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Hi and welcome back! For Halloween Week this year, we’ve been talking about the set of conspiracy theories collectively called QAnon. Evangelicals have glommed right onto QAnon, and no wonder: its creators target them specifically with this drivel. But it took a very long time for evangelical leaders to realize just what a serious problem QAnon was. One of those leaders, Ed Stetzer, seems to have figured this truth out in the most hilarious way possible. Today, let me show you how Ed Stetzer got hoist with his own petard.

17th-century sketch of how to set up a petard
How to set up a petard. Not shown: Ed Stetzer getting hoist by his. (Wikipedia.)

Lamenting the “Death of Expertise.”

An August NPR article details just how QAnon managed to overtake a lot of evangelical churches in the United States. Its interview subject, Katelyn Beaty, had just written an article for Religion News Service called “QAnon: The Alternative Religion That’s Coming to Your Church.”

(I liked her opening sentence in that post: “It’s a rough time to be a pastor.” Talk about understatement!)

Beaty speaks in that interview about the overtly religious language used by QAnon posters — and QAnon’s penchant for coded messages that cloaks clues in Bible verses and Bible-based numerology.

One of the evangelical pastors Beaty interviewed, Jon Thorngate, lamented the “death of expertise.” As Thorngate described it, evangelicals so distrust authority figures that they no longer understand how to figure out what’s true and what’s false anymore. Their attitude is, as he put it, “I’m going to use church for the things I like, ignore it for the things I don’t and find my own truth.”

As a result, Thorngate complained, pastors like himself were very concerned. “Nothing feels authoritative right now.”

Gosh, y’all. Evangelicals just don’t trust any real-world authority figures anymore, it seems. So they easily glom onto fake news. That pastor is very upset by this trend he’s just noticed. He also mentioned that only about 5-10 members of his 300-member church seem involved with QAnon directly, but he’s very worried that many more of his congregants seem open to those sorts of conspiracy theories.

And so are Ed Stetzer and his business associates over at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center (WCBGC).

Hey, Y’all.

Guess Who’s Totally “A Pawn of George Soros” and “An Arm of the Democratic Party” Now?

Seriously. Guess.

OMG. This is Good.

I’ll wait.

Do you have a name in mind now?

Was it Ed Stetzer’s very own employer, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center?


Cuz that’s who QAnon believers have identified as such. Andrew MacDonald, who works for the WCBGC under Ed Stetzer, wrote this way back in April:

It is telling that for all we produce at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, Ed’s recent article on the damage conspiracy theories are having on our Christian witness was one of our most widely viewed articles ever. [. . .]

Many shared Ed’s article because they are concerned about friends and loved ones who are beginning to spout conspiracy theories.

Others shared because they believed these conspiracy theories and were mobilized to attack the WCBGC as either a “pawn of George Soros” or an “arm of the Democratic Party.”

My sides. Oh, my sides.

sides in orbit
Just wow.

By the way, that last bit had to blow Ed Stetzer’s ever-lovin’ mind — along with those of the other employees of that department and college.

At long last, the conspiracy-theory peddlers found themselves the targets of lies they didn’t start and couldn’t hope to contain or control.

Sometimes, our universe seems to have a sense of humor.

The Call Coming From Inside Ed Stetzer’s House.

That had to be the moment when everything got real for Ed Stetzer. Since April, unfortunately, the problem Stetzer and MacDonald identified only grew considerably worse. And they still haven’t found a way to contain or control that problem.

Here’s what’s even funnier about this whole situation:

The leaders of Wheaton College seem to have created that entire WCBGC department and the entire chair position heading it specifically for Ed Stetzer to run as his private little Jesus-fiefdom. I’ve seen no sign that Wheaton ever considered any other person guy for this new position.

Thanks to his friends at Wheaton, then, Ed Stetzer slid right from his lucrative LifeWay job to this incredible new position. Sure, evangelical leaders tend to fail upward. That’s a given. But this was an upward way further up than even I’d expect of someone relentlessly schmoozing the evangelical good ole boy network like Ed Stetzer has.

So you know this QAnon revelation must sting extra for Ed Stetzer, who has got to be higher than a kite on his own self-promotional fumes.

After all he’s done for evangelicals, his special little sinecure post has fallen into the distrusted category for many of them.

Poor Ed Stetzer.

What’s worse, Ed Stetzer has no way whatsoever of reining in those conspiracy theorists who’ve decided he’s an agent of evil Democrats and [*whispered*] wealthy liberal Jews. Ed Stetzer and his pals happily and painstakingly stripped their flocks of their discernment skills to push through a bunch of culture-war ideas.

And now, outside sources have taken advantage of evangelical’s inability to sift face from fiction to push the tribe to heights of wingnuttery their previous leaders didn’t dare to imagine.

This next part is what really makes me laugh, though:

Ed Stetzer can’t use those same processes to bring QAnon believers back under his control.

QAnon has already convinced them to ignore or vilify anyone seeking to pull them away from DA TROOF.

Ed Stetzer’s Painted-In Corner.

He can’t point them toward legitimate media reports about QAnon, either. QAnon has already told believers what media sources they can trust and safely consume. Those sources fully support QAnon to the hilt. If Ed Stetzer even hints that some mainstream media stories might be okay, as he tries to do in one of his posts, QAnon wingnuts will either write him off or identify him as an enemy.

Sure, Ed Stetzer can spout Bible verses all day long if he likes to try to pull his lost sheep back into his own orbit. For months now, he’s been doing exactly that. However, QAnon beat him to that punch long ago. Their creators have already fed evangelicals plenty of Bible verses to support their wackadoo claims.

Besides, evangelicals have dealt with doctrinal squabbles and denominational infighting since long before I joined evangelicalism. Oh, honey, they’re long accustomed to encountering opponents wielding Bible verses.

Thus, QAnon believers won’t even wonder why each side to this fight possesses slews of Bible verses supporting their particular take on these conspiracy theories. They’ll just assume Ed Stetzer is misusing his verses somehow.

Live by the Manipulation Tactic, Etc.

It’s almost funny to see all these evangelical leaders getting lapped by total outsiders using their own tactics. Donald Trump did the same exact thing in 2016. That’s when he slid control of evangelicals away from their own pastors — for good.

And well, QAnon’s taking things even further now.

It’s even funnier to see how little evangelical leaders understand of exactly how the flocks’ change of allegiance even happened.

In short, Ed Stetzer, along with his heroes and mentors, helped forge evangelicals into a tribe of extremism-embracing, conspiracy-theory-buying, irrationality-addled, cruel, hateful, intolerant, fascist, control-lusting culture warriors. Under their watch, evangelicals blossomed into total wingnuts.

He did nothing to slow their roll. Instead, he just shined ’em on.

And now he cries foul because those exact qualities he helped instill in the tribe are exactly what made his tribe fall for QAnon so hard and so completely.

NEXT UP: Evangelicals lost touch with reality a very long time ago. In turn, QAnon took vicious advantage of their inability to discern truth. We’ll check out how evangelicals had already destroyed trust in those sources long before QAnon arrived on the cultural scene. See you tomorrow!

Cuz y’all, I can’t imagine much that’s more scary than what’s going on in evangelicalism these days.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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