When Pastor James Kendall took the stage at his little church in Madera, Calif., He knew that day’s sermon was going to lead him in a different direction than most. He had seen disturbing Facebook messages from members of his congregation. God, he said, was telling him to speak up and warn his flock.
“I don’t like to wander around and get out of the Bible,” Kendall said during sermon March 7. “But as a pastor, I have to keep the flock.”
A false prophet was gaining a foothold in his church and churches across the country: a false prophet spouting out lies and conspiracy theories.
This false prophet was simply known as Q. And Kendall was about to tell his church about it.
QAnon and Christianity ‘run on parallel tracks’
QAnon is a virtual worship It started at the end of 2017. According to conspiracy theory, former President Donald Trump is secretly working to stop a group of child sex traffickers. And an anonymous government insider called “Q” is said to have shared secret information about the fight via cryptic online posts. Q was reportedly last uploaded on December 8.
Q’s messaging tactics draw on many themes from Christianity. As Daniel Burke, former CNN religion editor, wrote, “According to QAnon’s religious view, Q is a postmodern prophet, ‘Q drops’ (aka his messages) are sacred texts, and Trump is a messianic figure who will ward off ‘The Storm,’ an apocalyptic revelation exposing the evildoers.”
Pastor Kendall said the two belief systems âoperate on parallel tracksâ.
Conspiracy theories find believers in many faiths. But the QAnon conspiracy theory is more popular today among evangelicals than people of other faiths, according to one. study by the curator American Enterprise Institute.
For example, 27% of white evangelicals say that the idea that Donald Trump fought off a group of child sex traffickers, a theory that is central to Q’s claims, is largely or completely correct according to the AEI.
âThe biblical worldview is that there is one God who controls the whole world. And one day Jesus will return, he will judge the wicked,â Kendall said. With QAnon, “there is a Q who knows everything, and Donald Trump will come back to judge the wicked, set up his reign, and his followers will live in their little utopia … It’s easier for Christians who already have this belief system to take that leap believing [QAnon]. “
Kendall saw this play out in her Facebook feed.
Members of his evangelical church were claiming that even if Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election, his inauguration would be somehow upset. On January 20, Donald Trump would return and become president again.
Kendall is not alone. Across the country, Pastor Ben Marsh in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has also seen disturbing online posts.
âI saw where people most often unintentionally shared misinformation from a QAnon or a source close to Q,â Marsh told CNN Business.
Both Kendall and Marsh compete with the online world for the attention of their followers.
âI get an hour with people every week, compared to 167 hours they have on their own to do other things,â Kendall said. “There’s a lot more access out there that struggles with what I’m trying to teach from the Bible.”
Pastors preaching conspiracy theory
But the members of the flock are not the only vulnerable in church communities. Some Christian pastors also preach them.
- Pastor Joe Pedick of Huntington Beach, Calif., Spoke about popular conspiracy theories surrounding Joe Biden’s inauguration. “I’m told something big is going to happen before the 20th. Guess they’re trying to stop a lot of people who are involved in a lot of the long-running corruption.” he said in a sermon on January 10. A representative from his church told CNN Business he didn’t believe in conspiracy theories and was “just passing on information he heard and didn’t know if these things would happen.”
- In Mount Juliet, Tennessee, Pastor Greg Locke called Joe Biden a “bogus president,” who stole the election and said Covid-19 was not a “real” pandemic. Locke’s church told CNN Business he was not a conspiracy theorist but a “realist.”
- Pastor Mario Murillo said: “There is a demonic hedge of protection around Joe Biden,” a popular theme among conspiracy theorists. Murillo, who is based in Reno, Nevada, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CNN Business.
- During services in July, Rock Urban Church in Grandville, Michigan, released a discredited video that supports QAnon’s conspiracy theories. âThe country is being torn apart by the biggest political hoax and the biggest coordinated media disinformation campaign in living history – you may know it as Covid-19,â the video reads. The church did not respond to CNN Business’s requests for comment.
These pastors preaching the conspiracy theory, Kendall said, have been “deceived.” He categorically stated that Christianity was not compatible with QAnon.
âThe real Christianity is that Jesus Christ is our ultimate hope, not Q, nor Donald Trump, nor any other person,â Kendall said.
âI’m not sure Jesus would be welcomed into an American church today.
Conspiracy theories vary in their harmfulness. While belief in Bigfoot, for example, is generally unrelated to violence or assault, the FBI has warned that Q adherents pose a threat of domestic terrorism and warned that “fringe conspiracy theories motivate most likely some domestic extremists, in whole or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activities. “
The real consequences of the baseless claims made by the false prophet “Q” have raised concerns among hundreds of evangelicals, including Jerushah Duford, the granddaughter of the late Evangelical Pastor Billy Graham.
“I think he would have spoken out against that. He was very true to the word of God,” Duford told CNN Business. âIt was just the Gospel and the scriptures. And you can’t do that and believe in QAnon.â
QAnon is linked to the movement, known as Christian Nationalism, which seeks to declare America a Christian nation and prioritize Christianity within it, according to Duford.
Duford, along with over 200 other prominent evangelicals, signed a letter denouncing Christian nationalism and the role it played in the attack on the capital.
âThe term Christian nationalism, in itself, is ironic because there is nothing Christian about nationalism,â Duford told CNN Business. “I hope this will be seen as an extreme part of our faith. Not our faith as a whole.”
The rise of Christian nationalism and the spread of QAnon are in part due to the fact that churches are “extremely exclusive,” Duford warned. “I think what you find of many of these people who are diehard believers in Q-Anon [is] it’s somewhere where they fit. “
“I’m not sure Jesus would be welcomed into an American church today.”
Protect ‘sheep from wolves’
In the January 6 attack, video evidence showed that one of the rioters who entered the Senate chamber carried a Christian flag – a white flag with a blue square in the upper left corner that bears a cross.
This image signaled to Pastor Ben Marsh of the First Alliance Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that he had to speak because a Christian flag is also found on the stage from where he is delivering sermons. .
âIt was horrible for me,â Marsh told CNN Business.
To his neighbor sermon, Marsh removed the flag. In an impassioned speech, he told his congregation that the rioters had been misled because “the pastors had lied to them.”
Marsh is part of an online group of pastors from the Christian Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant denomination, which also serves as a support group. In the group, Marsh says, pastors sometimes seek advice on how to approach the spread of QAnon in their churches.
âThere were pastors who knelt in prayer over and over again because they didn’t know what to do,â Marsh said.
Kendall says he tried having conversations with members of his church about QAnon, but they didn’t get far.
âA lot of times they’re not really ready to hear my side of things or the explanations,â Kendall said.
Yet Kendall persists despite the risk of alienating members of her congregation who potentially believe in at least parts of the conspiracy theory.
âThe Bible tells us that there will always be false teachers in the church,â Kendall said. “My job as a pastor is to protect the sheep from wolves, and not only to show them the truth, but to warn them when these false teachers come in and try to take people away.”