Officials with the Southern Baptist Convention said they have been the victim of an elaborate online hoax that included a phony news release announcing that the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had changed its position on homosexuality.
The release was sent to an unknown number of reporters and directed readers to a website designed to replicate the real Southern Baptist Convention website, along with working telephone numbers where individuals identified themselves as employees of the SBC Executive Committee.
“It is definitely a hoax,” said Roger Oldham, vice president for communication and convention relations for the SBC Executive Committee. “It seems to be perpetrated by an unidentified hacker who is trying to mimic the look of our SBC.net family of web pages.”
The news release came from a group calling itself the “Southern Baptist Conference of America.” The release falsely announced that the Southern Baptists had met in “extraordinary emergency session” to affirm gay rights and repent “of any past homophobia that not only hurt gay people but kept them ostracized from the church.”
The release included phony quotes and comments affirming homosexuality from real denominational leaders, including Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright.
Wright told Fox News Radio he suspects the cyberattack came as a result of opposition to the denomination’s stance on homosexuality and same sex marriage.
“I have a hunch that maybe somebody that was unhappy with our ongoing stand for sexual purity decided to set up this false website,” Wright said.
The press release also included a working telephone number and directed people to contact Jane Marie Walker for information.
“Other staff members called the number and it redirected them to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention but as far as we could tell it did not redirect them to our phones,” Oldham said.
A message on the site informs callers, “You’ve reached the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
On two different occasions, individuals who identified themselves as “interns” declined to answer questions and referred reporters to Walker.
A woman who identified herself as Lisa Jamison said she was a staff member of the denomination.
“This is the Southern Baptist Convention,” she said.
Another person who identified himself as “Clarence,” said: “We have a press release that went out this morning that’s talking about this welcoming and affirming stance that the Executive Committee is announcing for next year.”
However, the Southern Baptist Convention said neither individual is an employee of the denomination.
Calls to the fake telephone number have now been directed to voice mail.
Oldham said they are looking into the legal implications of the hoax – but right now they are trying to find out who is responsible for the incident and why someone would go to so much trouble to deceive the public.
“It is a concern whenever anybody does anything that is false and gives a false impression to the public about who we are,” he said.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is "God Less America."