Saturday, June 03, 2017

Stetzer: Christians Need to Repent for Conspiracy Theories (I agree)

Ed Stetzer is a conservative evangelical Christian and the executive director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. He's an expert on and practitioner of Christian evangelism. He's also no mean theologian and social thinker. I really respect this guy.

Here is a piece he just published in 'Christianity Today' about the need for Christians, in this hyper-mediated and polarized era, to stop spouting conspiracy theories. Stetzer is right, I think, in calling this a violation of what we Lutherans know as the Eighth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the meaning of this commandment for a Christian's daily conduct:
We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.
Just because you're suspicious of someone on the right, or the left, or the middle, or somewhere else on the spectrum, doesn't mean that the bad things you hear about them must be true.

Our social compact is being daily eroded by loose ships sharing hot tips, not so much by major news outlets, most of whose journalists and editors work hard to corroborate good and bad news, but by ordinary citizens passing on the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook or Twitter. (I'm especially sensitive about this because my grandfather spouted all sorts of conspiracy theories when I was a kid. Because he was my grandfather, I believed what he said and often re-spouted them at school, only to be acquainted with the documented facts by good teachers.)

As a lifelong student of history, it's my observation that most conspiracies that involve more than four people eventually crack. If the conspiracy was nefarious, somebody talks to the right person, or takes money to betray the other conspirators or to write a tell-all, or to get revenge, or to look like a hero. In short, most "conspiracies" aren't.

Be that as it may, Stetzer is right: We Christians have a lot of repenting to do on this point.

As to counsel for the future, I turn again to Luther, who said that when we hear items of gossip (like conspiracy theories), we should let our ears be their tomb. Bury them; don't spread them.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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