Fact Check

Horrified Joel Osteen Learns About Crucifixion?

The satirical elements of an article claiming preacher Joel Osteen was "horrified" to learn of Jesus' crucifixion were lost on some readers.

Published Oct 3, 2016

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Preacher Joel Osteen was "horrified" at recently learning that Jesus was crucified.

On 30 September 2016, the Babylon Bee web site published an article reporting that televangelist pastor Joel Osteen of Houston's Lakewood Church had only recently learned of (and was traumatized by) the circumstances of Jesus' death:

As Joel Osteen was being driven to an adjacent town for a business engagement Friday morning, the inspirational preacher’s car radio reportedly began picking up a broadcast of a sermon by pastor John MacArthur, wherein the preacher was describing the gruesome murder and execution of Jesus of Nazareth.

His jaw dropping several inches, the shocked Osteen instructed his driver to pull the car over to the side of the highway so he could process what he just heard for a few minutes.

“Jesus ... crucified? But how is that ... victorious?” the perplexed pastor exclaimed to no one in particular, his heart still racing from the shocking news he was still trying to process. “Jesus’ followers were promised prosperity and blessing — how could Jesus get killed in such a horrible way? It just doesn’t add up.”

“I wonder if Kenny’s heard about this,” he said suddenly after several minutes of stunned silence, in an apparent reference to fellow Word-Faith minister Kenneth Copeland. “I should probably call him and ask him if he knows who this MacArthur guy is. And what if he is right, and Jesus really was killed in such a painful way, at only thirty-some years old? This just isn’t adding up,” Osteen muttered, shaking his head incredulously as he dialed Copeland on his cell phone.

At publishing time, Osteen was Googling phrases like “was Jesus crucified” and “why didn’t Jesus just speak victory over the cross” on his iPhone, according to sources.

The Babylon Bee article was clearly satirizing Osteen's embrace of the "prosperity gospel" over a more scripture-based approach to faith. A passage on Osteen's blog provides an example of the faith-based advice for which the pastor is known:

If you're going to break old habits and make changes in your life, you've got to speak to the giants that mock your victory. No matter what you may be facing, no matter how big those goals and dreams may seem, start changing your words and declare victory. Don't talk about your mountain; talk to it! Don't tell the world how big your problems are; tell them how big your God is! Stand in faith, speak victory and move forward in the freedom and blessing God has in store for you!

Although the Babylon Bee piece wasn't very plausible in a literal sense, it managed to confuse some readers who are familiar with Osteen only in passing. But even among that subset of the audience, those who scrolled down to the bottom of the article might have spotted a disclaimer displayed across the Babylon Bee web site identifying its content as satirical in nature:

The Babylon Bee is Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.

Although Babylon Bee 's output is typically recognized as satirical by readers, the Joel Osteen crucifixion article wasn't the first such piece be mistaken for real news.  Other similar works that have befuddled readers include reports that imprisoned abortion provider Kermit Gosnell was a Democratic National Convention (DNC) speaker, the Elevation Church had introduced a baptismal waterslide, and Osteen had apologized for using the name "Jesus" in a sermon.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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