I still want it to be true that Mr. Rogers was a Special Forces sniper in Viet Nam who only wore sweaters to hide his military tattoos. But when it comes to “the internet hoax,” my naiveté borders on oafish gullibility.
On the other end of the spectrum is Pastor Jeremiah Steepak who “allegedly” dressed as a homeless man only to be revealed to his new congregation of 10,000 and point out their snobbish indifference.
The story, which has circulated since July of this year, has Pastor Jeremiah dressing and acting as a homeless man in a mega-church that he has been called to lead. He is mistreated and ignored until the “elders,” who were in on the social experiment, invite the new pastor up to take the helm. The rejected and dejected homeless dude walks to the pulpit, relates what happened to him, reads some verses about discipleship and then, as all 10,000 bow their heads in shame, dismisses the assembly with a challenge to live more like Christ.
This story is a hoax and yet I see it posted as real over and over. Is it because so many care about the homeless or because so many hate the church and are eager to point out her alleged deficiencies? The truth is that this story is very appealing to the flesh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen others say how “meaningful” this story was to them and how it made them rethink their own ways. Really?
The world loves this “story” because it is further confirmation of their overblown presupposition that the church is full of sneering, greedy hypocrites. What’s truly shocking, however, is not the mocking contempt of the cynic but the gleeful reception of professing Christians. A complex which can only be explained by the shallow, superficial mindset of modern Churchianity – the attitude that displaces humility for self-loathing and substance for symbolism.
Anyone who needs a story like this to take stock of their own heart is drawing blanks about the purpose of the church, the duty of a pastor, the atmosphere of the mega-church and the nature of the homeless. As a matter of fact, I’m willing to wager that they’ve spent absolutely no time with the homeless. We can pose with a sanctified grin in the self-satisfaction that we would have acted differently, that surely “our church” would have bent over backwards for that man. But the point of these kind of stories is to cast blame on an easy scapegoat and free the reader from culpability. They allow us to worship a false god as we impute our own iniquities to the guilty and despicable, all the while pointing at others and exclaiming, “Hey, check out the speck in their eye!”
Whenever I see this story shared on Facebook I always politely mention that it’s a fake and, within moments, I become the object of derision for merely making that point. “What does it matter,” is a frequent refrain along with “Whether or not it’s really true is not the point, the point the story makes is what is truly valuable!”
So, for the sake of argument, let’s “pretend” the story is true and allow me to argue, in either way, just why it is utterly despicable.
Have you ever been to a mega-church? This church supposedly had 10,000 people and they all “bowed in shame” when the pastor indicted them for their behavior? I’m hard on the mega-church and their pastors for a number of reasons but neglect or mistreatment of the poor isn’t one of them. This is the kind of thing for which mega-churches revel.
If this really took place at a mega-church, within five minutes of this fraudulent homeless pastor’s first Sunday, he’d be approached by 3 different Stuart Smalley’s from the welcoming committee, signed up for a small group study, leading an accountability group and on his fourth step of the church sponsored recovery program. “Community outreach” would have filled his shopping cart with goods from the food bank, lined him up with a donated car and given him a voucher for “Free Oil Change TuesdayNights.”
And what about the numbers? Have you ever been in a crowd of 10,000? Are we supposed to believe that the whole church “bowed their heads in tears and shame” because they all ignored one disheveled dude, half an hour before a message? How many actually saw this guy? How many would refrain from offering help after seeing the first three people that did so, ignored or rejected by the “homeless” guy?
This past week, a 61 year old Marine Corps veteran saw a woman about to jump to her death at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. ”He saved her life quite honestly, at his own expense,” said Sgt. J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. “This guy 100 percent saved her life. She’d be dead now,” if not for this, “good Samaritan who pleaded with her not to jump and broke her 45-foot fall.”
Should we judge 70,000 Raiders fans because they didn’t all notice this soul in trouble? Are they all to blame and should they hang their heads in shame because they didn’t break her fall? Granted, we are more likely to hold a church to a higher standard than Raider Nation, but numbers don’t lie.
The “church” with all its flaws, has fed, has clothed, has ministered and has raised more orphans, widows and homeless individuals than any organization in the history of the world. But why let the facts get in the way of a cheap shot to fuel self-righteous haters? And all you have to do to confirm this bigotry is to look at the Comments Section below wherever you see it posted.
A fake story about a fake event at a fake church that never happened, makes us feel good because it points out that the fake people at the fake church are actually real selfish hypocrites who need to be fake shamed so that they will follow Christ and we can all “feel” real good about ourselves. Sorry, but schadenfreude is not a fruit of the spirit. Christians don’t need to feel better about themselves or their church by participating in a charade that paints imaginary “brothers and sisters” as the morally bankrupt.
Truth matters! When it ceases to matter, we have descended into idiocy. The whole point of the homeless pastor story is to point out “hypocrisy.” If that is something that makes me feel good, I have a problem with pride.
No Pastor (under shepherd) should entrap his flock and set them up for failure and then expect to have their trust moving forward. Yet, we are supposed to admire a man whose first act as a Shepherd of a new church is to thoroughly expose them to public humiliation? That doesn’t sound like the description that our Lord gives us of “the good shepherd.”
The popularity of this internet hoax is congruent to that of Jefferson Bethke’s viral video Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus: both of these attack Christianity from within.
The most popular Republican with the main stream media is always that “Maverick” who shivs his party in the back with a toothy grin. The video and this story are no different. Whenever you have a “look me over but don’t overlook me” ministry like Bethke’s, you have a narcissist looking for fuel, and the message boils down to “Religion sucks, Christianity sucks, and the Church sucks – but Hey, check out Me and Jesus!”
The bigger problem with the “homeless pastor” lesson is that it calls for discipleship from the place of guilt and shame. This is false religion. Motivation for the Christian life and ministry is always from the foundation of love, “I am compelled by the love of Christ,” says the Apostle Paul, “it is your reasonable service” based on the compassions of Jesus Christ.
You can feed the poor and give the body to be burned and without love it means naught. This, however, is but an experiment in white guilt meant to deliver a propaganda message about the hypocrisy of Christians. This is the kind of thing that got Barack Obama elected … twice.
The tricky thing about this story is that its nefarious nature is not overt, but very subtle; you come away thinking that it is spiritual because it has spiritual elements. Some have compared it to the parable of our Lord about the “Good Samaritan,” but it’s actually missing the key component – the Samaritan. This story never gets past the beat down of the priest and the Levite. All of a sudden the man lying on the Jericho road stands up and condemns religion but never extolls the true hero of the story, the Samaritan neighbor. The three who did talk to the pastor are but an asterisk in this story to lend it some credibility.
This story really isn’t Biblical in nature at all but it does have a secular counterpart: Mark Twain’s The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. Twain’s piece was a shot at what H.L. Mencken would call the “booboisie,” – Christians. Twain despised religion and so set up a piece that would prove a whole town’s hypocrisy.
Both pieces, Hadleyburg and Pastor Jeremiah Steepak, are contrived, imaginary screeds structured to bring the house down on hypocritical “Christians.” The only difference is that “Hadleyburg” doesn’t insult the reader and that Twain had the integrity to write his hit-piece as fiction. Only someone truly contemptible would pass off a phony story as true and last I checked, fraud is not a fruit of the spirit, either.
If the church is weak in America, it’s not for neglect of the poor in body, but for the abandonment of the poor in spirit. In a country where the homeless are among the top 15% of the wealthiest in the world, the homeless aren’t necessarily “the least of these.” The 55 million who have been killed in their mother’s womb in a silent holocaust just may be, but the mega-church won’t touch that nor stand for Biblical marriage because these things are too “controversial.”
The gospel message that Billy Graham once proclaimed, “You’re born, you suffer and you die; fortunately there’s a loophole. His name is Jesus Christ!” has now morphed into, “How to have your best life now because every day is a Friday and we should buy the shoes and eat the cookie.” It’s basically a schlocky, half-assed Deepok-Oprah “secret,” with a scripture or two sprinkled in.
Virtually every rescue mission and orphanage was started by Christians. Hospitals too. The Bible-Belt dwarfs the rest of the country in charitable giving, there are thousands of stories of recovery and redemption but I guess the real issue is that the church has forgotten the homeless.
Then again, do you really believe anyone would get crucified for feeding the poor and being nice to the less fortunate?
Until That Time, Mi Spes en Deo