How Should Believers Respond to Conspiracy Theories?
by David James
We live in an age of conspiracy theories, of which there is seemingly an inexhaustible supply. A conspiracy theory has been defined as “an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small, powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy.” 1 A Christianity Today article put it this way: “A conspiracy theory is generally just a grand explanation that is essentially trying to identify various pieces that don’t look like they fit together, but they do. And this is all done to explain some phenomena that we’re experiencing.” 2 Some of the more well-known conspiracy theories surround things like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, chemtrails, Freemasonry and the Illuminati, UFOs, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Deep State, and of course, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The purpose of this article is not to debate the relative merits of any of these conspiracy theories, but rather it is to focus on one that is having a negative impact on the church perhaps more than any other in recent memory: QAnon. While there are many skeptics who doubt that much, if anything, related to QAnon is based in reality, a dramatically growing number of people range from believing parts of it might be true to fully embracing every aspect of it and building on it with their own theories and speculations.
QAnon has been explained as “the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.”3 According to the article, QAnon followers believe that these pedophiles include politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks, and religious figures such as Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.
How It All Started
In October 2017, an anonymous user put a series of posts on the mostly anonymous message board 4Chan. The user signed off as “Q” and claimed to have a level of U.S. security approval known as “Q clearance.” Apparently, this refers to a Department of Energy security clearance needed to access top secret information on nuclear weapons and materials. These messages have continued and are known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs.” The person (or group of people) writing the messages uses cryptic language that includes slogans, pledges, and references to the “Deep State” that is out to destroy President Trump. The “Anon” in QAnon stands for “anonymous,” and so Q’s followers are called “Anons.” A catch phrase that is frequently used by these followers as a sort of a signal is “WWG1-WGA”—“Where we go one, we go all”—meaning that Q followers are in this together.
On October 28, 2017, someone who identified himself as “Q Clearance Patriot” started a thread titled “Calm Before the Storm,” referring to a meeting of military leaders that President Trump had said was “the calm before the storm.” The Storm is a QAnon term referring to what adherents believe is the upcoming arrest, imprisonment, and even execution of thousands of suspects, including those in government who are part of the Deep State.
An August 2018 Washington Post article referred to Q as a renegade informant who might not even exist. The text goes on to state: “From somewhere in the vast and mysterious ‘deep state,’ a dissident agent rises up to give the people cryptic clues about how their heroic president will push back the forces of evil and make America great again.”4 The author later notes, “Whether Q is an individual, a group, a spoof, or an exercise in political mischief-making, the QAnon phenomenon fits neatly into centuries of the history of movements that construct elaborate conspiratorial explanations of why the world is in such trouble and how it might triumph—or collapse.”5
Some Anons have suggested that Q is President Trump himself or that he is JFK Jr., who faked his death and will come back on the scene. These and other speculations by the followers of Q play into the distrust of politicians, big government, and the rich and powerful.
Another plausible account of Q’s origin, as reported by The Federalist, is that it was originally a hoax created “as a harmless troll to ‘get people thinking’ [that] quickly spun into a mythical persona whose cryptic words developed into a full-fledged conspiratorial worldview for a growing audience.”6 According to this scenario, two individuals going by the handles “Microchip” and “Dreamcatcher” admitted to researching and developing a list of various topics that would get a reaction from committed Trump supporters. Then “Q ‘researchers’ [would] work these suggestive questions and fringe ideas into more complete ideas, filling in the gaps with their imaginations and thoughts from other conspiracy theorists.”7
Did Any of Q’s Predictions Come True?
Q’s first posts wrongly predicted Hillary Clinton’s imminent arrest. He has also claimed that North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is a CIA puppet and that the former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz hired a hitman to kill Seth Rich. There are further claims that mass shootings in the U.S. have been false-flag attacks planned by the international cabal. Furthermore, QAnon adherents believe that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and others are plotting a coup and that they are also members of a child trafficking ring that has been exposed by something called “Pizza-Gate.” Another common theme is that the Rothschild family leads a satanic cult. This last issue, along with others involving Jews like the Bilderberg group, have led some to charge QAnon with anti-Semitism.
One of the reasons that QAnon is so dangerous is that there is just enough truth to the messages to pull people in so that they then accept the many errors it espouses. However, few QAnon proponents actually research the drops, and the average follower is neither equipped nor inclined to fact-check all the details. Also, there is such a “wow-factor” to the claims made by QAnon that many just take them at face value.
This is similar to what has happened with The Harbinger and other books by Jonathan Cahn. Many of his readers got pulled in because they failed to do the necessary research. However, when I did my own research into Cahn’s theories, I found that he had mishandled the Word of God, misrepresented historical facts, and manipulated statistical data. My guess is that similar deep research into QAnon would yield similar results.
QAnon and the Church
Unfortunately, QAnon has gained traction even with believers. Some of them suggest that developments such as President Trump’s impeachment and Jeffrey Epstein’s death are leading to a climax that includes The Storm and something called The Great Awakening.
In an article titled “The Evangelicals Who Are Taking On QAnon,” the writer observed, “One thing we can say about Q is that he, she or they are highly unoriginal, mining conspiracy theories as ancient as the anti-Semitic blood libel.” She went on to say, “If you’ve been around the corners of evangelical America as I have, it’s apparent that Q is at least a student of, and perhaps an adherent of, the conspiracies that have long permeated conservative evangelical culture.”
One of the most dangerous things I have read in my research regarding the conspiracy theory is the book QAnon and 1000 Years of Peace. The author (known as Redpill, referencing The Matrix movie) believes that President Trump is part of QAnon’s Great Awakening and talks about a Freedom Force Battalion and a Q Army that is going to destroy all global evil in order to establish Messiah’s kingdom. This book is essentially a commentary on the book of Revelation in light of QAnon, and the author shamelessly allegorizes literally every single biblical detail. Unfortunately, she represents a growing faction that interprets the Bible through the lens of QAnon conspiracy theories, often mixing biblical concepts with New Age and occultic ideas. Consequently, cult watchers are keeping their eyes on QAnon because some adherents are becoming quite militant in these cultic beliefs, and even some otherwise discerning believers are getting caught up in it as well.
I think one reason some believers get caught up in conspiracy theories is that certain recent developments really are strange and difficult to explain. Of course, because of biblical prophecy, we know this is all going somewhere as the stage is set for the rise of the Antichrist and his global religion and government. We all tend to hate living with uncertainty, so if a theory seems to provide explanations or even just raises questions, then some latch on to those ideas, even to the point of ignoring obvious problems.
The Believer’s Response
As believers, we need to be very careful not to fall into the trap of trying to interpret the Bible in light of current events. We are to make sense of our world by handling the Word of God correctly as our final authority.
Another way to stay balanced is to ask ourselves the “So what?” question. Even if a given conspiracy theory were true, what difference would it make in my day-to-day life? Would it or should it change my life and ministry? In almost all cases, such theories, if proven true, would not change anything, so we need to trust the Lord for how this is all going to work out and stay faithful to Him in the meantime as we minister to others.
1 https://www.britannica.com/topic/conspiracy-theory (accessed on 11/20/2020).
2 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/may-web-only/conspiracy-theories-qanon-bible-christians-jesus.html (accessed on 11/20/2020).
3 https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-qanon.html (accessed on 11/20/2020).
4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-mystery-of-q-how-an-anonymous-conspiracy-monger-launched-a-movement-if-he-even-exists/2018/08/01/ (accessed on 11/20/2020).
6 https://thefederalist.com/2018/10/29/trolling-fleecing-co-creator-q-hoax-explains-dangerous-evolution/?fbclid=IwAR1MLtbV1u5am3pHDZb- Iu0f80SBowN0MUHKBQWV_28knk14CF7sUUlGx8g (accessed on 1/12/21)
About the Author
David James is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the founder and the Executive Director of The Alliance for Biblical Integrity, an apologetics and discernment ministry that focuses on promoting biblical hermeneutics. As a missionary, he was the founding director of the Word of Life Hungary Bible Institute from 1992 to 2009. He and his wife Karen have two children and four grandchildren.
This article first appeared in the Ariel Magazine, Spring 2021 / Volume 1 / Number 38 pp 27-29. Ariel Ministries USA owns the copyrights to this article. It has been republished here with permission by the copyrights owner.