Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 10, 2012

Riley goes to church, attends “Incredible Prophecies”

About three weeks ago, I was mailed a glossy over-photoshopped mailer inviting me to “Incredible Prophecies: Finding Security in Uncertain Times.” The brochure, which I have scanned below, touted “Special Multimedia Presentations,”  and apparently, several angry semi-mythical creatures. Well, how could I say no to that? The only question was, which presentation should I see? With so many good choices, I decided to go for “Incredible Prophecies About the Time of the End” because, if Condoleezza Rice has taught me anything, there is nothing more inviting than a mushroom cloud.

Cover of Mailer

Inside of mailer – sorry for lousy scan

Back of Mailing – with a Dinosaur?

This presentation was held at the Bellingham Seventh-day Adventist Church and soon enough, nice men were flagging me into a parking space. I worried for a moment, as I left my bumper-sticker ridden car, whether I should fear for its safety, considering it has such gems as, “I’m Pagan and I Vote” and “I Do Support Marriage Equality,” but I simply left it in the hands of God and went inside.

Once inside, a very nice woman at a desk had me list my address, phone number, name, and email. In return I received a little keychain barcode. “Mark of the Beast?” I mused; she looked at me with a very alarmed expression as I assured her that, yes, I was joking and I understood the keychain was just for the prize giveaway for repeat attendees.

The Stage

I have to admit it was a pretty impressive stage, well-lit with two giant screens (pictured above.) The presentor’s wife, Gloria Bentzinger, softly played the electric keyboard while people sat down. Before long the pews were about half-full, a total of around eighty people, and the presentation began. First the local clergy, Pastor Branden Porter, hopped up on stage, thanked everyone for coming and mentioned that he was “so thrilled that Incredible Prophecies is here tonight!” He plugged the speaker’s CDs and DVDs which were on sale in the lobby of the church, and then handed it over to Gloria, who sang one of the songs off of her new gospel album, “Embrace the Cross,” (also for sale in the lobby, reminded Pastor Porter.)

After that, Dan Bentzinger took the stage. He, like most traveling preachers, had a commanding presence, a nicely pressed suit, and a southern drawl. After a quick warm-up prayer, he launched right into his speech, complete with that “multimedia presentation,” or as I would describe it . . . a handful of snazzy PowerPoint slides. OoooOOoo embedded video!

Morpheus made a cameo appearance with Dan Bentzinger

Right off the bat we were treated to a dizzying array of visuals. Hurricanes, starving African children, planes smashing into the World Trade Center in slow motion, all overlaid with clipped visuals from news reports (complete with CBS logo) announcing numbers of dead. “How do you know we are near the second coming of Jesus?” Bentzinger bellowed, and with that, he began the sermon.

His premise was relatively straight-forward. He drew on Matthew 24:8 where Jesus spoke about the End Times, and said that “All these things are the beginning of sorrows,” which could also be translated as “beginning of birthing pains.” He then made the case that because these cataclysmic events are coming closer and closer together, in stronger and stronger intensities, that it is the birthing pains of the End Times. Okay, simple enough premise, how are you going to back it up? Oh yes, the Anti-Christ.

Bentzinger pointed out the proliferation of people claiming to be Jesus. His logic was a little shaky here because he highlighted several people who just claimed to be messengers from God (like Sun Myung Moon,) rather than Jesus proper, but okay, I saw where he was going with this. Then he started preaching against Christians who, well, aren’t Christian enough. He pulled up a list of eight qualities he believed were essential to a “Biblical World View.” Some of them were pretty innocuous: belief in Satan, belief that God exists and is loving, and that Christians have a moral responsibility to share the Bible. Nothing too controversial there. But then he ran aground into a serious theological debate: the belief that salvation is a gift, not earned. That’s a pretty hefty discussion within the Christian community. Or that Christ lived a sinless life? That also has been contested and thoroughly discussed. How about the belief in the reliability and absolute authority of the Scripture. Which scripture? So when Bentzinger trots out that “Only 5% of Christians believe in a Biblical World View” and everyone in the church gasped, I was already a little skeptical of his definition of “Biblical World View.”

Having made the point that most Christians are falling down on the job, he then introduced the next danger. “Chrislam.” Yup. While he talked about this subject, the scary image of the “COEXIST” bumper sticker floating menacingly on the screen. Chrislam is, apparently, the biggest threat to Christianity since they encountered hungry lions. It is the melding of Christianity and Islam that convinces its adherents to deny that Jesus is the Son of God. It is an attempt to create a “one world religion” which will be a sign of the end times because it will be a “melding of the two largest faiths into religion, overseen by the UN.” Now, we are talking! Just when I got myself geared up for some real conspiracy work, Bentzinger moved on. I checked Wikipedia later that night, and apparently that melding of religions isn’t going so well, considering that Chrislam only sports a whopping 1,500 adherents. See, when I pick a boogey-man, I want them to have some staying power, like Rupurt Murdoch.

After that, Bentzinger walked through probably the worst abuse of statistics I have seen since Paul Ryan’s convention speech. Basically, he was making the case that there are more famines, plagues, deaths and natural disasters now than ever before. Frankly, it looked to me like a REALLY convincing case for global warming. Yes, more wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornados. That sounds like climate change to me! He showed massive death totals from these disasters and talked about how the death tolls are so much higher than during the Middle Ages . . . without noting that we didn’t really track those sorts of things back then and there are way more people on earth now. But all that aside, it wasn’t terribly controversial. Just a walk-through of how these things are “the labor pains of Jesus returning to this earth.”

The Whitest Jesus You’ve Ever Seen

Most of these factoids were accompanied by short video clips of perhaps the whitest Jesus I have seen outside a Mel Gibson production. Seriously, check out the picture above. That actor is one bottle of bleach blonde away from hitting the surf in sunny SoCal.

Before long, the sermon wrapped up, Bentzinger having made his case that the time of the end was nearly at hand. He noted that 98% of the world is now covered with “the Gospel” – which I assume means that the Mariana Trench is controlled entirely by heathens. He assured us there were “Islamic chiefs, ‘sheiks’ is what they call themselves, that have assured me that they are secretly Christian because an angel came down from heaven and taught their family.”

At the closing, he asked everyone to bow their heads and raise their hands if they were willing to be true to Christ, to hold a Biblical world view, and prepare for the End Times. Sneaking a peak, I could see he was getting about 65% of the vote in the room. Often not a great response rate, but it was late and maybe a few people had nodded off with the whole eyes-closed bit.

With that, and a shameless plug for the next night’s sermon, “Christ is under attack, especially in America!” he concluded his speech with several reminders that there are DVDs of his sermons for sale in the lobby, as well as his wife’s music CDs and that everyone should get some. “They make great gifts!”

As everyone milled out to their cars, I saw that my own heathen-mobile was unharmed and I mentally chided myself for being so paranoid. While the presentation definitely had some theatrical flair, it certainly wasn’t as colorful as I expected. Based on the crazy visuals in the mailer, I expected a more “Left Behind” series. What I got was more Dateline: here’s how crappy everything else in the world is right now. There was no reference to some of the more popular End Time theories: the whore of Babylon, the Anti-Christ coming from the world of politics, the mark of the beast, or The Rapture itself. Instead, aside from the weird Chrislam diversion, it was a pretty standard evangelical sermon.

Well, an evangelical sermon with a pretty snazzy PowerPoint.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Good reading. Thanks for going, Riley, and saving us the time.

  2. That was the kind of entertaining and respectful write-up that I wouldn’t have been capable of had I been there. I woulda also thought Riley to be the only un-convinced heathen in the audience but maybe not. I foresee a point where even the devout will reject these types of hype for what they are – sales jobs.

    • “entertaining and respectful” was exactly what I was going for, so thank you! Whenever I attend events, especially ones so far out of my comfort zone, I definitely aim to be respectful – while still pointing out the delightfully bizarre.

  3. Sorry to hear about your experience.
    Throughout my lifetime’s spiritual journey I spent some time with 7th Day Adventists in Everson, and I found them to be the most gracious, un-materialistic church members I’ve ever encountered.
    The very first time I visited their church my kids and I were invited to a member’s home for a meal with other members of the congregation.
    They’re typically vegetarians and healthy living advocates.
    Their religion is shunned by mainstream Christians and considered to be a cult.
    That said, they do tend to deliver a load of fire and brimstone in their sermons.

    But I catch yer drift; I avoid religion’s pixie dust, and much like yourself (minus the bumper sticker) I lean toward the satanic practice of wicca. (Sarc.)

    Nicely done article, btw!

    • It wasn’t a bad experience, and let me be clear, while the Seventh-Day Adventists were hosting this presentation, this was not a Seventh-Day Adventist service or event. They were just the welcoming hosts.

  4. Riley–Was this a Seventh-Day Adventist-sanctioned event?
    (Thanks for the writeup–I got the flyer too and was curious about it, but not as curious as you were.)

    • Considering the Pastor of the Bellingham Seventh-Day Adventist church gave everyone an intro about how excited they were, probably at least locally endorsed. I don’t know about the hierarchy there to dig any deeper.

  5. Glad your car is safe….

  6. You’re one step from being born again and saved

  7. did u pick up a copy of that CD… holiday’s are right around the corner and it sounds like it’d make a great gift… or maybe even a “last” gift (what with the end coming soooo soon).

  8. You, my dear Riley, are one courageous man! Thank you for you curiosity! Your article was truly a great read!

  9. SDAs don’t believe in the rapture.

    • That adds an interesting wrinkle to this because it was at their church and the presentation was recommended by the local pastor. Hmm.

      • Great summary of event. There is a series of meetings where he does mention Babylon, antichrist etc., you need to attend the rest. Dan is a powerful speaker though full of energy and lots of stats as well as info. Thanks for your write up 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: