If you haven’t heard of Jade Helm, here’s the gist. The United States military is conducting exercises training for desert warfare in Texas and the southwest. Somewhere along the way, rumors began to percolate that these exercises were really training the military to invade Texas and impose martial law. As I heard about this, I immediately thought about how evangelical Christians ought to pay attention to this controversy, because we can see some of our most pernicious temptations at play here.
Let’s get this out of the way first. The United States military has no interest in invading Texas. That’s been the case since at least 1865. Any credible observer comes to the same conclusion about Jade Helm. One can argue that the Obama Administration is incompetent, bungling our foreign policy objectives with the Islamic State, Yemen, Libya, Russia, the Iranian ayatollahs, and so on. One can argue that the Obama Administration is skilled and crafty enough to subvert the Constitution with an elaborate military operation to take over what is arguably our feistiest and best-armed state. But one cannot argue both of these things at the same time.
Still, some politicians found it difficult to come right out and say this. Some said they’d look into it. Some said they could understand the concern, given the Obama Administration’s lack of untrustworthiness on other issues. Now, at one level, anyone who’s every served in ministry can have sympathy. Most of us don’t have time, at the back door on Sunday morning, to deconstruct the arguments of the man who’s suggesting that Ezekiel 35 is prophesying the coming attack from space of our inevitable mutant overlords. We typically nod and smile and say, “Well, that’s quite a thought” and carry on.
But I think there’s something else going on here as well. Politicians are often paranoid, but in a different way than some of their constituents. They’re not paranoid about crazy conspiracy theories, but they are paranoid about getting on the wrong side of their constituents. And some of them fear that if they dismiss such conspiracy theories, when they are directed at the “other side,” the appearance will be that they’re not tough enough on the people their constituents dislike. The problem is, if they don’t dismiss such wild theories, they lose the ability to persuade those who aren’t already with them.
Here’s where this applies to evangelical Christianity in America. Christians are not immune to the pressures of the ambient culture, which is why the Scripture warns us to beware conforming ourselves to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:1). And as an entrepreneurial, evangelistic people, evangelicals are often quick to adapt to the zeitgeist. We have no shortage of conspiracy theories that buzz around, through conversations or via social media or from the platforms of conferences and rallies. And some of them are, let’s face it, crazy.
But here’s the problem. We often assume that a “united front” means that we stand united with whomever is opposed to the same things we are. And we too often assume that one’s conviction is measured by the decibels of one’s outrage.
This means that far too often our public witness is compromised by lunatics and heretics.
Too often, the same people who put out books a generation ago telling us Gog and Magog is the Soviet Union, now put out books telling us Gog and Magog is ISIS. The same people who could tell us exactly what prompted God to allow the September 11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina sell us products telling us what the “blood moons” portend. Too often, we don’t speak out when “evangelical” figures use campaign-ad style rhetoric, as long as it’s against the same people we oppose. Too often, we say nothing when the evangelical tent includes predatory prosperity gospel evangelists or others who compromise the gospel itself. And as time goes on, the paranoid style seems to be just another evangelical mode of discourse.
But this is not biblical. The antidote to Sadducees is not Pharisees, or vice-versa. The antidote is Christ Jesus. And Christlikeness will draw fire from those who wish to subvert the gospel from all sides, not just from one. Moreover, we have been called, within the church, to exercise accountability over those who would bear the name of brother or sister (1 Cor. 5:11-13). A prophetic witness means that we do not tolerate lying or speaking for God without authority, even when such speech is seen as furthering “the cause.”
And, above all, we are not paranoid because we are not afraid. Conspiracy theories and outrage-mongering are for those who are losing something. We are not losers. We are raised from the dead, joint-heirs with the ruler of the cosmos (Rom. 8:17). The real secret conspiracy—that of the accusers of humanity—has been not only defeated but humiliated (Col. 2:14-15). We speak truth then, including hard truths. But we speak truth, with total truthfulness, and with the joyful tranquility of those who have nothing to lie about, and nothing to fear. That sort of confidence outlasts any conspiracy, real or imagined.