s blessing, to the point that even material wealth is commonly described. It opens the door for criticism that it is trying to preach positive psychology while only wrapped with the cover of Christianity. Joel Osteen’s counter to these accusations is that he is a low-barrier-entry for the average American to encounter God through the prevailing language of today’s age, and the numbers do not lie in that his church is the largest church in America and has a weekly attendance of over 43,000 schweizer-apotheke.de.
What all this has to do with their approach to responding to Hurricane Harvey is that at the core of it all, they do not believe that this current devastation is their responsibility. For them, everything needs about blessings and hope, not pain and suffering. Right now, everything is chaotic and they’re already incurring issues in their venue is not in excellent condition, and if they open up their facility without all the proper checkups, their building is going to look like the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, which was nasty and needed almost $200 million dollars in repairs. This is a fundamental problem form Lakewood since again, they’re about blessings and hope; they’re supposed to be a shining light on the hill that gives hope to the broken. When the waters recede, and life returns to “normal,” Lakewood needs to be there to bring people into wonderful worship services and be inspired by the Osteens as they share God’s hope for them. They need to have classrooms available to have places to grieve, or to be taught how to make a home insurance claim. All that is in jeopardy if they don’t act with conservative action during this time. Others resources can deal with the immediate danger, and they’ll be ready to pick up the pieces afterward.
Just when I thought maybe my bias was shaping this narrative for me, I came across this quote from Don Iloff, an official spokesperson of Lakewood Church was in an interview today and this is what was reported:
“He believes Lakewood Church is perfectly situated to help people in the community pick up the pieces of their life after the waters recede — and that this was always the plan.
“Where we really focus our efforts … is on the aftermath of this thing,” he said. “We’re going to be dealing with this for years to come. This is when peoples’ lives need to be put back together.”
But here’s the thing, that is not the attitude you should be having right now!! This is it! This is the moment where people need light and hope! It’s like they’re in the parable of The Good Samaritan and they’re saying “When that man gets back from the hospital, we’ll have just the class for him to get back on his feet.” No, the man is dying now! Stop your journey, roll up your sleeves, carry the cost, and don’t worry about tomorrow, you have today and people need you today. I hold Lakewood to a higher standard for a few reasons: they are probably the most influential and powerful church in America, this is happening in their local community, and they’re making business decisions in the time of crisis. I see them helping, but not to a degree that matches the severity of the situation.
Now I’ve already been questioned on who am I to “judge” or to criticize others, to see if I’m just trolling who isn’t willing to raise finger to help but only to point at others. But let’s just clear something up about that. First off, I have already given to The Red Cross and am currently pulling from my own funding towards my long-term investing account to further assist a former youth pastor of mine, who is part of a team from TN who next week are heading to Houston to provide relief. But hey, let’s just take it a step further. I had to pull from my long-term plans to make this happen because I’m a fresh out of college graduate who still only has a part-time job and brings in $400/wk before rent, student loans and insurance. But this week in particular made my funding depleted because last Friday is when my monthly $300 in donations go out to the following charities: Charity Water, Compassion, New Horizons, The Restoration House, International Rescue Committee, Delancey Street, Education for Employment, Northwest Family Church, and Zidisha.
I have made supplying those who directly serve part of my life and have a long-term perspective towards helping people that I call this “Social Investing.” I’m an investor in people, and you can read all about this if you’d like, I wrote a whole blog post about this here: https://grantxstorer.com/2016/07/desensationalized-giving-the-beginning-of-social-investing/
So no, Being up here in Seattle, I’m nowhere near Houston and in no capacity to be of useful physical service in Houston. But I can dig deeper into my constrained finances to give what I have to assist those who have physical and human capital available to help those in need. I expect Lakewood to exceed my short-term sacrifice.