Does it matter that the viral story about Pastor Jeremiah Steepek was a hoax? by @vahva

A picture of a homeless man (view here – it is copyrighted so we won’t share it here) did the rounds this week on social media accompanied by a challenging and heart-warming story of a Pastor called Jeremiah Steepek who disguised himself as a homeless man and was ignored by his own congregation. It has now turned out that this story is most likely fake – an amalgam of some teaching on Matthew 25.

Inspiring quotation from the internet

Whilst the message connected to the photo was a good one, it does raise some issues, many of which we’ve spoken about on Big Bible before. Some people have argued that it doesn’t matter if it’s not real – the story was inspirational anyway. I would argue that it is important for us to make it clear when we are using illustrations and when we are talking about real life incidents. You only have to read the sad story of the Kung Fu Evangelist Tony Anthony to see where that can lead. The story attached to the photo was the kind of story it would be good to tell as a parable in a sermon – but not something to pass off as true – that would be deceiving people.

One happy thing that has happened as a result of this exposure is the finding of a true life story which is closely related to that of ‘Jeremiah Steepek’ – here is the story of the Rev Willie Lyle who lived undercover as a homeless man in Tennessee. Why not share that one with your friends instead?

Here are some tips for sharing images like this:

  • check your sources – it is so easy to click that ‘share’ button without thinking – do a quick google to find more than one source for the story shared and that those sources are known to be reliable (such as the BBC).
  • if you create something like this yourself – ensure that the image you use is royalty free or you have permission to use it – in this case of ‘Jeremiah Steepek’ the picture was copyrighted.
  • don’t click ‘like’ or ‘share’ if some kind of reward is promised – these are nearly always fake competitions created to boost page rankings on Facebook.
  • don’t believe any status update that suggests that Facebook are changing their privacy settings etc. Only you control your privacy settings on Facebook.
  • have a healthy dose of scepticism towards these things – wait a few hours perhaps before sharing the story yourself to check it is legitimate.

What do you think? Does it matter that this story turned out to be a fake? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Bryony Taylor

Enthusiast for learning, technology, Christian faith and life! Ordinand in the Church of England - training at Cranmer Hall, Durham.