Every pastor is dealing with this today.
With all that we are facing in our communities and churches related to the pandemic, the polarization of political pundits, and the delay and/or cancellation of everything from sports to school, we are seeing more and more of this.
These are CONSPIRACY THEORIES.
To be honest, I have always been intrigued with conspiracy theories. Whether they be connected to the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, Roswell, Area 51, 9/11, or any other number of pop-culture stories, these have always piqued my curiosity. Now, don't read what I'm not writing here. I am not saying I believe them. I am just saying that they have always intrigued me.
Sometimes, I accidentally think that others are as up on the latest conspiracies and are as intrigued as I am. For instance in our church's recent leadership team meeting, I alluded to those who buy all these latest theories and refer to them as those who constantly believe the black helicopters are hovering above.
One of our team members finally stopped me mid-sentence and asked "David, you keep referring to these helicopters. What does that even mean?"
You mean not everyone is familiar with the interconnections between Catcher in the Rye, the Illuminati, Bigfoot, mattress stores, and the silent, black helicopters used by the government to surveil citizens?
I know about the black helicopters because...well, because they were in a movie called "Conspiracy Theory." That means they are real, right?
These theories have always drawn attention from some. They raise questions. In most cases, it is clear that these are nothing more than elaborate theories and not factual (however, you may have difficulty convincing Pastor Robby Gallaty about the lone gunman theory in the JFK assassination.)
Conspiracies Abound Online
I listened to Ed Stetzer's Leadership podcast today regarding conspiracy theories and the growth of them during this pandemic. He and his guests spoke of the vast number of stories that are shared online by Christians and the challenge facing pastors and Christian leaders seeking to lead their churches in truth and with discernment. I encourage you to listen to the podcast and read the articles he has written (linked below.)
The podcast (Episode 33) is available here.
Ed has an excellent article on this at his "Christianity Today" site here.
Here's another from a previous issue of "Christianity Today" by Stetzer here.
The Lies Just Keep On Coming
Every pastor and leader in the local church has received emails and messages from well-meaning church members and Christian friends. Over the years, I have seen these messages come in waves. They are shared on Facebook and other social media pages. I get a message or email stating something like "Pastor, this is serious. You need to say something about this..."
In most cases, what I say is "That's a hoax. I saw this message five years ago. It's not true."
To be honest, I have been guilty in the past of sharing such things in the past. One friend convinced me that NutraSweet turned to wood in the bloodstream and I shared that story. Once. Wow. Yet, age and discernment help me now to determine the veracity of such things.
- The "gay Jesus film" called "Corpus Christi" has been rumored to be made since 1984. I still receive this email warning Christians about this. While I am certain numerous plays and films have been or will be made that paint Jesus in such a light, this particular email with the attached petition is not true.
- Pizzagate has been determined to be false from numerous media outlets, but some still declare it it must be true, primarily because the characters allegedly involved are those who are disliked greatly by the ones sharing the stories.
- There is no one putting HIV-infected syringes on gas pumps intending to infect innocent motorists.
- Wayfair is not trafficking children in overpriced containers.
- Jeffrey Epstein did not commit suicide (Okay, I believe this one.)
These stories and more are shared ALL THE TIME!
Now, in the age of COVID-19, we have even more stories. I get updates related to Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the 5G conspiracy, and the propagation of a virus as little more than an excuse to monitor everyone via new technology. Most Christians also add the imbedded chip stories connected to the number of the beast from Scripture. I hear how face masks are not helpful for anything other than in helping AI determine facial recognition better. The six-foot separation was nothing more than an organized strategy devised to allow AI to pick out individuals better. And...I hear the black helicopters now.
The Biggest Problem with Christians and Conspiracies
You know, one of these days we may discover that some of these conspiracy theories are true.
That's not the point.
What is the point is what I heard Stetzer state on his podcast. The very Christian who shares every single unproven and outrageous story online (or the angry online rants of discredited pastors who garner likes by their pseudo-patriotism disguised as Christianity) then, perhaps on Easter or at Christmas, shares a story about the miraculous resurrection or incarnation of Jesus Christ is viewed not as a propagator of truth, but simply as one sharing another FAKE NEWS story. Well-intentioned believers will not be heard (or read and believed) not due to their insincerity, but due to their inability to discern truth from lies. Why believe the miracle about Christ if the story is coming from someone who claims to have seen Elvis at the Firehouse Subs on Tuesday?
Words matter...and so do shares and "likes" online. Think before you type. Pray before you share. Check your sources. Where did the story originate? Who wrote it? How old is it? Seriously...Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been dead since 1995 so she is not at work to get your favorite Christian radio station off the radio.
If all you share are the trending conspiracies and politically-themed stories of the day...when you do share something of eternal value, your friends and followers will just categorize it as another fake news story to relegate to the online trash heap.
Bearing false witness is not just something done with the lips. It can just as easily be done through a keyboard or by hitting the "share" button.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. - Ephesians 4:25 (ESV)