News that famed evangelist Joel Osteen is resigning from the church because of a "lack of faith" broke online Monday but it turns out the head of Houston's Lakewood Church has been the victim of an elaborate Internet hoax.
An unidentified hoaxer created a fake website, Twitter account, and YouTube video (below), which all trumpeted the news that Osteen, 50, had decided to leave Christianity.
"Many people want more answers and are asking why I did this," read a statement on the fictitious website
. "I have one, simple response: I have come to realize my followers have begun to deify me and listen to me, and not God. This, among other reasons, led me down a path of awakening."
The site links out to supposed Osteen interviews with seemingly legitimate news sites — Christianity News Texas — but a closer look reveals that these "sites" are simply blogs designed to look like reputable media organizations.
"I believe now that the Bible is a fallible, flawed, highly inconsistent history book that has been altered hundreds of times," the fake Osteen website says. "There is zero evidence the Bible is the holy word of God. In fact, there is zero evidence 'God' even exists."
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A YouTube video announcing Osteen's decision to leave the ministry features screen shots of bogus CNN and Drudge Report headlines: "Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ" and "Osteen: I am no longer a Christian." The clip has drawn more than 53,000 views since it was posted last week, and many of the commenters are unaware that it is all part of a hoax.
"It is true, I just checked his blog: joelostenministries and even he admits it," one poster said. "Sad but true!"
Osteen's Lakewood Church said it is aware of the hoax, according to church representatives, but declined to say whether it was considering legal action.
If Osteen were to sue for libel or slander, he may have a difficult legal fight ahead, one Houston attorney said.
"There are protections for parody and satire, but the issue is whether a reasonable person would believe that the publication was indeed satirical, or a parody of something," attorney Charles Babcock told the Houston Chronicle. "The question is whether things being put out about the church could be deemed as defamatory."
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