ABC News’ Jennifer Leong reports:
An elaborate Internet hoax targeting televangelist Joel Osteen, which included telling his many followers that he was denouncing the Christian faith, was the work of one man in Minneapolis, ABC News has learned.
That man, Justin Tribble, says he is a “big fan” of Osteen, the pastor of the Lakewood Church in Texas, but calls the pastor’s message “too shallow.”
“There is no doubt about it, his sermons are a lot of self-help platitudes,” Tribble said. “I want a message to get through to this guy, turn down the clichés and get real.”
Tribble, 31 and a freelance writer, sent that message to Osteen by creating a fake website that included a video complete with a screen grab of CNN’s website with the headline, “Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ.”
A Drudge headline proclaimed, “Osteen: I am no longer a Christian.”
Tribble provided ABC News with the Go Daddy receipt he used to register the phony domain name, www.joelostenministries.com. The website has since been removed.
“I didn’t want to hurt the guy, didn’t want to defame him,” Tribble said. “I’m actually a big fan of Joel Osteen. I like him. I listen to him. I enjoy his sermons.”
Tribble says his effort, which Osteen told ABC News Monday he found mildly amusing, was not a hoax, as it was widely reported, but a “media campaign.”
“[It was] a way to get through and have a dialogue with someone who is essentially inaccessible,” he said.
ABC News’ legal expert Dan Abrams says Tribble is not in danger of criminal charges but could face a possible lawsuit from Osteen.
The pastor told ABC News Monday that he was “not angry” about the hoax and did not “feel like a victim,” adding, “I feel too blessed, that life is too short to let things like this get you down.”
Osteen, 50, declined to comment further on the issue when reached by ABC News overnight.
Tribble says he is not bothered by a possible backlash from the thousands of supportive strangers who emailed him thinking they were reaching Osteen.
He hopes, however, that Osteen sees the incident as part of God’s plan and reaches out.
“I think it would be nice to have a conversation with him,” Tribble said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if he prays over me.”