Conspiracy Theory. Loved the movie. Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts put on a show.
This year’s conspiracy theory installment, The Da Vinci Code movie, based on the wildly popular book out for several years, promises to sell many more tickets than the Gibson-Roberts film.
Americans love conspiracy theories. Attributing the worst motives to “those other people”–especially if they represent the bureaucracy of government, law enforcement or the religious establishment–pulls readers and viewers into a web of juicy intrigue. It makes high entertainment.
But conspiracy theories prove less entertaining to those falsely accused of such conspiring.
The Da Vinci Code is built upon the premise that the Roman Catholic Church through the centuries has suppressed the truth about Jesus’ romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene and the resulting birth of a child, whose descendants carry the Savior’s bloodline into contemporary France. The plotline is fanciful and intriguing, but the research supporting it is amateurish. Moreover, the accusation against the Church is despicable. Not only does it falsify data, it brings disrepute and scorn on all individuals and institutions that ascribe honor and glory to the Jesus revealed in holy Scripture. In the process, it reinforces the disdain unbelievers hold toward the Christian faith, which in turn, widens the gap separating them from God.
Let nobody blame the Roman Catholics for boycotting the movie, or think only one part of the Christian church could spawn such speculation.
Conspiracy theories abound in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), too. This column last week outlined the perilous pull into the “downtown deterioration syndrome” that is playing out in denominational headquarters. We cited a complex set of self-propelling causes. One other catalyst for the descent, one that begs for exposure, is what we might term a “secularized and cynical church culture that tends to believe conspiracy theories.”
Does the General Assembly believe X? Are all those staffers in Louisville promoting Y? Are all of them conspiring to produce Z? You identify what characteristic is identified with X, Y, or Z–the more eccentric the better–and it is easy to convince others that a resounding “Yes” can be the only accurate response.
That’s not to say that the national church leaders are innocent of all charges. Some of them have ventured into beliefs or practices that have gone off track. But most of the time the majority of those folks have poured themselves into serving the church and its global mission while drawing relatively low salaries and receiving excessively frequent criticism and rare thanks. Now some of them are unemployed, largely because local churches have increasingly chosen to redirect more and more of their mission giving, bypassing the middle and upper governing bodies of the denomination. Why have they redirected those funds? Many elders, pastors and members back home believe the conspiracy theories that supposedly are guiding the work of the national church leaders.
We do love conspiracy theories.
Mere sentimentalism for the good ol’ days will not of itself revive the patterns of institutional loyalty that used to sustain the broader mission of the larger church. But the ease with which so many Presbyterians have accepted at face value the most damning incriminations of their colleagues is frightening. And the culpability falls not only upon those spreading the rumors but also upon those entertaining them. And on those believing them. And on those enjoying the conspiracy theories explicit or at least implicit in them.
The New Testament admonishes us, Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses”(I Tim. 5:19). Both testaments direct us, Do not bear false witness.
In the 1997 movie Mel Gibson sees conspiracies around every corner. Ultimately, one of those suspicions proves true. So too, perhaps one conspiracy or another in the church might prove true. But God deliver us from falsely accusing or erroneously believing the big lie. And may God heal the broken hearts of those church leaders who are now unemployed because, at least in part, some Presbyterian folks enjoy conspiracy theories.