Houston Pastor Joel Osteen Victim of Internet Hoax

Yahoo Contributor Network

Houston pastor Joel Osteen of the Lakewood Church was the victim of an elaborate Internet hoax that falsely suggested that he had not only left the church he founded in 1999, but Christianity itself, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Osteen hoax elaborate, using false websites, Twitter, and a YouTube video

The Houston Chronicle account relates how a as-yet unidentified hoaxer set up a fake website that almost exactly replicated Osteen's actual website to announce that the famous pastor has lost his Christian faith and was thus leaving the church he had founded almost 14 years ago. The "news" was buttressed by fake news sites, a fake Twitter message and even a fake YouTube video in which an actor pretending to be Osteen announced that some of the criticisms of his ministry that have been made over the years were "legitimate" and that he had come to doubt the veracity of the Bible and even the existence of God.

Lakewood Church

Osteen is the pastor of the Lakewood Church, a non-denominational Christian church headquartered in Houston. As the Associated Press reported at the time, Lakewood moved into its current venue, the former Compaq Center in the heart of Houston, which used to hold sporting events and rock concerts, as its main sanctuary in 2005. Besides a 16,000-seat venue for services, the Lakewood Church facility has numerous smaller chapels and other accommodations, including an entire floor devoted for the church's television operation. Osteen is a well-known televangelist and a best-selling author. Lakewood Church conducts a number of philanthropic undertakings, including relief for the impoverished and areas struck by natural disasters. His sermons are broadcast to an estimated weekly of 7 million people.

Criticisms of Osteen

While the exact motives of the hoaxer, aside from creating an elaborate joke at the expense of Osteen, are unknown, the pastor has been the target of criticism. A recent interview of Osteen, with his wife Victoria, on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club" suggests that some Christians look askance at Osteen for his lack of emphasis on the concepts of sin, the devil, and hell and a perceived notion that he preaches that the worship of God leads to monetary prosperity. Osteen countered during the interview that his approach to Christianity is that God is not only a loving deity, but one of mercy who wants his followers to prosper as well as live moral lives. Lakewood Church, it is noted, is almost unique among American churches in the multiethnic nature of its membership.

Osteen's reaction to the hoax

The Houston Chronicle account of the hoax suggests that Osteen probably does not have a lot of legal recourse to punish whoever perpetrated the hoax. Osteen is a public figure and hoaxer is likely protected by a defense that his or her hoax was satire or parody.

Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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