From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories about the virus have spread online and across social media in what the journal Nature has described as an “ocean of misinformation.” While dangerous to public health, research also suggests that the COVID conspiracy movement is undergirded by antisemitism.
According to a report from the Community Security Trust, a British charity focused on protecting the Jewish community, the conspiracy movement is “an amorphous network of groups and individuals brought together by a set of shared beliefs founded on the idea that COVID-19 is a fake pandemic being exploited by elites to control their populations, and that COVID vaccines are either ineffective, unsafe or are deliberately dangerous.”
The multi-faceted phenomenon of antisemitism “is one of the oldest conspiracy theories,” the Community Security Trust says. “It claims that a secretive, powerful group—the Jews—are the true power behind world events; the hidden hand pulling the strings that control empires and nations, and manipulate politicians, the media and the banks. Jews have been turned into scapegoats that have been blamed throughout history for wars, revolutions, social turmoil, economic crashes and pandemics.” This cabal is often given a face, such as George Soros or the Rothschilds.
Research from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the European Commission, and the Collaboratory Against Hate describes how because of the antisemitic prejudice that believes there is an alleged cabal behind the scenes pulling the strings, a corollary antisemitic prejudice has arisen that holds that the government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the “Deep State,” world health organizations, Big Pharma, philanthropists such as Bill Gates, the mainstream media, and other authorities cannot be trusted with respect to COVID-19 and the vaccines.
Rejection of these authorities in favor of conspiracy-minded and antivax non-authorities has resulted in a tidal wave of disinformation, the escalation and spread of antisemitic expression, and the feeling that rights—including religious liberties—are being threatened and violated.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, as a corporate body, is not a participant in this movement. But due to the escalation of antisemitism occurring throughout the world, Adventist attitudes in all probability have been affected. Even though there are Adventist writings that counsel readers to avoid conspiracy theories, I am not aware of any such writings that discuss the connection that exists between conspiracy theories and antisemitism. I propose such a discussion is appropriate and overdue.
On January 13–14, 2023, the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is once again featuring guest speaker Dr. Peter McCullough for a “Religious Liberty Sabbath.” McCullough is conventionally understood, as per his Wikipedia page, to be a highly-credentialed cardiologist who has also disseminated disinformation and promoted conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 and the vaccines. He is a member of the pseudo-scientific Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (its journal is not listed in academic literature databases), which has ties to the John Birch Society and has claimed that abortion causes breast cancer, vaccines cause autism, and HIV does not cause AIDS.
Notwithstanding that McCullough is highly credentialed, intelligent, and articulate, he is, charitably speaking, an outlier. Accordingly, the invitation extended to him to speak about COVID-19 and the vaccines can be reasonably inferred as an expression of contempt toward the government and established health authorities. The invitation can be reasonably inferred as a message that these authorities cannot be trusted.
Seventh-day Adventist participants in the COVID conspiracy movement have, in my opinion, engaged in an escalation of rhetoric. Although antisemitic expression can be explicit and brazen, most often it is in casual and coded language.
Traditional Adventist theology regarding Israel, expressed in rejection-supersession terms, can also spawn antisemitism, as explained by Adventist biblical scholar Jacques Doukhan in his book The Mystery of Israel. Dispensationalism, a non-Adventist theory that is predominant in our culture, can also be antisemitic, Doukhan says. Our doctrinal underpinnings for opposing antisemitism are not totally absent, but they are weak and in need of strengthening and consensus-building.
Much has been written and said in the last few years in our faith community about racism, sexism, and prejudice against LGBTQ individuals, but little to nothing has been written or said about antisemitism. If we remain behind the curve, we will not appropriately speak up when we should.
Hosting a speaker like McCullough and platforming conspiracy theories with ties to antisemitism will hurt the mission of the church. Fellow participants in the Seventh-day Adventist movement need our prayers and admonishments, gentle and otherwise. We need more study of antisemitism—and we need each other.
Phillip Brantley is an attorney who offices in Houston, Texas, and lives in Sugar Land, Texas, and Berrien Springs, Michigan. He is a graduate of Andrews Academy, Andrews University, and the University of Texas Law School. He is married to Marilyn Brantley, and they have one daughter, Rachel.
Title image by Miroslava Chrienova
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