Famed televangelist Joel Osteen may not be losing his religion, but he is the target of an elaborate hoax attempting to discredit the powerful megachurch leader and "motivate him to talk about more serious subjects."
The plan was put into motion on April 1, NPR reports. The scheme included a fake church website, www.JoelOstenMinistries.com, which looks almost identical to the real website but misspells Osteen's last name as "Osten." A fake Twitter account (now suspended) and a YouTube video for the (fictional) Christianity News service also surfaced.
The video clip includes images of fake headlines from news sites such as CNN, Drudge Report, The Christian Broadcasting Network and Yahoo! All the articles in the video include headlines with messages like, "Pastor resigns, cites 'doubt about Christ."
A fake statement released on JoelOstenMinistries.com reads in part:
[...] For a number of years now, I have been questioning the faith, Christianity and whether Jesus Christ is really my, or anyone's, 'savior'.
I believe now that the Bible is a fallible, flawed, highly inconsistent history book that has been altered hundreds of times. There is zero evidence the Bible is the holy word of God. In fact, there is zero evidence "God" even exists.
Within days, Osteen's "announcement" had attracted a huge amount of attention, and as NPR reports, many people appeared to believe the news.
A representative for Osteen's 45,000-member Lakewood Church in Texas told the Houston Chronicle that it was aware of the "false rumor." And on Monday, Osteen himself responded to the hoax, telling ABC News, “You can’t stop everything from happening, but you can choose to say, ‘God, it’s in your hands’. I’m going to move forward. I’m going stay full of joy and I’m going enjoy this day."
On Monday, The Huffington Post contacted the person who claimed to be behind the websites.
Speaking exclusively with HuffPost on condition of anonymity, the man (who objected to calling the sites a "hoax") said he had carried out the plan partly "to test viral media markets" and partly to make a point.
"I wanted to send Joel a message, to hopefully motivate him to talk about more serious subjects, such as Monsanto, GMOs, the poisons in our food and water, alternative cancer cures," he wrote in an email. "He has a worldwide stage he isn't using to do enough good, but rather he's wafting lightweight sermons peppered with cliches across the Sunday airwaves."
Ultimately, he says, Osteen has failed to use his gift for speaking to really enact meaningful change.
"From a Christian standpoint, I understand why he has come under fire from traditionalists and those who say he preaches 'prosperity gospel.' Ahh, prosperity indeed... for himself!"
"The [website] is real and so are my statements, but I'm having to be somewhat low-key about it. I also don't have access to all of the [websites] we have."
The man ostensibly behind the new interview told HuffPost that he plans to keep the charade going for as long as possible.
"I have legal counsel ready and prepared, but I will relent if the church gets aggressive," he said.
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