Friends, let’s talk for a minute about conspiracy theories.
If you have spent more than five minutes on the internet lately, then you have probably noticed that there are a whole lot of conspiracy theories floating around.
Like … a lot of them. These conspiracy theories range in topic from the “true” origins of Covid-19, to human trafficking, to mind control — and they only seem to get more bizarre by the day. Its getting pretty weird out there.
Unfortunately, though, the increasing strangeness of these various theories are not deterring people from sharing them. Or from believing them.
Based on my social media feeds — and I suspect maybe your social media feeds, too — it would seem that conspiracy theories aren’t just for your weird uncle who claims that he was abducted by aliens back in ’65 anymore. They are for everyone!
The pandemic has caused many serious life changes to occur in a very short time. Even if you haven’t lost a loved one, experienced economic security, or been infected with Covid-19 yourself, the pandemic has been difficult for many of us. Lots of folks feel like they are losing control of their lives, and like everything that they have grown to depend on is being taken away from them.
Enter conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories give people a way to gain that sense of control back. It gives them answers. It gives them certainty, and it gives them something to hold on to.
So, as the pandemic rages on, we see more and more that the people who are embracing conspiracy theories are the people in our lives who we had always thought were fairly reasonable. Its not the people with tin-foil hats — it’s the people who we live with, work with, worship with, and interact with on a regular basis.
As followers of Jesus, this prolific spread of conspiracy theories should disturb us. For one thing, many of these theories have the potential to be dangerous.
Because of one particular conspiracy theory, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has been stymied by bogus tip calls. Believing that Covid-19 is not real, or that physician recommendations for stopping the spread of the disease are a bunch of crap, endangers the lives of many.
And harming others — even if that harm is just potential and not realized — is certainly not loving them, as Jesus commands us to do.
Then, there’s the matter of truth. Depending on what “flavor” of Christian you are, your definition of truth may not completely correspond with another sibling in Christ’s definition of the word. But Christians of all kinds can agree on this: the truth is important. Seeking the truth is important. Living in a way that reflects the truth is important. Telling the truth is important.
And frankly, participating in the spread of conspiracy theories is in direct opposition to those values. Spreading conspiracy theories hurts our witness.
When we engage in this sort of talk, we look like fools instead of like people who are full of the light of Christ. Participating in conspiracy theories causes us to bear false witness to our neighbors. It distracts us from what’s truly important in our lives, and from what is actually at stake.
Conspiracy theories might have the ability to make us feel more secure in an insecure world, but in reality, they aren’t doing us any favors.
So, what can we do? How can we push back on the conspiracy theories that are circulating all around us and make sure that others don’t get swept up in them?
As I have considered that question over the past few months, and continue to consider that question — grace is what keeps to coming to mind. We cannot force loved ones to abandon their conspiracy theories.
Remember that at their root, conspiracy theories are all about trying to find control. Threatening the theory threatens a person’s sense of control, which will result in hurt, backlash, and anger. Passionately arguing your point — even in a respectful way — has a very unlikely chance of helping.
Instead, be kind. Ask a person thoughtful questions about their views, rather than barraging them with facts, figures, and citations about yours. Pepper in the occasional, “What do you think about _____?” That phrase can motivate the other person’s brain to use better logic and to think about outside ideas, rather than about specific conspiracy theory talking points.
Let the person know that they are not alone in feeling anxious or afraid during this time. You, and everyone else on this planet is feeling that way, too. Share ways that you are dealing with the uncertainty and stress that work for you.
Don’t give in to the temptation to snap at the person, to call them names, or to laugh at their ideas. Remember that they are a child of God, and that they are struggling. They deserve your compassion, not your frustration or contempt.
If the person is a Christian, ask them if they would like to pray with you. Remind them that their faith is in God, and that it is important for followers of Jesus to rely on God rather than on outside things.
Gently ask them what they think that loving their neighbors looks like. What do they think that not loving their neighbors looks like? Ask them to talk a little bit about truth.
Is their own credibility important to them? Do they understand that being less than honest dims their light? What do they think that Jesus meant when He said that He is the way, the truth, and the life?
Do they take seriously the idea that being untruthful — even unintentionally — is harmful? Don’t argue, don’t rebut — let them know that you love them, and keep on asking thoughtful, grace-filled questions.
This is a weird time. It’s a challenging time. But it won’t last forever.
Stay strong. Stay rooted in the abundant love of Christ, and in the peace that passes all understanding.
Keep yourself honest. Commit yourself to telling the truth.
Love your neighbors deeply — especially the ones who are caught in a web of conspiracy theories.
And let’s combat this issue together, with a whole lot of grace.
Hannah Mullikin Lutz is the Pastor of Ada Chapel Friends Meeting.
Weekly columns are provided to the News Journal by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.