First published on Christian Converser
A conspiracy theory is simply a theory about some type of event or occurrence that invokes a conspiracy by “sinister and powerful groups” , even when other explanations are more probable (source: Wikipedia). There are a lot of conspiracy theories sourced within and propagated by the Christian community, especially its more conservative elements. The real question, however, is whether conspiracy theories do more harm than good, by causing people to become fixated on these supposed groups, rather than on their day to day life. Conspiracy theory in Christian circles ia largely predicated from dispensationalist theology. The basic premise of dispensationalism is that the Book of Revelation foretells a massive apocalypse, and crucially, that various literary devices within the said Scriptures can be interpreted to a modern day context and point to various conspiracies worldwide. The basic problem for dispensationalists, as we have noted in other posts, is that all of their prophecies about the end of the world have not come to pass. At the end of the day, there are multiple theological viewpoints about how to interpret Revelation, including those which suggest the events depicted therein occurred during the first century AD, but the dispensationalist view is the one with the greatest following simply because of the prominence it has obtained in the mass media, rather than whether it makes good theology.
Ultimately, the questions for Christians or for anyone is whether they have a basic trust in the institutions of secular society, such as democracy and open government. Whilst it is reasonable to acknowledge that many secular institutions have little regard for Christian world viewpoints, it is another matter altogether whether government authorities are actively coordinating action against Christians, which is where the conspiracy theories become relevant. The problem is that having a conspiracy theory mindset about the world at large can become an unhealthy obsession that takes over one’s entire life and dictates choices made within it. This has been the core problem with doomsday scenarios propagated by dispensationist-aligned groups within Christianity worldwide. When the predictions about dire events and the end times have not come to pass, people have reacted in some cases by completely walking away from their faith altogether.
A key issue for Christian communities where conspiracy theories often have taken root is whether the circulation of such theories is distracting from more certain Biblical imperatives such as preaching the Gospel. There are, of course, those evangelists who assert that incorporating dispensationalism into their overall message has improved its effectiveness, however the key problem is that publicity over failed prophecies made by these people have resulted in large scale questioning not just of this aspect but of the entire message. At its core, dispensationalism in particular appeals to a lot of people because it claims to be able to fortell the future. The real future that Christians should be concerned with and the only one that has near universal agreement within the Church as a whole is the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Following on from that, the most important aspect of Christian faith to everyday life is to live it out in a way that glorifies God and witnesses to those around us.
The real questions to be asked about conspiracy theories are whether they enable Christians to be faithful witnesses or are an undesirable distraction that causes Christians to focus on responses that isolate them from the world at large. There’s also a very important question about whether conspiracy theories are actually helping the church as a whole. Defenders of Christian organisations that are actively involved in circulating conspiracy theories, such as the Canadian group Campaign Life Coalition, whose website Life Site News was recently banned on Youtube and Facebook, claim that they are merely engaging in fervent promotion of Christian values in a secular society. However, the ultimate purpose of their campaigns is a relevant factor. Many of the groups which have been most virulently promoting conspiracy theories have been strongly linked to Christian nationalism, especially in North America where a great deal of support from conservative churchgoers fell strongly behind Donald Trump’s 2016-2020 administration, and which continues to court his nascent re-election campaign. Elevating Christianity to the privileged position of being a form of government for a country, however, will not beneficial for the Church or the cause of Christianity as a whole. It’s timely that just as this article was being drafted, Christianity Today released a study by a Singaporean academic asserting that the Christian Church has flourished the most worldwide in nations where it is under persecution, and the least in countries where it is overtly aligned to government. This is not really new, as the impacts of persecution on the growth of the church in nations around the world has long been recognised in missionary circles.
Therefore, a very important consideration for the dissemination of conspiracy theory in Christian circles must be what it is intended to achieve as a whole. It must be determined whether the propagation of such ideas by Christian organisations is in keeping with the core principles of the Gospel. This blog believes that Christian dissemination of conspiracy theories is often carried out by groups intent on reshaping society as a whole to be more favourable to and reflective of Christian beliefs. Such groups are closely aligned to the cause of Christian nationalism and fail to understand that creating a theocracy, or a form of government that is overtly Christian in its outlook, will not result in the furtherance of Christian values worldwide. The most overt form of Christian nationalism seen on the planet is, of course, the strong backing given by many conservative churches to the State of Israel, where they claim there is a theological basis, especially from dispensationalism, for believing that God still favours the Jewish people above all others, and that the future reinstatement of this historical theocracy is a prerequisite to and forerunner of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As it is fairly obvious worldwide that Christian nationalism does not result in a net growth of Christianity and in fact probably has the opposite effect in countries where it has got support, it necessarily follows that a more balanced focus to living as Christian members of secular societies and consequently less adherence to or promotion of conspiracy theories within the Church has a better outcome in terms of the numbers of people who become followers of Jesus Christ.