I used to be one of them. One of those evangelized Christians. Coming off of three years as a Hebrew-Israelite, I became a Christian in the spring of ’84, without a church, and without an immediate family member who had any real experience as part of a Christian family or community.
So naturally, when my mother — who still appeared to be a practicing Hebrew-Israelite — would tune our one working stereo radio to the Christian AM stations in the New York City area in the summer that followed my secret conversion, I’d listen. I’d hear everything from Amy Grant’s “Angels Watching Over Me” to folks like Jimmy Swaggert and Kenneth Copeland on those two stations. Plus, there was the 700 Club, Oral Roberts and Frederick K.C. Price on our TV at 10 am Monday-Friday, and Sunday mornings between 8 and 11 am.
With the exception of Price, a good portion of what these televangelists and radio preachers would talk about was the Book of Revelation of St. John. They’d outline in detail everything from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to the gigantic sucking sounds of great death as the Lord opened one seal after another. As a fourteen-year-old and brand-new Christian, it was scary listening to them. So scary that it seemed unlikely that I’d make it to thirty before the entire world was on fire.
When Swaggert or Roberts or Robertson would get to the part of Revelations that talked about “the whore of Babylon,” they’d lament about how America was the “whore” that John of Patmos had described in his letters to the Christian churches in what is now Turkey — 2,000 years ago. But for Swaggert, Roberts, Robertson, et al., it was because of gay rights, or because of Blacks having kids out-of-wedlock while collecting welfare, or because women were on an assembly line to have abortions, or because of out-of-control government spending that America had become the ultimate harlot.
I put much of what they said aside even then, because my life at 616 and in Mount Vernon was scary enough without thinking about the fate of four or five billion humans. But all of this came up again, especially once my mother revealed herself as an evangelical Christian in ’89, in the last days of her marriage to my idiot (ex-) stepfather. In the years that followed, whenever I visited over the holidays or came home to work for the summer, I’d see more of Kenneth Copeland, Oral and Richard Roberts, Pat Robertson than I’d see of regular television.
In particular, a “new” guy, Jack Van Impe, along with his wife, was on. Every week in the summer of ’90, my
mother would make me sit in front of the TV to hear this guy relate things like the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of that year to the Rapture and the Apocalypse. Somehow, the evil spiritual forces intent on world domination and human corruption were unleashed by Iraq and the US response to Iraq that summer. Van Impe was so worried about the rebuilding of the Roman Empire via the expanding European Union that he looked like he was about to collapse from a brain aneurysm.
My mother once said, “You think they crazy, but when the Rapture comes and you’re stuck here, you won’t.” I didn’t think that they were crazy — I knew they were. But more importantly, what I was really thinking was, why is she watching this, and making me watch this stuff, too? It’s not as if anyone, whether an atheist or a Zen Buddhist, didn’t or doesn’t really know that our world faces a multitude of challenges that could lead to a perfect storm of global crises, causing immense destruction and death. That’s true. Still, I couldn’t see how any of us could make sense of what we face as a planet by using the Book of Revelation as a guide.
So, when Rachel Maddow decided to go after Governor Rick Perry and “The Response” party down in Houston earlier this month on her show, I, unlike most Americans uninvolved in mind-bending forms of Christianity, wasn’t surprised. I didn’t feel shock that there was such a thing as the New Apostolic Reformation, because there isn’t anything new about it. I wasn’t even surprised that the likes of John Hagee would consider Oprah Winfrey the “Whore of Babylon” because of her ability to use verbal voodoo on the millions of people who worship everything she does. And I was unsurprised, unfortunately, that a snake-oil salesman like Perry would fall into their camp.
Quite frankly, there are only two things that surprise me. One is that there are millions of people like me who could find more holes in the evangelical apocalyptic paradigm in one nanosecond than Maddow could in one day, yet we’re never called on to refute and inform. The other is that it’s taken this long for mainstream media to really pick up on what has been a four-decade long trend in the meshing of the wackiest of “Christian” ideas with politics that exploit America’s imperial fears. That our days as #1 are at an end.