It may take a leap of faith to fall for a news article claiming that powerful megachurch pastor Joel Osteen has resigned his post citing a "lack of faith," but more than a few True Believers were willing to give a prankster the benefit of the doubt when they stumbled upon a fake letter of resignation supposedly penned by Osteen himself.
But the fake article, which was posted on a hoax website (compare with the original), which was linked to by a parody Twitter account, which was promoted by a bogus YouTube video was apparently realistic enough to briefly make "joel osteen" a trending topic on Twiter as thousands searched for confirmation that Lakewood Church leader had truly "converted" to atheism.
Perhaps there was something about the "special message from Pastor Joel" that just seemed true enough to enough people:
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. [...]
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.
No wonder RumorFix called this hoax "the most elaborate one we've ever seen."
Though the real Pastor Joel has yet to issue a formal denial of the claims made by the hoaxer/s, a church representative told the Houston Chronicle that Lakewood officials were aware of the "false rumor."
But has the damage (if one can call it that) been done? It seems the veracity of the "good news" is still being debated among Osteen's followers.
"I took the Joel Osteen tweet down because I don't know if it is true or false," wrote Twitter user @TruthSeekuh. "BUT if you are a fan of his, watch him closely."
[screengrab via Joel Osteen Ministries]