What the Pastor Joel Osteen Hoax Teaches Us about Ourselves

My technology segment on today’s episode of the Sonrise Morning Show dealt with this week’s elaborate hoax targeting Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Texas. If you’re unaware of the details of the elaborate ruse, here’s a rundown. In short, a fake website was launched and tricked many into thinking that Joel Osteen had denounced his faith in Christianity.

The website was quickly proven to be false — there should have been a clue when you looked at the misspelling of Osteen’s last name in the URL.


Coming on the heals of the tragic story of Rick Warren’s son’s death, it was a difficult week for the Christian faithful. Maybe we should take our clue on how to respond to the Osteen hoax from the pastor himself, who when asked how he felt about the ruse responded:

What caught me in his response were those simple words, “I feel too blessed.” A great reminder to me personally that next time my nose gets out of joint because of a negative comment, I need to remember how truly blessed I am.

I’m also not surprised to find the perpetrator of this crime (and yes, I believe stealing someone’s identity and maliciously spreading lies about them is a crime) is now running around seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. He claims to admire the Pastor:

“I would like to state unequivocally my intent was not to defame Mr. Osteen,” the person behind the hoax wrote in an email, adding that “he seems like an infectiously nice and genial character.”

Yet he also shares another of his goals: “to somehow appear on The Daily Show so I can make one of my good friends jealous.”

I hope Jon Stewart won’t feed this troll.

So what can we learn and teach our families in the wake of the Joel Osteen hoax? I’d say we focus on the following takeaways:

  • Always go to trusted sources for news and information — don’t assume that what you see online or in social media is accurate unless you go directly to the source
  • Be cautious what about what you share online. Digital gossip is still gossip. In my mind, it’s still a sin, and potentially even more damaging because of the potential that exists in the Internet for misinformation and gossip to spread so quickly.
  • Turn this into a teachable moment for your teens. Share the story with them and discuss with them how to consult proper news sources for true and accurate information. Remind them to be mindful in their online sharing.

Let’s continue to pray for our spiritual leaders. We know that they are under constant attack and that they need our spiritual support to continue to walk the path along which God has placed them.

A question for you: Have you ever forwarded or been fooled by information online that turned out to be incorrect?

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

  • http://www.meredithgould.com Meredith Gould, PhD

    Yes, teachable moment and add this to the catechesis: in Judaism, the term “lashon hara” (Hebrew: evil tongue) is the term used for harmful speech (e.g., gossip, slander, rumors) and is what’s known as a negative mitzvah (commandment). Rabbis have spent entire careers studying and writing about this. Gossip is considered the worst form of evil talk.

    Alas, although I grew up learning this and it hasn’t stopped me from gossiping at times and being super relieved when a University of California study (2012) concluded that gossip can be therapeutic (Google “gossip good for health” to find links). I’m only partly kidding here — about the super relieved part. Spreading unfounded, fabricated falsehoods is flat-out wrong.

    • Lisa M. Hendey

      Meredith this is golden. Thank you for putting a Hebrew name to what I knew in my heart! Would love to see that study if you have a link! And as for gossip, both digital and the old fashioned kind, it comes up frequently on my “examination of conscience” list! There’s such a fine line in what we do as bloggers and online communicators between getting the jump on a story and sharing it quickly, and getting the facts incorrect. I need to remind myself in those cases to always err on the side of prudence. Thanks for commenting!!

  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    This week many Catholics were also passing around a rumor that Pope Benedict is dying that was started by a reporter for a Spanish newspaper. Even though it didn’t defame anyone it was still gossip and it rather disturbed me how everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and passing on this bit of hearsay without considering the source.


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