In the Dallas Morning News Ed Stetzer and Andy MacDonald wrote an op-ed that talked about evangelicals and conspiracy theories. In an article that has a lot of wisdom and truth Stetzer rightfully calls out evangelicals and conspiracy theories. This blog on this issue agrees with Ed Stetzer. But the problem is also bigger. Could those from the Harvest Bible Chapel community who push conspiracies theories in the end embolden James MacDonald as they undermine themselves in the process?
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.“
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:32 ESV
Comet Ping Pong where an Evangelical Christian gunman walked in with an AR-15 to liberate children allegedly being held by pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton,
About four years ago I met with a someone who wanted to meet with me and discuss C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. So I met with the person in a restaurant as I get out and like to meet with people. As we were talking about Mahnaey’s controversial ministry this person sitting across from me changes the subject and wants to tell me another matter that I should be concerned about. He then proceeded to tell me about how Jews are controlling the global financial system. The Jews are strategically placed around the world in places like Africa, Asia and South America to control the flow of money. I was taken back by what I heard and stunned. It came out of left field and I had to face the fact that I was hearing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. I felt trapped as I listened to this guy go on for nearly an hour. I went through a range of emotions. There was shock, then anger and ultimately disappointment. When I was hearing this guy talk about Sovereign Grace and talk about the issue of child sex abuse I suddenly had reason to doubt him. Were what he was telling me legitimate? Or was he just buying into another conspiracy theory and that motivated him to want to meet me? What was truth for this individual? Where did the facts begin? How did I know what to believe as I listened to all this? When we were done eating I smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for the meal. As I walked away I decided to drop him as a potential blog source. His credibility was too much at stake and I was not going to write any posts that would go out on a limb based off what he was telling me. What I stumbled into was indicative of a larger problem when it comes to evangelicals and conspiracy theories. Just the other day I wrote about evangelicals and the Q Anon theory which you can read in, “The Conspiracy That Some Evangelicals are Embracing: Q Anon and a Solid Read in The Atlantic Magazine About this Dangerous Belief System.”
Ed Stetzer’s Article in the Dallas Morning News
On Many 17, 2020 Ed Stetzer and Andy MacDonald wrote an article about evangelicals and conspiracy theories for the Dallas Morning News. Ed explains how many evangelicals act like Pilate by asking “What is truth” as they embrace conspiracy theories and fake news. Evangelicals are choosing media platforms that play to their conspiracy theories. But conspiracy theories are at an all time high in during the COVID-19 pandemic. Too often evangelicals are buying into conspiracy theories. Stetzer goes on to say the following in the Dallas Morning News article.
“At their root, conspiracy theories are illogical and embarrassing. The audacity of recent COVID-19 conspiracy theories demands that President Donald Trump, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the media, and the scientific community are all in league together. More outlandishly, they ascribe the virus to secret plans to end religious liberty, to connect a potential vaccine to the mark of the beast, and loop in 5G towers as a bizarre bonus.”
According to Stetzer its time for the issue of conspiracy theories to be addressed by the evangelical church. Conspiracy theories are an epidemic and pastors need to speak out on the topic. Stetzer then goes on and writes about the growth of conspiracy theories and evangelicals.
The reality is that a culture of conspiracy theories and the habits they enculturate are gaining traction in the evangelical church. In a study we conducted at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center in May 2018, we surveyed evangelicals by belief, evangelicals by self-identification, and non-evangelicals on a range of political and technology questions. Asked which social media platforms they use, over three-quarters of those identifying as evangelical (77%) regularly use Facebook and almost half (46%) use YouTube. Moreover, among those who use social media, just under half (47%) say they engage others on social or political issues at least a few times a month, and a quarter (24%) engage daily.
For those concerned about the rise of conspiracy theories in the church, it is rather distressing that three-quarters of evangelicals agreed that the mainstream media produces fake news compared to only 54% of non-evangelicals. More than combating this tendency, church attendance at least once a month was one of the factors more likely to correlate to agreeing that the mainstream media produces fake news (77% compared to 68% of those who attend less frequently). We understand mistrust of the media that often struggles to accurately report on matters of religion, but these numbers are stunning.
This distrust of media sources and embrace of social media as a tool for political and social debate has predictably caused division. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of evangelicals agree that social media has increased the divisive political climate in America and about a third (32%) have said that they have unfollowed or unfriended someone due to social or political issues. While it’s a good idea to block those who harass or insult, that so many respondents believe they had to block others shows how we let these issues dominate our online presence.
According to Stetzer conspiracy theories undermine Christian witness. Evangelicals become irrelevant and unimportant. Stetzer then analyzes the issue of conspiracy theories in a theological context in the following two paragraphs.
Thus, when Scripture calls us to be wise in resisting the temptation to foolishness and warns against those who “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4), its point is not only in how this hurts us, but rather how it reflects the Gospel we profess. Christians have a responsibility to not be fooled. As we’ve argued before, gullibility is not a Christian virtue. Believing and sharing conspiracies does not honor the Lord. It may make you feel better, like you are in the know, but it can end up harming others and it can hurt your witness.
How are others to interpret our claim about the resurrection when we are cavalier with conspiracies on social media? It is critical that we recognize that we cannot proclaim the truth of the resurrection of Jesus to a skeptical world and in the same breath rant about 5G towers spreading the virus. Paraphrasing James 4, out of the same Facebook account cannot come professions of the risen Christ and accusations of #pizzagate. Spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness, and we need to repent when we have borne such witness.
I would encourage you to read the entire artilcle but towards the end Ed Stetzer calls on people to unplug and not to by driven by outrage. If you want to read the article you can do so in, “Too many evangelical Christians fall for conspiracy theories online, and gullibility is not a virtue.”
Why this Blog Agrees With Ed Stetzer on the Issue of Evangelicals and Conspiracy Theories
This blog does not agree with Ed Stetzer very often. Actually I was blocked by him long before the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal broke. I criticized an article by Ed Stetzer in 2015 and wrote about his problems with church membership and he blocked me instantly on Twitter. You can read that article in, “Ed Stetzer’s Warped View on Church Membership.” This blog acknowledges the issues of Ed Stetzer and Harvest Bible Chapel. He was caught red handed in accepting a gift which revealed conflict of interest. So this blog is not in denial about those issues with Ed Stetzer.
But its time to admit that in this area Ed Stetzer is correct. Too many evangelicals are caught up in conspiracy theories. Too many are wrapped around the axel on conspiracy theories about the Deep State, vaccines and autism, Hillary Clinton and pedophilia, Q Anon, medicine, George Soros, COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Semitism, and many more. I see these frequently on social media. I see it on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere. Its come up in conversations. And it keeps popping up. I have seen people tweet or say things about some of those topics and my respect for some has plunged. We’re not talking about something ridiculous as to whether or not there was a gunman at the grassy knoll in Dallas. We’re talking about conspiracy theories that can sway people to not get a vaccine or to not get medical treatment. These are conspiracy theories can can injure, hurt of even possibly result in people or children losing their life. For an evangelical who retweets a conspiracy theory that can inspire someone to commit an act of violence like what happened in Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. or to hurt someone’s health is really no different than standing up in the middle of a crowded theater and screaming fire. Evangelicals have lost credibility because of these conspiracy theories. In my case its led to me pulling back from some people just embarrassed as to what I am seeing online. This problem has gotten worse and its been amplified by the anti-intellectualism by evangelicals. Every time someone from Harvest tweets about Q Anon or the Deep State plot they are validating and proving that Mark Noll was correct about the scandal of the evangelical mind. Every single time. This blog appreciates this article by Ed Stetzer and challenges other people to think, contemplate and consider what he has said. Ed Stetzer is correct when he talks about evangelicals living in an echo chamber of conspiracies. I don’t see mainline Protestants act like this, nor are the Catholics, or Greek Orthodox. This issue hangs over evangelicals in a very disturbing manner. I could almost do a post of what some people are tweeting or posting on Facebook to make my claim but this post does not want to use any names. But those who tweet or push conspiracies know who you are.
How Former Harvest Bible Chapel Members Trafficking Conspiracy Theories can Embolden James MacDonald
There is another issue that needs to be said in regards to conspiracy theories. Every time someone from Harvest tweets another conspiracy theory they undermine themselves. Some of the people undermining themselves have been sources in the past for different blogs or more. While people tweet conspiracies about vaccines or the Hillary Clinton can it allow James MacDonald to dismiss people who are embracing such fake news and conspiracies? Is the reason why the Chicago Tribune didn’t cover the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal is because it looked into some of the sources who claimed to have knowledge on James MacDonald and saw what else they believed and came to the conclusion they are not credible. Just as I did four years ago when I walked away from a restaurant here in the Washington, D.C. area. James MacDonald is a conman and the last thing people want to do is give him ammunition for him to say that what was brought against him came from dubious or paranoid sources. People that spoke out about James or shared information who are sharing fake news are telling the world that they struggle with discernment and critical thinking skills. It also shows how they are vulnerable as well.
I know this post may be upsetting for some and that it will anger others. But the truth is one must call a spade a spade and be consistent. The other day I wrote a post that explained why I have rejected evangelicalism. You can read that in, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.” On Twitter before I wrote this post I saw a few comments were people explained that conspiracy theories were part of the reason people distance themselves from evangelicals. So in this context I am not alone. But this issue is embarrassing and with the access to information that exists people should be able to navigate and make sound decisions. That is the hope that I have with a post like this one. That is my plea. Can I appeal to the better angels of people’s nature as Abraham Lincoln once said and inspire people to act with wisdom? Let’s do that shall we?