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Sometimes, I struggle to remain mindful of the proverb, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Many people have reworded, repurposed and repeated the sentiment over the centuries. The basis of the most common citation comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9, a text often attributed to King Solomon.
The full passage reads: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Thus, the idea is prevalent in many cultures across the globe, religious and secular. Even so, some of us need reminding.
For example, we might view social media as the originator of misinformation, gossip and superficiality. A history lesson would quickly show spreading news and shaping stories is as old as the concept of community.
Likewise, the political messaging and mudslinging we’ve witnessed the past few years has been characterized by some as the “worst” in history. It’s not. The behavior is actually normal and expected. (Even the word “misinformation” dates to the 1580s.)
My struggle is that I sometimes persuade myself to believe the appalling behavior this or that popular religious leader signals a new low.
The past 18 months have produced many such examples — those who profess religious beliefs that espouse love, kindness and charity but spew shocking, dangerous messages with their flocks.
Why am I shocked? There is nothing new under the sun. It’s nothing new for a person to use religion to control, defraud, push harmful political agendas and selfishly manipulate others.
One such religious leader is Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
Locke insists he is a true proclaimer of the “Gospel of Jesus Christ.” A faith leader’s words should match the beliefs he professes to follow. In that regard, he doesn’t pass the test.
Locke’s is a bully pulpit. He often states he’ll use violence to enforce his beliefs. He regularly posts self-quoting memes and other messages about politics, science, public health and other topics. Sometimes, he includes a tenuous biblical reference.
Whether it’s video or one of his multiple, daily social media posts, the Nashville-area pastor is forceful and charismatic. He rages, shouts and makes clear demands of those who hope to call themselves Christians.
Locke styles himself a truth-telling firebrand whom “liberals” fear and conspire against. In tweets, he insisted Newsweek is “obsessed” and CNN’s Andrew Cuomo is afraid to engage him in a real, televised debate.
Millions view his videos on Facebook and other platforms. Scores of media outlets — including Newsweek and CNN — post Locke’s particularly incendiary clips and quote his divisive posts.
Locke’s messaging and behavior is a well-worn topic because he uses sermons to tell his congregation which politicians deserve their votes, to boycott certain department stores and more.
Critics say Locke used Twitter and other methods to encourage and incite perpetrators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (His last tweet the evening of Jan. 5 was, “God is about to dethrone some wicked people that have been in power. Very soon, Twitter will be trending the unthinkable. Remember this Tweet. God will not be mocked.”)
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Locke’s constant, consistent message to his flock and social media followers alike is true Christians don’t believe in the virus. Early on, he insisted churches refuse to observe public safety measures about in-person meetings. He demanded his own congregation attend in person, free of face coverings.
He escalated his message a few weeks ago during a sermon. “Delta variant was nonsense last week and it is nonsense now,” he shouted. “You will not wear masks in this church. … I’m telling you right now: Do not get vaccinated!”
Clips from the sermon have been shared widely. (The church livestreams his sermons and archives the recordings — seemingly to spread Locke’s message and not necessarily to accommodate churchgoers who believe COVID-19 exists.)
Twitter flagged some of Locke’s COVID-19 tweets as “misleading,” with comments, likes and forwarding disabled — but not retweets. According to Locke’s tweets, he also has been temporarily blocked by Facebook for violating its community standards.
What Locke does isn’t special, different or new. He’s another in a long list of media-savvy pastors who use religion to engage followers and advance a personal agenda. He even has merch, which includes everything from apparel to coffee tumblers.
However, it would be unwise to believe his lack of newness with a blasé attitude. That nothing is new is a warning, not a lament. We can’t write off Locke. History teaches that the religious zealot and their equally zealous followers can be incredibly dangerous.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org