Thinking Christianly About QAnon

Oct 17th, 2020 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Years ago, historian Richard Hofstadter wrote an important book entitled The Paranoid Style in American Politics, in which he documented the role paranoia, fear and conspiracy theories have played in American political culture.  He called it “an arena for angry minds.”  For example, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Americans were convinced that the Masons were an antigovernment conspiracy; Populists in the 1890s warned of secret “cabals” controlling the price of gold; in the 20th century, McCarthyism and the John Birch Society fueled a wave of anti-Communist delusions.  With the advent of the Internet, paranoia, fear and conspiracy theories abound.  One of the most bizarre is QAnon, the sprawling conspiracy theory that has taken hold among some fringe elements of the Republican Party.  Although the FBI has warned that QAnon poses a potential terror threat, some Americans regard QAnon as a legitimate expression of reality and an important source of information and opinion.  Amazingly, in August Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avowed QAnon supporter from Georgia, won a Republican primary; she will probably be elected in November.  President Trump called her “a future Republican star.”  What is QAnon and as Christians how should we think about this phenomenon?

 

Kevin Roose identifies this expansive phenomenon known as QAnon 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.”  This conspiracy includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.  In addition to molesting children, this evil gang “kill and eat their victims in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.”  According to QAnon lore, Mr. Trump was recruited by top military generals to run for president in 2016 to break up this global conspiracy and end its control of politics and the media.  In October 2017, the point of QAnon’s origin, a person known as “Q” posted a message on 4chan that this “war” against the cabal would culminate in “The Storm,” when Trump would expose the conspiracy, defeat it and restore stability.

 

What conclusions can we draw about QAnon and these bizarre conspiracy theories?

  • QAnon misuses and distorts Scripture.  Bonnie Kristian of Christianity Today concludes that “Among QAnon’s most troubling aspects are its use of the language and style of evangelical Christianity, its misuse of the Bible to disguise its deception and its increasing function as a syncretic cult of semi-Christian heresy. [One of QAnon’s favorite texts is 2 Chronicles 7:14.]  That religious language isn’t only metaphorical.  A pro-Q politician in Oregon described her involvement by sharing that some ‘people think that I follow Q like I follow Jesus,’ a blasphemous characterization she left unchallenged. That’s unsurprising, for QAnon fashions itself as a ‘Christian’ movement. Q drops often quote Scripture—as even the devil does (see Matt. 4:10)—a tactic that adherents have said helped convince them the theory was worth their time.”  Kristian reports that “There’s a ‘church of QAnon, in which congregants meet for services, pray, take communion, and use incoherent, anonymous posts from filthy online forums to guide their understanding of God’s Word.”
  • Q prophecies are called “drops” and are often bizarre predictions couched in extremely vague language.  For example, one “Q drop” predicted that Hillary Clinton would be arrested and massive riots would break out nationwide on October 30, 2017.  That day came and went, and nothing Q forecast came to pass. But here’s the genius of QAnon: For those already convinced, it’s unfalsifiable. According to Travis View, who researches conspiracy theories, “Q will say something very vague, like, ‘Watch the water,’ [and] because water covers most of the planet … there’s going to be a news event eventually that involves Trump and water. And so the QAnon community will look at that and will say, ‘Look, Trump drank a glass of water on camera. Q said, “Watch the water.” That means that Q predicted that event’—which, of course, is nonsense.”  Some talk about QAnon as if some messianic figure is at work. Similar to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism in the early church, it lures people with promises of secret knowledge. It provides a sense of identity and belonging with code phrases like: “Where we go one, we go all.” QAnon “drops” often connect biblical end-times texts with Q prophecies, asking the reader to draw obvious conclusions.  Many people, including active church members, are being drawn in.  “The cabal is QAnon’s version of the Fall—its explanation for what’s wrong with our world. Q is the movement’s John the Baptist. Drops are its Scripture. And Trump is its messiah, ostensibly working at great personal cost to defeat the cabal and usher in a new age of American greatness.”
  • QAnon strategies to infiltrate more normal parts of the internet are working, especially in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian contexts. As former CT editor Katelyn Beaty recently reported, pastors say QAnon “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” among younger generations.  “QAnon is predatory drivel that undermines the authority of Scripture and pilfers trust we owe only to Christ.”  QAnon follows Christian patterns to establish certainty:  “Q always has a plan in this cosmic struggle of good against evil.”  Religious language appeals to religious people, but QAnon is not for Christians — it is a replacement, with its own messiah and demons, unrelated to Christianity and unmoored from the Bible.  “American Christians have a responsibility to learn to identify it—and flee.”
  • Genuine biblical Christianity affirms the trustworthiness of Scripture and the importance of studying Scripture.  Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center stresses that we “pursue things that are true:  [QAnon] is primarily a social media conspiracy. Social media is a petri dish for conspiracies, causing far too many to believe things like QAnon are true . . . Believers are to be people of the truth as the Jesus we follow literally calls himself “truth” (John 14:6) . . . Years ago, Mark Noll wrote about the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” If there is anything that represents the scandal of the evangelical mind right now, it’s the gullibility of Christians who need to be discipled into critical thinking about how to engage the world around them. We need to be able to see through the bias and discern conspiracy theories that have risen to the level of messianic religion.  As seekers of truth, we need pastors, leaders, and everyday Christians to address this conspiracy, and others like it, before others are fooled. It’s the Christian’s role to speak up about this and against this, even when the president does not, and before more people get hurt.”
  • Stetzer also addresses the need for church leaders to “Step into our Technology Discipleship Gap” and offer solutions and counsel. Understanding how important online technology is to our world, pastors rarely engage the topic. As a result, our dependence on technology far outpaces its prominence in our discipleship practices. Conspiracy theories like QAnon gaining traction in our churches is merely one more “rotten fruit” of this gap in our discipleship.   “Most Christians are looking for help and frustrated at the silence from their leaders. They’ve struggled with family members, friends, and even church staff or volunteers promoting conspiracies. Unsure how to respond, often it goes unchallenged and relationships slowly dissolve.  Pastors and church leaders need to see this as the discipleship failure it is. Our silence, casual dismissal, or even tacit approval of destructive online behavior is corrosive to the spiritual health of our churches.”  Stetzer offers three initial steps we can take to address the technology habits and relationships of our people:
  1. Challenge the church to make Christ Lord of their social media.  “Their social media profile says Christian and is accompanied by a Bible verse. But in reality, the ways we describe ourselves on social media often say far less about our identity than the ways we interact and the people, ideas, and causes we choose to amplify.  Social media profiles can be misleading and even destructive if the heart behind them is not submitted to Christ.”
  2. Encourage the church to ask God for wisdom.  “Never in my lifetime has the need for wisdom been as pressing as it is today. The confusion of the pandemic, the caustic spirit of our politics, and the unresolved pain of our racial history are only a few of the pressing demands we face.  With so much confusion, church leaders need to ask our people where they are looking for answers. I believe that any explanation for rise of conspiracy theories and politicization in the church should begin with these responses. When faced with uncertainty, many Christians have developed concerning habits of turning to cable news or even social media platforms like Facebook or Reddit when trying to make sense of the world.  Into these temptations, Pastors need remind us of the words of James: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.’  While the truth is we all lack wisdom, the question remains: where are we turning? If you want to address the conspiracy theories in your church, recognize how their posts reflect a struggle for where to find wisdom and a corresponding set of habits that need to be rooted out.”
  3. Caution the church to hit pause.  “One important lesson I’ve learned in watching Christians on social media is how the platform causes us to diminish the importance of being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger’ (1:19).  It is stunning how Christians can just dismiss this warning from James as insignificant.  Encountering something they find offensive or wrong, many Christians are quick to jump into the fray. In reality, the majority of these instantaneous criticisms are a fraction as clever as we believe and exponentially more cruel, ignorant, and/or prideful. This is why James cautions us to be slow and to listen. A day, a week, a month; the length matters less than genuinely reflecting on why and how you are engaging . . . When tempted to engage online in anger, hit pause. This is entirely inconsistent with the spirit of social media but entirely aligned with the Spirit of God.”

QAnon is a deadly conspiracy spectacle that is deceptive, duplicitous and not of God.   The central need of the church is for its leaders to have wisdom on how to live in our digital world where such conspiracy theories abound. These are the pressing questions of our time and if the pulpit is silent our people will go elsewhere.

See Bonnie Kristian, “QAnon Is a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing” in www.christiantytoday.com (26 August 2020); Ed Stetzer, “Evangelicals need to address the QAnoners in our midst,” USAToday (4 September 2020); Ed Stetzer, “QAnon, Conspiracies, and Discipling the Way Out” in www.christiainitytoday.com (4 September 2020); Kevin Roose in the New York Times (19 August 2020); and Time (21/28 September 2020), pp. 74-77.

3 Comments to “Thinking Christianly About QAnon”

  1. Peter Wiebe says:

    This is a great article articulating the dangerous and misleading goals of QAnon. We need to know the truth about organizations such as QAnon and White Supremacists. However, where do we see the warnings of equally dangerous organizations such as Antifa, the Boogaloo Boys and BLM? Why don’t we read about the dangers generated by these left-wing groups? Are all the negative discussion, while true, mainly to point out the negative sides of President Trump? Don’t the evils of the Democrats matter? We deplore Trump’s big ego and his boasting. That’s a given. However, he has been more honest than presidents before him in keeping all of his promises for his 2016 election. He has done more to preserve Christians’ rights, pro-life assertions that every life is precious and a gift from God, kept his promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which presidents before promised to do but failed, negotiating agreements between Israel and its neighbors, nominated supreme court justices who have a respect for religious beliefs, for the constitution and for life, even if unborn. The Democrats are just the opposite. Trump denounces the White Supremacists but he also condemns Antifa and the BLM organization. The Democrats cannot handle that. Why don’t we read any of that in any of these Perspective articles? You might succeed in getting Biden elected, but don’t ask God why the country is heading in the anti-Christian direction when Biden and his “Squad” lead our precious country away from God. God said he would bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. Is Trump or Biden, and the Democrats, more inclined to work for Israel’s good? When it comes to condemning Trump, this Perspective has gone far beyond being reasonable, but little is forthcoming about the evils presented by the Left. Both sides should be presented fairly. May God protect us even when we don’t deserve His blessings!

    • Jim Eckman says:

      Mr. Wiebe,
      Christians are already informed about the Left and its heresies. But it is Christians who look favorably upon Qanon and its devious, ungodly agenda. Your unkind distortion of my essay betrays a prejudice against truth and fairness. I have never advocated for Biden or any other candidate. I am a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and not a blind advocate of either Party. I will be praying that you might be a bit more objective and honest in your biting comments and accusatory responses. May God help you Mr. Wiebe.

  2. jim Eckman says:

    Evangelical Christians are not drawn to Antifa but are amazingly drawn to Qanon. I have talked with some who are so drawn. Such Christians need to hear the truth about this heretical, pernicious movement. They don’t need to be convinced about Antifa. In this Perspective I do not advocate for Biden or anyone else. I am a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and advocate for His cause, which is the Gospel. Bitter, accusatory language is not very helpful within the church of Jesus Christ.

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