“T**** is President, Christ is King”
…was the phrase they were chanting while others prayed in front of a life sized crucifix. After beating policemen and breaking into the Capitol, they led a prayer from the dais of the senate. On Jan 6, 2021, the mob both embraced Jesus and the conspiracy theories that fueled their extremism.
Where did this unholy marriage between Evangelicals (Evies) and conspiracy theories come from? What is it about the church that make its followers fertile ground for believing wild conspiracies like Donald T**** won the election, QAnon, Covid is a hoax, and more?
I spent 18 years inside the Evangelical Church, leading bible studies, worship teams, going on short-term missions trips… the whole nine yards. I have an intimate insider perspective on these 6 constructs in the Church that make followers primed for brainwashing.
1. The Idea That “Science is Out to Get You”
con·spir·a·cy the·o·ry: (noun) a theory that rejects the standard explanation for an event and instead credits a covert group or organization with carrying out a secret plot:
…so it isn’t enough to reject the standard explanation for things, as religion commonly does, but Evies are trained to believe there is an elite society elaborately and deliberately lying to you.
For Evies, this elite society is known as scientists.
When I was in the church we were all taught that we are God’s special creation, so Evolution must be false. Not only that, but it’s a huge conspiracy scientists made up to rip us away from our perfect identity in God.
Climate Change is a falsehood invented to take away coal jobs, vaccines exist to cause autism, and so on. Since we were conditioned to believe scientists are conspiring against us, it’s easy for Evies to then jump to journalists, politicians, doctors, educators, etc.
2. The Focus on Emotional Experiences
Evangelicalism centers around emotional encounters with God through impassioned worship services, public testimony, speaking in tongues, healings, etc.
The moment we accept Christ, we feel his presence, and later when he feels distant or not there at all, Evies are taught to focus on that first emotional experience.
Thus when an Evie feels a certain thing is true (like QAnon), it doesn’t matter what the facts say, the initial, emotional moment was so powerful that all contrary evidence is just an attempt to lead you astray.
3. The Personal Relationship with God
You’ve probably heard this phrase before. Yes, Evies are big on being BFFs with Jesus, but the term never appears in the bible and it only became mainstream in the 20th century.
The message of a personal relationship is easier to sell to an increasingly individualistic society. But the great folly of it can be summarized in one dangerous phrase:
“God told me to…”
If individuals can get an order directly from God, with no accountability or council on its legitimacy, you have the dangerous precedent of one interpreting a feeling as a verbal directive from God… to do literally anything.
I have seen Christians, based on a personal word from God, engage in anything from a ridiculous drum solo in church (click for cringe), to the horrendous storming of the Capitol.
In times past, Christians relied on a family, clergy, and community to make important decisions. Today, the Personal Relationship has spawned the unwanted offspring of lone-wolf Christians, acting on dire impulses like “God told me to follow T****, at all costs.”
4. Evies Live in the Black and White.
Evies believe that every word of the bible is true, even contradictory passages. The fact that they could not possibly accept that some passages contain varying amounts of truth, reveals how rigid the belief system is.
This binary thinking is extremely dangerous: Evies are terrible at critically thinking about complex, layered, and gray subjects where the answer lies somewhere on a continuum.
Thus when presented with a conspiracy theory that feels right, they are going to end up going ALL IN. If one part of it feels true, then it’s all true.
5. Primed For Disappointment
Years ago I received a grand calling to go on a mission trip to China, only (ironically) for it to be cancelled by the SARS virus.
This happens all the time in Evie culture: “I feel called to start a church” and it fails; “God has called me into this marriage” and it ends in abuse… And when the calling leads to failure, we are conditioned to believe that God is just testing us and the setback means we need to try ever harder.
We worship in empty churches, we pray for miracles, but get the same failed results. Same with T****: Lackluster rally attendance, failed Covid response, failed to build a wall… the list goes on. But MAGA Christians fight on through the disappointment, blindly believing that God will deliver their expected outcome.
6. The Mystery.
All the time when speaking with Christians on tough topics like: Why is the divorce rate so high in the church? Why are miracles no longer done in Christ’s name? What’s up with the trinity?… so many times I get the pat answer: “The Mystery”
When things are unknown, Evies are conditioned to consider them unknowABLE and to compartmentalize them as God doing his mysterious thing.
It’s the same thing speaking with MAGA cultists, for example: “The Covid death rate isn’t that bad, many people actually died of other diseases.”
Me: “What percentage of people would have died anyway without Covid?”
MAGA: “I don’t know”.
In other words, if there maybe exists some shred of truth, “the mystery” can explain away the rest and fill in the (gaping) holes in logic.
My Challenge to Evies:
To the currently professing and practicing Christians reading this: prove me wrong. If you have a genuine relationship with Jesus and it doesn’t ruin your rational thought, then declare it.
Declare that science and faith, the rational and emotional, can coexist in your relationship with God.
And most importantly, declare that conspiracy theories like T**** winning the 2020 election, that many in your church believe, is OBJECTIVELY FALSE. Without this outright rejection you are complicit with the guy sitting on the other end of the pew who believes that Hillary Clinton is the lead of a cabal of satanic child rapists who like pizza.
Prove that Christianity itself is not a gateway conspiracy theory.