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Y2K is coming, and boy, is it pissed?
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Date: Sun, 25 Oct 1998 07:20:06 -0600
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Subject: IP: 25% of Christians Expect Christ's Return in Their Lifetimes
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Third Millennium's approach raises end-time hopes, fears
Copyright © 1998 The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (October 24, 1998 08:50 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) --
Jesus Christ is about to return, and the 1,500 folks packed into the
Sheraton Washington ballroom couldn't be happier.
For 16 hours a day, the End-Time Handmaidens pray and sway, singing of the
day they will "dance on streets that are golden." Around them, middle-aged
women clad in white and gold robes glide through the aisles while other
believers blow into rams' horns, their shrieks announcing the Second Coming.
The end is near. The end-timers are here.
"We're running out of time. We're running out of time," Sister Gwen Shaw,
the group's septuagenarian matriarch, says at the Handmaidens' annual
convention in 1997. "This is God's last call."
While these Handmaidens may be on America's evangelical fringe, their
beliefs about the millennium and Christ's Second Coming are remarkably
According to a 1997 Associated Press poll, nearly one out of every four
Christian adults -- an estimated 26.5 million people -- expect Jesus to
arrive in their lifetimes. Nearly as many -- an estimated 21.1 million
Americans -- are so sure of it that they feel an urgent need to convert
friends and neighbors.
The results are consistent with other surveys that have found a widespread
belief in the Second Coming. But the AP poll, conducted last spring by ICR
of Media, Pa., probes how Christians are acting on their beliefs.
The most fervent end-timers gather at prophecy conventions such as this one
in Washington, but their dreams and fears reverberate throughout the
country. America may have already entered what one apocalyptic scholar
calls the "hot zone" of end-time speculation: The year 2000 is far enough
away to be plausible as Christ's Second Coming, yet close enough to spark
"I look at prophecy as a Polaroid picture that takes five minutes to
develop," says Zola Levitt, a Dallas evangelist on The Family Channel. "I'd
say we're at four minutes, 55 seconds."
At the end-timers' convention, believers pay hundreds of dollars for Jewish
liturgical instruments fashioned from rams' horns -- for the chance to play
their own small part in announcing the Second Coming. In unpracticed hands,
these shofars sound like a third-grade orchestra warming up.
Others, both in and out of the mainstream, are also blowing horns of
warning. There are best-sellers such as Pat Robertson's "The End of the
Age." Scores of broadcasters, from Jack Van Impe to Hal Lindsey, have
preached of the end times. And the Internet offers more than 100 popular
millennial sites, including This Week in Bible Prophecy and End Times Links.
For evangelical Christians, the Second Coming is what's new about the new
millennium. According to the AP poll, almost 40 percent of Christians
expect Jesus to arrive in the 21st century, if not sooner.
They are looking past Jesus' own admonition that "no one knows the hour."
By their reckoning of Biblical clues, the time is soon.
Belief in Jesus' return has underpinned Christianity from its earliest
days. Each week, Christians throughout the world recite the Apostle's
Creed, invoking Jesus who "will come again to judge the living and the
dead." Each day, many begin The Lord's Prayer, passed down by Jesus, with
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...."
But what makes today's prayers so earnest? What separates this generation
of end-time prophets from those of the last two millennia?
The New Testament compares the kingdom of God, near at hand, to the growth
of a fig tree. Some believers substitute Israel for the tree. They say the
Second Coming is near at hand when the tree shoots forth branches -- when
Israel becomes a nation.
And that happened in 1948.
"Verily I say unto you, 'This generation shall not pass away, till all be
fulfilled,"' Jesus says in Luke 21:32.
Since many end-time prophets also place the apocalyptic Armageddon in
Israel, developments there continue to stir interest. In 1967, when Israel
reclaimed much of Jerusalem from Jordan, the prophecy in Luke was only
During the 1991 war between the United States and Iraq, many evangelists --
from Billy Graham to John Walvoord, chancellor of the Dallas Theological
Seminary -- envisioned the beginning of the end.
And when the 1993 Mideast peace pact was signed, radio evangelist Monte
Judah of Norman, Okla., identified the beginning of seven years'
tribulation heralding the Second Coming.
For evangelicals, signs of the end can be found anywhere, anytime.
Worldwide disasters -- floods, wars, earthquakes -- are what Jesus, in the
Gospel of Matthew, told followers to look for. The Hale-Bopp comet, famine
in Africa, developments in the European Common Market, even the convergence
of full moons and Jewish religious festivals -- all are sifted for clues of
"There's a lot happening in our time that would give most people a concern
and an excitement that the Lord is going to return," Thomas A. McMahon
says. He is executive director of the Berean Call, a religious newsletter
out of Bend, Ore., that circulates to 80,000 Christians.
"Every day has significance. Every political, social, economic event has
significance," says Phillip Lucas, general editor of Nova Religio: The
Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. "Your whole experience of
time is greatly heightened."
If the time is near, why not sometime around the year 2000? For end-timers
who cite a divine plan, great things tend to happen in 2,000-year periods.
Abraham and Isaac, patriarchs who established a covenant between God and
humans, were born around 2000 B.C. Two millennia later, Christians believe,
God became man with the birth of Jesus.
Those who believe human history is 6,000 years old wait with special
expectancy. Consider the mathematics in Peter's Second Letter: "One day
with the Lord is as a thousand years." For these believers, the new
millennium starts on the seventh day of creation.
For them, after 6,000 years of strife and turmoil, it's time for 1,000
years of heavenly rest as Jesus rules over the Kingdom of God on Earth.
"A lot of people think maybe the year 2000," says Leon Bates, head of the
Bible Believers' Evangelistic Association in Sherman, Texas. "I would go
along with the thought that it would be just like the Lord to have an
overall 7,000-year plan."
Oleeta Herrmann believes the end could come any time. She traveled to the
end-timers' convention from Xenia, Ohio, where three 25-foot crosses in her
back yard warn neighbors to get right with God.
Like others at the convention, she has heard the rustle of angels preparing
the way of the Lord. One night, she says, Jesus appeared in her bedroom to
reassure her that nieces and nephews would not be left behind when she is
lifted into the clouds to join others in her family who have died.
"You're bringing the rest of them with you," were the Lord's words, she says.
Willie Mae Johnson, at the convention from Lighthouse Free Methodist Church
in St. Louis, has no such assurances. What will happen to her father, her
children and other relatives who have not accepted Christ?
She is beginning to waver as 2000 approaches.
"I don't want to leave anyone behind, so you say yeah, and you say no," she
says. "I want Jesus to come back right now, but just wait a little while,
Even vendors at the end-timers' convention raise provocative questions,
selling T-shirts that feature three frogs plopped on a lily pad and asking:
"Where are you goin' when you croak?"
Many people are not going to make it through the tribulation. "He has given
us ... a burden for lost souls," says the Rev. Dorothy Mottern, accompanied
to the convention by church members from Fredericksburg, Va.
For those who read Revelation as a literal forecast, the future is
frightening for people without God's seal on their foreheads. In that Book,
a third of the Earth burns, and angels kill a third of those who survive.
For others, torture is so severe that "people will seek death, but will not
find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them."
Warnings like these can change lifestyles.
In the AP poll, 98 percent of those who believe Jesus will return in their
lifetimes say they urgently need to get right with God.
About 21.1 million Americans, the poll estimates, have decided to get
others right, too, wanting to convert friends, neighbors and relatives.
Among age groups, the urgency is felt most widely among Baby Boomers. By
region, it is most prevalent in the South.
This urgency has created sweeping evangelistic campaigns. Celebrate Jesus
2000, a coalition of evangelical churches and ministries, wants to reach
the "entire nation for Christ" by the third millennium.
In an unprecedented action, the 15 million-member Southern Baptist
Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, in 1996 vowed to
make special efforts to evangelize the Jews.
Of course, the end of the world has been predicted many times before.
But dates for the Second Coming have come and gone. In the 1840s, followers
of William Miller quit jobs, sold belongings and moved to upstate New York
to await the return of Jesus. He didn't come.
Two successful churches arose from the Millerite Movement: The Seventh-day
Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both continue to anticipate the
end-times but no longer specify the date.
Charles Taze Russell, founder of the modern-day Witnesses, predicted that
the millennial age would begin in 1914. World War I raised hopes he was
right, but the movement's catchword -- "Millions now living will never die"
-- gradually lost its urgency.
Two years ago, the Witnesses officially dismissed date-setting as
speculation, declaring Jesus was right that "no one knows the place and the
The Worldwide Church of God also no longer sets dates for the end-times,
partly because founder Herbert W. Armstrong was so often wrong. Hal
Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth" raised end-time fears in the 1970s. Now
he has a new best seller, "Planet Earth - 2000 A.D."
So what will happen this time, if life goes on?
Some worry that fringe end-times movements may act in increasingly
desperate ways. They point to the mass suicides of the Heaven's Gate and
Branch Davidian communities, whose charismatic leaders believed they had
special word from God about end-times.
However, most experts on evangelical Christianity think believers will
accept delays -- and perhaps even be a bit relieved.
In the AP poll, only 61 percent of Christian respondents who believe Jesus
will arrive in their lifetime are praying for his quick return.
Walvoord, of the Dallas Theological Seminary, says it reminds him of a
Sunday school teacher who asked the class who wants to go to heaven. When
only one boy failed to raise his hand, the teacher asked: "Don't you want
"Yeah," the boy replied, "but I thought you were getting a load to go right
By DAVID BRIGGS, AP Religion Writer
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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'