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Joel Osteen and the Gimli Glider

Joel Osteen Credit: Faith Commons

Joel Osteen Credit: Faith Commons

On August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey landed in Texas. Houston was badly damaged, and one of the casualties was Lakewood Church and its pastor Joel Osteen. One of the biggest news stories from Hurricane Harvey was the pastor’s refusal to let victims of the storm shelter in the church building.

This may sound strange, but I think I agree with Joel Osteen. If you are wondering, I live very far from Houston, in Canada, and no one asked me to write this.

These are some of my reasons:

  1. Disaster management includes shelter that is designed for occupation. A huge church is not a dormitory and it may put people at risk. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and people moved into a covered stadium. It was unsanitary, the police lost control, and criminals moved in with guns. People had to be rescued by force from the shelter.
  2. Feel-good self-serving charity is always wrong. Victims need useful help; donors don’t need a reward. I once managed a charity “mission” in a big city, and one day a woman drove up with a car full of old newspapers. She said they were for the homeless men to read, and she drove away looking proud and happy. I knew the men needed warm socks and sandwiches and I threw the papers in the garbage.
  3. No religion wants sacred places converted to dormitories. Church, mosque, synagogue, temple, shrine, ashram or pagoda; no one wants that. Houston has many worship places, and they were not all criticized for failing to become dormitories. The criticism was all focused on one church and one pastor.
  4. The parking lot was probably more valuable than the building. A large paved area could be a helicopter landing pad, a staging area for vehicles like trucks, ambulances, and buses, and possibly a site for an emergency medical unit. A two-hour bus ride and a motel room in another city are better than a night in the bleachers.
  5. The church would be open to lawsuits, real or fake, and would suffer damage, probably uninsured. If I was on the board of Lakewood Church, I would vote no.
  6. Christian kindness is always personal; given by us, not them. If a disaster hits your area, do you have a spare bedroom or a couch someone could sleep on? Could you offer someone a ride or buy them a cup of coffee? We can never unload our responsibilities and our feelings of guilt on some bug church somewhere.

That’s what I think; so what went wrong?

A decision was made in a storm. “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” It’s another Gimli Glider.

I train commercial drivers, and I know they will make a bad decision just before an impact. Panic twenty seconds out is a tragic accident. A crisis plan, like a fire drill, needs to be made before it is needed.

Gimli is a small town north of Winnipeg, in Canada, with a closed Air Force base converted to a drag strip.

In 1983, the metric system was new in Canada and someone put half of the fuel needed into a Boeing 767 because of confusion with measurement. The flight was from Montreal to Edmonton, a huge distance, and the plane was doomed. In that crisis, the pilot was able to glide safely onto the drag strip with no engine power. The story became a movie: Gimli Glider

The bad news is, next time, the plane will crash and everyone will die. On-the-spot crisis control is always dangerous.

If you have reasons to criticize Joel Osteen, remember, he is us. I don’t know any place of worship, in any religion, that is ready for a disaster; and the critics and haters are always ready to pounce. The world today powered by Internet gossip, with lawsuits, insurance claims, and fraud. I don’t know what hurts worse, the lawsuits or the slander.

This was reality for the first Christians:

You, however, have observed my teaching, my conduct, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, and the sufferings that came upon me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:10 to 13)

Crisis planning and management is a professional skill, and I don’t want to oversimplify here, but Christian churches are easy targets these days. Already, one large church in my city has gone under because of fraud; the building is now a community center. They didn’t see it coming.

And doing good is a skill that comes with planning and practice. It is the persistent work of a lifetime.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6: 9 and 10)

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