Part two of two; click here to read part one.
Fabio's supportive females
While evangelicals may be ambivalent about the body of Christ, they are less hesitant when it comes to the bodies of Christians. These characters would feel right at home on the covers of romance novels. Meier describes one of his main protaganists as "a six-foot-four-inch blond Nordic weight lifter" (imagine Fabio explaining prophecy) and his girlfriend with "striking blue eyes. Any possible plumpness was poured into a figure that clearly held [Nordic] Jimmy's full attention." Another woman is petite, though "her figure lacked nothing in maturity." Robertson's Lori is "tanned" with a "flawless complexion … blonde … light blue eyes … striking," not to mention "cheerful and upbeat," while Pastor Jack is "a tall, powerfully built man in his early seventies with gray hair pulled back into a pony tail." LaHaye/Jenkins are more perfunctory, settling for such generic descriptions as "drop-dead gorgeous" and "a young Robert Redford."
One gets the impression that the six-feet-plus males who populate these novels reflect a deep-rooted insecurity about Christian manhood. Left Behind has an unraptured-but-soon-converted character, Rayford, describe this ambivalence through his former attitudes toward his raptured son: "He didn't have the killer instinct, the 'me first' attitude Rayford thought he would need to succeed in the real world. He wasn't effeminate, but Rayford had worried that he might be a mama's boy—too compassionate, too sensitive, too caring." The implied question these novels raise is, how can we be tough and independent and be like Jesus? No father of school-aged children—a role that calls for the soft virtue of nurture—figures significantly in any of the novels. It is almost as if American evangelicals were trying to merge the gospel of love with a John Wayne persona—and finding the task daunting. To escape this dilemma, these novelists have resorted to stacking their plots with unattached single men and a few fathers of adult children.
And then there are the women. According to these leaders, here are the evangelical "Rules." First, if you are a mother with young children at home, you do not qualify as a character—you are background.
Second, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be attached (either dating or married), childless, and in a supportive role to your man. Robertson's Lori plays the lead female: she is childless, professional, loves husband Carl, and disappears from the book after becoming a Christian. Meier has well-proportioned Ruth marry Nordic Jimmy, become pregnant, and die in labor. Left Behind 's two lead women follow different paths: drop-dead gorgeous Hattie becomes the Antichrist's consort, and plain Chloe becomes the girlfriend of the multitalented main character Buck.
Third, if something disqualifies you from fulfilling traditional roles, you are allowed to be an effective Christian minister. Thus Meier's Cindy Wong, because she is blind and Chinese, has an effective ministry as an evangelist and apologist—she is by far the most active woman of all the books—though she is not allowed to marry Ben, despite their love for each other, because Archangel Michael wants Ben kept "pure."
A dark and dangerous time
For all the authors, the world is a bad place and getting worse. Crime, AIDS, euthanasia, and abortion are mentioned as signs of decline. In fact, Robertson suggests that the four horsemen of the apocalypse have already ridden in the twentieth century—and, given the number of those who have died in wars, famines, plagues, and natural disasters, it is hard to argue with him.
Meier is the only one who seems to have given up entirely on the world's institutions, having no Christians present in scenes involving government, finance, or the press—though he notes that "all the good players and coaches" in college football were raptured.
Robertson mixes Christians into his scenes of the capital and Wall Street, displaying his hard-learned savvy as a politician and businessman. Yet this same experience seems to have soured him on the press. Here is his description of the vice president's traveling pool of reporters: "thirty-five members of the media were waiting to attack him like a school of barracudas going after a hunk of raw meat … hoping to get lucky, to be on the scene of an assassination, a riot, or some other diplomatic screw-up. No courtesy or respect was to be found in this crowd." A New York Times reporter is put into his rightful context: "A sixties Marxist who had idolized Che Guevara … despised capitalism, Western-style democracy, and particularly the free market system."
Among these authors the equation of anticapitalism with anti-Christian is unique to Robertson only in the extent to which it is stressed. All his main characters are rich (usually through "savvy" investments), whereas Meier and LaHaye/ Jenkins tend to rely on middle-class suburban Christians. (Just don't ask about working-class or minority Christians; they are not here.)
Yet they are all critical of America's unbridled consumerism. Pastor Jack describes how Americans "gorged themselves on food and drink, spent close to four hundred billion dollars each year on pleasure, and squandered the nation's savings—then congratulated themselves on how good they were."
Here is psychiatrist Meier writing about some parents with problem children: "We couldn't support a southern California lifestyle on one salary. I guess today you'd label our children as affluent latchkey children." (Then again, some California lifestyles are better than others: Meier has God judging and destroying San Francisco and portions of L.A., while preserving traditionally Republican Orange County.)
These novels create a distorting mirror in which American evangelicals can see their community reflected, with some features unnaturally heightened, others diminished. The Christians in these end-times tales are individualistic, suspicious of the church, and strongly committed to evangelism and to their Bibles. They like Jews and Israel, and they want to like Catholics but are afraid of being too inclusive. They are ambivalent about how the gospel feminizes males and are downright hostile to active women, but they want to look good, even impressive. They are comfortable with American middle-class, suburban Christianity, seeing it as able to accommodate a primitive, New Testament faith, but feel consumerism has gotten out of hand. They believe the end is near and so are not welcoming of any talk of a cashless society or of global government. And they continue to worry about presidential elections, because they don't want to vote in the Antichrist.
It may seem strange to read apocalyptic novels for a portrait of evangelicalism at the end of the millennium. But incarnating ideas and beliefs and values in novels forces a holism that most nonfiction lacks. The mirror of fiction isn't entirely reliable, but in it both our strengths and shortcomings become clear.
Pat Robertson, Novelist
CT interviewed Pat Robertson soon after he wrote his apocalyptic novel, The End of the Age.
On the near future: I'm predicting that in the next four or five years we're going to have the greatest spiritual revival in the history of the world. But I also feel the Bible indicates that following this great time of evangelism and harvest there's going to be judgment on the earth. I don't think the world is going to be allowed to continue in its present amoral or immoral course—whether it comes in the year 2000 or 2020, whenever.
On the Rapture: Jesus warned the church to watch and prepare, to be on guard. And the Christians of America unfortunately have been lulled to sleep with this doctrine of an imminent Rapture that says if anything bad happens in America, we get pulled out of it. That's utter nonsense. It doesn't correspond to anything the Bible says. And it gives a false sense of security. Explain how God delivers us from tribulation to the guys who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. They didn't get raptured. They were brave Christian soldiers. They went over there and got shot, killed, and wounded in those conflicts. There was no Rapture. There has been no Rapture during these last hundred years, and we've had just unspeakable things happening in the world.
On Revelation: The ultimate victory of God over evil is the message of Revelation. But I do think that certain things in there are intended to give somewhat of a blueprint of last times. We have to be very careful, because it is written in apocalyptic language. I frankly resist some of these prophecy teachers who claim that they've got a corner on Revelation, because they don't. I've taught it seven or eight times to groups, and I still don't think I know very much about it.
On the book's message to the church: I want Christians to be energized to do the work of the Great Commission, that they should use their time, their energy, and their money to accomplish this task. There's an imperative to evangelize the world now.
The second thing is, I want Christians to be aware and prepared. Their faith should be strong. If the Lord decides that our life and our property and everything should be taken away, we should be ready to go. We can't be clutching onto things like Lot's wife did. I think Christians need to understand that their comfortable lifestyles may not endure forever, which, of course, is the message of Revelation, the message of the gospel. You don't get comfortable in the world. You try to transform the world, but you recognize that this world will ultimately be burned up.
I think the church is very, very carnal and very, very self-centered. It's almost impossible to get money for missions in America. You can get money to put in a new basketball court in a church or pave the parking lot or put a new organ, but it's almost impossible to get people to give to relief efforts overseas or to give the gospel overseas.
It is a very convenient kind of religion that we have in America. It is a happy, feel-good kind of religion. And if you give them positive messages, feel good, be prosperous, enjoy life, and all that, then they think you're great. If you talk about the other, it's a different world. Christians have got to be aware that the Bible talks about sacrifice and suffering and danger and trouble. And it isn't going to be just happiness in America forever.
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