Conspiracy theory is a virus that is infecting the church
The Church needs to be much clearer that it is facing an insidious problem: we need to be much more vocal in challenging the originators of these things but also to recognise that belief in them is an illness
Recently I was shocked to the core by something that a mature Christian person, with 30 years of solid faith, sent me. It was a copy of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and associated ‘FBI documents.’ Having studied Russian history at university many years ago, I knew instantly the vile nature of this document – a complete fraud dating from 1903, calculated to stir up hatred of the Jews and since used repeatedly by Nazis and Islamists for that continuing purpose. If there is a definition of ‘hate speech’, a term which I personally find problematic, it looks much like this.
There has been much discussion of how Covid might place ‘church as we know it’ at risk, with initial positivity around online engagement. However, there has been much less discussion of the risks to church members of online engagement especially in the murky territory where religion, politics and pseudo-science mix - although we might also include some ‘media preachers’ as well.
The wolf is already inside the sheep pen. We know several practicing Christians, mostly not in our own church, who believe amongst other things that the Queen is part of an international paedophile ring, that she and the Duke of Edinburgh are lizards, that there is a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, that Covid was created by drugs companies, that Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos wants your soul and that the Earth is in fact flat. Yes, flat.
What we are facing is a new form of addiction as people are fed more and more of the same type of stuff, except a little more extreme every time. You can escalate from growing your own vegetables, to ‘survivalism’, to fighting against the ‘New World Order’ in a few clicks on YouTube. Most often this is characterised as ‘going down the rabbit hole’ – and once people have gone down it, it becomes very difficult to get them out again.
We know people who spend hours every day on this material, believing that they are ‘researching’ hidden truths that ‘they’ want to hide from ‘us.’ You don’t need much insight to see that this sort of ‘induction’ to ‘secret knowledge’ is very much the same thing as Kabbalistic and New Age religions. It is not just an addiction – it is an unhealthy spiritual addiction. Those who belong, to ‘QAnon’ or whatever, find ‘salvation’ or special status through ‘being in the know’; this is Gnosticism under another name.
Even more unfortunately, the boundary between Christianity and conspiracy is too often blurred. Although I hate to say this, for UK audiences the biggest problem is most often with material that comes from America and some of it from very well-known people who often present as Christians. Efforts are being made to fight back, for example by the Christianity and Science initiative, BioLogos. But BioLogos does not have the addictive allure of a conspiracy where you can be ‘in the know.’
When Covid first hit the headlines, another mature Christian sent me a link to Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural programme for 20 March where he interviewed the ‘prophet’ Tracy Cooke. Just to avoid confusion, Tracy is an American man with apparently a significant ministry. Tracy told the viewers that the Lord had sent him a dream, some of which ‘he could not yet reveal’, in which he saw ‘the virus being created’ by Chinese scientists with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, ‘and the Democratic Party’ hatching out the virus in a plot to bring down Donald Trump as they had failed to impeach him. My first reaction was annoyance: ‘why does everything have to be about America?’ My second reaction was to be rather astonished – it is an enormous thing to make such a claim in the Lord’s name if you are wrong. Do we believe him? My Christian friend clearly thought it was ‘good’ material.
Where these theorists start to name actual people, it becomes a real problem. The things claimed about Hillary Clinton, George Soros, George Bush etc are reprehensible, including that they eat human flesh and ‘grow babies’ for that purpose. We are talking deeply unpleasant concepts here, and the Ninth Commandment certainly applies even if none of the accused have yet risked the unpleasant additional publicity that would result from a libel trial. I read a Facebook post on a ‘Christian’ site about a global paedophile conspiracy amongst well-known people on the same day that another ten men were arrested in Rotherham – global conspiracies of the glamorous and famous are so much exciting than the grubby, distasteful reality of uneducated taxi drivers and fast food suppliers that is often the reality.
These ideas are now all over the world. I was told of a steadfast evangelical in South Africa, who now endorses racist ideas about global Jewish plots while a Nigerian Christian TV channel was censured by Ofcom in the UK for relaying programmes about Covid and a conspiracy using 5G masts.
The Church needs to be much clearer that it is facing an insidious problem. We need to be much more vocal in challenging the originators of these things but also to recognise that belief in them is an illness. There is going to be the need for people whose gifts particularly include distinguishing between spirits, one of the less glamorous gifts that appears to be sorely in short supply. ‘This sort only come out by prayer’ (Mark 9: 29) is probably a better approach than trying to argue it out – in most cases, you won’t succeed. Confronted by a young woman who believes the world is flat, I responded ‘Have you ever been in a plane?’ It made no difference. Sometimes gently laughing might be the best response. Don’t allow any sharing of conspiracy links within church WhatsApp groups and, as I was advised, don’t allow anyone subscribing to these things into a position where they have care or leadership over others.
But that begs a question – do you know how far this material has infiltrated your church?
Image | Pixabay
The author is a Baptist church member
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.