JAN 2021
DANGEROUS CONSPIRICIES
By Superintendent Michael Traylor
“Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.” Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny

“And this, of course, is the central problem with conspiracy theorists — once you inflexibly accept that something is a conspiracy, any contrary evidence has the paradoxical effect of making your case stronger. Every contradiction deepens the conspiracy.” Chuck Klosterman in I Wear The Black Hat

“Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart.”
Proverbs 22:16 NLT
Rumors and gossip are notoriously hard to resist but conspiracies go a step further. Conspiracies are an effort to explain some event, process, or practice by referring to the secretive doings of super-powerful people (or person) who have also managed to conceal their role. Conspiracies can be true, such as when governments seek to covertly topple other governments, or false, like the belief in Santa Claus. Conspiracies can also be categorized as dangerous or harmless. Conspiracies that lead its adherents to behave in ways that are harmful to themselves or their communities are extremely dangerous.
 
At this writing, we find the world engulfed in a pandemic regarding covid-19 (Novel corona virus) and the death toll is approaching 500,000 and the number of people diagnosed with corona virus in the United States is now the highest of any nation in the world. Despite warnings from leading epidemiologists and extensive information regarding the infectious and lethal nature of the virus, we have many people who choose to believe various conspiracy theories to explain the pandemic.
 
The problem is that covid-19 is a highly infectious virus that causes a higher rate of illness and death, particularly among those in advanced years, chronic illness, or abnormal immune systems. Public health officials have put practices in motion to reduce the spread of the disease (vaccines, social distance, sheltering, restricted travel) and protect the vulnerable (quarantines for the vulnerable, protective gear for health providers). Despite the declaration of emergency, along with daily press briefings by government officials and top epidemiologists, the power of conspiracies continues to grow more and more entrenched. More significantly, the conspiracies are becoming more dangerous.
 
Conspiracy theories have unusual “stickiness”. This means that those who believe them, tend to believe them tenaciously. Interestingly, trying to confront someone who deeply believes in a particular conspiracy with the truth or facts, tends to deepen their belief while simultaneously believing that your willingness to confront them demonstrates the extent of the conspiracy. There is always an aspect of conspiracy theories that attributes the organization of the conspiracy to someone or group with super-powers. For example, an anti-Semitic group that felt that Jewish people were actually responsible for the attacks of 9/11, attributed a secret Jewish network with untold wealth and unlimited power. Similarly, in the conspiracies regarding covid-19, there is always an all-powerful, sinister, but concealed group or persons behind the curtain, pulling the strings. Pointing out to a conspiracy believer that there is no curtain, no strings, no puppet master, no covert operation, only a virus that mutated like viruses have done since the beginning of the world is simply confirming how secretive this entire thing actually is.
 
Studies looking at conspiracy believers found that people are more likely to believe a dangerous conspiracy if:
 
  1. They have a narrow epistemology. Epistemology is the investigation of what constitutes truth and opinion. In other words, people who get their information from a very narrow source are more likely to fall for a conspiracy theory, particularly if the narrow sources (whether it be media, religious leaders, parents, educational institution, etc) supports that conspiracy.
  2. They believe in at least one other conspiracy theory, even if that conspiracy theory is conflicting. Studies show that people who believe Bin Laden was already dead by the time US soldiers reached his compound also believe that he is most likely still alive. This is because adherence to conspiracy theories is not logical or rational, but emotional and fear based.
  3. They are typically withdrawn from community based or political advocacy movements. Deeply convicted conspiracists often are ridiculed and develop networks of support that are outside of established community-based networks. It is that sense of isolation that incubates dangerous and bizarre responses to events that are often characterized by violence or risky behavior.
 
As a pastor and a pediatrician, I am constantly talking to someone about a conspiracy of some kind. Whether it is talking to parents about vaccines, their pros and cons, or talking to pastors about political advocacy, it comes down to whether they are open to wrestle with the facts, or are they already convicted.
 
So, how do you confront a dangerous conspiracist? I suggest the following:
 
  1. Always speak with information that based upon expertise. If that is medical information, consider CDC or medical institutions such as Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General, or Cleveland Clinic. Always be comfortable with the limits of information. Sometimes, there remains significant mystery. For political information, seek information from multiple sources.
  2. Challenge the presence and abilities of the super-power of the conspiracy theory. Sorry kids, I would love for there to be a Santa, but he would need to travel in supersonic speeds and have an all-seeing data gathering system that is always up to date and there has never been a flying reindeer isolated. Sounds silly, but often times people need you to spell it out the absurdity.
  3. Consider focusing on the solution for health and wellbeing of our community/nation and stop trying to debate the details of unprovable theories. Focus on the facts, that corona is here, people are dying, and it is spreading quickly. What needs to be done to slow and protect?
  4. Refuse to pass on disinformation in any media. The higher your profile, the more damage its capable of.
 
Please do your best to advocate and promote peace and health in your community and that begins by recognizing and not feed into conspiracies and model behavior on best practices based upon truth. But just in case, it doesn’t hurt to try to be on Santa’s good list…

Don't forget to participate in TRC's Neighboring Challenge. We updated TRC's website with the resources for our

Neighboring Challenge

These resources are provided by the authors and include:
  • 3-Week Sermon Series
  • 6-Week Interactive Small Group Study
  • COVID-10 Neighboring Tool Kit
  • and more.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT THIS PAGE
Pastor Dick Dickinson Retires
Colville Free Methodist Church celebrated Pastor Dick Dickenson as he officially retired on December 31, 2020. Dick has pastored his flock for 10 years and will be greatly missed.

We send Dick and his wife, Sheila, our best wishes for a peaceful and fruitful retirement. Thank you for all you have done for TRC, FMC, and the Kingdom.

The Spokane District sent him a video farewell and you can click below to see it.
It’s one thing to go through a global pandemic.
It is quite another to go through it
as a shepherd of God’s people.
It's time to take a moment, slow down,
and rediscover our first love.

You’ve been through a difficult year, most likely with scars (and sheep bite marks) to prove it. The virus, the changing economy, the racial crisis, and the toxic political climate has hit everyone in one way or another.

Additionally, you have been uniquely impacted by all of them—in a compounded way—because you are the shepherd of the whole flock.

On top of that, you’ve had to adapt your work in ways that are constantly shifting, endlessly frustrating, and (no matter how hard you try!) still unsatisfying. 
Few realize the impact this has on our pastors. We do. We see you, and we’ve created this online retreat just for you – at no cost to you.
PENSION INFORMATION UPDATE
The Benefits Committee passed a policy concerning eligibility for voluntary pension enrollment. Any domestic FMC ordained pastors who are at non-FM churches, and not appointed to a FM church, have the option to choose to enroll in the FMC-USA pension plan. These non-FM churches will have the same contribution policies as all other churches in the plan. This means a church that is not a FM church may enroll a pastor who is ordained in the FMC. They would then pay 13.5% of the pastor’s pension eligible compensation. We would need to have the ACH form completed for the church in order to process the payments for the pastor. This also means that if you have a pastor who is leaving to work outside the denomination, but plans to keep their FMC credentials, their new church has the option of contributing to their FMC-USA pension. 


Effective January 1, 2021, our office is once again assessing delinquent interest charges to all churches with a balance due over 60 days. The interest rate is determined by the pension plan’s prior year’s investment return with a minimum of 5% and a maximum of 15%. The plan had an investment return of 14.7% for 2020, therefore the interest rate for 2021 is 14.7%. If you have a church with a delinquent balance, it will be displayed on the outstanding info sheet.
 
We are now asking that all conference offices begin using the Nyhart Portal for the Pension Enrollment and Change of Status forms. Please ask that anyone needing to submit an enrollment form use the Nyhart link instead of the old one. The old ones are still active, but we are trying to move forward with the new forms as quickly as possible to better streamline the billing process. If you need the login information for your conference, please contact our office. The Nyhart Portal link for the Pension Enrollment form is portal.nyhart.com/FreeMethodist/OnlineEnrollment, and the Change of Status form link is portal.nyhart.com/FreeMethodist/Status. The enrollment form will not require you to login to your account, but the Change of Status form will. Active pension plan participants did receive notice of their login information in 2018 with their annual benefit statements, but we have not yet set up account login info for the individual churches. 

World Methodist Evangelism
Greetings in the strong name of Jesus Christ!
World Methodist Evangelism is celebrating a major milestone! 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of WME and we are enthusiastically planning to celebrate throughout the year.

Since 1971, when the World Methodist Council established WME, our vision has been that Christ followers within the global Wesleyan Methodist family would become agents of transformation by sharing the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. In pursuit of that vision we continue to equip and encourage Christ followers .... READ MORE
TRC signed up to take advantage of Amazon.com's "give back" campaign. Amazon Smile is a program where you can designate a charity to receive a percentage of any purchase made on Amazon.com.

If you buy things off Amazon, please consider designating TRC as your charity. How to get started:
www.smile.amazon.com - find The River Conference of the Free Methodist Church, Lakewood, CO on the charity list, select it. Now every time you order something from Amazon, you must enter through the smile.amazon.com website, you'll see what charity you're supporting in red letters. Then start shopping. Amazon will automatically deposit donations into our checking account.

If you buy things off Amazon, please consider designating TRC as your charity.
Around the Conference
TRC COVID-19 State Resources
Below are the websites for all the states in The River Conference that have current information on COVID-19. Stay informed. These websites have the most current information for each state. Simply click on the state and it will take you to the corresponding website.
TRC DISTRICT LEADERS

ARIZONA
Ben Forsberg (Phoenix, Citizen's Church) ben@citizensofphoenix.org

BOISE
Ryan Stoops (Caldwell, Deer Flat Church) ryanstoops@deerflat.org

COLORADO/NEW MEXICO
Mark Douglas (Pueblo, Light & Life) pastor@pueblolightandlife.com

NORTH TEXAS
Ali Mitachi (Abilene, Portland Avenue) mitachilw@yahoo.com

SOUTH TEXAS
James Ford (Corpus Christi CPP) jesusandjames@yahoo.com

SPOKANE
James Leman (Spokane, First) james.leman@ffmwired.com
Upcoming Committee Meetings

Tuesday, February 2, 2021
MAC Monthly Video Conference

Thursday, February 4, 2021
MEG Monthly Video Conference

Thursday, February 11, 2021
Property Team Monthly Video Conference

Thursday, February 18, 2021
Board of Directors Monthly Video Conference

Tuesday, February 23, 2021
District Leaders Video Conference

Find out what is happening around the Free Methodist Church. Click below to view the respective newsletters
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