A scammer, posing as Craig Groeschel, the founding and senior pastor of the Oklahoma-based LifeChurch.tv megachurch, requested money for an orphanage in Africa, sending Facebook messages from a fake account and spiritually blackmailing a Christian woman.
"They send you people they suggest be friends, and Craig Groeschel was on there. And I thought, wow, and I was surprised because I figured his friends would be maxed out being the person that he is, so I went ahead and sent a friend request to him," a Christian woman from Oklahoma City, Beth Gentry, told News Channel 4.
The scam artist first sent a prayer and some Bible verses to the woman. "I was like thank you, and then he was like I had this revelation. Can you send me several hundred dollars to an orphanage in Africa?" Gentry was quoted as saying.
The scammer also told Gentry that his team would like to contact her if she gives her phone number. He said her salvation would depend on the amount of donation she sends for the "cause." Gentry said she could sense it can't be Pastor Groeschel, co-creator of the popular YouVersion Bible App.
"I said, 'well I think it's a scam, and he's like well you're not worthy of being called a Christian, and me and my family will pray for you and we'll be preaching about you from the pulpit on Sunday,'" Gentry added.
The megachurch says its mission is "to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. That's how we're able to make a difference, and it's the driving force behind everything we do."
Lifechurch.tv has responded in a statement to the media.
"Though neither Craig Groeschel or LifeChurch.tv have had any of our social media accounts hacked, people unfortunately continue to create fake accounts impersonating Craig and other pastors," the megachurch explained.
"We work with Facebook to remove the fake accounts, and they have designated Craig's official account as verified. Under no circumstances would Craig or any LifeChurch.tv pastor ask for donations via private Facebook messages. We caution people to never respond to a private Facebook solicitation that appears to come from Craig, and to instead report it to Facebook."
The church isn't a building; it's the people, the megachurch says. "We meet in locations around the United States and globally online."