What is it that makes ‘evangelicals’ so susceptible to conspiracy theories? This question has occupied many recent articles in the international press, usually about the state of the church in America.
Yet also in the Netherlands this week, similar discussion has been triggered by the appearance on doorsteps nationwide of five million copies of a magazine warning readers against the corona vaccine as ‘a ploy from hell’.
The subtitle of ‘Eyeopener’ magazine’s cover, ‘The Great Escape’, and its sub-subtitle ‘Millions disappear in one moment,’ suggest the imminent Rapture when, according to certain end-time teachings, true believers will be snatched up into the air, escaping the Great Tribulation of woes to be poured out on a population of sinners.
The person behind this effort to rescue the Dutch people from impending doom is an evangelist I have known personally in years past, converted from a drugs background and active for decades in missions and relief work.
His message however parrots the conspiracy thinkers from across the Atlantic whose books and television programmes have a ready audience in conservative European evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal circles. He calls Corona a ‘plandemic’, the devilish plan of a secret elite ‘Deep State’ network intent on creating a new world order, involving people like Bill Gates. The vaccines contain tissue from aborted children, criminals and mentally handicapped, we are told. Donald Trump had heroically withstood this movement, but the ‘stolen election’ had thwarted his noble work of ‘saving America’.
In the past I listened to such theories with wry amusement. The best response was to ignore them, I reasoned. But current events are persuading me how dangerous this thinking is. Not only does it bring the gospel and the church into disrepute. It is preparing the way for violence in God’s name.
The January 6 storming of the Capitol was a foretaste. We all remember the so-called QAnon Shaman, wearing a horned helmet and brandishing an American flag. But did we hear his prayer from the podium? ‘Thank you, heavenly Father, for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the American way of the United States of America, to go down.’
‘Weekly Word’ focuses primarily on European issues, yet we need to understand the strong trans-Atlantic influence in Europe and sympathy in certain evangelical circles with these conspiratorial ideas. Even within my own mission movement I hear disturbing reports of leaders promoting conspiratorial ideas, resisting the wearing of face-masks as ‘governmental interference with personal freedom’ (presumably the freedom to risk my neighbour’s health) and restrictions on gatherings as a ‘threat to freedom of worship’.
Currently I am engaged in post-graduate research on evangelical attitudes towards the European Union, and the factors that have shaped them. Soon I plan to invite Weekly Word readers to help me with a questionnaire exploring this topic. My literature review has taken me back to the roots of Dispensational thinking, to the British theologian John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), founder of the Exclusive Brethren and the father of modern Futurism and Pre-tribulation rapture theology. The Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 printed a dispensationalist commentary alongside the text, suggesting to many its ‘inspired’ status.
Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) popularised Darby’s ideas, selling over 28 million copies by 1990. Lindsey predicted that the European Economic Community, precursor of the European Union, was destined by Biblical prophecy to become a ‘Revived Roman Empire’ ruled by the Antichrist.
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins followed this up with the best-selling Left Behind series of sixteen religious novels on the ‘End Times’, (1995 to 2007), a dispensationalist, premillennial, eschatological interpretation of the Biblical Apocalypse in which true believers in Christ are ‘raptured’ out of a chaotic world. The United Nations, the European Union, the Euro, the World Bank and the ecumenical movement all appear in these novels as precursors of One-World Government, One-World Currency, and One-World Religion. Three of these titles topped the New York Time bestseller list, and sales topped 80 million.
On a much smaller scale, yet surprisingly influential in certain European circles, British evangelist David Hathaway carries the same dispensationalist perspective in his 74-page booklet Babylon in Europe (2006), subtitled ‘what Bible prophecy reveals about the European Union’.
These ideas have nurtured the conspiratorial mentality of many evangelicals today on both sides of the Atlantic, including our Dutch evangelist.
I am no longer amused. I can no longer ignore these ideas. My silence would be conspiratorial.
Till next week,