Half of American pastors say they often hear members of their church repeating conspiracy theories about news events, with white pastors more likely than black pastors to say they’ve heard conspiracies relayed, according to a new LifeWay Research survey.
The poll of 1,007 Protestant pastors found that 49 percent of Protestant pastors say they “frequently hear” members of their congregation “repeating conspiracy theories” about “why something is happening in the country.” Forty-seven percent of pastors say they have not heard members repeat conspiracies.
White pastors (50 percent) are more likely than black pastors (36 percent) to say they’ve heard members repeat conspiracy theories.
The survey was released Tuesday.
“Christian churches resolve to be places focused on the truth,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a LifeWay analysis of the data. “Yet, half of pastors hear the spread of assumptions about plots often. This is a startling disconnect.”
The poll was conducted Sept. 2 through Oct. 1 as the general election was in full swing but before conspiracy theories about the election results began circulating on social media. The survey did not ask pastors about any specific conspiracy theories, although the QAnon conspiracy theory was prevalent on social media and on message boards during President Trump’s term.
“While conspiracy theories may be embraced by a minority of churchgoers, the larger the church the more minds and mouths exist to be misled,” McConnell said. “At this time, it appears more of the theories are traveling in politically conservative circles which corresponds to the higher percentages in the churches led by white Protestant pastors.”
Author and Christian apologist Mary Jo Sharp told LifeWay that the spreading of conspiracy theories harms the gospel. She is the author of Living in Truth: Confident Conversations in a Conflicted Culture.
“Irresponsibility with information unravels the impact of a Christian’s witness to those in their community, and, with social media, to the broader world,” she said. “The non-Christian may begin to believe or become further ingrained in the culturally popular belief that Christians are anti-intellectual, including anti-science.”
She urged Christians to ask themselves before sharing information in-person or on social media: “How will this affect my ability to share the good news of Jesus Christ?”
“The Apostle Paul tells us that, ‘Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth’ (1 Corinthians 13:6). I am supposed to delight in knowing, and, therefore, in sharing what is true,” Sharp said. “That is a high calling, but it is the one Christians are called to as followers of The Truth (John 14:6). We are not called to perfection, but to take seriously our representation of Jesus, and the truth of His salvation.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.