Disinformation drives a white evangelical motion. It resulted in 1 Virginia Pastor quitting: NPR

Protesters gather in the US Capitol on January 6th. A violent mob later violated the security of the Capitol, fueled by the so-called “big lie”: President Biden was not legitimately elected. Jack Gruber / USA TODAY Network via Reuters hide caption

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Jack Gruber / USA TODAY network via Reuters

Protesters gather in the US Capitol on January 6th. A violent mob later violated the security of the Capitol, fueled by the so-called “big lie”: President Biden was not legitimately elected.

Jack Gruber / USA TODAY network via Reuters

Jared Stacy is still working on his decision to leave the Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia last year. Until November he served young parishioners in their twenties and thirties.

But in the four years since joining the Church as pastor, Stacy has increasingly faced an invisible, powerful force gripping members of his ward: conspiracy theories, disinformation, and lies.

Stacy has seen the real consequences of those lies develop over the years. he says it’s tainted the name of his belief.

“If Christians in America are serious about helping people see Jesus and what he is about and what he claims, then the label ‘evangelical’ is a distraction because it unfortunately carries the weight of violence,” he told NPR . “I wouldn’t use that term because of its January 6th association.”

This is the day a violent mob attacked and invaded the US Capitol, fueled by the so-called “big lie”: President Biden was not legitimately elected. The rioters headed for the Capitol after a rally by former President Donald Trump, where he repeated this great lie. Rioters say they were forced to stop confirming Biden’s election.

The lie is so powerful that a recent poll by the conservative American Enterprise Institute shows three out of five white evangelicals say Biden was not legitimately elected.

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Among them is Pastor Ken Peters, who founded the Patriot Church in Knoxville, Tennessee last year.

“I think we have an illegitimate President in the White House right now and he wasn’t popularly elected,” Peters told NPR. “I think the really ‘We-the-People’ elected should-President should be living in Florida right now.”

On its website, the Patriot Church is described as a movement: “A church that stands up for its nation.” This movement has a name: Christian nationalism. Some conservative evangelical circles have incubated and disseminated these types of conspiracy theories – some of which have led to violence – for years.

Andrew Whitehead, who spent several years researching Christian nationalism at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, defines it as the belief that America is a Christian nation that should privilege white native-born politically conservative Christians.

“We find evidence that Americans who advocate Christian nationalism are far more likely to advocate conspiratorial thinking,” Whitehead told NPR. “The leaders of these movements have repeatedly expressed doubts as to who can really be trusted or even the federal government.”

Donald Trump took the opportunity to exploit their distrust for his own political survival. He made himself an advocate of evangelical social issues – abortion is high on the list. He won her trust – and her blind loyalty.

For Stacy, the January 6th violence in the Capitol is not something he fathomed when he decided to step down from his mainstream church in November.

Rather, it was a slow burn of other conspiracy theories that had gotten around his church and others for years.

Jared Stacy was a pastor at the Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia until last year. Jared Stacy hide caption

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Jared Stacy

Jared Stacy was a pastor at the Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia until last year.

Jared Stacy

The danger of ambivalence

During the summer protests following George Floyd’s death, Stacy noted that his community was turning to a conspiracy theory about child sex trafficking.

“I started seeing people ignoring or pushing Black Lives Matter away on social media saying, you know, well, nobody here is talking about human trafficking,” Stacy told NPR. He said the concern about child trafficking started out as legitimate – it was a terrible truth that existed. But he quickly noticed that his parishioners were starting to use it as an abbreviation for a lie: Democrats with prominent roles in business, media and government run child trafficking rings.

It was this conspiracy theory that forced a man named Edgar Maddison Welch to shoot at a family pizzeria in Washington, DC, in December 2016.

That misconception re-established itself almost a year later at the center of QAnon, a roof of conspiracy theories that reinforces misconceptions about an evil liberal agenda and sees Trump as its savior. QAnon has since banded together and committed the lie that Joe Biden’s election was illegal.

Stacy was afraid of what he saw take root in his church. “This is about a comprehensive view of reality – what is real, what is true,” he said.

He saw some people in his own community – mostly the parents or elders of the young adults he had worked with – who turned the idea of ​​child sex trafficking and what he called “democratic pedophilia” on its head.

“They were people I respected, and that’s even more complicated because they were [my] Eldest, “said Stacy.

“The rift, the split, was kitchen tables where there are two completely different streams of information, one that parents use and one that their children use,” he said. These two streams of information divided families: older members of the Church conspired and younger members pushed back.

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Stacy tried to have conversations with the members who believed these falsehoods. He saw it as his duty, although the church he worked for avoided such discussions.

“As a church, we are not in this discussion,” a member of the leadership of the Spotswood Baptist Church told NPR. “We have no interest in it. It has not been discussed in any way or on our agenda.”

But Stacy couldn’t separate his role as pastor from the conspiracy theories that weighed on the younger parishioners he worked with. “The danger was that they were given a co-opted Jesus, a Jesus who believed in Q, a Jesus who believed in a deep state, a Jesus who automatically chose Republicans.”

He said he could see several results, none of which were good: the younger members would either quit the church altogether, or join conspiracy theories, or simply learn to tolerate them.

This tolerance – and ambivalence – could do the most damage. This is how conspiracy theories spread.

A threat to democracy

When asked about the QAnon conspiracy theory that political leaders run a sex trafficking ring, Peters of Patriot Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, would not refuse.

“I don’t know if they’re right or wrong. I personally have no evidence that I can go one way or the other,” Peters said. “Let’s look into this instead of looking into preachers who am [Jan. 6] Rally like we’ve started a riot. “Peters was one of those who participated with Trump in the January 6th rally.

What can come out as a benevolent plea for ignorance and a feigned desire to learn the truth is enough to keep the theory going – and gain steam. According to a recent study by Lifeway Research, 49 percent of Protestant pastors say they frequently hear members of their congregations repeating unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

The latest study by the American Enterprise Institute found that 27% of white evangelicals – most religious groups – believe that the widespread QAnon conspiracy theory about political leaders ringing a child sex trafficking ring is “completely” or “mostly true” is 46% say they are “not sure”.

Militant Christian nationalists remain a powerful force even after the Capitol uprising

When Peters claims ignorance of this conspiracy theory, he fully embraces the great lie that led to the uprising in the U.S. Capitol. In a video of a sermon on January 24th, he exclaims from the pulpit: “Biden was illegally installed as president. [the] fake president of the united states. ”

Mixing god and land in this way is a danger to the American way of life as we know it, researcher Whitehead explained.

“Christian nationalism is a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society because it sees certain goals in keeping a certain person in the presidency, as God has wanted and what God wants. It is really difficult to ever reach that conclusion come that we should. ” Share power or compromise or even adhere to the democratic process, “because if God wishes, who should we stand in the way?”

Create distance to gain clarity

Stacy needed distance to find out what was happening in his church. He lives in Scotland with his wife and children and holds a PhD. in theology from the University of Aberdeen.

Eventually he would like to return to the United States and maintain a church again.

He reflected on the conversations with his older parishioners: “It’s almost like putting a pebble in someone’s shoe and at some point you just have to stop walking and sit down. You have to take your shoe off.” And you have to find out what on earth is making me limp forward here? “

“That is why these conversations were developed.”

But he has to find out if planting pebbles of truth is enough to clear a mountain of lies.

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