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A Minneapolis man responsible for an elaborate online hoax purporting pastor Joel Osteen had abandoned his Christian faith is now stepping out of the cybershadows to further what he calls a “media campaign” against the preacher.
“I am the person who created the Joel Osteen ‘resigns’ hoax that resulted in dozens of media stories, TV segments, a million hits in one day on the hoaxed sites alone, 500 frantic phone calls to the Lakewood Church and managed to cause Joel to smile even bigger than usual,” says Justin Tribble, a 31-year-old freelance writer.
“I did it because I wanted to get this guy’s attention and get him to wake up,” he continued.
In a brand-new, personal message to Osteen, Tribble said: “It’s time to get real, Joel. It’s time to put the ‘feel good,’ ‘prosperity gospel’ message and all the platitudes and cliches aside for a second and get serious about real issues. You should be held to a higher standard – but nobody is holding you to that standard.
“I am begging of you, start talking about the real issues in this world and take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Get serious. Take some risks. Get out of the insulated Lakewood social circle full of sycophants who agree with you on everything. I’m not seeing you do much of anything other than flash that big, fat grin on TV.”
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Tribble describes his effort not as a hoax, but rather a “media campaign.”
“[It was] a way to get through and have a dialogue with someone who is essentially inaccessible,” he told ABC News. “I didn’t want to hurt the guy, didn’t want to defame him. … I’m actually a big fan of Joel Osteen. I like him. I listen to him. I enjoy his sermons.”
Osteen told the network his attention was grabbed by the false claims against him.
"A friend called and said people are calling from South Africa and Australia, and I thought. 'This is a big deal,' said the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, who leads some 7 million faithful worldwide.
Osteen, who has led his church since 1999, is, in reality, not quitting, despite several phony websites, news stories and even a YouTube video declaring otherwise.
"All is well. I still have my faith. Nothing has changed. The building was full on Sunday a few days ago," Osteen told ABC.
A statement attributed to Osteen on the hoax site reads:
As many of you may know, and may have heard in the news recently, many of my sermons have deviated from traditional Christian doctrine. I have been accused of altering the 'message' to fit my own doctrine and dogma. Others have accused me of preaching 'feel good Christianity'. I have also been accused of profiting greatly from my ministry, with my books and television deals.
Many of their criticisms are legitimate.
What they don't know is that deep down in my heart, 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.
No God worth believing in is going to send you to Hell for not believing in him. Not even the worst sinner and scum of the Earth deserves eternal torment in Hell. In fact, God is more likely to congratulate you upon entering Heaven for doubting, questioning and not believing the religionists and their flimsy facts, demands of blind faith and lack of hard evidence.
The fraudulent quote went on to make Osteen sound like an anti-Obama activist and pro-environment champion, saying, "What we have to focus on now that I've left the faith are the immediate issues at hand that affect us in the real world. The destruction of our environment by multinational corporations, the poisoning of our food and water, the toxic fluoride they have been putting in our water for 50 years, the toxic GMO foods that the Monsanto corporation is responsible for, Obama's many destructive policies and his administration's attempt to dismantle the 2nd Amendment. These issues will be what I will begin to focus on, so long as the media does not completely shut me out."
There are even fake news images from the Drudge Report, CBN, Yahoo News, and one from CNN with the headline, "Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ," with a subhead, "Cites lack of faith, pledges 'new church.'"