By Jennifer Brett and Shelia M. Poole
Megachurch leader and author Joel Osteen, currently trending on Twitter amid a social media firestorm over whether his enormous Houston church should be housing storm refugees, spoke to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in June, ahead of a planned appearance at SunTrust Park in Cobb County.
"My prayer, my encouragement, is let's each be a peacemaker, " Osteen told AJC reporter Shelia Poole at the time. "I think it starts on the individual basis, one on one. Can I befriend somebody?Can I be a part of a solution and not the problem?"
Osteen is coming in for both criticism and support amid Hurricane Harvey aftermath, with many demanding to know why his church, a former NBA arena, isn't operating as a storm shelter. Photos posted from the scene indicate flooding at the church site, although other photos and video clips suggest the church hasn't been damaged.
In a statement released on Osteen's behalf, a church spokesman said Lakewood would be prepared to accommodate those fleeing the floods, should other shelter facilities exceed capacity. Osteen posted a link to a message seeking monetary donations and encouraging people to register to volunteer.
During the June interview (when no one could imagine Houston would be underwater in two months) Osteen struck a chord of unity: "We're never going to all agree on everything, but I think we can still treat each other with respect."
He was in town to promote an "America's Night of Hope" appearance that had been planned for Sept. 30.
"It's an uplifting evening. It's fun for the people that are 'churched' but it's really aimed at people that weren't raised in the church like me," he said at the time. "I'm a preacher's kid -- grown up in all this -- but try to gear to maybe people that, this is a little bit new to them. Part of it is coming to a baseball arena too, maybe their defenses are down a little bit."
He referred to "Night of Hope" as an inspirational event, rather than a religious event.
"It's not about converting people to my religion. I'm taking about having a relationship with God, " he said then. ""I want to inspire them to be closer in their walk with the Lordand, I think, I want to inspire them to let go of negative baggage. Sometimes people are just carrying around the mistakes that they've made. I let them know that today is a new day. You can't do anything about the past except maybe learn from it."
The event has since been canceled. Organizers cited technical problems.