John Wertz–Blacksburg, VA
Invite the group to join you in the game, “Two Truths and a Lie.”
Tell the group that each member of the group needs to come up with two truths and one lie about themselves. Try to come up with specific statements about yourself. Avoid general statements that could easily apply to anyone like “I love pizza.” When it is your turn, you share your two truths and a lie in any order. The object of the game is for everyone else to determine which statements are true and which one is false.
Whose Word Do We Believe?
Do a quick search for conspiracy theories and Google will give you over 100,000,000 results to explore. Conspiracy theories used to be confined to rumors and small groups of ardent believers. The internet and social media have given conspiracy theories like QAnon and those who believe them a feeling of credibility and a highly effective way to broadcast their beliefs to a larger audience. Thankfully, the internet also provides easy access to fact checking sites. For example, Snopes.com and FactCheck.org allow you to quickly learn the facts around common conspiracy theories.
While some conspiracy theories seem relatively harmless, like the belief that the National Basketball Association rigged its 1985 draft lottery by freezing an envelope to ensure that the commissioner gave the New York Knicks the first pick in the draft. Many conspiracy theories promote ideas which endanger others, like the conspiracy theories around vaccines which impede our ability to stop the spread of dangerous diseases.
When individuals are wrapped up in a conspiracy theory, the word of an expert in a field or the facts presented in a peer reviewed paper have no impact on what they believe. One of the great difficulties in addressing conspiracy theories is that “conspiracy theories are essentially irrefutable: logical contradictions, evidence showing the opposite, even the complete absence of proof have no bearing on the conspiratorial explanation because they can always be accounted for in terms of the conspiracy”
Sadly, conspiracy theories create division, alienation, and conflict when family members and friends embrace them. So how do you help someone else to recognize and reject a conspiracy theory? Here are six suggestions from Dr. Jovan Byford, a conspiracy theory researcher.
- Acknowledge the scale of the task – Be patient and be prepared to fail.
- Recognize the emotional dimension – Be prepared for the conversation to get emotional and be prepared to de-escalate the situation if needed.
- Find out what they actually believe – Don’t assume you know the details and depth of their belief. Ask questions and do research so you can discuss intelligently.
- Establish common ground – Find points you can agree upon to build trust and relationship.
- Challenge the facts, value their argument – Present appropriate facts to disprove the theory, but don’t demean the individual in the process.
- Be realistic – Helping someone abandon a conspiracy theory can be extremely difficult. Often, the best outcome you can achieve may be to sow seeds of doubt about the theory.
- Why do you think people believe conspiracy theories even when there are clear facts that show the theory is incorrect?
- What processes do you use to verify that the information you see online or hear from friends is actually true?
Second Sunday of Christmas
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In a world filled with conspiracy theories, it can be difficult at times to know what to believe. Someone may say to you, “I give you my word that what I’m telling you is true.” Whether you believe them or not probably depends on how well you know the person involved, how much experience you have with them, how much of their story you know, and what you know of their character. In many places, simply saying “I give you my word” is not enough. In our reading, John reminds us that long before conspiracy theories flourished online, God said, “I give you my Word” and it was enough to bring light, grace, and truth to the world.
Now to be sure, millions of people today would push back on the claim that God’s Word is enough. A few people would even suggest that God’s Word made flesh in Jesus is a “2000 year long conspiracy theory” since none of us can gave 100% irrefutable scientific proof of the facts of Jesus’ story. Yet, when you dive into the story of God’s Word and God’s relationship with God’s people across the centuries, the light that shines from the words of those stories gives you reason to believe.
“In the beginning” John says, “was the Word” (Jn 1:1) and from the very beginning, God’s story has intertwined with our story:
- promising Abram and Sarai that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Genesis 15)
- delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 5-14)
- providing commandments to help us relate in a healthy way to God and to one another. (Exodus 20)
- inspiring poets and artists to share their gifts to inspire God’s people and to help them express their sorrow and pain.
- remaining faithful to God’s people regardless of how many questions were asked, commandments were broken, or harsh words spoken.
- giving prophets the voice to call God’s people to turn from their sinfulness and instead to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
- sending Jesus, born of Mary, to live and to teach, to love and to care, to die and to rise, that all God’s people might know the promise of eternal life.
- sending the Spirit to blow through the world as an advocate and a guide to strengthen, support, and inspire God’s people in their lives of faith. (Acts 2)
- calling countless people across the centuries, including someone in your life, to share the story of God’s Word so that others might know the enduring love of God.
As compelling as God’s story across the centuries is, ultimately the way in which someone responds to the Good News is not something you or I can control. The best we, who know the grace and truth of the Word made flesh, can do is let our light shine before others. With the help of the Holy Spirit, those who connect to our story may discover the good news of Jesus, who lived among us to bring grace and truth for all people.
- How do you find answers to your questions about God?
- What scripture passage or story is your favorite?
- Where have you seen God active in your life or your community this week?
- In-Person, Socially Distanced Option: Gather a random assortment of craft supplies and create a supply box for each of the participants which includes the words to John 1:1-18 printed on a piece of paper. Invite the participants to use their supplies to create an image that represents some portion of the reading from John 1:1-18. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see what everyone can create.
- Digital Ministry Option: Use Wordclouds.com to create a Word Cloud using the text of John 1:1-18. Allow the group to try different shapes, fonts, colors, and themes to create the Word Cloud that best visualizes the words of this reading.
O God, you have been present with us since the beginning, We give thanks that in the manager, your Word was born of Mary to bring your love, grace, and truth to all people. Help us to know that in our good days and in our bad days, in our doubts and in our questions, in our sorrows and in our joys, your love for us and your presence with us will never end. Amen.