the shape of leadership

Christians Should Not Cause More Doubt

Are conspiracy claims hindering the gospel?

Preston Ulmer on December 1, 2020

Do you think Christians should do everything they can to alleviate the doubts of others? Should we create new, unmerited frustrations about the world, or should we continue to battle the “father of lies” by bringing hopeful truth (John 8:44)?

The answer seems obvious: Alleviate doubt; don’t perpetuate it. If that is the general sentiment of Christians, why are many evangelicals perpetuating conspiracy theories that are not only fabricated but also downright dangerous?

As the Church, we claim to know the truth, and we commit our lives to sharing truth. Yet it’s quite a phenomenon that so many Christians believe in paranoia-inducing exaggerations and suspicions about the world. The problem is that conspiracy theories are doing the opposite of what the Christian life is about — namely, spreading truth and hope in love.

A 2014 article in the American Journal of Political Science identified two characteristics of people who are more likely to believe conspiracy claims. The first is belief in the supernatural. The second is a worldview that fixates on a good-versus-evil narrative.

Based on these criteria, Christians are susceptible to conspiratorial thinking. We believe the physical world we see, touch and experience is not the only world that exists. Additionally, we believe our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against evil principalities that can influence those who are in power.

For all intents and purposes, it is a good-versus-evil narrative for us. Any religious worldview is a natural breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

In his book, Conspiracy Theories: A Primer, Joseph Uscinski defines conspiracy theories as an explanation of past, present, or future events or circumstances that cites, as the primary cause, a conspiracy.” He goes on to say, “Conspiracy theories are inherently political. Conspiracy theories are accusatory ideas that could either be true or false, and they contradict the proclamations of epistemological authorities, assuming such proclamations exist.”

If that sounds like a familiar way of thinking for you or people close to you, let’s talk about what’s at stake, and what we need to do about it.

What’s at Stake?

When Christians choose to spread conspiracies, we lose the credibility we need for the true, supernatural claims that matter. We are already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to convincing society that a Christian worldview is worth adopting. Conspiracy theories weaken our witness.

When Christians choose to spread conspiracies, we lose the credibility we need for the true, supernatural claims that matter.

Imagine hearing QAnon claims from the same person who is telling you how to hear the voice of God.

Doctrines like the Second Coming, and heaven or hell, are already outlandish claims for people without a supernatural worldview. We cannot afford to create distrust in our relationships with them.

Not only does this hurt our mission, but it’s also not consistent with it. Our mission is to spread the hope and love of Christ.

By comparison, conspiracy theories breed distrust, and they distract. Christians can become so focused on telling others about the corruption of earthly kingdoms and kings that they miss opportunities to encourage nonbelievers to place their hope in the reality of the kingdom of God.

Finally, conspiracy theories cloud our judgment. Have you ever noticed that people promoting conspiracy theories are always convinced they are on the noble side of the good-versus-evil battle? And they are convinced everyone else is on the wrong side. Instead, what if our mental efforts were put towards thinking through things such as the ethics of distributing a vaccine, how to love our neighbor whether we win or lose politically, and how the Church will emerge in 2021?

Our current season calls for wisdom, discipleship, and a renewed emphasis on biblical teaching. Paul told Timothy to oppose false teachers who promoted “controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work” (1 Timothy 1:4).

The integrity of the Christian worldview has always been that it is based on eyewitness testimony, not wild theories and existential hunches. We need to remind people of eternal realities that are of far greater importance than rumors, opinions, and suspicions.

As James 3:6 reminds us, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (ESV).

The flow of conspiracy theories often feels like a fire. It spreads fear, demonizes people who don’t think like us, and hinders the gospel — the truth about Jesus that sets people free (John 8:32).

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