I had been unchurched for a few months when a friend of mine from school, Angela, invited me to her church. She was quite straightforward, unlike Jennifer who’d called her church’s proselytization effort a “pizza blast” and pretended it was just some hangout thing. Angela said there was a revival meeting at her church and she really wanted me to go so I could hear about this incredibly important thing that would happen soon in our world. Angela was in every way what one might consider a perfect Christian; she’d converted a year or so beforehand out of a very sinful, worldly lifestyle marked by Sheena Easton clothes and snazzy makeup and rather a lot of boyfriends (and ZOMG she’d probably had sex). Now she wore handmade dresses, let her gorgeous curly hair grow long, avoided makeup, and spoke always in a meek, sweet, and loving tone of voice. I was happy to accept her invitation.
What I heard just horrified me, though. I still couldn’t imagine somebody lying about this stuff, and these preachers were talking about the Rapture, which I’d never heard of before.
For those who aren’t in the know, Rapture is a doctrine that emerged about 200 years ago that revolves around the Bible verse 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which talks about how true believers will one day be snatched up from the Earth to fly to heaven to be with God. Christians who buy into Rapture theology are divided about just when this’ll happen; some believe it’ll happen right before a massive persecution called the Tribulation, which itself precedes Armageddon and the end of the whole world. Others believe it’ll happen midway through the Tribulation. Others still believe it’ll happen after the Tribulation. Some Christians flat-out reject the whole idea of a Rapture being some kind of literal event. Making matters more complicated, they all have appropriate Biblical backing for their views and think dissenters are completely wrong. Unsurprisingly, this “money for nothing,” easy-out mindset emerged in America right about when homeopathy and other snake oil cures got popular, though it’s gotten a foothold in other countries. In my direct experience, the sort of people who go in for money-making scams and conspiracy theories are most susceptible to its blandishments.
Most Americans are familiar with Rapture scares nowadays, with the Harold Camping prediction of 2011, but most people don’t realize that Camping made a slew of other Rapture date predictions–and that Rapture predictions have been happening pretty much since the concept evolved among evangelical Christians. Rapture scares are a stock-in-trade for preachers, a guaranteed shock tactic to make unbelievers re-assess Christianity’s claims. The threat of getting “left behind” works marvelously on people. The idea of not having to die assuages our fear of death. The concept of being so ultra-special to God that he’d pluck us from the earth itself to fly us to heaven tickles our egos and pride. Rapture’s got it all; it’s got something for everyone.
The pre-Tribulation version of Rapture theology is the message I heard that night. It seemed that some guy had decided the Rapture was going to be very, very soon, and unless I got baptized and became a hardcore Christian, I’d miss it and have to deal with seven years of gruesome persecution. Now, I had always been a Christian, but clearly not as hardcore of one as these people were. They danced, waved their hands, and babbled in weird baby-like syllables that I was told were a heavenly language. They scared me, but also intrigued me. They claimed that they were the only real Christians out there; they said that they were trying their best to live like the Bible said, and believe exactly what it said, with no man-made additions or alterations. Foolishly, I believed every word.
I realized that this was what I’d been searching for. I’d been looking for a way to get closer to Jesus, to seek him in the way the Bible said he was most easily found, and this seemed like it. Plus, if I went with what these guys were saying, I’d be spared the Tribulation. I didn’t know at the time what Pascal’s Wager was, much less understand its very serious shortcomings as an argument in favor of Christianity, but my innocent teenaged mind went through the known options and came up with “Sounds legit.” So I joined and got baptized again (they insisted, since the first time, with the Southern Baptists, had been in the name of the Trinity, and these were Oneness Pentecostals who believed such a formula was pagan and demonic–and, as with Rapture, both sides had ample Biblical backing for their wildly divergent views).
Pentecostalism is a very consuming denomination. It all but subsumed me into the Borg collective. There was one problem in paradise, though: I didn’t speak in tongues, which was a huge disappointment to the church, since they thought everybody spoke in tongues once baptized because that was the sign God was “filling” that person. I didn’t feel moved to babble like they did, but I did love God and want to serve him with all my being. I prayed constantly for this “infilling,” I did everything they said a young woman must do to get it, but never got it. I was stabbed anew in the heart every weekend seeing these ecstatic people dancing in the Spirit, getting “slain in the Spirit,” getting “words of prophecy” and interpretations of them, but I never felt that bubbling-up of infilling that indicated I was in the cool kids’ club. I continued to pray, attend church several times a week, sing in the choir, and dress and act the way they said I should, and hoped that if I just walked in faith, eventually it’d happen for me.
When the Rapture date came and went, though, I was crushed. The pastor had hedged his bets fairly well (I didn’t realize that he’d seen a lot of these scares come and go; this was the only one I’d ever heard of), but the sharp, cutting anger I felt over being so deceived, combined with seeing that my church did not absolutely condemn the people who’d pushed this failed prediction, led to doubt. I couldn’t help thinking of the Biblical verse about abandoning prophets whose prophecies don’t come true (Deuteronomy 18:22). With bitter disappointment, I realized that this church couldn’t possibly be the real deal after all. After about six months of absolutely hardcore searching and involvement got destroyed by this failed prediction, I stopped attending the Pentecostal church toward the beginning of my junior year in high school. I’m sure my mother was vastly relieved; I let her take me to a hair stylist, went shopping for jeans and other normal clothes, and began wearing makeup again. I became a proper Child of the 80s–still very Christian, but uncertain as to what direction I should go. I didn’t think Catholicism was an option anymore for me as I’d become convinced that prideful people had tampered way too much with the Bible’s original message, but beyond that, I was unsure–and egocentric enough to imagine that my decision mattered enormously.