A lone Minneapolis man behind the Internet hoax targeting televangelist Joel Osteen has been identified, along with his reason for perpetrating the ruse.
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.”
Tribble said of his elaborate scheme to send a message to Joel Osteen:
“There is no doubt about it, his sermons are a lot of self-help platitudes. I want a message to get through to this guy, turn down the clichés and get real.”
He decided to make his point in ethically questionable fashion:
Tribble created a fake site, including a video and complete with a screen grab of CNN’s website declaring, “Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ.”
A Drudge Report headline proclaimed, “Osteen: I am no longer a Christian.”
Tribble made that claim on a bogus domain name, joelostenministries (dot) com - note the small typo - that he bought on GoDaddy (it's now taken down).
“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.”
“[It was] a way to get through and have a dialogue with someone who is essentially inaccessible,” he said of Osteen, who has since spoken about it.
Osteen told ABC News that he found the whole thing mildly amusing, and did not consider it a hoax, as it was widely reported, but a “media campaign.”
The pastor is “not angry” about this and did not “feel like a victim,” adding, “I feel too blessed ... life is too short to let things like this get you down.”
ABC News’ legal expert Dan Abrams says Tribble is probably not in danger of criminal charges but could still face a possible lawsuit from Osteen.
Osteen, 50, declined to comment further.
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,” he said.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if he prays over me.”