The congregation was in the middle of an online service when a longtime churchgoer in her 60s texted her pastor to complain that his prayer lamenting the riot at the U.S. Capitol in January was “too political.”
The woman later unloaded a barrage of conspiracy theories. The election of Joe Biden was a fraud. The insurrection was instigated by Black Lives Matter and antifa activists disguised as Donald Trump supporters. The FBI was in on it all. The day would soon come, she said, “when all the evil, the corruption would come to light and the truth would be revealed.”
Startled and moved to tears, Pastor David Rice told the woman she had been “tricked by lies.”
“You need to know how crazy this is,” he said to his congregant at the Markey Church in Roscommon County, Michigan, a rural region of 25,000 residents that voted 2-to-1 for Trump. “You have been with my family and in my home and I care for you but you are dabbling in darkness. You are telling me it’s giving you hope. I’m telling you as your pastor that it’s evil.”
The two haven’t spoken since.
Details emerging from investigations into hundreds of Capitol rioters have cast an unsettling light on the toxic roles that fringe religious beliefs and QAnon conspiracy theories have played in shaking big and small churches across the nation. Trump’s false insistence that he won the 2020 election may have incited the mob, but it also pointed to a dangerous intersection of God and politics.
A Kentucky man who the FBI charged as the first to enter the Capitol through a broken window saw himself as fighting a holy war on behalf of his president and, in a booking photo, wore a T-shirt that quoted Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Jacob Chansley, the shirtless man dubbed the “QAnon Shaman” for his distinctive fur hat, horns and American flag face paint, said a prayer from the vice president’s U.S. Senate dais, thanking the “Heavenly Father” for “allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists and the traitors within our government.”
In photos from the Capitol on Jan. 6, religion abounds: “Jesus 2020” and “Proud American Christian” banners, a flag with an ichthys, or “Jesus fish,” and a man in a jacket advertising the Knights of Columbus Catholic fraternity among them.
For pastors like Rice, whose church members were hundreds of miles away from Washington, D.C., and by and large abhorred the attacks, the lawlessness that day has spurred them to speak out against the rising tide of misinformation and Christian nationalism that they, too, have seen gripping their congregations and evangelical life in the U.S.
“Something disturbing has happened with evangelicals in this country where we have become prone to conspiracies and believing the worst about our enemies, where we end up placing the Republican Party and ourselves as Americans first before true Christianity,” said Rice, 39, who has pastored the Baptist church for six years and doesn’t identify with either major party.
His fears are matched by recent data.
In a February report from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, more than a quarter of white evangelicals said the QAnon conspiracy theory, in which a cabal of powerful politicians run a global child sex trafficking ring, was “mostly” or “completely” accurate. The number was the highest of any religious group. The same survey found that 3 in 5 white evangelicals believe Biden’s win was “not legitimate.” A poll released this year from Nashville-based Lifeway Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 49% of Protestant pastors said they often hear congregants repeating conspiracies about national events.
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Source: Bangor Daily News