MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has claimed his encounter with former President Donald Trump back in 2016 came about through “divine appointments.”
Newsweek reported that at the Health and Freedom Conference in Tampa, Florida, Lindell said: “Divine things started happening to me. I was picked out of 12 people to pray with [former 2016 Republican presidential candidate and Trump’s former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Ben Carson in a room at the National Prayer Breakfast.”
Lindell also said that “one prophet guy” told him: “A couple of you in this room are going to become great friends and change – and help change the course of history.”
He added: “Anyway, these divine appointments kept happening all the way up to where I met Donald Trump in the summer of 2016.” According to Newsweek, a cheer went up in the audience soon after Lindell uttered this remark.
Lindell’s comments appear to suggest that there was some sort of holy connection to his mission to overturn the 2020 US election results, which has been ongoing for several months.
The Trump loyalist has continuously made headlines for spreading unfounded claims about the election, including one that voting companies Dominion and Smartmatic “flipped” votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.
The conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked, however.
Rachel Wightman works full-time at Concordia University, St.Paul, but started teaching six-week seminars part-time after watching a worrying number of people in her community became misguided by online misinformation.
The presidential election prompted Wightman to give her first workshop at her local Mill City Church in Minneapolis in early 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic paired with the Black Lives Matter protests made her workshops a lot more pertinent, so she decided to organize more.
“I remember the day our pastor was talking about racism and saying we have to check our inputs, meaning we have to get inputs from people who are different in order to understand this issue,” Wightman told Insider. “That was the moment for me where it really clicked. I knew I had to continue giving people tools to get to these inputs.”
In the last few weeks, the librarian has become inundated with requests from other pastors from around the US asking her to give her workshops to their congregations.
Recent polls show that white evangelicals have one of the highest levels of vaccine skepticism in the United States. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published in January, just under a third of US adults say they will probably or definitely not get the vaccine, compared to 44% of those who identify as white evangelicals.
Another poll by the Christian research organization Lifeway Research found that more than 45% of protestant pastors said they had often heard congregants repeating conspiracy theories.
“As a librarian, I’m seeing this huge information landscape every day, and I feel like it’s incredibly overwhelming for people,” Wightman said. “We’ve all spent this past year in this hyped-up environment where everything feels urgent and stressful, so I try to encourage people to take some space and say: ‘Okay, I’m going to figure out how to slow down and make sense of everything around me.'”
Due to the pandemic, Wightman meets most of her students on Zoom. Together they talk about everything from how to identify fake photographs, the ways in which algorithms work, fact-checking sources, and how to avoid being judgmental when friends post something inaccurate online.
Wightman stressed that while the training is a good space to talk about all the information people find online, it is also “politically neutral.”
“We’re not here to talk about your opinion on the latest legislation or our president. We are here to talk about how do you evaluate what you’re finding online … and how that overlaps with your faith,” she said.
For the librarian, it is also important to keep faith at the center of her teachings.
“I want to also bring in this perspective of Christianity. As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, if you have this faith of loving your neighbors, in what spaces does your faith show up?'”
The librarian said her workshops had been received well by many churchgoers, who vary in age and race. Many are also taking the training to help family members who have succumbed to online misinformation, Wightman said.
Dr. Christopher Douglas, a professor of English at the University of Victoria, specializing in Christian literature, politics, and epistemology, thinks having training is essential in this day and age.
“Misinformation is in some sense baked into white evangelical churches as many of them reject science, scholarship, and mainstream journalism,” Douglas told Insider. “It’s a small step from disputing the science of evolution and climate change to doubting the efficacy of masks and vaccines in fighting the pandemic because it all comes from a common source, which is mainstream ‘secular’ science.”
Douglas believes 2020’s pandemic and election exacerbated this problem as many feel like their political opponents are trying to “destroy Christian America and to take away what they call their ‘religious freedoms.'”
This is why Christian churches need training like Wightman’s, Douglas said. “Public institutions like libraries, colleges, and universities all have a role to play in developing critical thinking and critical media literacy skills,” he said.
Even though Wightman is balancing her new work with a full-time job, she said she’s proud of what she’s accomplished so far and hopes to continue doing more workshops in the future.
“A lot of people think librarians just sit around and read all day, so it’s been fun to bust that myth open a bit,” said Wightman. “We’re teachers, we’re about connecting people with information, and so be able to do that in a new way that feels so relevant is very exciting.”
Bill Hwang is the talk of the financial world after several Wall Street banks reportedly slapped his family office with margin calls last week, declared him in default when he didn’t pay up, and executed a $20 billion fire sale of his positions that hammered stocks including ViacomCBS and Discovery.
The deeply religious founder and co-CEO of Archegos Capital Management has run into trouble before. He pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2012, forked over $60 million to settle related charges, and closed down his fund. He was also banned from trading securities in Hong Kong for four years in 2014.
Here’s a quick look at Hwang’s life so far.
A religious upbringing
Hwang was born in the mid-1960s and raised as a devout Christian. His father was a church pastor and his mother served as a missionary in Mexico, he said in a 2018 interview promoting communal bible readings.
The fund manager smiles a lot, cracks jokes, and comes across as humble in the interview. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but clearly feels a burning desire to spread the gospel.
Faith has guided Hwang’s entire career. He sees investing as his calling, and believes God “loves” when he backs companies that contribute to humanity’s progress. “It’s not all about money,” he said in another 2018 interview.
Hwang gave the example of one of his larger investments, Linkedin. He suggested that God loves the social-media group’s goal of helping people to find jobs and realize their potential.
“I’m like a little child looking for what can I do today, where can I invest, to please our God,” he said. Inspired by Jesus Christ tirelessly working for his father, Hwang added, “I’m not going to retire until he pulls me back.”
Hwang is involved in several Christian organizations. He’s the cofounder of the Grace and Mercy Foundation, a contributor to Focus on the Family, and a trustee of the Fuller Theology Seminar, the three groups’ websites show.
Becoming a tiger cub
Hwang holds an economics degree from UCLA and a MBA from Carnegie Mellon, an online biography shows. He worked as a stock salesperson at Peregrine Securities and Hyundia Securities early in his career, until he caught the eye of one of his clients, Julian Robertson. He soon went to work under the veteran investor at his storied hedge fund, Tiger Management, and became one of his protégés.
Robertson closed his fund in 2000, but handed Hwang about $25 million to launch his own fund, Tiger Asia Management. One of several “Tiger cubs,” Hwang grew his firm’s assets to over $5 billion at its peak, The Wall Street Journal says, and delivered an annualized return of 16%, according to Bloomberg.
However, Hwang shuttered the fund in 2012 after pleading guilty to insider trading in federal court that year. He paid a total of $60 million to settle civil and criminal charges of manipulating Chinese stocks, and his fund forfeited about $16 million in related profits.
Hwang converted Tiger Asia into a family office, Archegos, in 2013. The switch meant he no longer managed any outside money, slashing the regulatory disclosures required of him.
Archegos roped in several major banks to place leveraged bets on multiple stocks. However, the markets turned against the fund last week, prompting brokers to issue “margin calls” or demand more money as collateral. When Hwang failed to comply, the banks liquidated over $20 billion worth of his positions to recover their money, sparking a brutal sell-off across a dozen stocks.
The full scale of the fallout from Archegos blowing up won’t be known for a while. Yet it’s safe to say that Hwang is at the center of another fiasco that he would have preferred to avoid.
He had watched as other spiritual advisors, including the self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” Mark Taylor, incorporated wild and dangerous QAnon beliefs into their sermons on YouTube, and as organizers of the Christian Jericho March gathered in Washington, DC, days before the insurrection, urging followers to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity.”
So when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol hours after his premonition, Swieringa was shocked, but not surprised.
“I think some of the signs had been there all along and it just all came to a perfect storm,” Swieringa told Insider.
The pastor said he had been worried about so-called “Christian nationalism” since Trump was elected into office in 2016. (Neither Swieringa nor any of the other pastors interviewed for this story say who they voted for in 2016 or 2020.)
He became even more concerned when, in 2018, some elderly members in his own congregation started sending him “disturbing” QAnon videos. When Swieringa brought these to the attention of his superiors, they were mostly dismissive, telling him they didn’t know what QAnon was.
Swieringa felt increasingly uncomfortable when a large part of his congregation said they believed the pandemic was a hoax.
The 61-year-old pastor had been taking the pandemic very seriously, partly because his wife was considered at risk. A bout of pneumonia in 2019 had left her with permanent scarring in the lungs.
“It was at that point when I put my foot down and said, ‘I’m not going to preach in front of a congregation that wants to sing and not wear masks,'” Swieringa said. “But they still wanted me to preach in front of them without wearing a mask.”
He said the church offered to him a plexiglass barrier to preach behind, but he felt it wouldn’t make much of a difference in an enclosed space.
“We agreed to separate at that point, and so it felt pretty cordial at the time. But I found out later that there were really hard feelings amongst the congregation, and many of them felt like I abandoned them,” Swieringa said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Swieringa left the church in December 2020 after eight years of service.
He now works part-time at the Kibbie Christian Reformed Church in South Haven, 30 miles away from his original job. His new church has a mandatory mask rule.
One in four white evangelicals believe in QAnon
Swieringa is not the only pastor who has struggled with the rapid spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation in his congregation.
According to a poll released in January by Lifeway Research, more than 45% of protestant pastors say they have often heard congregants repeating conspiracies about national news events.
Another survey by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found that more than a quarter of white evangelicals believed in QAnon, and that three in five believed that President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election was “not legitimate.” Those rates were the highest in any religious group.
The trend has prompted hundreds of evangelical pastors and faith leaders to speak out. In February, more than 1,400 of them published an open letter condemning “radicalized Christian nationalism” and the “rise of violent acts by radicalized extremists using the name of Christ,” The Washington Post reported.
Among them is Jared Stacey, a Southern Baptist youth pastor from Virginia, who ended up leaving the church altogether after QAnon and other conspiracy theories began to divide his congregation.
He moved to Scotland in December, where he now studies Theology at the University of Aberdeen.
He told Insider he left to “create some space,” adding that pastoring in 2020 was “a struggle” for many faith leaders.
“I do think that a lot of pastors are burdened right now and need a friend,” Stacey said. “It’s not easy watching people that you’ve invested time in becoming radicalized so quickly right in front of you.
He said that while some people might say that politics shouldn’t be discussed in churches, there comes “a point where refusing to talk politics is a false front for protecting the political sensibilities of your stakeholders.”
“That is why there is a theological need to address what the Bible would describe as telling lies or having a false God,” he added.
But keeping up with the information online is not always easy, and Stacey worries that the church is falling behind in the race to bring Christian messages to a world that spends most of its time online.
“The church is going through the biggest information shift since the printing press,” Stacey said.
The road to recovery from QAnon
One person trying to use technology to reach more Christians who have become affected by QAnon is Derek Kubilis, the senior pastor of Uniontown United Methodist Church in Ohio.
Kubilis runs the Cross Over Q podcast, which offers “healing for QAnon followers and family members from a Christian perspective.”
The pastor started the podcast after the Capitol riot, and since then received a wide range of listeners, including former QAnon believers who have told him that the podcast has been part of their recovery.
“When I saw crosses being carried alongside QAnon banners and a noose as those folks marched on the Capitol I just knew I had to do something, but from a Christian perspective,” Kubilis told Insider.
While some pastors, including Stacey and Swieringa, opted for private conversations with their congregants to warn against the dangers of misinformation, Kubilis does it publicly.
In his podcasts, he debunks theories, speaks about how they’re dangerous, and preaches about the importance of unity.
“Members of the clergy are expected to maintain a certain kind of distance from secular politics … both in order to preserve the unity of our congregation, and to make sure that we don’t unduly influence elections,” Kubilis said.
“But I don’t believe that QAnon is inherently political. It starts with politics, but these are people’s lives, in relationships, that we’re talking about.”
Kubilis is aware that the recovery from QAnon radicalization is by no means a short one, but he’s hopeful that his efforts will bring Christians back home eventually.
“It takes a lot of courage, time, and patience,” he said. “But when you hear the stories of people who are being hurt, in the families that are falling apart, you recognize that it is absolutely necessary.”
Not long to go now before many of us get to spread some good tidings and joy as we celebrate Christmas.
The main ways we understand and mark the occasion seem to be rather similar across the world. It’s about time with community, family, food-sharing, gift-giving, and overall merry festivities.
But while Christmas is ostensibly a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, many of the rituals and customs come from other traditions, both spiritual and secular.
The first Christmas
The journey of Christmas into the celebration we know and recognize today is not a straight line.
The first Christmas celebrations were recorded in Ancient Rome in the fourth century. Christmas was placed in December, around the time of the northern winter solstice.
It is not difficult to spot the similarities between our now long-standing Christmas traditions and the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was also celebrated in December and coexisted with Christian belief for a period of time.
Saturnalia placed an emphasis on the sharing of food and drink, and spending time with loved ones as the colder winter period arrived. There is even evidence that the Romans exchanged little gifts of food to mark the occasion.
As Christianity took greater hold in the Roman world and the old polytheistic religion was left behind, we can see the cultural imprint of Saturnalia traditions in the ways in which our well-known Christmas celebrations established themselves across the board.
Turning an eye to the Germanic-Scandinavian context also provides intriguing connections. In the Norse religion, Yule was a winter festival celebrated during the period we now roughly associate with December.
The beginning of Yule was marked by the arrival of the Wild Hunt, a spiritual occurrence when the Norse god Odin would ride across the sky on his eight-legged white horse.
While the hunt was a frightening sight to behold, it also brought excitement for families, and especially children, as Odin was known to leave little gifts at each household as he rode past.
Like the Roman Saturnalia, Yule was a time of drawing in for the winter months, during which copious amounts of food and drink would be consumed.
The Yule festivities included bringing tree branches inside the home and decorating them with food and trinkets, likely opening the way for the Christmas tree as we know it today.
The influence of Yule on the festive season of Northern European countries is still evident in linguistic expression too, with “Jul” being the word for Christmas in Danish and Norwegian. The English language also maintains this connection, by referring to the Christmas period as “Yuletide”.
The poem was very well-received and its popularity spread immediately, going well beyond the American context and reaching global fame. The poem gave us much of the staple imagery we associate with Santa today, including the first ever mention of his reindeer.
Santa’s evolution carries echoes of not only Odin, but also historical figures such as Saint Nicholas of Myra – a fourth-century bishop known for his charitable work – and the legendary Dutch figure of Sinterklaas that derived from it.
The idea of connecting Christmas to winter festivals and drawing in customs makes the most sense in the colder months of the Northern hemisphere.
In the Southern hemisphere, in countries such as New Zealand and Australia, the traditional Christmas celebrations have evolved into their own specific brand, which is much more suited to the warmer summer months.
Christmas is an imported event in these areas and acts as a constant reminder of the spread of European colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Celebrating Christmas still carries the influence of European contexts, being a time for merriment, gift-giving, and community spirit.
Even some of the traditional foods of the season here are still indebted to Euro-British traditions, with turkey and ham taking center stage.
Barbecues and beach days are prominent new traditions, as borrowed practices co-exist with novel ways of adapting the event to a different context.
The wintry Christmas puddings are often exchanged for more summery pavlovas, whose fresh fruit toppings and meringue base certainly befit the warmer season to a greater extent.
The transition to outdoor Christmas celebrations in the Southern hemisphere is obviously locked in common sense because of the warmer weather.
Nonetheless, it also shows how both cultural and geographical drivers can influence the evolution of celebrating important festivals. And if you really want to experience a cold Christmas down under, there is always a mid-year Christmas in July to look forward to.
A group of over 100 pastors criticized the campaign strategy of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, calling her out for political attacks against Democrat Raphael Warnock which they feel have devolved into “a broader attack against the Black Church.”
“We call on you to cease and desist your false characterizations of Reverend Warnock as ‘radical’ or ‘socialist,’ when there is nothing in his background, writings or sermons that suggests those characterizations to be true, especially when taken in full context,” they wrote in an open letter, which was released on Saturday.
In a year where racial and social justice have been at the forefront of the national debate, especially among many Black parishioners, the pastors slammed Loeffler for criticizing Warnock as he addressed those very same issues.
A group of over 100 pastors blasted the campaign strategy of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, calling her out on Saturday for political attacks against her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, which they feel have devolved into “a broader attack against the Black Church.”
In an open letter, signed mostly by Black clergy leaders local to Georgia while some live out of state, the group criticized the Loeffler campaign’s fervent depiction of Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a “radical” and “a socialist.”
“We call on you to cease and desist your false characterizations of Reverend Warnock as ‘radical’ or ‘socialist,’ when there is nothing in his background, writings or sermons that suggests those characterizations to be true, especially when taken in full context,” they wrote.
In a year where racial and social justice have been at the forefront of the national debate, especially after the May 25 death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minneapolis, the pastors slammed Loeffler for criticizing Warnock as he addressed those very same issues.
“Your most recent attacks against Warnock for sermons condemning police brutality, advocating criminal justice reform, and expressing support for measures to reduce gun-violence – all concerns of his congregation – are beyond the pale and cannot go unaddressed by members of the faith community,” they wrote. “The reprehensible falsehoods must stop!”
The pastors accused Loeffler of failing to address issues of racial justice, which are highly resonant among Black voters, saying that she showed “disdain for Black elected officials and Black Lives Matter marches against systemic racism.”
The pastors also called out Loeffler for decrying religious-based attacks against Amy Coney Barrett during the conservative jurist’s Supreme Court nomination process while employing what they feel are religious-based attacks against Warnock.
“We witnessed how Conservatives uproariously cried foul when anyone asked how Amy Coney Barrett’s faith might affect her rulings as she was under consideration for the high court,” they wrote. “We remember your tweet characterizing those perceived attacks against Barrett as ‘disgusting’ but now you characterize Warnock’s religious convictions as ‘despicable, disgusting, and wrong.’ You continue to parse and take out of context decades old utterances by Warnock from the pulpit.”
“My faith is the foundation upon which I have built my life,” he wrote. “It guides my service to my community and my country. [Loeffler’s] attacks on our faith are not just disappointing – they are hurtful to Black churches across Georgia.”
On Sunday, Loeffler responded to Warnock on Twitter, writing that “no one attacked the Black church.”
“We simply exposed your record in your own words,” she added. “Instead of playing the victim, start answering simple questions about what you’ve said and who you’ve associated yourself with. If you can’t – you shouldn’t be running for U.S. Senate.”
In the letter, the pastors also pivoted to Black voting rights, saying that Loeffler’s endorsement of President Donald Trump’s continued legal action against the 2020 election results is an affront to Black voters.
“We witnessed your naked hypocrisy as you supported 59 attempts at the delegitimization of Black votes with meaningless lawsuits by the Trump campaign operatives,” they wrote. “What can be more radical, more seditious than supporting 59 attempts to overthrow the will of the people by tossing Black votes?”
Loeffler and Warnock are locked in a tight January 2021 runoff election in Georgia, which will determine control of the Senate and take place just weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
A separate runoff election, also set for January 5, will feature a contest between GOP Sen. David Perdue, who is running for reelection to a second term, and his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff.
Bart Spencer, the senior pastor at the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Michigan, encouraged churchgoers in a November sermon to contract the virus and “get it over with.”
He also falsely said “none have died” from the coronavirus.
More than 10,300 people have died from the coronavirus in Michigan, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Since his November sermon, Spencer has continued to encourage people to show up to his in-person sermons without a mask, despite receiving backlash for his November comments and despite recommendations from health officials to practice safety measures.
A Michigan pastor in November told churchgoers to get the coronavirus “over with” and said “none have died” from the disease, according to a local report from the Holland Sentinel.
Bart Spencer, senior pastor at the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan, delivered “irresponsible” remarks, a Facebook user wrote, according to the Sentinel.
“COVID, it’s all good. Several people have had COVID, none have died yet,” Spencer said in a November 14 sermon. “It’s OK. Get it, get it over with, press on.”
More than 10,300 people have died from the coronavirus in Michigan, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
In an interview with the Sentinel, Spencer said he and his family members had contracted the virus and survived.
“It’s not fun, I lost my sense of taste and smell, but my bout with the flu was worse,” he said.
The Lighthouse Baptist Church has been holding in-person services and congregations, with many people choosing not to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines.
In a December 2 sermon posted on the church website, Spencer said “the GOP” called him to ask why he’s “overtly disobeying the order of public gatherings.” The person he spoke with, whose name he didn’t give in the sermon, said he’d fine the church $1,200 and $1,000 “for each member if the sheriff has to come in.”
“We simply trust people to make their own decisions,” Spencer said in the sermon. “You have a complete right and privilege to believe whatever you want to believe.”
“If you believe that you need to quarantine, hide in the corner of your room, for the next eon or plus, that’s fine, I respect that. But you have to respect that I’m not afraid,” he continued. “You have to respect that I’m not concerned with that.”
Spencer also told his churchgoers in the sermon that mask-wearing and social distancing are choices they can make for themselves.
Health officials and organizations have recommended and encouraged taking measures like mask-wearing and social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“Masks offer some protection to you and are also meant to protect those around you, in case you are unknowingly infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Spencer on Friday defended his comments in an interview with WXMI, a Fox affiliate.
“I would never tell them to go get sick, but you don’t know how you’re going to get it,” he said.