HomeSocietyChristianity and Conspiracy Theories: How Should Christians Respond?
February 15, 2021
Christianity and Conspiracy Theories: How Should Christians Respond?
In the wake of Christian actress Letitia Wright’s sharing of a video on Twitter in December disputing the safety of a potential Covid-19 vaccine, guest writer Chris Flux asks, “How should Christians respond to conspiracy theories?”
As a fan of the Marvel movie series, I really enjoyed the film Black Panther when it hit cinema screens in 2018. It was a fun, action packed adventure which was groundbreaking for its representation of black people within the superhero genre. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman, the film’s male lead (T’Challa) tragically died of cancer a few months ago. Another star of that film was black Guyanese-British actress Letitia Wright, who played the role of Shuri, the science genius sister of T’Challa and princess of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda.
“Letitia Wright is a Christian known for speaking passionately and unashamedly about her faith. As well as using social media to tweet uplifting Bible verses, she has spoken valiantly about Jesus on both Christian and secular media platforms.”
Her testimony is one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard. In a nutshell: before Letitia was famous, God challenged her to give up her acting career in order to focus on her relationship with Jesus. At the time she didn’t know if this sacrifice would be permanent or just for a season, but she recognised that her career had become an idol and she was prepared to lay the whole thing down to follow Jesus. Her obedience was rewarded because a year later God gave her the go ahead to return to acting and her career took off in a way she could have never imagined. First she started getting decent roles in British TV programmes like Black Mirror and Humans. Then she landed the role of Shuri in Black Panther, culturally one of the most important films of the century, which also meant she reprised the role for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. (Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time.) God has propelled Letitia from unknown actress to a BAFTA-winning (and Emmy nominated) household name in just a few years, with her landing other movie/television roles since then. It’s even speculated that Letitia might take the mantle of the Black Panther in future Marvel movies, due to Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing.
Whilst some have been irked by or dismissive of Letitia’s Christian faith, the public and liberal-leaning secular media have largely responded positively to her. This is no surprise as Letitia has a warm, charming and positive personality. Both Letitia and her character Shuri have been held up as positive role models for young black women in particular. The British Science Museum has even used the Shuri character as a way of engaging young women and girls with STEM subjects.
Everything was going so well for Letitia.Then she went on Twitter and tweeted. Her tweet was simple. She didn’t even use words. It was a link to a YouTube video accompanied by a Praying Hands emoji. Yet it was enough to trigger a strong response on social media which led to the controversy becoming the subject of news articles.
So what did she tweet? It was a 70-second clip taken from a much longer video entitled ‘Covid 19 vaccine: Should We Take It?’ It was presented by Tomi Arayomi, a black British Christian who runs a prophetic ministry called Restoring Issachar’s Generation, or RIG Nation for short. Arayomi claims to have had prophetic words about Donald Trump’s Presidency and about Brexit. He is reportedly part of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and records a lot of videos for his RIG Nation social media app. On those videos he discusses hot-button issues like sexuality and race relations from a socially conservative perspective.
“Letitia Wright’s decision to share a Tomi Arayomi video led to her being accused of being an ‘anti-vaxxer’ for ‘peddling’ in Covid conspiracies. Some have also accused her of promoting transphobia, due to Arayomi using the transgender issue as an example of how ideas become accepted as fact if they are repeated enough.”
In this video, Arayomi talks about whether the Covid vaccine is safe to take, whether it’s part of a wider conspiracy and whether vaccines work in general. I must note that unlike some people online, he doesn’t claim that the vaccine contains microchips and that injecting it is the equivalent of taking the Mark of the Beast. He does however admit to not understanding vaccines scientifically and fails to provide scientific evidence to support his claims.
This strong response led Letitia to respond by tweeting that her “intention was not to hurt anyone” and stating she is not anti-vaccinations per se, she just thinks it’s important to ask what goes into things. She also implied that she was uncomfortable about the use of Luciferase in the vaccine, due to the enzyme’s devilish-sounding name. (It should be noted that Luciferase was involved in the testing process; it’s not an ingredient.) Following all this, Letitia has now deleted her social media accounts.
After watching the full video by Arayomi, I have to say I disagree with much of his content. Whilst he doesn’t fully embrace anti-vaxx conspiracies he does sow doubts about the vaccine and it is clear which way he leans on this issue, despite his attempt to present it as a balanced discussion. Following its removal from YouTube, the video can now only be seen on the RIG Nation App. I do think it was wrong for YouTube to remove it, although it would have been reasonable to put a ‘This claim is disputed’ disclaimer onto it.
“I entirely accept that Wright’s intentions were good. However, not only could her tweet put people off from getting the much-needed vaccine, but it could also cause an unhealthy, cynical mistrust of government and — perhaps most importantly from a faith standpoint — severely hinder her Christian witness.”
On reflection I think Letitia was wrong and unwise to share this video, although I entirely accept that her intentions were good. Not only could her tweet put people off from getting the much-needed vaccine (therefore causing a potential health risk), but it could also cause an unhealthy, cynical mistrust of government and — perhaps most importantly from a faith standpoint — severely hinder her Christian witness.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus questioned how people who don’t believe Him on ‘earthly things’, can then trust Him about ‘heavenly things’ (3:12). That might be true for us too.
At the same time I think the backlash against Letitia has been unfair and a gross overreaction, especially when some Marvel fans called for Disney to sack her from her role as Shuri. It’s also relevant to acknowledge that black people’s scepticism of the vaccine (only 42% of black Americans would consider taking it) is understandable given the awful history of black people’s treatment by the medical and research establishments. Perhaps the most notable example of this history is the Tuskegee Experiment, which led to various ethic violations including the deaths of many African-American research subjects.
What are Conspiracy Theories and How Should Christians Respond?
Before we can respond to this issue, we need to define what we mean by the term ‘Conspiracy Theory.’ The Mariam-Webster dictionary describes a Conspiracy Theory as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
“Some conspiracy theories have had devastating consequences. For example; during the 1930s and early 1940s, the anti-Semitic ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ was taught as ‘fact’ in German schools, therefore providing an ‘academic’ pretext for the Holocaust.”
Over the years theories that meet this definition have included ideas such as: NASA faked the moon landings; the earth is really flat (“Flat-Earthism”); Queen Elizabeth II is a reptile; and Elvis Presley is still alive. Some of these ideas are harmless, entertaining and even amusing. But some have had devastating consequences. For example; during the 1930s and early 1940s, the anti-Semitic ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ was taught as ‘fact’ in German schools, therefore providing an ‘academic’ pretext for the Holocaust. The same Protocols are still used by Islamic extremists to demonise Jews, just like the theory that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.
However, just because many conspiracy theories are false and dangerous, it doesn’t mean all conspiracy theories are wrong or at least don’t contain some element of truth. Joseph Uscinski, a leading academic on the issue, says that “conspiracy theories are accusations that could be true or false.” It’s worth considering that some things which were once dubbed a ‘conspiracy theory’ are now confirmed as factual. For example, we now know that during the Prohibition era the American Government deliberately poisoned alcohol killing thousands of people in the process. Also we’ve known for decades about the involvement of Richard Nixon in covering up the Watergate scandal. There are even a handful of conspiracy theories that I ascribe to (e.g., Russian interference in Brexit), but not only do they have some factual basis, I hold to them very loosely knowing that I could well be wrong.
So the problem is not conspiracy theories per se, but the difficulty with discerning between truth and fiction, and the consequences of holding misplaced beliefs.
Does the Bible talk about Conspiracy Theories?
It has been argued that the Bible directly addresses conspiracy theories. So let’s look at the verses in question. Consider these three verses:
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” Isaiah 8:12 (ESV)
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
“Command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work — which is by faith.” 1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV)
Of course it’s easy to misinterpret individual verses if we read them apart from their scriptural setting and outside of their historical-cultural context. So I’ve done some research into these verses and found that although none of these verses are directly about conspiracy theories in the modern sense, they are all still very relevant.
“Isaiah 8:12 is not a command to throw away your tin-foil hat, but instead the prophet Isaiah is warning Israel about forming alliances based on human fear in a coming conflict with Assyria. In some translations such as the King James Version, ‘conspiracy’ is translated ‘confederacy’, which means an ‘unlawful alliance’.”
Isaiah 8:12 is not a command to throw away your tin-foil hat, but instead the prophet Isaiah is warning Israel about forming alliances based on human fear in a coming conflict with Assyria. In some translations such as the King James Version, ‘conspiracy’ is translated ‘confederacy’, which means an ‘unlawful alliance’. The Good News Translation puts it as, “Do not join in the schemes of the people.” Either way the true message of the passage is about the folly of trusting in and fearing man, rather than about avoiding plots from secret societies.
A commonality amongst most conspiracy theories is that they are both based in fear and promote fear. People are told to be fearful of Bill Gates, big corporations, China, Freemasons, aliens and even our own government. I’m not for a moment saying we should be naïve and never question institutions, but as Christians we shouldn’t let such fear rule our hearts. Instead the peace of Christ should rule there (Colossians 3:15), regardless of whether the conspiracy theory in question is true or not.
The Bible talks about ‘fear’ in two different ways. There is an ungodly fear which includes the ‘fear of man’ (Proverbs 29:25; Deuteronomy 1:17; Luke 12:4). And then there is the ‘fear of the Lord’ (Proverbs 10:27; Psalm 112:1; Job 28:28; Colossians 3:22), which is about having a reverential awe and respect for God, rather than being frightened of Him like we might be scared of spiders. Interestingly, Isaiah 8 itself talks clearly about both types of fear within the space of a few verses. In verse 12 the prophet tells people not to ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ what others fear, but in verse 13 the same people are commanded to ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ the Lord God Almighty, whom they are to regard as holy. Could it be that fearing God is actually the antidote to being afraid of other things/people? Elsewhere in Scripture, the fear of the Lord is described as ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10). Hence a wise lesson we can learn from Isaiah 8 is to not let fear promoted by any conspiracy theory affect us negatively and overwhelm us.
When we come to read both our excerpts from 1 Timothy (1:3-4 & 4:7) in context, neither passage is about debunking conspiracy theories in general. Rather, they are specifically about refuting those heretical ideas and traditions that contradict and undermine the gospel.
However, the implication of these passages is that not all ideas are valid and ‘controversial speculation’ can still hinder the advancement of ‘God’s work’, even if it’s not a direct challenge to the gospel, perhaps by being a distraction and a waste of people’s time. St. Paul suggests that instead of bothering with such things, believers should spend their time to training to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7) and working by faith to advance God’s work (1 Timothy 1:4). Naturally I agree with him.
Discerning Truth from Fiction
The Scriptures have a lot of say both about truth and falsehood. The former is a hugely important idea throughout both Testaments. Truth sets us free (John 8:32); the Holy Spirit reveals truth (John 16:13); and Jesus Himself is the Truth (John 14:6). Satan, on the other hand, is described as the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44). He is the one who lied to the first people in Eden (Genesis 3:1-5), and is so skilled at deception that he can effectively masquerade as good (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Can we use biblical principles, though, to determine what is true in a secular (non-biblical) context?
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Whilst this passage is specifically about Luke examining the truth about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think the research principles he adopts can have universal application.
“The Gospel writer Luke places a great deal of importance on listening to eye-witnesses of the events he records and the amount of detail he gives indicates that he had detailed conversations, not just a brief chat. It also appears that he gets his information from multiple sources.”
For a start, Luke talks about a careful investigation of the information he has available to him. He is not rushing to conclusions based on his own personal hunch. Luke places a great deal of importance on listening to eye-witnesses of the events he records and the amount of detail he gives indicates that he had detailed conversations, not just a brief chat. It also appears that he gets his information from multiple sources. It is right and good that he should do, since it’s a biblical principle that matters should be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15). Luke also seems to value written records, as he gives details about the priesthood (Luke 1:5-6), and about a census (Luke 2:1-3) that was carried out possibly before he was even born. It’s also worth noting that in the Gospel of Matthew, a genealogy is used to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 1:1-17).
Finally, Luke talks about writing an ‘orderly account’ for others to read. This is important because, in my experience, accounts of conspiracy theories are often disjointed and go off on tangents. A clear and orderly response on such matters would be very helpful; after all, God ‘is not the author of confusion’ (1 Corinthians 14:33, KJV).
Can the Holy Spirit Reveal the Truth?
As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit can and does reveal truth; He is even referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’ (John 16:13). We must note, however, that the promise given in John 16 is only in regard to the Holy Spirit revealing the truth about Christ and the gospel. God is not obliged to reveal the truth about any other subject matter, even though He is able to. We have to trust that if God withholds information from us, it’s either for our own good or else because it’s simply unimportant for us to know (Psalm 84:11). If God refuses to reveal the date of Christ’s return even to Jesus Himself (Matthew 24:36), then how much more is He not required to resolve our questions about a conspiracy theory?
The Armour of God and the Mind of Christ
If we are going to engage with conspiracy theories at all, then we need to do so with the right mindset, since we may be coming up against lies and against man-made fears. Even though some conspiracy theories are fully or partially true, many ‘theorists’ seem to have a ‘conspiratorial mindset’ based on paranoia and fear, where even small mundane things are squeezed through the narrow lens of confirmation bias in order to fit a narrative. This is an unhealthy way to live and think; as such, we do well to guard ourselves against it. At all times we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and focus our thoughts on what is true, noble, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8).
“Even though some conspiracy theories are fully or partially true, many ‘theorists’ seem to have a ‘conspiratorial mindset’ based on paranoia and fear, where even small mundane things are squeezed through the narrow lens of confirmation bias in order to fit a narrative. This is an unhealthy way to live and think. At all times we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and focus our thoughts on what is true, noble, lovely and admirable.”
Ephesians 6:11-17 talks about putting on the ‘full armour of God’ in order to protect ourselves against the devil’s schemes. It’s interesting that this passage does talk about powerful conspiracies, but they are from ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,’ not from ‘flesh and blood’ human beings (verse 12).
It’s also interesting to acknowledge that some conspiracy theories contain elements of the occult or paranormal activity (UFO abduction claims, for example).
Elements of ‘the Armour of God’ are the ‘Belt of Truth,’ the ‘Gospel of Peace,’ and the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ (also described as the word of God). So if and when we examine conspiracy theories, we need to be rooted in the truth of the gospel, having the peace of God, and armed with a good enough knowledge of Scripture to be able to confront falsehood.
In the New Testament, St. Paul talks about believers having ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). How do we get the mind of Christ? Romans 12:2 gives us a strong clue. It says:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)
Hence, to understand God’s will we need to reject worldly patterns of thinking and instead have our minds renewed. This renewal is a work of the Holy Spirit, since ‘those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires’ (Romans 8:5, NIV). This is not, of course, to say that we have no part to play in the process. It is as we submit our lives to God, reading the Bible which describes itself as ‘living and active’ (Hebrews 4:12), and praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20), that we will find our minds renewed after the image of Christ. Scripture urges us to read and reflect upon Scripture, to ‘meditate on it day and night’ (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2). In Philippians 4:6-7, St. Paul says that prayer can bring the ‘peace of God’ which will guard both our heart and mind.
Once we have the right mindset, we are in a better place to examine and judge the claims of conspiracy theories. We can look into claims with an open mind, rather than with a ‘conspiratorial mind’ that is perhaps antithetical to having the mind of Christ. It’s also okay to share our conclusions publicly, but we must be able to give a decent case for our verdict, otherwise it could undermine our credibility, in the world’s eyes, as witnesses of the gospel. In my view, this is where Letitia Wright went awry. I have no doubts about Letitia’s heart and integrity when she shared that YouTube clip. I just don’t think it was wise on this occasion. This is not an attack on her; there are many times where I’ve lacked wisdom and made poor decisions myself. I just think that, as the body of Christ, we need to aim to be as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), giving no opportunity to the devil to devour us like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).
Conspiracy theories are a minefield. As Christians we should either avoid them completely or approach them with caution.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of etimasthe.
Note etimasthe.com is something I do outside of full-time employment. Consequently I generally only post new material on here once or twice a week.
Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.