Conspiracy in a time of COVID

Have we, as Adventists, become hypervigilant in looking for secret knowledge and special understanding at the expense of our credibility?

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I was looking through old Record archives online when this unusual news item caught my eye. More than 20 years ago, in the late ‘90s (wow, does anyone else feel old reading that?), something happened in Papua New Guinea that caused a stir:

“Some Adventists in PNG are refusing to have their children immunised against polio following claims it leads to eternal damnation. An independent ministry, operating in the Eastern Highlands Simbu Province, says the Sabin vaccine contains a metal labelled ‘666’, meaning children and their families will be under constant satellite surveillance. . . . According to South Pacific Division Adventist Health director Dr Percy Harrold, the claims are creating fear . . . [and] spreading dangerous misinformation about a lifesaving program. The consequences are serious. In the interest of public health and the credibility of the church in PNG, I’d discourage any further financial support of the ministry” (October 25, 1997).

It seems that history does repeat itself. In this current COVID-19 situation, conspiracies are rife.

A recent report on news.com.au suggests that one in eight Australians believe Microsoft founder Bill Gates is somehow responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and the 5G phone network is spreading the disease. One in five believe the media and government are fudging the death toll to scare people.

I’m sure these statistics would hold true in the Church. If we’re honest, we set ourselves up for it. We believe our biblical knowledge gives us special insight into things that are hidden. We even use the biblical phrase “even the elect will be deceived” (Matthew 24:24) to pat ourselves on the back and show that we are not in that boat. Except that’s not what the text means. We are unlikely to be deceived by not knowing some secret conspiracy. It is more dangerous to believe something that is not true (or not entirely true) and to stake our faith and salvation on it. We’ve become hypervigilant looking for secret knowledge and special understanding—often sacrificing our credibility.

But even if the conspiracies are true (for argument’s sake, let’s suppose some are), understanding is most often used by us as an excuse not to care. We circumvent or avoid obeying the commands of Jesus, we actively duck doing good, run from civic responsibility or allow bad people to get away with real and measurable destruction and greed, because we don’t want to be associated with some shadow organisation’s secret agenda.

I can include myself in this category. There are terrible things going on in the world that I’m aware of but choose not to do anything about.

Enough is enough. Whether these theories are true or not there are a few things we must keep in mind.

The apostle Paul, who suffered at the hands of the powers that be, exhorts us, “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 3:3,4). Paul, in this passage, makes a number of points, including that the government rules because God allows it.

We must also remember that, ultimately, evil cannot triumph. So we must focus on the good and live as though Christ has already won the victory (which He has). Proverbs 14:22 tells us: “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” (This could also be evidence that some of these conspiracies aren’t real because any evil plot will inevitably go astray.)

As Luke 6, among other passages, tells us, it is our fruit that ultimately matters: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v45).

So live and love well. If a theory or idea doesn’t point you to God and help you to serve people, it’s not worth investing your passion and energy in . . . or wasting your time on.