You may have seen the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek on Facebook lately. The above image and below story are circulating Facebook:
( Pastor pretends to be homeless and shames his new congregation. )
First of all, the image IS NOT Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (despite the story saying it is). That picture is of a homeless man in Richmond, Surrey (near London's Heathrow Airport) taken and posted to Flickr a couple of years ago - http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Secondly, there is NO Pastor Jeremiah Steepek. This morning after I saw the story for the third time, I was curious if he was real and, if so, how was his ministry received from his church(es). I Googled "Jeremiah Steepek" and had two pages of results - all of the results were reprintings of the story and all but one were published in the past week or so. There is no way that a minister of a 10,000 member church would have no internet presence at all; whether through the church's website, denominational website and/or newsletters, local news that surely would have made some sort of mention of his arrival (you think local media would ignore this story of a local megachurch having this happen?).
So, we must accept that this is a fictitious story. Come closer my writer and creative friends...if this story is fictional, then all aspects of it are the creation of the writer and subject to editing. Why construct the story this way? Why not just retell the Bible passage instead of constructing this "gotcha" moment. Why does the homeless guy in the church have to be the new pastor? Had a homeless person done this, does the lesson mean less than the pastor-in-homeless-clothing version? I feel that this story urges us to act because God may bust us for not being charitable and not that doing charitable work is our mission from God. The ONLY point for the homeless guy being the new pastor is to shame the congregation.
I assert that the writer didn't create this story to build up people, but to tear them down. Would it not have been just as effective of a story had it been an actual homeless man and the Bible passage read from the lectern caused people to realize how they treated that man and offered him help? When the reader reaches the part where the congregation reacts to the situation, it seems to rejoice in the shaming of the congregation rather than showing a change of heart. The pastor basically went to the pulpit and said, "You failed being a Christian," and walked away after pulling his "gotcha" stunt.
I don't think Jesus practices "gotcha" salvation where Christians are expected to behave a certain way because that person we neglect, the person we cuss at...just might be Jesus or some other person of authority. That would indicate the root of a person's caring for others is their own fear of getting busted by God. We should care for others because of love, not fear of punishment or shaming! Again, it is possible for the congregation to be made aware of their reluctance to reach out to the homeless man without the pastor and the reader shaming them.
Finally, I feel that this story fosters inter-church, intra-Christianity strife and finger pointing. Obviously, it targets 10,000 member megachurches as huge arenas of people claiming to be Christian without living out Christ's lessons for us. As I've perused the comments of the many postings of this story, I've seen the usual fights break out of political parties being like the shamed congregation and people rising in anger to express why their political party is more Christian than the other. Along with those were assertions on what denomination this congregation likely was (does it matter, even if it was true?). Most of the comments I see are "I like and am sharing this story because my church would NEVER be guilty of this!" Are we all so sure of ourselves and how our church really would react to feel comfortable ridiculing the congregation in this story?
While I can respect that the author may have had good intentions on trying to recreate the story from the Bible in a modern context, I fear that it does so in a way that is more divisive, shaming, and manipulative than Jesus would want the message of loving others to be spread.