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It’s a news flash with an asterisk: Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen has resigned from the mega church that he has led since 1999, a move prompted by his decision to leave the Christian faith due to his “lack of faith.”

The asterisk is needed, mind you, because the story is false, as in Internet hoax.

Whoever devised the elaborate hoax didn’t just stop at a fake church website – – which is almost identical to the genuine Joel Osteen Ministries website –

The hoaxer also has put up bogus news sites trumpeting the fictitious news, replicating news outlets that include CNN, and the Christian News Network. They’ve also posted a fake YouTube video – – and bogus Twitter page – Osteen’s real Twitter account can be found at @JoelOsteen.

A fake CNN site trumpets the headline, “Pastor of mega church resigns, rejects Christ,” with a subhead, “Cites lack of faith, pledges ‘new church.’ ”

Likewise, the pseudo Lakewood Church website includes “A special message from Pastor Joel,” where a would-be Osteen elaborates on his decision to leave the church:

In the message, the Osteen poser states that he has “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,” the bogus message states. “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.”

Lakewood Church officials are aware of the hoax and “false rumor,” church representative Andrea Davis said.

Hoaxes have come a long way since Orson Welles described a Martian invasion of the earth in a 1938 radio broadcast, which accidentally sent many Americans into a panic.

Today’s pranksters often turn to the web, which has a rich tradition of hoaxes. Remember Bananadene, a fictional drug made from bananas? Or claims by English pranksters that they started the phenomenon of crop circles and that hundreds of “copycat” circles have followed?

And there was the bogus Cambodian Midget Fighting League, which duped some British newspapers to publish stories about the “tragedy.”

Lakewood officials declined to say whether the church would pursue legal action against the perpetrator of the hoax. But if they did sue on grounds of libel or slander, it could be a difficult legal fight, a Houston attorney said.

“There are protections for parody and satire, but the issue is whether a reasonable person would believe that the publication was indeed satirical, or a parody of something,” said attorney Charles Babcock. “The question is whether things being put out about the church could be deemed as defamatory.”

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