Apocalypse now? Y2K spurs fears

Alarm: Some evangelical Christians are predicting doom and gloom for year's end.

February 17, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The dreaded millennium bug, the so-called Y2K problem that could cause the world's computers to go haywire, might cause widespread inconvenience, but it's not like it's the end of the world.

Well, maybe it is.

A vocal minority of evangelical Christians believe that Jan. 1, 2000, will unleash an unprecedented crisis that will result in God's judgment on a sinful world. Some of the most extreme believe it could usher in the Apocalypse, the biblical prophecy of the end of time and the second coming of Christ.

These prophets of doom go beyond the run-of-the-mill millenarian survivalists in that they believe the key is not stockpiling guns, food and water, but repentance. They are spreading their message in books, in sermons and on the Internet. Their predictions of doom are sparking a backlash from other evangelicals.

Many Baltimore-area pastors are telling their congregations that while Y2K might cause serious problems, it has nothing to do with the Apocalypse, and those who preach that it does are causing unnecessary alarm.

"We had an element in our church that went way too far and we had to part company with them," said the Rev. John A. Dekker, pastor of Cub Hill Bible Presbyterian Church. "There are some people who are so worked up and they think it's the end of the world.

"I don't think it has prophetic significance," Dekker said. "I think it is a computer problem. If any country can fix it, it is the United States. So we ought to pray that we will use the abilities we have and that they at least will be able to solve this problem, or at least get us into a position to deal with it when it comes."

But some believe that if the Y2K bug does not signal the beginning of the end, it could have profound religious significance.

"I think that possibly God may give us a wake-up call," said the Rev. Randolph Garley, pastor of The Tabernacle, a nondenominational church in Laurel. "He may just shut it down and say, `Your redemption is drawing nigh; you need to look up.' It might be to get our attention, you know, to say, `I am still God and all the wisdom of man is foolishness to me.' "

Evangelist Jerry Falwell has compared the Y2K computer crisis to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis, when God, alarmed that humans were building a tower into heaven, scattered them over the face of the Earth and caused them to speak in different languages.

"In fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the world today is beginning to speak the same language," Falwell said in a sermon last year at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. "We are satellite- and Internet-connected. We are fast moving toward a cashless economy, a one-world government, a one-world court and a one-world church. We are building a universal city with a one-world church whose tower reaches into heaven.

"But the Trinity has come down and looked us over," he said. "And it seems that God doesn't like what he sees. He may be preparing to confound our language, to jam our communications, scatter our efforts and judge us for our sin and rebellion against his lordship. We are hearing from many sources that January 1, 2000, will be a fateful day in the history of the world."

Apocalyptic theology is nothing new to the American religious scene. "In this century, fundamentalists and Pentecostals have found apocalyptic thinking very attractive," said Nathan O. Hatch, a University of Notre Dame history professor specializing in evangelical Christianity.

Hatch does not see a great deal of apocalyptic fervor as we head into the new millennium. But things were wild when the 18th century rolled into the 19th century.

"Particularly in times of social and political insecurity, apocalyptic thinking tends to expand," Hatch said. "In the 1790s going into 1800, in the wake of the American and French revolutions, the underpinning of society did seem to be shaken. Particularly in the Northeast, there was a huge outpouring of millenarian and apocalyptic work."

The Y2K issue has sparked a publishing flurry, with books coming out every week with titles such as "The Millennium Bug, How to Survive the Coming Crisis," "The Millennium Meltdown" and "Y2K=666?"

At the Baptist Book Store in Overlea, which has a prominent Y2K display at the end of an aisle, manager Johnny Smith said the merchandise has been moving well. The people buying them don't appear to be religious fanatics.

"It's housewives, it's businessmen, it's pastors," he said. "People who just have heard about it and want to read about it."

In "Judgment Day 2000," Richard D. Wiles, a founder of the Christian Businessman's Association, says that the Y2K crisis will be God's punishment for his rebellious children.

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