The websites of New York anti-Islam crusader Pamela Geller and radio conspiracist Alex Jones are claiming an obscure United Methodist congregation in Waco, Texas is part of a plan to Islamicize Methodist churches.
According to PamelaGeller.com:
On-the-ground sources in west Texas confirm that the United Methodist Church (UMC) is potentially engaged in a massive operation designed to reprogram churches as virtual mosques in preparation for a deluge of Muslim refugees.
The article quotes at length an anonymous reported church member who, “fearing for his safety,” told PamelaGeller.com that Bosqueville United Methodist Church (UMC) in Waco might offer “Catholic-style ‘sanctuary’ protections for Muslim refugees, including possible terrorists (ISIS, al Qaeda, etc.).”
According to the supposed anonymous source, an interim pastor for weeks was “inundating the congregation with watered down, Islamized scripture,” after which the church was asked to host Muslim refugees, which the church supposedly rejected. Ominously, PamelaGeller.com also “learned that the church installed state-of-the-art video surveillance systems” whose “content is viewed off-site at an undisclosed location; even the church staff supposedly do not know where the content can be viewed.”
The article claims churches are increasingly “getting visits from ‘clergy’ urging them to virtually roll over and accept an Islamic future.” It suggests United Methodism might receive Muslim refugees and cosequent Islamicization because of the “typically hyper-partisan composition of its congregations,” an odd assertion to anyone familiar with the denomination. Additionally, it says, “there’s also evidence that suggests Hillary Clinton may be behind UMC’s new Islamic flavor,” since the Washington, DC church she attended 1993-2001 now partners with a Muslim group.
In a further flight from reality, the article claims, as an illustration of the threat, that “10,000 churches in the UK alone were volunteered to be used as mosques to accommodate the influx of assimilation-resistant Muslims.” It links to another article that makes no such claim but that instead reports the closure of 10,000 British churches in recent decades.
The articles concludes melodramatically:
From Kool-Aid drinking gone wrong, to today’s unholy union of government, churches, and Islamic invaders, Waco is yet again ground zero for a suicidal event – but this time, every life in the country may be at stake.
Not to be outdone, but apparently based exclusively upon PamelaGeller.com without bothering to seek additional sourcing, Alex Jones’ InfoWars.com website breathlessly claimed:
The United Methodist Church is reportedly implementing a statewide plan to revamp Texas churches into “virtual mosques” catering to incoming Muslim migrants. The UMC, which has been criticized for perceived liberal drift in its theology, is preparing its congregations for Catholic-style “sanctuary” protections for migrants, including those with terrorist ties, according to an insider.
InfoWars.com reiterated that PamelaGeller.com’s supposed anonymous source said “he learned about the ‘virtual mosque’ program after an interim pastor began preaching Sufi Islamic parables in an attempt to ‘tenderize’ the church to accept Islamification.”
The Drudge Report linked to the InfoWars.com account and tweeted it to its one million followers.
Meanwhile a Waco local TV station investigated the story and found no evidence to support the colorful claims that a Waco church was potentially a tool for Islamicizing churches. “You can’t believe everything that you read,” the church’s new pastor is quoted in response. “I’ve just never heard anything like that before.” An elderly church member who says he hasn’t missed church in five years reports never hearing any sermon like what PamelaGeller.com claimed.
Bosqueville United Methodist Church as of 2015 had only 49 members and an average attendance of 33, with likely minimal financial resources, probably making it an unlikely target for refugee resettlement much less an effective tool for Islamization.
So was the histrionic PamelaGeller.com report based on at least a factual fragment? Maybe the interim minister suggested openness to Mideast refugees and one listener exaggerated the message. Or did PamelaGeller.com’s writer fabricate the entire story by referencing an imaginary anonymous source, while assuming a tiny church had little capacity for response?
Do false news outlets even care if rebutted? Doubtless many tens of thousands will gobble up the silly claims from PamelaGeller.com and InfoWars.com without ever hearing any rebuttal.
Recently on Facebook I noticed a former beloved pastor of mine, now retired and in his 80s, pleading for his Facebook friends to help him understand which reports were reliable and which were not. He referenced a particular false news story that apparently originated in Eastern Europe but was widely circulated in the USA. This retired pastor was confused, because after all, many of his friends had posted this story. So it must be valid, right?
As someone who for many years has tried to report accurately about United Methodism, and often very critically from a conservative/orthodox perspective regarding our denomination’s controversies, I am troubled that false news is no longer so abstract but has now afflicted my own church, which has enough real problems without fabricated ones.
Christians on social media are especially vulnerable to false news inroads. I hope more will try to be more skeptical and discerning.