The young man had a shaved-bald head and oxygen lines around his nose. Apparently, Michael Guglielmucci suffered from a serious form of terrifyingly aggressive cancer–but the well-fed 20-something still managed to belt out Christian worship music at the top of his clearly-quite-functional lungs with absolutely no trouble.
Something wasn’t right about that image at all.
But nobody noticed or cared.
Michael Guglielmucci: yet another Liar For Jesus.
And indeed, quite a few things weren’t. This young man, a youth pastor and son of a noted local pastor, claimed he had been battling cancer for two years. His own parents and wife believed he had cancer, as did area churches. In those two years he’d made plenty of money off the experience. He testified before thousands and thousands of Christians, preaching to them about his disease and how his god was helping him through it. He’d even written a song, “Healer,” about his experiences battling cancer–and it’d landed on a dizzyingly high spot on the Christian music charts, winning him lucrative royalties.
It would have been quite an inspirational story if it’d been even a little true.
I don’t live in Australia so a lot of the news there takes a bit to get to my neck of the woods. Even so, and even being used to liars-for-Jesus, I was downright shocked by just how egregious this whopper was.
Michael Guglielmucci, youth pastor of Planetshakers City Church, had a long history of faking ailments and injuries and then receiving miraculous divine “healing” for them–from broken bones to weirdly specific and rare forms of cancer. I’ve got a friend who was around him at the time and has mentioned a few of those injuries–“glandular fever” and burst ear drums and the like. At one time apparently he was faking a broken leg from a supposed hit-and-run driver, which got miraculously healed at a prayer service.
The ease of illness faking for Michael Guglielmucci.
Apparently not a soul ever asked for proof of his claims, much less evidence he’d been healed. They just took for granted that “Pastor Mike” was telling the truth. And why shouldn’t they? Their church believed wholeheartedly in healing and never questioned anybody else’s stories. Their pastor even said during a service my friend John attended that if anybody didn’t believe in healing they should “get out.” So there’s no reason to suspect that a healing fraud would be discovered.
Adding to the problem of gullibility was this: a number of the people around the liar claimed to have gotten visions and prophecies about him that corroborated his story. His church believes in visions and prophecies as well as magical healing, so these supposed supernatural blessings were seen as additional marks of credibility.
I really don’t know what Guglielmucci expected to happen with his cancer claim. Maybe he was always expecting to pull a “miracle healing” at the end and triumphantly declare himself fully cured. I once knew a young woman who made up a pregnancy scare under similar terms, ending with a “miscarriage” to explain why she wasn’t showing at six months’ gestation.
But he might have gone into this long-con with an ending in mind.
The Duper’s Delight of Michael Guglielmucci.
When I look at photos of the guy during the fakery, all I can see are the big huge smiles-for-Jesus plastered on his face. When I see videos of him singing his song “Healer” in concert, I see a man who is all but basking in the attention and adulation he’s getting. Maybe he’s also wondering how much money is being tossed into all those collection baskets at his church. Indeed, “love offerings” (that’s Christianese for “give till it hurts”–a sort of monetary donation that’s over and above the 10% tithe) were taken up for him at his performances and sermons.
Once the game was finally up, the disgraced youth pastor took to the television airwaves to tell his side of the story to a clearly-skeptical journalist.
Here’s the interview below; see if you can spot all the signs of a pathological liar who still hasn’t quite come to grips with what he did wrong, much less is genuinely concerned about any victims of his fraud and lies:
If you’re still kind of fresh out of Christianity, you might not see all those signs, so let me walk you through them.
A liar tries his best to rationalize his lies
Guglielmucci talks about how he feels a lot. But he doesn’t dwell much on those he’s hurt. I think I only heard one single sentence–a nicely-coached-sounding one at that–about the people he fooled.
He blames this whole scam on his addiction to pornography rather than taking responsibility for himself. Poor little him! Gosh, he just had to perpetuate a scam on tens of thousands of people. He simply had to terrify his own family and wife with his own potential death from cancer! What do you suppose he blames for all the other fake injuries and illnesses he claimed to totally have?
He suggests that nobody ever fakes vomiting and other such symptoms. Yes, actually, that’s a standard for illness fakers. Dude’s a sad lump compared to his very high-achieving parents, so he clearly learned that faking illnesses and injuries got him attention he couldn’t earn legitimately. Insisting that nobody ever, ever fakes these symptoms is a prime signal of deception. It’s a cheap way to artificially inflate a weak story’s credibility. And Christians have been doing it ever since their religion got rolling.
He tries to make his two-year-long fraud seem like it was just a momentary lapse in judgment. But he faked phone calls, hospital visits, and tests. He somehow got oxygen lines and tanks to better convince people. He even shaved his own head! Just imagine the elaborate network of lies and frauds he had to be able to maintain here! A friend of mine, John, saw this stuff firsthand, and John says Guglielmucci even got and used a wheelchair toward the end of the scam. And he repeatedly pretended to be magically “healed” of his illnesses.
Oh, those constant duper’s delight smiles. Check out the little half-smirk at 2:55 after Guglielmucci confesses to being a hypocrite. He does that a lot.
The takeaway Guglielmucci hopes we’ll all believe:
It wasn’t his fault. None of it was.
And the tribe covers up for their exposed liar.
What’s truly astonishing is that so many people in his tribe took a view of “oh, well, we all sin, so what the hey” toward the whole thing. Some people sound like they were deeply hurt by these lies, but a lot of others seem ready to forgive and forget. Well, it’ll be hard to do that now that an oversight board in Australia has stripped Guglielmucci of all credentials. That will make it harder for him to get another church gig. My friend John doesn’t even know if he’s working now, much less if he’s working in a church capacity.
I can’t help but think how similar Guglielmucci sounds to people I knew in Christianity. I saw people exaggerate symptoms of diseases and injuries all the time and then say they were healed of them. Biff began his experience in Christianity with an “exorcism” and lied from the pulpit about stuff he’d seen and done.
I’m open to the idea of magical healing. However, I’ve never encountered even one actual objectively-real miracle.
That said, I’ve seen more frauds and lies from religious people than I can count. Every miracle claim I’ve ever investigated or seen investigated has turned out to be not-a-miracle at all.
A pity the Christian god doesn’t actually heal people of anything. If he did, then maybe there wouldn’t be quite so many stories like this from Christians. Maybe there wouldn’t be entire blogs devoted to exposing religious fraud.
How evangelical culture aided and enabled Michael Guglielmucci.
I’ve heard that Guglielmucci’s church’s culture has been blamed for creating an atmosphere where people were discouraged from thinking critically and were encouraged to just believe anything their leaders told them. But I don’t think the blame can be laid entirely at this one church’s feet. The entire culture is like that.
Any time a Christian speaks up against a questionable story, accusations of “divisiveness” get hurled at the speaker. And it sounds like this church’s culture was a lot worse than a lot of other ones; authoritarian structure and an intolerance for questions and challenges made it way too easy for “Pastor Mike” to prey upon those he wanted to deceive.
Given how unlikely it is that anybody will challenge a seriously questionable story, and given how much Christians reward the liars who can spin a good story, I’m not sure why anybody’s surprised that Christian liars turn up as often as they do. The entire religion teaches people to believe things that are unlikely–and their mythology is filled with stories of healing like that. Adults feed children thousands of years’ worth of magical thinking.
Why it matters to challenge Christian claims.
That’s why it is important to me that when I hear questionable claims put forward, I challenge them and demand evidence for them. Nobody ever did that when I made claims as a Christian. I had to wonder where that evidence was for myself. And eventually, I did, but I’ve got to wonder what would have happened if someone had said right from the get-go: “Hey, Cas, I heard that story was an urban legend–are you sure it really happened?” or “Cas, Jack Chick makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims and buys into a lot of conspiracy theories. Is there some other source for that assertion?” Eventually I think it would have sunk in.
But instead, I had to do all that myself. My awakening took a lot longer than it could have, as a consequence.
Meanwhile, every single Christian fraud I see is just another bit of evidence that Christian claims are simply not tenable or credible. Indeed, one of the only really good things to come out of this story is that a great many Christians have realized a few important things about their religion’s church culture.
The important takeaways from the Michael Guglielmucci scandal.
First: All those visions and prophecies had been flat-out wrong.
That’s a big thing, folks. I know it seems small, but it’s HUGE. And we’ll talk more about why next time. For now, just know (if you’re not from a right-wing evangelical background) that it’s almost impossible to falsify a vision/prophecy. Christians always insist they’re from the Christian god himself. So if one turns out to be fake, that throws all similar claims into doubt.
Second: Yes, people lie in that religion.
Jesus isn’t changing anybody for the better. Bad people fish off those docks and they can be indistinguishable from the good people.
Third: yet another healing has turned out to be a fake.
How many fake healings will one of them need to see before wondering if any healings are real?
Fourth: the reaction of quite a few Christians–in real life as online–is telling.
We saw it in that Planetshaker Insider blog I’ve linked you to. Christians prefer to point fingers at the people raising these concerns and questions rather than at the guy who strung them along for two years and stole their money and sympathy under false pretenses and at the church culture that made it all possible.
The real damage that illness fakers do to Christianity’s credibility.
In the end, we should be paying attention to these Christian frauds. Not every cancer sufferer is lying, obviously. Quite a few aren’t. But before we donate our hard-earned money to them or go out of our way for them, we should be asking for evidence that it’s real.
In this world, there are a thousand thousand causes seeking our attention, our money, and our time. And unfortunately, for most of us this is a zero-sum game. Every bit we give to one claimant is that much less for someone else.
If Christians refused to give money and attention to people making a claim without verifying the truth of the claim first, then there would be a lot fewer liars tugging at their heartstrings. It’s that simple. They’ve created a system that allows predators and conjobs to thrive. And now they act just shocked–shocked!–that there are predators and conjobs among them.
My friend John ended up losing some money he’ll likely never see back because of the crocodile tears of Michael Guglielmucci. I’m not sure I could be as philosophical as he is about losing that money. I admire someone who can deal with irritations so gracefully.
That said, I guess there isn’t much else one can do at this point.
The good thing about a hard-won lesson is that those earning it remember it better. How many overly-trusting Christians do you suppose there are in the religion? How many leave in disgust after each big disappointment?
If Christians can’t figure this problem out in time, simple attrition will take care of what all the education and activism in the world couldn’t manage.
(On March 21, 2022, Cas tidied up this post.)