(Update at bottom)
I do quite a bit of work on Facebook, keeping up with friends (in exactly the way my Asperger heart enjoys keeping up with them- at a technological distance, lol), do some witnessing and a lot of encouraging.
Quite often, depressingly often, someone will re-post what, at least to me, is an obviously a hoax. The tropes and tripes are constantly circulating. They used to come fast and furious via email, with forwarding to mass numbers of friends on contact lists. Today it's Facebook and sometimes Twitter. It is a wonder that the social media hoax-investigative outfit, Snopes, doesn't self combust with the overload. There are virus email hoaxes, giveaway email hoaxes, charity hoaxes, bogus warnings, email petitions, protests over things that aren't even real, email chain letters, celebrity email hoaxes, prank emails, fake celebrity death notices, and on and on and on. If people want to be taken in by the Nigerian Prince who needs money or the bogus warning about the parking lot stalker, so be it. Youse guys pays yer money and youse takes yer chances.
The hoaxes that circulate so widely are never usually religion-oriented so my irritation at seeing the one that is circulating now is greater than usual. It is this:
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service....only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation... "We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"....The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down the aisle.....the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment....then he recited
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning...many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.... he then said....Today I see a gathering of people......not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples...when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week.......Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It's something you live by and share with others.
"OK", I thought when I first saw this, "it is probably a hoax." Do I possess X-ray vision to see behind the LCD screen to detect the "HOAX" watermark? No. Did the Spirit audibly tell me? No. Am I telepathic? No. How or why can a person see almost immediately that this is a hoax, then? Because I thought about it, deconstructed it, and decided that this didn't really happen. I didn't say anything on FB but left it up to its own cyclical trajectory to see where it went. Today Snopes published their research conclusion, "Erm, nice story, not so very true." Hoax Slayer found the same.
How could you tell this wasn't going to be a true thing? Many reasons.
First: the dirt on the man looks real. Do the homeless in tv shows ever really look homeless? No, and that is because it takes a long time to get grime under the first layer of skin cells to become an almost permanent member of your body. There is a look to homelessness that comes from months and years of no access to proper sanitary conditions. The man in the photo looks homeless. Absolutely. And it turns out, that he is.
Snopes: "Additionally, the photograph of "Pastor Jeremiah Steepek" that accompanies the online version of this story is actually a picture of an unidentified homeless man snapped by photographer Brad J. Gerrard in Richmond (London): "I was walking down the street in Richmond, saw this man talking to someone, could see he was quite a picture in the making. On the way back, when he was free I had a short conversation with the gentleman and he agreed to let me photograph him. I liked the result. He was very friendly."
No pastor is going to be able to fake a real look to homelessness with that much authenticity between the time he is hired and the time he has to show up on the first Sunday. Never mind the clothes, which also looked authentic. And never mind the beard and the hair. It takes a while for hair and beard to grow that shaggy, even if a pastor had a beard and long hair in the first place. How long does he have between the job acceptance and the first sermon? Months? No hardly ever. If a church needs a pastor they need him now.
I lived in a VW Camper van in the desert for three months, and on a sailboat for two years, I know about grime, and what happens when you go long stretches without full immersion in hot water. Even though we took sponge baths and showered in marinas, the first time we stayed in a hotel, about four months out, I had to take two baths, soaking for almost an hour total before the water was clean.
Secondly, the hoax includes the little detail that that it was a large congregation, likely to dilute the first thing that would come to our mind when reading this- wouldn't somebody recognize him? Well, even in a large congregation of 10,000, the answer is yes. The elders who hired him, the associate pastor who would have been there to introduce him, all the men that knew him from the interviews and the practice/interview sermon, would have recognized the man. Even worse, is that the story as written says that the "elders were in on this", so, the pastor not only lied but put a stumbling block in front of his brothers and caused them to lie too.
That was the physical evidence.
Let's look at the biblical evidence. Is this kind of thing likely to happen? The answer to this is no.
To pull off a scene like this, a pastor would have had to lie, perpetrate the lie over time, and fool people. Is a pastor who loves Jesus going to begin his tenure with the flock he is hired to protect going to TRICK THEM? EMBARRASS them? USE THE BIBLE for a gotcha moment? Use the pulpit to turn attention to himself instead of Jesus? Of course not. If he was hired then it must have been deemed that he was a bible-loving man, and the elders had adhered to this:
"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach," (1 Timothy 3:1-2).
Above reproach meaning not a liar and a trickster.
Is a pastor going to abuse the pulpit, a section of sacred ground to pull off a trick that hurts people? No.
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
Did Jesus come in secret and by subterfuge, trick the people into self-examination? No this scene would be an abuse.
“‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.(Jeremiah 3:1).
A man after Jesus' own heart would not be a liar and a trickster, teaching by subterfuge.
"Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret." (John 18:20)
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
And if the man the elders had hired was a wolf, a false shepherd, he would not care about the homeless and not deign to dress down in the first place.
People, don't accept these things but test all things. (1 John 4:1). Don't say to yourself, 'it did happen.' But say "did it happen? Are these things true?" (Acts 17:11).
Now, it certainly is a nice parable. It presents a picture in our minds that is really relevant and quite vivid. What would I have done in that situation? Am I showing partiality? How would I respond if a homeless person came to my church? All that is good.
But alternately, we must also ask questions about the scene as if it was your pastor who did that, and a newly hired one, too. "Would a pastor trick us? Is this how he plans to teach us as our shepherd? Is it right to abuse the pulpit to make a point? If he lied once, will he pull another one again? Is this the basis on which we forge a relationship?"
One other thing: the pictured real homeless man is a real person, but the someone who started this hoax is using him to perpetrate a lie. I don't like that.
Conclusion: "If that trope about "Pastor Steepek is true, then I'm a French Model." Bon jour.
The Blaze weighed in this morning
The man in the photo has a name, it is Surrey, and he abides in Richmond England. Here is photographer Brad Gerrard's flickr page with the same photo of the man that is supposedly Pastor Jeremiah Steepek but is not.
And amazingly, this story is resonating wildly- two hours after I posted my deconstruction of it last night, the post received 1,600 hits. That was between 10:00 and midnight, no less. This morning it is climbing rapidly over 2,000. Only a few times in five years has a post I published garnered so much attention so quickly. (Man spends his savings in advance of the rapture, Comet Elenin, Sideways necklace, and Ghost Horse of Tahrir Square). As always, my goal is not just to report what is happening, but how to critically think about it through the filter of a biblical worldview.
This blogger did a good job of deconstructing it too.