The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, ‘Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.'” – Isaiah 8:11-13
According to author Michael Tracey, “Conspiracy theories have always been popular in America to one degree or another.”[1. Tracey, Michael. The Explosion of Christian Conspiracy Theories in Obama’s America. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/11/17/the-explosion-of-christian-conspiracy-theories-in-obamas-americ/] In my younger years (and I’m still young) I found myself captivated and attracted by conspiracy theories. They were fascinating and the more I learned of them, the more I felt as though I had some “inside” knowledge that no one else seemed to have.
As a Seventh-day Adventist, I have noticed that many Christians tend to get wrapped up in conspiracy theories. Men like Walter Veith, Bill Hughes, and groups like Battlefield Hollywood make conspiracy theories especially attractive. Tim Lahaye, Hal Lindsey, and Pat Robertson are not far behind either. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against these men. Dr. Veith is, in my opinion, one of the loveliest men around, and those who know him personally have told me likewise. I have watched Pat Robertson on TV, and his gentle, gracious spirit is one we should all emulate. In addition, none of these men are out to do any harm to anyone. Their only desire is to bring others closer to Jesus. There are many who like to criticize these men while they themselves do nothing to spread the gospel. So understand, I am not here to criticize or judge anyone. May the Lord judge me accordingly if I were to speak negatively or slanderously against them.
Conspiracy theories are, nevertheless, harmful. My intention therefore is to suggest a balance when it comes to this issue. Jennifer Schwirzer got it right when she said, “Conspiracy theories supposedly expose the dark deeds and covert alliances of governments, secret societies and prominent individuals. One feels very powerful in the role of “knowing.” But the knowing can degenerate into an unhealthy fascination with the mystery of iniquity leaving some so consumed with evil that they lose sight of the Savior.”[2. Schwirzer, Jennifer. Conspiracy Theories or Prophetic Facts? https://ssnet.org/blog/conspiracy-theories-or-prophetic-facts/]
Most proponents and supporters of conspiracy theories are often under the impression that they are simply “watching the signs of the times” or “exposing the deeds of Satan so as not to be deceived.” There is something truly commendable here: The desire to be faithful to God. Understand that most who find themselves wrapped up in conspiracy theories are not wackos or nut cases (though there are those as well). Instead, most of them (at least in Christian circles) are sincere disciples of Christ whose ultimate goal is to remain faithful and loyal to God. However, I would like to propose four reasons why conspiracy theories, rather than helping, can actually hinder our Christian walk and damage our witness.
1. Conspiracy theories distract from Jesus.
Some may argue and say that they don’t. To those I would say, if delving into conspiracy theories draws you closer to Jesus, then please don’t stop. However, I am certain that the vast majority of us are not really drawn closer to Jesus at all. We just feel as though we are.
Conspiracy theories have a way of making us feel like we are more spiritual than others because of the information we have. I have noticed that whenever my spiritual life is suffering I tend to be more vulnerable to conspiracy theories. This is because they create a false sense of spirituality. I may not be praying more or reading the Bible more or leading others to Jesus more but because I know who killed JFK and I know about the Illuminati, I feel more spiritual. This is self-deception.
Paul encourages us to, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” Conspiracy theories, rather than helping, actually hinder our spiritual growth because they distract us from Jesus while simultaneously making us feel as if we’re closer to Him. If there ever was a true conspiracy taking place right now it’s this one: Satan is working overtime to keep you as distracted from Jesus and His word as possible, and he will do whatever it takes to take your eyes off Him. Wasting time poring over conspiracy theories is one of many ways he accomplishes this goal.
2. Conspiracy theories generate a spirit of fear and anxiety.
The opening text for this article comes from Isaiah 8:11-13. At this time Isaiah was prophesying to Ahaz, the King of Judah. The kingdoms of Syria and Israel had formed an alliance together to destroy Judah. Ahaz was so afraid of this conspiracy formed against him that he turned to the nation of Assyria and asked their king, Tiglath-pileser, for help. God was angry with Ahaz because he allowed himself to become afraid and instead of trusting in God, he turned to a man for help. God, speaking to Isaiah and Judah told them, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy… and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.”
In this story we notice several things. Firstly, the conspiracy was not just a “theory.” It was real. Likewise, many conspiracy theories floating around may in fact be real. However, Ahaz and Judah became so distracted by the conspiracy that, instead of turning to God for help, they turned to the king of Assyria. In the same way, conspiracy theories fill us with so much fear that we become afraid. Some stock their basements with canned food, run to the mountains, and do all kinds of bizarre things because they are afraid. Instead of trusting that God will take care of them they turn to the “Assyria within” for help. They trust in their own efforts and strength to save them in the time of trouble.
While there is nothing wrong with preparation for the coming crisis, moving to the country or mountains, and learning how to live off of the land, if one does so out of fear it is not the Spirit of God that is leading, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). “Don’t fear the conspiracies” is the message of Isaiah. Fear God. Satan wants everything that belongs to God, including fear, and conspiracy theories is one way that he gets it.
3. Conspiracy theories generate a spirit of distrust.
As John F Kennedy once said:
Now we are face to face once again with a period of heightened peril. The risks are great, the burdens heavy, the problems incapable of swift or lasting solution. And under the strains and frustrations imposed by constant tension and harassment, the discordant voices of extremism are heard once again in the land. Men who are unwilling to face up to the danger from without are convinced that the real danger comes from within. They look suspiciously at their neighbors and their leaders. They call for a ‘man on horseback’ because they do not trust the people. They find treason in our finest churches, in our highest court, and even in the treatment of our water. They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism.[3. Kennedy, John F. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/jfk-conspiracy/]
As Kennedy so eloquently pointed out, those who focus on conspiracy theories eventually become distrustful of everything and everyone. They can’t see the world the same way again because their “knowledge” has opened their eyes to the “truth.” As a result, nearly everything that happens is a conspiracy of some sort. Co-owner of “Choose the Narrow Way Ministries,” Tammy Roesch narrates:
It is 1998, two years before Y2K. A young man and his wife, with their five young children, have been searching for land—no close neighbors and as off the beaten track as possible. It needs a spring on it for gravity fed-water. They find fifty acres tucked away in the mountains, in the middle of Nowhere, WV. It is a little house in desperate need of repair, with no electric or running water but very desolate—their only priority.
It is now November 1999. They sell their home, leave their business, pack up the U-Haul with all their belongings, along with hundreds of jars of home-canned fruits and produce, and head for Nowhere, WV. President Clinton had signed into law the Anti-Hoarding Bill, so it is of the utmost importance that no one, especially the neighbors, distant as they are, knows the amount of food in that U-Haul.
It is snowing and blowing, and the roads are so icy as they almost reach their destination. If you have ever been to West Virginia, you know that as you are going around some of those bends, the front of the vehicle nearly catches up with the rear of the vehicle. Suddenly, the vehicle is slipping and there is no way to stop it. Two seconds later, the U-Haul is in a ditch. A car goes by, stops, backs up, and a man gets out and offers to help. As the local wrecker is probably too small to pull the loaded U-Haul out of the ditch, the man leaves to collect the neighbors to help unload the truck. But, oh no! The neighbors are going to see all the food in the truck!
Twelve years have now gone by since that fateful day, but little has really changed. Y2K did not happen…the world barely skipped a beat, let alone came to a screeching halt, but when you are an Adventist with a conspiracy mindset, your mind automatically accepts a conspiracy-based reason as to why things did or did not transpire the way you thought they would.[4. Roesch, Tammy. Seventh-day Adventists and Conspiracy Theories. http://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2012/05/30/seventh-day-adventists-and-conspiracy-theories]
Those who focus on conspiracy theories become so distrustful that nearly everything becomes a conspiracy. The logo for Taco Bell supposedly has Free Mason symbols. The latest movie has Illuminati undertones. The pastor’s wave looks like the hand sign of a secret society. The U.S. president is going to become a dictator and oppress Americans. The General Conference of the church is in league with the anti-Christ. Protestant universities are now under the control of the Jesuits who have introduced heresies to our theology majors. The church has rewritten its history to deceive us. There are secret agents for the papacy in each of our Protestant churches. The government listens to all of our phone calls and reads all our emails. The Catholic Church is responsible for all the new versions of the Bible because they want to erase true doctrine (thus the “KJV only” movement is born). Everyone is out to get you. Don’t trust anyone. And on and on. Perhaps the same kind of thing was happening in Judah during the days of King Ahaz which is why God told them, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy.”
4. Conspiracy theories damage our character and our witness.
I have a friend who is not a Christian but has Christian family members. Some of them are high on conspiracy theories to such an extent that they always seem fearful, worried, and anxious about something. How do you think their non-Christian family member feels? This person looks at them and wonders why they worry so much when they are supposed to trust in God. Thus, many begin to think that all Christians are like this, and that, if they were become a Christians, they would be the same. Their natural reaction is to stay as far away from Christianity as possible.
“We should never give to the world the false impression that Christians are a gloomy, unhappy people. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, we shall see a compassionate Redeemer, and shall catch light from His countenance. Wherever His Spirit reigns, there peace abides. And there will be joy also, for there is a calm, holy trust in God.”[5. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 153.]
Other conspiracy theorists seem full of pride, arrogance, and a “holier-than-thou” attitude. One conspiracy theorist advertises himself under the phrase “They Can’t Handle the Truth.” I watched one of his video, which was shared on Facebook, and I was shocked at his “in-your-face” approach, his judgmental statements, and his fanatical rantings. While not all conspiracy theorists are like this. many of them are, and those who aren’t, seem to attract and produce followers of that nature.
Conspiracy theorizing ruins our credibility and witness among thinking people. For example, Walter Veith, an ex-atheist biology professor turned Seventh-day Adventist, is one of the most qualified and brilliant defenders of creationism. However, his credibility has been deeply damaged by his focus on conspiracy theories. Some conferences and many pastors don’t want him in their churches – not because he speaks the “truth” and they don’t like it – but because he speaks conspiracy theories that do more harm than good. While Veith may have reached a lot of people for Christ, I believe that he would accomplish a much greater work if he were to focus on biblical truth. Pat Robertson is another example. He is a famous evangelical who has written many books, run for political office, and is seen on TV quite often, especially in his popular show The 700 Club. If anyone is in a position to influence countless people for Christ. it is him. However, his conspiracy theories (not to mention his failed predictions) have discredited him even among many in the evangelical world.
Not only do conspiracy theories damage our character and our witness but they reduce our ability to engage in evangelism. In many cases this is due to an inability to get along with others who don’t share the same views. In other cases it is due to a lack of interest – preferring to speak of how the U.S. invaded Iraq for their oil – rather than of the cross of Christ. In his article ‘Why Some Christians Still Love Conspiracy Theories,’ former pastor and author John H. Armstrong said,
What’s the harm in a little innocent speculation, or such conspiracy thinking?’ The short answer is that this conspiracy business keeps people from living the really important eschatological aspects of biblical teaching…. if we remain focused on all these conspiracies we will miss the present opportunity ‘to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). I am convinced that most Christians who are preoccupied with conspiracies, whether the secular or religious variety it does not matter, will be rendered fairly useless to the real work of the church in the world today. They have no deep and abiding interest in the missional mandate of Jesus.[6. Armstrong, John H. Why Some Christians Still Love Conspiracy Theories. http://stevebrownetc.com/2007/06/26/why-some-christians-still-love-conspiracy-theories/]
Not everything is the result of a conspiracy
If you believe in conspiracy theories, I want to appeal to you right now: Not everything is a conspiracy. Not everyone is out to get you. And no I am not a Luciferian posing as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor to “deceive” you and lead you into error and eternal doom. There are evil people in the world who do evil things to get their way. But there is no need for us, as God’s people, to concern ourselves with those “secret” things and become so obsessed that we turn into worry warts instead of mighty warriors for God.
There is no point in showing how the stage at Obama’s inauguration has the same architecture as the Vatican. “We should not indulge in useless speculation that takes time and effort away from our work for Christ…”[7. Should a Christian be interested in conspiracy theories? http://www.gotquestions.org/conspiracy-theories.html] 1 Timothy 1:4 says, “Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees [genealogies]. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.” While this text is not talking about conspiracies – much like myths and spiritual genealogies, conspiracy theories also lead to “meaningless speculations.”
So is the solution then to be gullible and believe everything the media tells us? No. We shouldn’t walk around as if everything is perfect. There is a real battle going on between good and evil. Everything is not OK. But we need not fear, for “if God is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”
As Christians we should be students of prophecy. Biblical prophecy exposes much of what will happen behind the scenes in the end times and prepare us for the coming events.
What’s different between end-time prophecy and conspiracy theories?
There is a world of difference. One is biblical revelation that was given to inspired writers by God Himself. The other is the pursuit of rabbit trails, obscure history, and limited data in order to arrive at a conclusion that supposedly reveals the absolute truth. One has Christ at the center and consistently uplifts the risen Savior while diminishing the forces of darkness. The other has pride at the center and consistently uplifts the forces of darkness. One is truth. The other is speculation.
As Bibleanswers.org puts it,
Speaking up and uncovering the truth is certainly biblical. The prophet Nathan uncovered David’s conspiracy to cover up his sin of murder (2 Samuel 12). Paul’s nephew uncovered a plot to assassinate Paul, and his knowledge foiled the attempt (Acts 23). Wickedness likes to hide. John 3:20 says, ‘Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.’ We should always seek the truth. ‘Love truth and peace’ (Zechariah 8:19)…. [However, while] [e]xposing the truth is good. Obsessing over rumor and hearsay and half-proven theories is harmful. Ephesians 5:11-14 is an excellent guideline. Verse 11 says to expose ‘the fruitless deeds of darkness.’ But verse 12 says not to mention them. How do we expose them? Not by conjecture or worry or fear or never-ending deliberation, but by waiting on the words of verses 13 and 14: ‘Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.’ Speak the truth and wait for God’s timing.[8. Should a Christian be interested in conspiracy theories?http://www.gotquestions.org/conspiracy-theories.html]
Focus on Jesus instead
I am not condemning those who believe in conspiracy theories. But I appeal to you to devote the time, intelligence and energy now devoted to conspiracy theories into knowing Christ more and proclaiming the good news of salvation. Whether the conspiracy theories are true or not, whether the governments and the police are out to recreate Hitler’s Holocaust on U.S. soil, or whether Hollywood is conspiring to deceive the world into thinking that Jesus is evil and Satan is good, should not make us lose sleep or precious time.
Do not be overcome with fear, anxiety, and worry. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Preach the gospel. Proclaim the prophecies. Lift Christ up and let God worry about the wicked. Don’t fret over their plans and purposes so much. Don’t freak out over their evil deeds and secret activities. No matter how powerful they are, or what they plan or conjure up, it is written, “The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord…. But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them” (Psalms 2:2, 4).
Halleluiah! We have nothing to fear.