April 12, 2008

Those Conspiracy Theories

2008 1510 page5 capan you connect these dots? 

• Pope Benedict XVI will visit Washington, D.C., April 15-17, celebrate a mass in the city’s new baseball stadium, and meet with President George W. Bush;

          • On Thursday, March 13, there was a rare “secret” meeting of the United States House of Representatives;
          • A clandestine meeting of Roman Catholic and Christian Coalition leadership was supposedly convened at  the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in suburban Washington, D.C., on November 14.
If you concluded from the above that a gathering of powerful Protestant and Catholic leaders propelled the U.S House to secretly enact a national Sunday law last month, which will be signed and promulgated in a joint appearance of the pope and the president on April 16, I doff my cap to you.
You are a first-class conspiracy theorist.
2008 1510 page5And more’s the pity. Rumors of this kind have been swarming across North American Adventism during the past few weeks like honey bees to Washington’s famed April cherry blossoms. The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department of the General Conference has been “flooded” with calls and e-mails about these claims and has spent dozens of hours patiently investigating–and rebutting—the unfounded assertions of this conspiracy theory.
The alleged November gathering never occurred. “We checked every specific claim that accompanied this rumor and every one of them proved false,” writes attorney James Standish, director of legislative affairs for the General Conference, in a widely distributed letter. “The meeting did not occur at the site claimed, and the high-profile individuals who allegedly attended the meeting are documented to be in other locations at the time.”
The so-called “secret” (actually, “closed”) session of the U.S. House was convened specifically to discuss a proposed federal law intended to help the government detect and catch terrorists.
“There has been no Sunday law bill introduced in the subsequent four months [since the alleged November conclave] and our research has turned up no evidence that would tend to corroborate the rumor,” Standish continues. “The person who is the source of the current claim also circulated another Sunday law claim approximately seven years ago. Once again, we vigorously researched the elements that could be verified and found each one to be inaccurate. In the seven years since that claim, no Sunday law has been introduced in Congress.”
While there can be no doubt that Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, favors using the instruments of civil government to enforce a Sunday day of rest—and may, in fact, appeal for the same during his U.S. visit—it is an enormous leap of illogic to conclude that his visit to the U.S. president will therefore be the moment in which his goal is realized.
The truly tragic aspect to the circulation of these conspiracy theories is that they reveal how successful uninformed and misguided persons can be in quickly creating a climate of fear and mistrust among thousands of believers. To treat such rumors as credible, a person must also conclude that the leaders of the church in both the North American Division and the General Conference—the offices for which are located less than 14 miles from the White House—are ignorant of events occurring in their very backyard, lulled into a fatal sense of end-time complacency, or worst of all, somehow in league with the enemies of religious freedom.
Such attitudes toward the church’s elected leaders are repugnant, and hold up to contempt the men and women whose wisdom, experience, and character are every day being used by the Lord Jesus to advance His cause in this world.
Biblical prophecy and the inspired insights of Ellen White underscore that God’s remnant people must stay attentive to the signs happening in their times—some of which could undoubtedly occur with great rapidity. But let’s all reclaim a righteous confidence that those we have asked to serve us as leaders will certainly not ignore, hide, or minimize any genuine threat to the liberties we justly prize.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.