Preaching is fun, but meeting the folks afterward – not always so fun. Most of the time my face starts to hurt from the fake smile plastered on it until all 100+ people exit the church. But nothing makes a preacher dread meeting-time more than “the guy.” Yep, if you are a preacher, you know “the guy.” He is in every church. He lurks from pew to pew and often finds himself sitting in the rebels section, the back pew where all the wicked and rebellious souls forced to be at church that morning reside.
The service is over. “The guy” sneaks into the back of the line eager to catch you when no one is left. His heart is thumping. A grin swipes across his face. And then he sees you. Shakes your hand. Pulls you to the side and if it weren’t for his Tic Tac breath, you would be dead in seconds. What follows is a 30-minute Bible study on how he discovered that the synagogue of Satan is in the White House. You cringe. When is he going to finish? At this moment you wish you had downloaded that app on your iPhone – you know, that one that rings you on purpose so you can pretend you have to leave. But you didn’t download it. And now you suffer. Alone.
I had a moment like this just the other week when I was invited to speak at a local church. And moments like this remind me how wonderful the Lord is in having given me a wife. After a few moments of pretending to be interested, I glanced over at my wife and then hastily intercepted his next statement. “My wife has to go.” I said. “She’s waiting on me.” In less than 10 seconds it was over. But horror of horrors, the pastor invited me back the next month.
For many of us, there is nothing more irritating about traditional Adventist culture than conspiracy theorizing. Conspiracy theorizers form what Roger Hernandez eloquently described as “the kind of Christian other Christians have to apologize for.” Such Christians are divisive, sensational, fanatical and quite frankly annoying. Many of us would be happy to see them leave our churches and take their disruptive and contentious spirit with them. And for most this sub-culture represents everything that we despise about Adventism and would give anything to never see them again. However, they are not going anywhere. Visit any church and you are bound to find at least one person who has a “DVD” for you to watch. So what are we supposed to do? Do we start a witch hunt? Do we type up a policy we can use to remove them from the premises when they get out of hand? Or do we ignore them and hope they go away?
The answer to this question is not so easy, but if you are eager to see unity in the midst of diversity you cannot settle for a simple solution. Unity demands other-centered love. It demands that we embrace those that we consider distasteful, embarrassing, and irritating. And yes (though I cringe as I write this), this includes the ultra-conservative Walter Veith aficionado as much as anyone else. So how can we encourage unity in a church divided by conspiracy theory peddlers?
The first step is understanding. There are different kinds of conspiracy theorists, and the sooner we grasp this the easier it will be to love them. The worst is the paranoid kind. These are found both inside the church and outside and quite often they have some type of mental illness. The next kind is the skeptical. These are also found inside and outside the church and usually have a stick-it-to-the-man personality that predisposes them to be distrustful of any authority figure. The gullible just believe whatever they hear. The sensational are always looking for something sketchy to excite them. The jadednare always looking for something or someone to blame or accuse. And the emotionally unstable are looking for a way to transcend their inner brokenness.
While an obsession with speculation may be irritating to us, as Christians we do these souls no good by brushing them off. Instead, the first thing we need to establish is what kind of conspiracy theorist are they? If they are the paranoid kind there is often little to do (unless you are a professional) and so avoiding any controversy with these is best. If they are the skeptical kind some mature spiritual guidance can often snap them out of it. And if they are the gullible, jaded, or the emotionally unstable kind then there is a lot we can do to help bring balance, healing, and positivity into their lives.
I was once a conspiracy lover myself and found that I was more attracted to far-fetched theories when I was feeling terrible about myself. I discovered that at the root of my sensationalism was a deep brokenness, anxiety, and loneliness. But the closer I came to Christ and the more healing I experienced in my heart, the less interesting Michael Moore became. So next time you run into “the guy” (or any of his wily kin) remember, not all conspiracy lovers are quacks. Some of them just need a bit of love and guidance to get on the right road. Listen to them. Be willing to go relationally deep with them. Challenge them when appropriate, and you’ll be surprised how quickly we can replace our divided conspiracy-loving culture with a united people loving each other.
Marcos Torres, a recent theology graduate of Southern Adventist University, grew up in a Puerto Rican/American family in New Jersey and now lives in Australia with his wife and children. He writes a regular "Adventist Culture Wars" report for Spectrum about the beauty of individuality within Adventism as he experiences it. Read his blog at www.jesusadventismandi.com.