Evangelical Pastors are leaving their churches after losing their congregations to QAnon, According to a new report published by Business Insider.
Across the US, pastors are trying to fight conspiracy theories and misinformation that have gripped churches after seeing members “become radicalized,” The Insider reports.
Vern Swieringa, the pastor of The Christian Reformed Church in Michigan, told Insider that he had been watching for months as “some members of his congregation grew captivated by videos about the QAnon conspiracy theory on social media, openly discussing sex trafficking and Satan-worshipping pedophiles.”
“He had watched as other spiritual advisors, including the self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” Mark Taylor, incorporated wild and dangerous QAnon beliefs into their sermons on YouTube and as organizers of the Christian Jericho March gathered in Washington, DC, days before the insurrection, urging followers to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity,” the report says.
So when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol hours after his premonition, Swieringa was shocked, but not surprised.
“I think some of the signs had been there all along, and it just all came to a perfect storm,” Swieringa told Insider.
He became even more concerned when, in 2018, some older members in his own congregation started sending him what he described as “disturbing” QAnon videos. When Swieringa brought these to the attention of his superiors, he said, they were mostly dismissive, telling him they didn’t know what QAnon was.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the problem grew larger and a lot more personal.
Swieringa felt increasingly uncomfortable when a large part of his congregation dismissed the pandemic as a hoax.
The 61-year-old pastor had been taking the pandemic very seriously, he said, partly because his wife was considered at risk. A bout of pneumonia in 2019 had left her with permanent scarring in the lungs.
“It was at that point when I put my foot down and said, ‘I’m not going to preach in front of a congregation that wants to sing and not wear masks,’” Swieringa said. “But they still wanted me to preach in front of them without wearing a mask.”
He said the church offered to him a plexiglass barrier to preach behind, but he felt it wouldn’t make much of a difference in an enclosed space.
“We agreed to separate at that point, and so it felt pretty cordial at the time,” Swieringa said. “But I found out later that there were really hard feelings amongst the congregation, and many of them felt like I abandoned them. It was heartbreaking.”
Swieringa left the church in December after eight years of service.
Southern Baptist youth pastor Jared Stacey, from Virginia, also left his church after QAnon and other conspiracy theories began to divide his congregation.
He told Insider he left to “create some space,” adding that pastoring in 2020 was “a struggle” for many faith leaders.
“I do think that a lot of pastors are burdened right now and need a friend,” Stacey said. “It’s not easy watching people that you’ve invested time in becoming radicalized so quickly right in front of you.”
He said that while some people might say politics shouldn’t be discussed in churches, there comes “a point where refusing to talk politics is a false front for protecting the political sensibilities of your stakeholders.”
“That is why there is a theological need to address what the Bible would describe as telling lies or having a false God,” he said.
Read the entire report here.