Last week, I opened my series on evangelicals and politics with my vague boyhood idea that Republicans were good, and Democrats were bad. But that wasn’t my only vague idea.
When I was a kid, politics terrified me.
“You know what the real problem is–relying on government for everything.” Mr. Anderson’s voice reverberated across the ball pit. It was a tradition: every week after Sunday evening service, a group of families went to the McDonalds Play Place. All us kids scampered through giant hamster tubes and dove out sticky slides. This was great. The grown ups talked politics.
This was less great.
“That’s why taxes have gotten so high–people need government programs to run their lives.” A mom chimed in.
“Taking all our money for no reason.” Mr. Anderson agreed.
Clinton was going to take all my parents’ money? Then how were they going to buy me food and clothes? I scooted to the far side of the ball pit to escape the talking.
“Then he’s also wasting money on those pointless air strikes.”
“What a mess.”
“Genocide and war, and how does Clinton respond? A few pathetic missiles. All we’ll do is make the warlords angry at us.”
Warlords coming for us? I pictured a James Bond villain aiming his rockets at our town. I tried escaping the ball pit into the hamster tubes, but a group of girls blocked my way.
“Instead of running the country, he’s running after interns instead.”
“Shh! The kids will hear.”
“Sorry. But if a man can’t run his own family, how can he run the country? And it’s not just Clinton–Hollywood, the media, the general culture. It’ll lead to disaster.”
Disaster? Was this before or after the warlords shot their missiles at us? Unable to stand it any longer, I dove beneath the ball pit until the talking stopped.
The Reverend James Kennedy was bad enough. From the pulpit of his Florida mega-church, Kennedy broadcast across the nation each Sunday, silver-haired and resplendent in his azure robes. I sometimes worked up the guts to watch during breakfast. One week was about how the ACLU–the “anti-Christian liberties union”–as he called it, was trying to eradicate faith from public life.1 The next was about how the Pope’s claims were dangerous to true Christians.
One Sunday in 1998, Kennedy ascended the pulpit with extra weight, borrowing the pipe organs’ bellowing gravity. His sermon, he explained, was about something called “Y…2…K.” I had no idea what that was, but the words dripped down my spine. Snatching the remote, I escaped to PBS and the sweet strains of NOVA.
A couple months later, I learned more about Y2K than I could ever imagine. It was my first time in the sixth grade Sunday School class. The teacher was Mrs. Carlton, a woman with frizzled hair and a passion for Biblical prophecy. That day, she decided to share her findings with the new sixth graders.
I forget the exact points she made, but I think it involved the Book of Daniel, Revelation, and a stack of articles she’d read about Y2K. The effect was worse than anything I could have imagined from Reverend Kennedy.
Apparently, on January 1, 2000, all the world’s computers would stop working. The details were fuzzy after that, but a study of Revelation suggested that the Beast would then arise from the sea, the anti-Christ would emerge, and the true Christians would have to either accept the mark of the beast or die. There would also be wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, and every other calamity possible.
I pictured my family, wrapped in rags and trundling our meager possessions, fleeing the charred shell of our house before the warlord rockets blew it up. Ash fell from red sky.
This was the future of America. I suspected Bill Clinton was to blame.
So yeah, I avoided politics. All they did was point to ominous, anti-Christian forces gathering to destroy me and my community, and which I was powerless to stop. I preferred thinking about literally anything else.
But the summer after seventh grade, my family drove to a family reunion in Michigan. During the drive across Kansas, I rode in my Grandma and Grandpa’s van.
They were listening to something that changed my world….
1 Okay, he may have had a point there…
Photo by Tina Chen