Our Christian Environment

Christian environmental change has already begun. Its significance and impact will be much greater than what the sixteenth century reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, ever imagined. It requires that our churches be not only supportive caring communities but up to date biblically and historically, and open to discovery and development. It requires that our churches be much more than just well-organized religious institutions.  

For a number of years, I have been active in church reform activities, most of it involving Catholics. When I think today, however, about changing the Christian environment, my focus is much broader than the Catholic Church. Today, all Christian churches must be part of a necessary environmental change.

I have great respect and appreciation for my maternal Roman Catholic heritage and upbringing. All my professional career I have happily worked for Catholic schools, parishes, colleges, and universities. BUT….I am also proud and appreciative of my paternal Quaker and Huguenot roots. I am still a Catholic, but in many ways I think I have a very Quaker psyche. After reading one of my recent articles, a friendly critic wrote “your Protestant roots are showing.” 

Changing the church environment, for all Christians, has to be a prophetic movement forward. Today, I suggest eight ways to change, improve, and move ahead. 

(1) We must move from living in the past to engaging with the present and thinking creatively about tomorrow.This means moving well beyond, for example, antiquated understandings of human sexuality and gender, prejudice against women, and distorted biblical and historical understandings. I am an old man. I respect old people; but I don’t want today’s church leadership to act like a bunch of old people simply repeating, again and again, their old doctrines and stories. As my friend and mentor Archbishop Jean Jadot, former Apostolic Delegate to the United States, said shortly before his death: “Now is the time to look ahead. Just as we can look at the sky at night and tell what the morning will bring, so we must be able to read the signs of the times to prepare for the future.”

(2) We need to shift from practicing religion to living the Faith. It is easy to go to church and comfortably recite the creed and official prayers. It also gives one a sense of self and civic importance. I think this is what Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 23:5-6: “All their deeds are done for people to see. They broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the places of honor at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogues.” It is much more difficult to follow the example of Jesus and live our faith by being a contemporary Good Samaritan. Far too many “good Christians” remain anchored in racism, misogyny, and self-veneration.

(3) We need ongoing education that moves people from boxed-in religious ideology to open and developing theology. Whether Catholic or Protestant, all doctrinal statements are provisional understandings. We are all learners. No one has all the truth. There is still much to learn and discover. We need to move ahead into a new age of discovery and collaboration. Some people find it more comfortable to revert to “good old days” stagnation. There is no intellectual challenge. No human  growth either! And frankly, the “good old days” were not always so great.

(4) We need to shift from self-protective bureaucratic hierarchies to communities of faith and courageous outreach networks. Christianity inherited and blessed some very bad elements of the power structures of the fourth century Constantinian Roman Empire. Thanks to Constantine,  Christianity was both officially established and fatally compromised. The Constantinian church began to exercise power over people. Church leadership forgot that Jesus did not exercise power over people; but that he empowered people to take responsibility in living, learning, and caring for one another. Jesus did not control people through authoritarian decrees, laws, and sanctions. 

(5) We need to abandon religious arrogance and move into humble inter-church collaboration. No Christian and no Christian tradition can be regarded as superior to others and therefore act in a haughty or snobbish manner. We need to humbly move from “possessing” all the truth to continually “searching” for the truth. Some Catholics still think they have all the truth. Some evangelicals think that way as well.

(6) We need to stop being energetic and proud temple-builders and start being traveling pilgrims, pitching their tents along the journey. What do people today really need? An impressive and bigger cathedral or a roof overhead, a meal, health care, child care, compassionate understanding, and a more secure and hopeful life. It is a values question. Very basically, do we value more impressive institutional architecture or men, women, and children in need? The Catholic Diocese of Orange California, by way of example, spent $57.5 million to buy the Crystal Cathedral of the American televangelist Robert Schuller and then $72.3 million to renovate it and turn it into Christ Cathedral,”the largest glass building in the world.” Just a thought…

(7) We must not focus on schooling professionals but mentoring spiritual  leaders. When looking for a product or a service, I think we all appreciate people who are polite and professional. When it comes to Christian ministry, however, the mentality of the professional is often not enough. I trained and taught seminarians for many years. We need pastoral leaders and ministers who are much more than professionals who are well developed organizationally. We need leaders who are men and women anchored in deep faith and who, as our fellow travelers, understand us and support our own faith development as compassionate and genuine spiritual guides. Witnessing a funeral last year, by way of example, I saw an ordained minister who was professional and polite. When it came to his spiritual guidance and support for the family and friends, however, he was an incompetent cold fish who couldn’t wait to get the service concluded.

(8) Christians must stop seeing the world as their enemy and start appreciating the world as the real place where we live and encounter the Divine. He may have been an influential early bishop, but I never agreed with Augustine of Hippo’s dichotomy of the ”City of God” and the “Human City.” The Human City IS the City of God. Our world IS the place where we are and it IS the place where we encounter God and see the Face of Christ.

Conclusion: These eight points mean nothing unless we use them to OBSERVE, JUDGE, and ACT. We can and we must be change agents.

In our actions, however, we need to be nuanced and constructive. The aim is not to be confrontational but in a clear, responsible, and caring way to discuss, learn, plan, and move forward together.

  • Jack

No Blessings for Gay Unions?

On Monday, March 15th, Pope Francis demonstrated the limits to his “reformist”  policies. He expressed his agreement with a Vatican Responsum from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding blessings for same-sex unions. The question to the CDF was: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The Responsum answered with a very firm NO, saying that same-sex unions are “not ordered to the Creator’s plan.” The CDF says acknowledging those unions is “illicit,”and that God “cannot bless sin.”

Once again we see the papal paradox. In his public rhetoric, Pope Francis is positive and supportive of gay people; but in official ecclesiastical policy, he remains rigidly closed and negative. It reminds me of Pope Paul VI, who had seemed open to change on sexual morality but then issued his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reiterating the church’s ban on artificial contraception.

For many people today there will be more anguish, confusion, and anger. The Belgian Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, wrote in an opinion piece in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard on Wednesday, March 17, that he feels “shame for my Church” and “intellectual and moral incomprehension” after Pope Francis approved the “negative” response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex unions.

Jamie Manson, journalist, president of Catholics for Choice, and a member of the LGBTQ community, said in an interview with NPR’s A. Martinez: “You know, my sense is that this will be a final blow for a number of Catholics who really had been holding onto hope because of Pope Francis. The media had such a love affair with him, and I think people were really holding on tight to the last threads of hope. And this could be the final blow.”

Nevertheless, we do need to examine the issue with knowledge and an open mind. I suggest an examination using the four traditional sources of moral knowledge: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Historically, moral theologians have relied upon these four sources in formulating norms to guide human behavior. When there is a conflict between these sources, a process of research, dialogue, and discernment must be undertaken to determine the best course of action. That’s where we are today.

This weekend I can only offer some discussion/thought starters. I do recommend an excellent book by Todd Salzman, Professor of Theology at Creighton University, The Sexual Person. Todd is a pastoral-minded theologian who writes with knowledge, perception, and human sensitivity.

SCRIPTURE – Up to now, the traditional religious condemnation of homosexual behavior has been based on: Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-7; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. In the light of contemporary Catholic and Protestant biblical scholarship, however, it is impossible to affirm that these texts provide a solid foundation for condemning homosexual acts today. They cannot be taken literally but must be interpreted in terms of the authors’ times, culture, and social contexts.

The context in which both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament condemn homosexual acts was shaped by the socio-historical understanding of the times in which they were written. The understanding, back then, was that all human beings were naturally heterosexual and, therefore, any homosexual behavior was unnatural, a perversion, and immoral. That biblical assumption is now shown to be scientifically incorrect. Some people are, by nature, homosexual.

No doubt the most influential biblical account leading to the condemnation of homosexual acts has been the biblical account about Sodom in the book of Genesis. A contextual exegesis, now agreed upon by most contemporary biblical scholars, shows that the homosexual interpretation of that account is really not accurate. The clearer sin in both the Hebrew text and the original Hebrew context was the sin of inhospitality. A prime affirmation of this interpretation is found in Jesus’ mention of Sodom were his disciples accorded inhospitality. (Luke 10:8-12)

TRADITION – Relying upon the historical critical method, it is clear that traditional interpretations of scriptures condemning homosexual acts lack legitimacy. An historical-critical perspective does not support the old “traditional” normative conclusions as applicable to contemporary understandings of homosexuality. The old tradition is time-bound. A new tradition is already taking shape.

REASON – The heterosexual orientation is an innate, deep-seated, and stable orientation to, predominantly, persons of the opposite sex. It is natural. The homosexual orientation is a similarly innate, deep-seated, and stable orientation to, predominantly, persons of the same sex. It is natural. A person’s sexual orientation is neither chosen nor readily changeable. It simply is.

Sexual acts – whether heterosexual or homosexual –  are moral when they are natural and expressed in a truly human, just, and loving manner. As Todd Salzman so clearly sums it up: “Sexual acts are moral when they are reasonable, and they are reasonable when, as a result of careful attention to and understanding of all the relevant human circumstances, a person makes an informed judgment that a given sexual action is according to right reason and facilitates human flourishing.”

EXPERIENCE – Dr. Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology in Silver Spring, Maryland, responded to the March 15th papal statement this way: “Catholics in many parts of the world already bless same-sex unions. That genie left the bottle some years ago. Now that the Vatican has hoisted its flag, they may regret not staying quiet. I foresee story after story of good Father So-and-So who blessed Bob and Bill, Olivia y Cristina, Jacques et Georges. More common are the stories not of priests, many of whom remain too timid to bless themselves, but of lay people, indeed whole communities that gather to affirm the goodness of couples who love.”

A gay Catholic priest and professor of theology and social ethics at Fordham University, Bryan Massingale, said priests who want to engage in pastoral outreach to the gay and lesbian community “will continue to do so, except that it will be even more under the table…than it was before.”

Support for same-sex marriage among Americans as a whole has grown since Gallup analytics began asking about it in 1996. As of 2020, two in three US adults (67%) say marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, matching the previous high Gallup measured in 2018.

Most US Catholics, according to Gallup, believe that same-sex unions should be legal; and they go farther than the pope and support marriage for same-sex couples. Catholics, who constitute more than a fifth of US adults, have been consistently more supportive of same-sex marriage than the population as a whole, for more than a decade. Pope Francis’ comments will please some US bishops but will most likely make little difference for the belief of Catholic laypeople in the United States, where same-sex couples have enjoyed full marriage rights and protections since 2015.

And so, one way or another, we still move and must still move ahead. – Jack

Sojourner Truth

Celebrating Women’s History Month, I offer a reflection this weekend about a wonderfully courageous African American woman: Sojourner Truth. She was strong, six feet tall, a former slave, and a powerful evangelist, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella “Belle” Baumfree in 1797. Her parents were slaves owned by the New York slave owner, Colonel Hardenbergh, in Swartekill, New York. One of twelve children, she lived a torturous life as a slave. She was owned by several masters throughout New York State. Around age nine, Belle was sold at a slave auction for $100 along with a flock of sheep. Her new owner, a John Neely, was a cruel and violent slave master who beat her daily, because she didn’t speak English. She was sold two more times by age 13. She ultimately ended up at the West Park, New York home of John Dumont and his second wife Elizabeth. Considerable tension existed between Belle and Dumont’s wife, who regularly harassed her. Elizabeth’s husband, John, raped her.

While working for the Dumonts, Belle fell in love, around age 18, with a slave named Robert who was a slave on a nearby farm. The couple was not allowed to marry, however, since they had separate owners. Robert’s owner, Charles Catton, Jr., a landscape painter, forbade their relationship. He did not want his slaves to have children with people owned by someone else, because he would then not own the children. One day Robert sneaked over to see Belle. When Catton and his son found him, they savagely beat him. After that day, Belle never saw Robert again. The experience haunted Belle for the rest of her life

Belle the slave was then forced to marry another slave owned by the Dumonts. His name was Thomas. Belle eventually bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in childhood; Diana (1815), the result of a rape by John Dumont; Peter (1821); Elizabeth (1825); and Sophia (ca. 1826). In 1826 Belle escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She said years later: “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” They found refuge in New Paltz, New York, where she and her daughter were taken in by Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen.

When her former slave owner, John Dumont came to re-claim his “property Belle,” the Van Wagenens offered to buy Belle’s services from him for $20 until the New York Anti-Slavery Law emancipating all slaves took effect in 1827. Dumont agreed. After the New York Anti-Slavery Law was passed, however, he illegally sold Belle’s five-year-old son Peter. When Belle learned that her son had been sold by John Dumont to an owner in Alabama, she took the issue to court. In 1828, with assistance from the Van Wagenens and after months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been abused by his new owners. Belle became one of the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case.

It was during her stay with Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen that Belle – Isabella Baumfree – had a profound religious experience and became a devout Methodist Christian. On Pentecost Sunday, 1843, she changed her name to “Sojourner Truth.” She believed she was called by God to travel around the nation –to Sojourn– and to preach the Truth of his word. Thus, she believed God gave her the name, “Sojourner Truth.” She told her friends: “The Spirit calls me. I must go.”

At what she believed was God’s urging, Sojourner preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all. In 1844, Sojourner Truth joined a Massachusetts abolitionist organization called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. There she met Frederick Douglas and other leading abolitionists and effectively launched her career as an equal rights activist. In 1850 she spoke at the very first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1851, Sojourner Truth spoke out powerfully about equal rights for black women at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Reporters published various transcripts of that speech, which was later (but incorrectly) called: “Ain’t I A Woman?” She met with the leading women’s rights activists of her day: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

In 1853, Sojourner spoke at a suffragist “mob convention” at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City. It was officially a Women’s Rights Convention but called a “mob convention” due to the numerous disruptions by protesters.There she also met Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1856, Sojourner Truth traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to a group called the “Friends of Human Progress.” Antislavery movements at that time had begun early in Michigan and Ohio.

In Battle Creek she also joined the nucleus of the Michigan abolitionists, the Progressive Friends, some of whom she had already met at national conventions. From 1857 to 1867 Sojourner Truth lived in the village of Harmonia, Michigan, a Spiritualist utopia, close to Battle Creek. Harmonia was established by Quaker pioneers who had converted to Spiritualism, a religious movement that believed the spirits of the dead communicated with the living. The only remnant of Harmonia today is its cemetery atop a hill in a remote part of today’s Battle Creek Fort Custer Industrial Park.

Like another famous escaped slave, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth had helped recruit black soldiers for the Union army during the Civil War (1861 – 1865). She worked in Washington, D.C., for the National Freedman’s Relief Association and rallied people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to help black refugees. She worked diligently to improve conditions for African-Americans. While in Washington, she courageously put her disdain for segregation on display by riding on whites-only streetcars. Her activism for the abolitionist movement gained the attention of President Abraham Lincoln, who invited her to the White House in October 1864 and showed her a Bible given to him by African Americans in Baltimore.

In 1870, Sojourner Truth tried to secure land grants from the federal government for former enslaved people, a project she pursued for seven years without success. While in Washington, D.C., she had a meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant in the White House. In 1872, she settled permanently in Battle Creek, Michigan (my former hometown) where two of her daughters lived. She became active in Grant’s presidential re-election campaign. She even tried to vote on Election Day, but was turned away at the polling place.

In the last years of her life, Sojourner Truth was cared for by her daughters. She died early in the morning on November 26, 1883, at her Battle Creek home on College St. (We never knew this at the time, but my wife and I had our first home on College Street.) On November 28, 1883, her funeral was held at the Congregational-Presbyterian Church officiated by its pastor, the Reverend Reed Stuart. Some of the prominent citizens of Battle Creek acted as pall-bearers. Nearly one thousand people attended the service. She was buried in the city’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Frederick Douglass, the African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, and statesman, offered a eulogy for her in Washington, D.C. “Venerable for age, distinguished for insight into human nature, remarkable for independence and courageous self-assertion, devoted to the welfare of her race, she has been for the last forty years an object of respect and admiration to social reformers everywhere.”

A bronze bust of Sojourner Truth, by the Canadian sculptor Artis Lane, was unveiled on April 28, 2009 in Emancipation Hall in the US Capitol Visitor Center. It shows her in a cap and shawl similar to the way in which she was so often photographed. The bronze bust was the first sculpture of an African-American woman to be on display in the Capitol. First Lady Michelle Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Hilary Clinton, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee were among those who offered remarks at the unveiling.

One of my favorite Sojourner quotations is: “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.” I remember her gravesite at Oak Hill Cemetery, and another Sojourner quotation: “I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.” Over the years I have often read her famous 1851 address, “Ain’t I a Woman?” supposedly delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.

In fact, however, I have very recently discovered that the popular version of her speech is an inaccurate version, written by a white abolitionist named Frances Dana Barker Gage and published in 1863, thus 12 years after the Ohio speech. Frances Gage not only changed all of Sojourner’s words but chose to represent Sojourner speaking in a stereotypical Southern black slave accent, rather than in Sojourner’s distinct upper New York State low-Dutch accent. Sojourner Truth was born and raised in New York, and she spoke only upper New York State low-Dutch until she was nine years old.

People said that Frances Gage’s actions were well intended and did serve the suffrage and women’s rights movement at the time. Nevertheless, her actions were unethical and a major misrepresentation of Sojourner Truth’s words and identity.

The most authentic version of Sojourner Truth’s, Women’s Convention speech in Akron, Ohio was first published in 1851 by Sojourner Truth’s good friend the Rev. Marius Robinson in the Anti-Slavery Bugle and was titled, “On Woman’s Rights” and not “Ain’t I a Woman.”

And here it is:

On Woman’s Rights

May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if women have a pint and man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we cant take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they wont be so much trouble.

I cant read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.

The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept – and Lazarus came forth.

And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.



With great appreciation and still full of wonder about the amazing Sojourner Truth….

A Very Real Challenge

Despite the fact that The Other Guy is no longer in the White House, his far right supporters in QAnon are, like the Corona virus, mutating and finding new ways to carry on and infect people.

Yes, some QAnon followers say they now feel they were conned by The Other Guy’s “four-year-old hoax;” but most other followers have recommitted themselves to QAnon, validating their continued involvement and encouraging each-other with slogans like “Trust the Plan” or “Hold the Line.” 

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said this week that domestic terrorism has been metastasizing around the country for a long time, and will not go away anytime soon. The FBI has called QAnon just such a domestic terror threat. Nevertheless, there are now Christian conservatives falling for QAnon’s unhinged conspiracies; and QAnon is even being used by some charismatic Christians as a way to interpret the Bible. 

During services this past July, the Rock Urban Church in Grandville, Michigan played a discredited video that supports QAnon conspiracy theories. There’s also a movement, led by the Indiana-based Omega Kingdom Ministry, to merge QAnon and Christianity, with texts from both the Bible and Q, being read at church services. QAnon uses the language of Dominionism, a political ideology advocating conservative Christian nationalism governed by a far right understanding of biblical law. Adherents believe the same “deep state” that controls the country has also infiltrated traditional churches. This all fits in with  QAnon’s apocalyptic desire to destroy the society “controlled” by the “deep state” and replace it with the QAnon-Christian Kingdom of God on Earth. 

Details emerging from investigations into hundreds of January 2021 Capitol rioters have cast an unsettling light on the toxic roles played by fringe religious belief and QAnon conspiracy theories. A fellow from Kentucky, charged by the FBI as the first person to enter the Capitol through a broken window,  saw himself fighting a holy war on behalf of his former president and wore a T-shirt quoting Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

While Twitter and Facebook have moved aggressively to block conspiracy theories and distortions, tens of thousands of new far-right subscribers have now joined some of the more prominent QAnon channels and stand-alone websites. Many feel as firm as ever in their beliefs about a “deep state” darker reality behind what’s happening in today’s United States.

According to a new survey, more than a quarter of white evangelical Protestants still believe the QAnon conspiracy theory. The survey, which was conducted in late January 2021 by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, reported 29% of Republicans and 27% of white evangelicals believe the QAnon conspiracy theory is accurate. QAnon has infiltrated other faith groups as well, with 15% of white mainline Protestants, 18% of white Catholics, 12%  of non-Christians, 11% of Hispanic Catholics, and 7% of black Protestants saying they believe and support it.

So what is going on here? Why do so many people still believe the now widely debunked allegations of QAnon about a “deep state” cabal of Democrats who are Satan-worshipping pedophiles operating an international child-sex-trafficking ring from their positions of power. Bringing QAnon people back to a space where they operate with truth and facts is going to be difficult but is critically important. Extremist movements develop or rely on fabricated conspiracy theories to capture the imagination of followers and motivate adherents to action. 

Widespread support for conspiracy theories, of course, is not just a symptom of our contemporary mass media society. For some people the fear that evil forces conspire to hurt good people is deeply rooted in their psyche. In earlier times, witch hunts, for example, were based on a belief that young women gathered in forests to conspire with the devil. Don’t forget the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials between February 1692 and May 1693, one of Colonial America’s most notorious cases of mass hysteria. People were taught to fear witches but not to fear those who hanged or tortured them. Back then an overwhelming majority of people accused and convicted of witchcraft were women (about 78%).  For today’s QAnon conspiracy theory advocates, some of the really evil people are Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and their supporters.

QAnon began in October 2017, when an anonymous user put several posts on the “4chan” website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet. The user “Q Clearance Patriot,” known to followers as “Q,” purported to be a high-level military intelligence official who leaves clues about a secret and coming epic battle of good versus evil with an eventual apocalyptic new age. Current social media and opinion polls indicate there are at least hundreds of thousands of people who believe in at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon.

I guess it comes as no surprise that The Former White House Guy’s most ardent and dangerous supporters, include groups such as QAnon, the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, 3 Percenters, and America Firsters, who cloak  themselves in Biblical language to justify their actions.

While QAnon is a serpentine conspiracy theory with no apparent foundation in reality, the theory has been increasingly linked to real-world violence like the devastating wildfire in Southern California. The Camp fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes, was the latest focus of conspiracy theories spread by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who speculated that the blaze was started by a Jewish space laser beam. A QAnon supporter, Greene, was elected to the US Congress in November 2020. Most recently, however, the Democratic-majority House of Representatives voted on February 4, 2021 to remove Greene from her education and budget committee assignments in the chamber. The day before, Greene had received a standing ovation from her House Republican supporters in a closed-door meeting. 

We really need to help people distinguish fact from fiction. This will be our increasingly important challenge. It starts at home and in primary and secondary education: helping people develop critical thinking skills. Debunking conspiracy theories when and where they appear is helpful, but it cannot be just the media or political leadership that provides this information. We have to understand the psychological triggers and motivations for this kind of thinking. The truth is that conspiracy theories will always thrive when people feel like they are not in control of their lives, and when anxious tensions exist in a highly polarized society. Phony populist movements like QAnon exploit people’s anxieties. We need to work together, helping people in difficult life situations. Let’s encourage bridge-building and truth-sharing and compassionate concern for the other, regardless of sex, gender, race, or nationality. Extremism flourishes in societies with obvious and growing inequality. Warm hearts help to open cold and closed minds.

Combating QAnon today is a major Christian challenge. It is dangerous and dishonest. It is antisemitic. It is also deceptively anti-Christian.