Religion can be a way for the world to use a set of morals and ethics to right the wrongs that plague us as a society. Religion can also be one of the dividing facts that forces us to confront our different identities and struggle between people. When religious institutions interact with the world around them, they have to do all the ycan to be the soldiers of peace and the workers who bring on the love and kindness that they preach within their walls.
This was the opportunity that Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas, was given this past week. With the devastation and destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, the church, ran by televangelist Joel Osteen, had the opportunity to provide the kind of support and compassion that we admire about houses of worship. Instead, they turned down the opportunity to do some good for the world, instead looking out for their selfish interests.
When the weather began to turn and things started to look back, Lakewood Church did nothing to help prepare for the storm, claiming later that the city never asked them to do so. When flooding was ruining the homes of many of their worshipers and community members, Lakewood claimed to be flooded, a fact that was, at least at some level, disproven. Only after a social media nightmare descended upon them did they finally open their doors to serve those who needed a place to stay warm, safe, and dry.
I’m sure there was some degree of flooding going on at the church, and that uncertainty makes decisions about the best course of action difficult. I’m sure that, on some level, the church sees their building as an essential part of the work that they do, and damage to it could cripple their ability to make an impact on the lives of their parishioners later on. Yet, when all is said and done, there was an opportunity for Lakewood Church to put into action their claims of charity and caring, and they failed.
I’ve seen the way that the church operates. This summer, on a visit to the world-famous church, I saw them collect hundreds of thousands of dollars, saw them preach about what it means to have God look after you, telling congregants that God wants them to be happy and successful. Now, in this time of struggle and challenge, the church should have been offering the hand up that they promised would arrive. God wasn’t going to swoop in and save these people, the church was. Yet they chose not to.
I am profoundly disappointed by a religious institution’s refusal to take action at a time when their people were struggling so mightily. I have no idea what it must be like to lead a congregation when property is being destroyed, livelihoods are being taken away, lives are being lost. Yet, I know it doesn’t look like this. Religion is the opportunity to give people hope in times like this. Religion teaches us that we are to take care of one another, to pool our resources and ensure that everyone has what they need. Religion would never allow the selfishness and pettiness of turning your back on a situation demanding attention.
I’m unwilling to say that Joel Osteen is cruel or evil. His church means an incredible amount to many people, and he has given many people a place to call their own. Today, though, is a day of sadness, knowing that there was an opportunity for a brave, strong act of faith, love, and compassion, and that those with the resources to fix it chose to allow things to run their course.
It is now up to us, as all Americans, to do what Lakewood Church wouldn’t. We have to figure out what the people of Houston need, and do everything we can to provide for them. For when people cry out to God for help, it is the part of God within each of us that must reach out and provide that aid. Let the piece of God within you help guide the way.