An elaborate hoax setup to trick followers of Pastor Joel Osteen into believing that he has left Christian ministry is capturing a fair bit of attention.

The ploy apparently gained so much steam that a representative felt the need to respond to inquiries on the preacher’s official Twitter account, writing, “It is a false rumor: Pastor Joel is not leaving the church.”

@ It is a false rumor: Pastor Joel is not leaving the church. -JOM Team
Is Mega Pastor Joel Osteen Really Leaving the Christian Faith to Launch a New Religion? Hoax Gets Debunked
@JoelOsteen
Joel Osteen

Questions emerged after a website was setup to look like it represents Joel Osteen’s official ministry. The site, www.joelostenministries.com (notice that the pastor’s last name is spelled “Osten” instead of “Osteen”), shows a picture of the pastor with the headline, “I’m Leaving the Christian Faith.”

Is Mega Pastor Joel Osteen Really Leaving the Christian Faith to Launch a New Religion? Hoax Gets Debunked

Screen shot from the Joel Osteen hoax web site

But that’s not all. In addition to the this “special announcement,” there’s a press release, an image of a fake CNN article, a video and numerous blog entries crafted to make the site look as though it’s legitimate. The faux CNN headline reads, ”Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ” and, as E! notes, it has a subheader that reads, “Cites ‘lack of faith’; Pledges ‘new church.’”

This video present on the fake Osteen site provides additional fake news reports from the Drudge Report, CBN News and Yahoo!. Watch it, below:

Concerning his pledge to create a “new church,” the hoax purports that Osteen is planning to launch a new religion. And, playing on some of the criticisms that the preacher has received, the fake statement announcing the retirement reads, in part:

“Thank you for visiting. 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.”

Is Mega Pastor Joel Osteen Really Leaving the Christian Faith to Launch a New Religion? Hoax Gets Debunked

Photo Credit: AP

The hoax goes so far that it incorporates a fake interview between a news outlet and Osteen — one that focuses on his concocted departure from Lakewood Church, his house of worship located in Houston, Texas.

A video highlighting this made-up exchange is below:

To make the entire con that much more believable, the blog statement quotes Osteen as saying that his other web sites have not yet been updated to reflect his theological change-of-heart.

“We’re also having some trouble transferring ownership of some of our web sites, so as of now, I haven’t been able to update everything on all of them,” Osteen is quoted as saying. “I’m dealing with some church leaders who refuse to accept my resignation. They are refusing to change or alter any of our many web sites, and this is the only one I have control over.”

The hoax was debunked on Monday by the Houston Chronicle.

(H/T: E! Online)

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