By: Rev. Doug Van Dorn, Pastor & Author. Click Here to check out Pastor Doug's recent work, Conspiracy Theory, A Christian Evaluation of a Taboo Subject. The following is a discussion I had with my long-time church pastor when I came into his office unannounced seeking comfort from the trouble I was beset with due to the culmination of events of the year 2020. It took place after the Inauguration of the United States President, January 2021. By Perry Ellis Knock, knock. “Come in. Oh, Perry. It’s great to see you here in the middle of the week. What brings you over to the church?” “I was in the neighborhood and had something that’s been on my mind for a while now. I suppose you could say it’s been growing like a shadow and a threat.” “I like the Frodo reference there.” “You know, pastor, I don’t think a lot of pastors would have caught that one. But it wasn’t Frodo. I was Legolas.” We both had a hearty chuckle. “But seriously, I’m not really sure how to approach this topic, not even with you.” “What seems to be the matter?” “Well,” I said. “It concerns something that until just a few months ago, very few people had even heard of. Now, suddenly, like some kind of a tornado, it seems to be sweeping away everyone. The world has gone mad with it, and it is causing some of my friends real troubles in their churches. Some are being asked to go away and never come back.” “Another Legolas reference?” “Gollum, actually.” The pastor looked into his computer screen, clicked the mouse, and turned the screen towards me. “You wouldn’t happen to be talking about QAnon, would you?” I scanned the document quickly and must have seemed hesitant. “You know about Q?” “I’ve heard a little about it, yes.” “What have you heard,” I asked him. “I’ve been reading up on it a little, and I can only tell you that what I’ve read concerns me greatly.” “What have you been reading?” “So far, mostly pieces by leading Evangelicals and other religious voices. They are calling it anything from a dangerous conspiracy theory to a neo-gnostic cult that is infiltrating churches at a rate like we’ve not seen since the earliest days of the church.” “You are rightly concerned when you read that. So am I. Have you read anything else on it?” “Well, I heard about this only a couple months back,” he laughed. “I guess that’s kind of like you just said, isn’t it? At any rate, I heard that there were these things called Q-drops, so I looked into it and found a site that had some comments on them. They looked like Nostradamus prophecies to me.” “You mean they appeared to be predicting the future, but seemed like they could mean just about anything?” “Yes, that’s it. Frankly, it looked like sheer nonsense. And the pages I saw them on had people setting all these dates for almost a kind of coming apocalypse, but in a good way. Maybe ushering in a New Age Millennium is more like it. They were drawing lines everywhere from this meme to that drop to a new meme and so on. It was dizzying, like I was back in a class on the Rapture. And everything was Trump this and Trump that. There was this strange frog I remember seeing. I didn’t look into much more though. It seemed rather silly. Quite Fringe.” “I loved that show!” “What show?” “Fringe. Wait, you know about the Lord of the Rings, but not Fringe?” “Afraid so. What is it?” “Fringe was the Sci-Fi show about time travel and alternate universes and stuff like that on FOX a while back. Actually, it has some overlaps with some of the stuff you find some places in the world of Q.” “I’ll stick to the classics of Western Civilization. I think Tolkien has earned his place there by now,” pastor mused. “But really? Time travel?” “Believe it or not, yes. There’s this really strange book written back in the late 1800s about ‘Little Baron Trump’ and it has all these anomalies about the life of Trump that some see as more than coincidence. It is actually kind of strange.” “You seem to know quite a bit about Q, Perry. Why is that?” “I guess it’s because I looked around at 2020 and knew deep in my bones that something wasn’t right even early on. That feeling never died down. It only intensified. Nothing I was hearing in the mainstream was making sense to me of what was happening. In fact, it was contradicting it. Someone told me about Q, and I started to look into it.” “Are you a believer?” I was silent for a minute. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I had already heard from several friends that when they went to talk to their pastors about this, the conversation didn’t last too long and didn’t end well. “I’m not really sure how to answer that, pastor.” “Why not?” My pastor could see that I was getting uncomfortable, but like I told him, this is a difficult conversation to have. “What do you mean by ‘believer?’” I asked him. “Hmmm,” he muttered out loud, waited a moment and simply said, “That’s an interesting response.” Pastor and I had a close friendship, going back many years to when he first came here. I knew that he loved his people and we had certain common interests, both religious and ‘worldly’ that allowed us to spend quite a bit of time together over the years. He was a smart, smart man. I knew that he was trying to figure out a way to get me to talk. I trusted him. “I ask it because you used the word ‘believer.’ And, you had just mentioned too me how several famous people have been and are increasingly calling Q a …” “… cult!” He interrupted me. “Yes, I can see how my question could be taken the wrong way. If you said you were a believer in a cult, now that wouldn’t be a good thing, would it?” Relief flooded over my face. “I guess, as I think about it, I’m not really sure what I mean by ‘believer,’” he responded honestly. “I’ll tell you this, pastor. I think there is something to Q. But part of what concerns me is the rhetoric I see being spun around it, especially from important Christians.” “What do you mean?” he asked me. “I mean that language like ‘cult’ and ‘gnostic’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘infiltrating’ ‘pagan worship’ … that’s not exactly language that unites people who disagree, especially when Christians are supposedly speaking to one another. It makes having a conversation nearly impossible. There’s a lot more, but that’s a good place to start.” “I can see your point, Perry. But if what they are saying is true, then dangerous ideas demand tough rhetoric in response,” was his reply. “If what they are saying is true, I might grant that,” I answered back. “It all depends on what is true and what isn’t. I don’t believe that everything they are saying is wrong. But I also believe that quite a bit of what they are saying is, at best, inaccurate and that the language being employed is itself as dangerous if not more so than anything threatening the church by Q.” “Go on.” I continued. “Pastor, I have friends who are being kicked out of their churches because they ‘believe’ in Q.” “What do you mean by ‘believe in,’” he quickly responded. I laughed. “I see what you did there. Nice one.” I thought about it. I told him I didn’t really have much better of an answer than he did. “I’m not really sure. Kind of interesting, don’t you think, that we both use a term that we can’t really define?” “Maybe there’s some kind of a way we could come to a definition of it?” “I think that would be helpful,” I told him. “Especially in light of a few ideas I’d like to explore, if you have time.” I knew pastor well. He was a busy man. “I know you think I’m busy, Perry. And I always have things to do. But you and the people are the reason I’m a pastor. Of course I have time.” And that’s why I loved him so much. He really was my pastor. Since I already had some idea of where I wanted to take this conversation, I decided to start with this idea of a cult. “Let me get my bearings here by talking out loud for a moment…” I began. “You are already doing that, Perry,” he replied. “Haha! I guess I am.” I continued, “We’d hit a roadblock on the idea of ‘believing in’ Q and this was because of its close association with the term …” “… cult,” he finished. “Are you trying to derail my train of thought?” “Of course I am,” he winked. I think we both understood the gravity of the ensuing discussion, and yet he always tried to bring me back to reality. “It’s a serious discussion, Perry,” he added, “But I want you always to remember that doctrine and theology, ideas and truth aren’t the only things in life. They are important, but we are humans. And if we get into this without remembering our friendship and the times we’ve had together, our common bond in Christ, our mutual Faith in God …” He trailed off. I just let him be silent for a moment. “I’ve seen these kinds of discussions turn from fun bantering to splitting friends and churches in the blink of an eye, Perry. I’ve seen it too many times. And like I said, I say that knowing this is a serious topic. Plenty of those weren’t even that, though some were at least as serious. But Christ prays for our unity above almost all things. That and our love. I’ve seen Christians twist these truths in the name of good things, in the name of truth itself, as if being right is all that matters. I haven’t made up my mind about Q.” “Many pastors have,” I added quickly. “I’m sure they have. But I haven’t. And we aren’t talking about the rest of the world just yet. Just us. Right now. If we keep it at that, I think it will go a long way in helping the rest of this conversation.” How can a man be so wise, I thought to myself. I’m such a fool. I came in here just wanting to talk about the dangers I see in the anti-Q movement from other Christians and here he is talking about friendships and love and unity in disagreement. And then he tells me he doesn’t even necessarily disagree. “That doesn’t mean I don’t lean one direction or another,” he added, as if he was sensing my thoughts. “What way do you lean?” I asked him. “Interesting. We’ve already moved from ‘believe in’ to ‘lean.’ And we haven’t even tried to define that word yet!” Suddenly I realized that it was his quick jest, derailing my wanting to go all in on this discussion that caused our own rhetoric to deflate like a tired filled too full of air. The tightly packed air worked its way to a soft spot and created a tiny hole and the subconscious tension both of us were experiencing by the nature of the discussion suddenly dispersed. “You know, that almost makes me want to be done with this conversation,” I told him.” “How so?” “No, I mean in a good way. You’ve already answered one of my most pressing questions, and I didn’t even ask it.” “What’s that?” “Why is Q destroying so many things,” I replied. “I just realized, maybe it isn’t Q at all. Maybe it is us.” “Maybe,” he simply added. “Do you want to continue?” “Yes, I really do. I need to think through some things.” “OK. So you were saying out loud that the term ‘cult’ was creating a problem with our definition of ‘believe in’ when I so rudely interrupted you.” “That’s right.” He remembered my train of thought after all that? I had forgotten, but I couldn’t tell him that. “I’m curious about the word cult,” I continued. “How would you define a cult?” he asked me. “I’m not really sure, YOU’RE the pastor.” “Yeah, yeah,” was his answer. He took it as meant. A compliment! “I get it, I crack a joke, you try to crack a joke…” We both laughed. “So which one of us is going to define this whole ‘cult’ thing?” He leaned his chair back and reached over to grab a couple of books. “Maybe we should start with a textbook definition or two. Here’s a book I’ve had for many years. We had to read it in a class I took on cults. The author defines a cult…” He flipped through a few pages and went right to the spot. “A ‘cult’ is a religious group that has a ‘prophet’- founder called of God to give a special message not found in the Bible itself, often apocalyptic in nature and often set forth in ‘inspired’ writings. In deference to this charismatic figure or these ‘inspired’ writings, the style of leadership is authoritarian and there is frequently and exclusivistic outlook, supported by a legalistic lifestyle and persecution mentality.” He began to ask me a few pointed questions about the definition. “It may not be the best definition for what we are looking at, but at least it is a place to start,” he said. “In your understanding, is Q a religious group?” “Not at all,” I replied. “How would you describe it?” “I think if we let it speak for itself, it is an open-source military intelligence operation.” “Do you think that’s what it is?” “Whether it is that or isn’t, that is what it claims to be.” “Fair enough.” “I’m curious, pastor, have you read anything about this in the pieces you’ve read from those so deeply concerned about Q?” “Honestly, not really.” “Is that something a person should be bothered by?” I asked. “If that’s what it says it is and those opposed to it aren’t saying that but something else, then it probably isn’t the best thing. That’s not really being fair to the primary material.” “Primary material. You sound like a scholar.” “I try.” “So what have you read that Q is?” I asked him. He fumbled through a few internet pages. “Here’s one I was just looking at. It says, ‘QAnon is a conspiracy theory that claims that a secret cabal in government, the media, and other influential institutions is engaged in child sex trafficking, cannibalism of a sort, and the usual conspiracist bugbear of world domination and human sacrifice. One sub-theory in the movement alleges that there’s footage of Hillary Clinton and her aide ‘ripping off a child’s face and wearing it as a mask before drinking the child’s blood in a Satanic ritual sacrifice.’” “Woaaahhhhhhh, Silver. Hold on there. That’s way too fast for this discussion.” “Did you just say Silver?” “As in the Lone Ranger, yes.” “Do I look THAT old?” “You knew who Silver was, didn’t you?” “Touché.” “How about if we just take that first part for now.” “About the conspiracy theory?” “Well, yes, but even that is too far into it.” “Really?” “Yes. It says ‘QAnon.’” “What’s wrong with that?” “Technically, there is no QAnon.” “Uhh, isn’t that what we’ve been talking about since you walked in here?” “Actually, no. We’ve been talking about Q. QAnon is a merging of Q and the Anons. They are not the same thing. Q is the source, the military intel, if it is to be believed. Anons are those who go around trying to decode its meaning. Originally, they were actually systems analysts, coders, and game designers. Some were even paid by Q, which is the highest level of military clearance our government has. Have you ever seen The Hunt for Red October?” “Yes.” “There’s a scene where all the top brass are discussing what to do with this hijacked nuclear submarine. If you look closely, they all have ‘Q’ on their badges. It was a top-secret meeting. But I digress. These days, it seems that everyone thinks of himself as an Anon. Which probably technically isn’t correct.” “Interesting.” “I know it’s rather a technicality, but harsh rhetoric related to dangerous should also demand high proof, don’t you think?” “What about ‘conspiracy theory?’” he asked. “Do you like that term?” “Haha. Well, that’s probably a discussion for another time. Let me ask you a question about it though. When you hear someone use the term ‘conspiracy theory’ in a piece like this one, do you think they mean it in a positive, negative, or neutral way?” “Clearly it isn’t positive.” “Clearly,” I agreed. “But look at the rest of this definition. It is asking us to associate ‘secret cabals in government’ and other places, ‘child sex trafficking,’ ‘cannibalism,’ ‘human sacrifice,’ and other things with the term ‘conspiracy theory.’ That doesn’t sound neutral to me.” “Well, doesn’t Q talk about those things?” “Yes, it does.” “So, it would be a conspiracy theory,” he concluded. “That of course depends on whether one or more of those things are actually true, wouldn’t it?” “The point is, you can’t prove conspiracy theories,” he told me. “Maybe. Maybe not. But can’t we prove things like child sex trafficking? You do believe that children are trafficked for sex, don’t you?” “Yes, unfortunately I do.” “Do you have any idea how many in the United States alone are taken for this in a given year?” “Again, unfortunately. It’s hundreds of thousands of children. It’s very real and it’s horrible.” “Yes. It’s the non-kosher abortion for conservative Christianity.” “What do you mean?” “I mean conservatives love to talk about how many babies are aborted a year. But we hear virtually nothing about this. Yet, the numbers are not that different. My point is. If child sex-trafficking is real, should that be added to a definition claiming it is a ‘conspiracy theory?’” “That’s a tough question, Perry. They are associating a secret cabal with dealing in child sex trafficking. Can you prove that?” “Well, let’s think about it a little more. Do child sex-traffickers announce on a Super Bowl half time commercial, the very moment that the most children a kidnapped each year around the world, that they are the one’s doing it? I mean, someone is doing it. Are they telling us who they are?” “Of course not.” “So, it’s a secret cabal.” “Yeah, I guess that’s right. But how do we know it’s the government, the media, and so on?” “Pastor, pastor. If we tried to answer all these questions, we would never have time to go hunting together.” “Perry, elk season isn’t for another eight months!” “My point exactly. We have to try to keep this at some kind of manageable level. Trust me, this isn’t something a person can just walk into and know all about in a single day.” “But isn’t that one of the problems with it all, Perry? It’s like this secret society of ideas that you have to be initiated into and only then will you start to learn the real truth. Only the learned can know. And then, when it all proves to be wrong, they just keep coming up with new excuses for how something is going to happen again in such and such a way.” He started to get on a roll. It was like I was listening to him read one of the pieces he showed my on his computer screen. I was silent for a moment, after he was finished, trying to deliberately set the mood. Then I finally answered, “Do you see why I hesitated when I first came in here?” I asked him pointedly, but not in anger. “What do you mean?” he replied sincerely. “Well, that’s precisely the kind of language that its tearing churches apart. I mean, I never said anything at all about a secret society or secret information or initiations or anything like that. That’s about as bad a thing as someone could read into this conversation. But that’s part of the rhetoric and it’s something I’m just not sure how to deal with as a Christian, especially when other Christians are engaging in it.” He started to blush. I felt bad and knew I had crossed a line. “Pastor, I do not want this blowing up our church or our friendship.” “The roles have flipped, Perry.” His answer caught me by surprise. “You sure you don’t want to come over here and sit in my chair. I feel like I need to lay down on the couch.” Maybe I had judged the situation incorrectly. “Not in a million years would I want your job,” I mumbled out loud, thinking it was all in my head.” “It’s not a job, Perry.” Whoops! I actually said that out loud to my pastor! He continued, “I do it because I want to, because God called me to it.” We spent the next few minutes thinking about what had just happened and what had happened earlier. It was a hard discussion to have and both of us were easily given over to our passions about it. As I write this looking back, without question these were the moments I learned the most from our conversation. They have caused me to reflect that no matter what ideas come our way, at the end of the day it is how we respond not only to them, but to one another. A sermon pastor had recently preached on 2 Corinthians 10:3b came to mind. It was so silly how he always did that. 10:3b? Really? “We have the power to destroy strongholds,” he quoted the Scripture to us. “This is the text of my sermon.” That’s your whole text? I thought. But he was great about it. I think he did it just to get on our nerves. He never cherry picked his texts though, even if he micromanaged them. He loved to give us the context. “These strongholds are supernatural in nature. The Apostle had just told us, ‘We are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have the divine power to destroy strongholds.’” He knew that we would have a difficult time understanding this, so he personalized it with the Apostle himself. “Beloved…” He always used that antiquated word. This guy really did love his old books. “The Apostle is destroying strongholds even as he tells the Corinthians that they have the power to destroy strongholds. It’s quite ironic. But how does he do it? Does he just talk theology? Doctrine? He cares about being right, yes. He wants them to be right, yes. Truth matters. But look how he begins the section. ‘I, Paul, myself entreat you…’ Right there he is about to destroy a stronghold. But how? ‘By the meekness and gentleness of Christ.’ Do you see? The powers we have are not merely thrusting swords of theology in each other’s faces. They are using the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of one another. This is how we feed each other the life of heaven. It’s like the opposite of Adam taking the forbidden fruit from Eve. We must treat one another, always, with kindness, meekness, gentleness, respect. You must remember that we are not disembodied ideas floating around simply needing to be corrected. We each bear the very image of God in our person. And that goes for our unbelieving friends. This is a difficult lesson. But one must all learn if we are to truly learn how to destroy strongholds.” Pastor understood that the words the Apostle would go on to use would be firm and difficult for them to hear. And it reminded me very much of the conversation we were having. It was such a wonderful day, because through it God sanctified us both. It was mysterious. After a few minutes talking over what had been happening in our conversation, his mind went back to the definition. “You know, Perry, while it is really difficult for me to believe that all of this stuff is happening, and while it concerns me that people actually believe this stuff, I can see that this kind of a definition really isn’t the best to promote discussion and charity and unity in the body. Even if the accusations are true.” “Thank you, pastor.” “For what?” “For treating me like a human being, with dignity. Like my opinions and thoughts matter. Like your friend. This stuff has been bothering me for a long time and I just didn’t know how to even begin talking about it.” My thoughts went back to that definition of a cult. So, I started to ask more questions about it. “From what you’ve read, does Q have a ‘prophet’ or ‘founder?’” “That’s difficult to answer,” he replied. “They all talk about Trump like he’s some sort of prophet and like people worship him.” “Does Q do this?” I asked him. “I guess I don’t really know,” he answered honestly. “It really doesn’t,” I told him. “But there are some legitimate reasons people think this way,” I answered, “even if they aren’t coming from Q itself.” I think this kind of shocked him. “The President certainly did things, and who knows, might again in the future, that bring attention to himself in ways could be considered sinful. And clearly, there is a devotion to him that sometimes feels like it borders on worship, especially when you see at rallies speakers mixing religion, be it some brand of Christianity or the New Age or both together with the political movement. There are things to be concerned about in much of this.” “At the same time,” I continued, “I’ve come to believe that the President also bears little resemblance to the man portrayed by the media. I’ve seen him be quite kind and honoring of people, when they show honor to him, and I’m not making a moral comment on when he does this. It’s just an observation. I’ve also come across not a few acts of kindness that would really astound you if you heard about them. They are things he didn’t really want anyone to know about, but those who were the recipients got the word out and a few reporters did their digging and found them. In other words, President Trump is what I would basically call a human being. And honestly, I’ve never seen anyone worship the man. Even the devotion people show seems more out of gratitude about what they see as a figurehead for a very few people who are trying to preserve the freedoms they hold dear. But it’s interesting that Trump has always denied he even knows anything about it. Though there was this one time the President was asked about his involvement with this satanic pedophile cabal of baby eating cannibals that that he was trying to save the world from it. His response was amazing. ‘I know nothing about that,’ he said. ‘But if I were trying to save the world from such a thing, would that be such a terrible thing?’” I thought this last line would really get him. I mean, watching it live was just amazing. But he changed the subject. “You seem to know a lot about this, Perry. Can I ask you a question?” “You just did.” “Huh?” “Oh, nevermind.” “Haha. OK, I got you. Here’s the second question. Do you believe there are dangers with Q?” “Of course I do.” “Like what?” “There’s all kinds of them. Many people have become obsessed with it. They can’t seem to live without new information every day. Obviously, there have been a lot of predictions which didn’t come true.” “A LOT of them, Perry.” “Yes, a lot of them. I agree. But this is another one of the things that frustrates me, pastor.” “How so?” “In a lot of ways. One ironic way is how obsessed people who seem to hate Q seem to be with Q!” “Touché. But at the same time, remember, their view is that this is extremely dangerous, like a neo-gnostic cult. Can you blame them?” “No, but the same holds true on the other end. Can you blame them?” “I can see your point.” “Let me see if I can take all of this together,” I started thinking out loud again. “First, Q itself never told us make predictions. Nor does Q make predictions like a prophet, as if hearing from God.” “That isn’t what I’ve seen people saying.” “What people are saying has little to do with reality. If Q if military intel, then they have a plan. If they are telling us this plan and has asked us to decode the intel—it has asked this much—then the Anons are codebreakers, like I said. What if we add in this idea of Gnosticism here. Pastor, how would you define Gnosticism?” “I would say that Gnosticism was an ancient Christian heresy that essentially taught that they had “secret” information about the True God, about Jesus, about Mary Magdalene, about salvation, sin, and other things that you could only know if you “joined their club.” “It’s interesting,” I said to him. “One of the Christian hit-pieces I read,” I didn’t know what else to call it, “compared Q to Q.” “Q to Q? Is that like M to Ms? Get it?” I didn’t want to get it. This guy. He saw my eyes roll. “More like Sesame Street,” I told him, “brought to you by the letter Q and then they played the rerun the next hour, forgetting to change the tape.” “Tape? How who’s old?” Were we really trying to outdo one another with dad joke about VCRs and Sesame Street? And none of our parlays aimed at one another even made for good analogies. “Touché. At this point we may not ever get out of a bad PBS kids show,” I told him. “He was talking about Q of the Bible, or rather, not of the Bible.” “Oh, you mean the hypothetical source document for Matthew, Mark, and Luke?” he asked. “Very clever,” he said and started laughing. “Actually, I find that kind of funny.” “And here’s a cookie for you!” I told him. “Yes, this professor at a well-known seminary was saying that QAnon—he didn’t know any better than you on that one—was like Q the hypothetical source document. But if he was trying to be funny, it sure didn’t come across that way. ‘No one has ever seen it and no one can say certainly what is or is not in it,’ he wrote, which was just dumb, because we literally have entire webpages that give every Q drop and are even searchable. Then he compared both to a shadowy and ostensible source of the true gnosis.” “Huh?” “That’s what I thought.” “First of all,” he said, “Yes, no one has ever seen the hypothetical Q document. But there are certainly good reasons to think that there could have been an earlier source that the Synoptic Gospels used to draw their material from. I mean, even some conservatives think that Peter was Mark’s source. Couldn’t Peter have written something down? Couldn’t that make for ‘Q’? Sometimes I don’t understand people. He had to have been trying to be funny. So why did you bring this up again?” I had been thinking the same thing. Then I remembered, “It was a link to the Gnosis. My mind goes to strange things sometimes, pastor.” “This much has been obvious for an hour now, Perry.” “People are calling Q a kind of gnosis—secret knowledge. But it’s no more secret gnosis than American codebreakers were engaging in during WWII when they were intercepting Japanese transmissions and trying to decode them. And tying this to religion?” I continued. “While I get the appeal, let’s continue that analogy. Were our military codebreakers forced to join some kind of Gnostic secret society cult because Japan was speaking in code and they were trying to figure it out? It’s just ridiculous. But these are the places people are going with this, and this is the rhetoric that they are throwing out there, and these are the things causing churches to split and Christians to abandon friendships over, even family members, because people are believing them.” “That’s an interesting way of putting it, Perry,” he added quickly, not skipping a beat to my long-improvised rant. “What do you mean?” “I mean, we’ve come full circle. People are believing them. ‘What do you mean by believing in…’” “Ahh yes.” “And I think we have something we can plant our feet on finally here,” he added thoughtfully. “I’m all ears. And it’s not even corn harvest yet.” He just threw his hand on his forehead and started shaking back and forth. “When I first asked you the question, you were hesitant, because of its association with ‘cult.’” “Absolutely.” “The reason for that was because if you said you believed in Q, it could be taken religiously, as in you are putting your faith in Q.” I suddenly got agitated and stiffened. “You know, pastor, even the word faith there is loaded.” He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, it certainly is. I’m guessing you are thinking there is more than one kind of faith just like there are different kinds of belief.” “Exactly. We as Christians use both terms so often in religious contexts that it is hard to think they could exist outside of those. But if I said I believe in Q, I would be making anything but a religious statement. The same would be true of faith in Q. Yet, people hear someone say, “Have faith,” or, “Keep the faith” or “Trust the plan” in relation to Q and they immediately jump to a religious …” “… cult?” he interrupted me. “Is that the only word you can interrupt me with, pastor? I’m starting to think you are obsessed with cul…., never mind.” We laughed again. “But yes, hence ‘cult.’ There are just so many things about what is taking place with this whole thing that are troubling and trying figure out why Christians are so often responding to and repeating the mainstream narrative—which is anything but positive, in fact it is positively slanderous—of what Q is, well that’s as high up on the list as I can think of.” “I remind you, Perry, they could be right.” I was silent. He felt it and started to probe. “I can tell that made you uncomfortable. Why is this bothering you so much.” “That’s a great question,” I responded. “There’s lots of answers to that one I think.” “Start with one.” I have a hundred of them, I thought. The one that came out was, “The world has gone crazy, pastor.” I guess if that’s the first one that comes out, it must be among the more important, I thought again. “Yes, Perry. But it has always been crazy.” “That’s true, I guess.” “You guess?” “No, I know it is true. But it feels more crazy than normal.” “Maybe you’ve been spending too much time with … Q?” he gently nudged. “Maybe, pastor. No, I’m sure that is right. I do think about it all the time. But that isn’t really what’s bothering me, I guess.” “What then?” “I think it’s the way so many friends and even Christians, people who should know better, have been responding to so many different events. I mean, I know 80- year-old missionaries who have spent their whole life telling people about Christ and the sovereignty of God who are terrified to walk outside. I’ve heard of some who get mad at even having their grandchildren come around them. They are terrified. Meanwhile, people just as old as they are crying, begging to have one of their family members come and see them in the home. Some of those family members are as terrified as this first group and they refuse, leaving their aged relatives all alone. Others desperately want to go see them and they are not being permitted to. I know so many people just dying inside. Few seem to be handling it well. Some are handling it just terribly.” He clearly thought back to the elderly people in my statement. “It is a pandemic, Perry. And they are old! It hits the elderly the hardest.” “I get that. But let’s not get into the whole “Plandemic’ today.” “Fair enough.” “I’m not really talking about the external events, I guess. I’m just wondering, what has happened to people? Didn’t Christians used to be the first and only people to run into a city filled with the Plague to save lives? What happened to those days? Now so many cower in fear of a death they say doesn’t bother them because they are Christians. Are they really even living? Do people really believe anything anymore? It’s like their faith just doesn’t even matter. All because of a plague with no masses of bodies lining the roads, no over-run hospitals, politically motivated and incentivized lies about deaths, cover-ups about treatments, and millions simply getting a positive test but not even being sick? The first disease you have to be tested for to know if you have it!” “I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about that?” “Touché.” I was trying to jest, but though I couldn’t put it to words just yet, I knew something had changed inside of me with that question. “Look, I get what you are saying, Perry. I smell that something is foul too. Maybe not like you do, but something isn’t quite right. So, we need to slow down and put our faith in Christ…” “But pastor, that’s precisely the kind of answer that frustrates me!” I interrupted, still not seeing my own hypocrisy. I’m ashamed to say, I started to lose it then. I got angry. Frustrated. All these emotions started to come out. I lost control. I raised my voice. I started to vent more and more. Then, for some reason, I just started to cry. A man really shouldn’t wait this long to tell someone about something so important to them, I thought to myself. Look at what a blathering idiot you now must look like. But the pastor was gentle. He waited a while and finally said, “I can see that.” “See what?” He laughed in a fatherly way to break the tension, but I had totally forgotten and really couldn’t understand what he was talking about. “Are you starting to see why we’ve had these several pauses in this conversation, Perry. There is so much going on here. Not just for you. For all of us. Don’t think I’m immune just because I’m a pastor. You know, it used to rather bother me that people thought of me as super-human. But I’m over that.” “I don’t think you are superhuman. I’ve seen how you can’t even gut a deer,” let alone take a quarter out without an ATV,” I attempted to retrieve what little was left of my dignity with a wise-crack. “Yeah, that’s not what I’m talking about.” “Haha,” I laughed unconvincingly. But I recovered quickly. “I know. See what I did there? I remember that this isn’t all about head knowledge and getting right in there.” “Before the last few minutes, we were saying something else. You said my answer frustrates you. Why is that?” “Oh yeah,” in all my pent-up frustration, I had forgotten. “Well, it’s because it feels patronizing. Kind of like an either/or. Either I trust in Jesus or I trust in Q. And goodness, we’ve already had that conversation. This isn’t even about religion. So, I guess it just makes me mad because it feels like a confusion of categories. Like you are judging me.” “But is it?” he asked and then went silent. We were silent a good while. Both of us. I wasn’t liking this line of questioning. He was waiting patiently on me. “Perry, I’ll tell you what I meant that I’m not superhuman. I see things that are wrong here too. And they bother me. A great deal, actually. As you can see, I’ve searched a little for answers in this world. But I’ve decided not to let myself obsess over it. Maybe there are no answers that we can know.” I was growing increasingly frustrated. “This isn’t really helping. You get that right? That’s the whole point of my investigation, to get answers that are out there.” “I’m not finished, though, Perry. I didn’t say that the way I’m dealing with it is the way everyone has to.” That totally shocked me, I’ll confess. That was something I assumed everyone thought, that you had to deal with things the way that they did. He continued, “I think not thinking about any of this is what some people have to do…” “… even if it causes them great fear of what is happening?” I interrupted. “I’m still not finished. Are you about to say ‘… cult’ to me now?” It felt good to banter and not be so serious, even as we both knew how serious this all— everything about what is happening in the world—is. “Deep searches aren’t for everyone, Perry. In fact, they probably aren’t for most people.” I hadn’t thought of that before. “Yet, if those people refuse to look at what is happening and they respond badly in the way they are choosing to deal with it, then they need to put their faith in Christ,” he finished that particular thought. “Yes, that’s what I was saying earlier. I really feels like so many aren’t.” “Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But doesn’t the point still stand? Do you think that we believe in Christ once and then just stop?” “Of course not.” “Doesn’t Scripture constantly remind us to keep trusting in Christ?” “Yes, but won’t the elect always trust in Christ?” “You know I believe that, Perry. But that doesn’t stop the point of the statement. Perhaps it is God’s way of keeping us close to him so that we will not lose the faith he has given us. He is a sovereign God, but he uses means, especially his word, and his word tells us to constantly have faith in Christ.” “But I’m not in danger of not trusting in Christ, pastor.” “First of all, we weren’t even talking about you, remember? We were talking about the people you are so concerned about.” He said is scoldingly … and yet, not. That one hit me hard. I had been so angry at how people were so ‘concerned’ about me and judging me and then I realized I was treating them the same way in my own thoughts, even though I didn’t mean to. The word softened my heart. I finally saw how I was actually projecting my own thoughts on everyone else. “Furthermore, Perry, just because I decide to respond to world events the way I do, it doesn’t mean I will respond perfectly to it. I’m the pastor. I need to keep trusting in Jesus too. I’m not superhuman.” So that’s what he meant. What kind of a pastor talks this way? Only MY pastor. It’s why I’m telling you about this afternoon we had together that was now drawing to evening and time for us both to get going. “That’s the point I was trying to make, but you didn’t hear me the right way. That’s because we are passionate people and those passions often get the better of us, even when we don’t want them to or think they are. Each of us needs to remember at all times that God has this world in his hand. He holds presidents in his hands. He holds kings in his hands. He holds real viruses and fake viruses in his hands. He holds elections in his hands. He holds treason in his hands. He holds conspiracy theories in his hands. He holds those who hate them in his hands. He holds our very breath in his hands. He …” “He has the world in his hands…” I began to sing the folksong and then started singing an old Coca-Cola commercial that was only sort of related to it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I think I ruined the mood on that one, but it’s the way my mind works and the pastor still loves me. “Yes, he does. And hopefully at this moment you can see through the midst of the terror and the fear and the humor and the humanity of our time together this truth in a new way. To tell you that you need to trust in Jesus isn’t, at least from me anyway, some kind of a statement that you aren’t doing that, Perry. Nor am I saying you need to deal with the events of these days in a different way than you are. Who knows? Maybe your way would be better for all of us. I certainly don’t know that my choice is the best in this situation. And if you think yours is better for you, then you should follow that path. But don’t let it consume you or make you subtly turn from that narrow road. I don’t say that because you will or are, but because I want you to remember that he does in fact have the whole world in his hands. This isn’t a statement that you aren’t. It is merely an encouragement to persevere. To trust in Christ alone is the gospel. And we all need to hear it every day.” “Honestly,” he grew ever more sober in speech. He paused, a little too long. Something hit him. “I’m just now realizing that I needed this conversation today too. I’ve felt quite frustrated myself, in the events of the world, in the way things are unfolding, in feeling like I know nothing, and in the way I’m responding to it inwardly. I guess I had those articles from those Christians on Q on my open tabs for a reason. I confess to you, my friend, I’ve been failing. Miserably. I have talked to almost no one about it. I haven’t done much homework. I haven’t wanted to. The little I have is from those who disagree. And that’s probably done out of laziness more than anything. I guess in many ways I’ve been trying to pretend none of this is happening. It just feels safer that way.” What kind of a pastor is like my pastor? I could tell that he had just let me into his soul, which I both thought he probably needed and didn’t want to have happen. It was a good moment, but I changed the subject for his sake. “If conversations like this could happen in other churches, do you think it could help them?” “I don’t honestly know, Perry. I honestly don’t know. I mean, this is my work. I’ve heard plenty of stories about churches splitting up or having trouble, not only about this in very recent days, but about many other things. And families. And marriages. And friendships. And siblings… It’s the way of the world. I see it week to week to week. I try to help. But there’s so much failure, on all sides. I often feel so helpless.” I didn’t know a hundredth of what he knew about that. But in my eagerness I said out loud, “I think it could help!” “You might be right.” He paused again and seemed to leave his own failings behind and became my pastor again. “I just want to know if it has helped you. I know it has helped me.” “More than you can ever know,” I told him. “You know what’s funny?” he asked. “We really didn’t even solve very many of the questions you came in here to ask.” “A few.” “Yes, a few.” “And I needed those few. But as I’m thinking about it, I can see that this really wasn’t my issue. I mean, it was but it …” “… wasn’t?” “Hey, you interrupted me with something other than ‘… cult.’ That has to be good news.” I was trying to be funny. He smirked. He knew how I would take it. But he wasn’t quite finished. Because this is my pastor. And he had one more thing he had to say. “THAT isn’t the Good News, Perry.” Epilogue: I has been several weeks since I had this conversation with my pastor. Of all the things he spoke about, it was his last words that linger strongest in my memory. It was such an emotional day. Really, for both of us. Those kinds of conversations are few and far between. I’m not really sure why that is. Is it because we are afraid to tell the truth to each other? Is it because we are afraid to be vulnerable with each other? Are we afraid others will not show us the kindness we want? Are we projecting our own lack of it upon others? My pastor has always been like this. He is a man of bottomless conviction and spiritual integrity. And I knew deep down that though I probably wouldn’t come away with what I thought I would, somehow it would be even better. My pastor knows something deep down too. He knows that the only source of peace and comfort in this life, no matter who we are or how we respond to the events around us, is a question he brings up to us often in church. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Long ago he made me memorize the answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.