By Katelyn Beaty
It’s a rough time to be a pastor. An election year, national racial unrest and a global pandemic each challenged the usual methods of ministry. Taken together, many church leaders are facing the traditional post-vacation ingathering season with a serious case of burnout.
But there’s another challenge that pastors I spoke with say is on the rise in their flocks. It is taking on the power of a new religion that’s dividing churches and hurting Christian witness.
Mark Fugitt, senior pastor of Round Grove Baptist Church in Miller, Missouri, recently sat down to count the conspiracy theories that people in his church are sharing on Facebook. The list was long. It included claims that 5G radio waves are used for mind control; that George Floyd’s murder is a hoax; that Bill Gates is related to the devil; that masks can kill you; that the germ theory isn’t real; and that there might be something to Pizzagate after all.
“You don’t just see it once,” said Fugitt. “If there’s ever anything posted, you’ll see it five to 10 times. It’s escalating for sure.”
Conspiracy theories — grand narratives that seek to prove that powerful actors are secretly controlling events and institutions for evil purposes — are nothing new in the U.S. But since 2017, a sort of ur-conspiracy theory, QAnon, has coalesced in online forums and created millions of believers. “To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion,” wrote Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic in June.