He was just a former drug addict and born-again Christian who became a Jesus Christ imitator. Then an arrest for soliciting in LOVE Park catapulted Philly Jesus to international fame.
The trials of Philly Jesus ended last December with a dismissal of all charges (he claimed he merely accepts donations from fans).
But now, after trying to turn his popularity into an institution, the new trials of Philly Jesus have begun.
Philly Jesus (real name Mike Grant, he goes by "PJ") has been slammed on social media for a GoFundMe campaign seeking $70,000 to help him start “PhillyJesusMinistries” and take his message of Christianity on a nationwide tour.
The campaign unleashed a wave of cyberbullying after PJ got bashed on Twitter by @FindmePhilly, the mysterious account that leaves clues about $100 bills hidden around the city.
“Dude is a glorified panhandler but the media praises him … You are the opposite of Jesus,” FindMePhilly wrote, and later proposing to start a GoFundme for $70,000 to give to the homeless.
Others joined in agreement: “I want the Pope to beat the living s--- out of him come September,” @GrubHousePhilly wrote of PJ. @215_KenZo called him the “biggest fraud in the city.”
PJ says he doesn’t mind the insults.
“The real Jesus had haters. He had so many haters, they crucified him,” he said.
He also defended the GoFundMe campaign as not for personal enrichment.
“The $70,000 is for the tour. It’s not for me individually,” PJ said. “I’m not making a profit off it.”
But PJ acknowledges accepting an endorsement from local juice company FamJuice to promote their products on his heavily followed social media accounts (3,791 followers on Twitter, 11,400 on Instagram). He says he backed out after he learned the product was made with GMOs.
In the comments of a now-deleted picture promoting the juice, fans called him a sell-out. PJ responded, “I love you.”
“Everybody’s gotta eat,” PJ says defensively. “1 Corinthians, 9:11: ‘If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?’
On the GoFundMe page, which has raised only $1,600 in just under a month, a detailed budget is listed including a laptops, cameras, a vehicle and for the tour, hotel rooms and food for PJ and a team of five staff.
PJ says he wants to put his 12-foot cross on the “PhillyJesusmobile” and bring it New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and other cities -- and eventually internationally -- to spread the gospel.
“I feel like the holy spirit is trying to point me outside of Philadelphia,” he said.
“It’s just to tell people my story. I used to shoot 11 bags of heroin in my arm a day, I used to smoke crack, I used to be dressed like a homeless person on the Broad Street Line aggressively panhandling,” he said. “I should be dead right now. Jesus Christ saved my life.”
If the GoFundMe fails, that’s fine, he said. “I just came up with that GoFundMe thing to see people’s reactions.”
When questioned about the nobility of his intentions, he falls back on one of his favorite pieces of scripture, John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.”
Or in the Philly Jesus translation, “Haters gonna hate.”