As the guests leave the dining hall, most of them head toward the back of the ship, where the live Christian music concert will start in a few minutes. You stroll in the opposite direction, eager for some quiet. You need to sort out your thoughts.
Up ahead, you see a small group also heading away from the crowd, and you recognize the blonde woman who’d introduced the captain tonight, and a few men in dark suits. Among them is the captain himself.
On a whim, you follow them, close enough to hear their conversation, but far enough to be out of sight in the dim lighting of the corridor.
“Sir, you sure know how to mesmerize a crowd,” says one of the men.
The captain replies, his raspy voice animated, “I told you the Christians love me! They were eating out of my hand.” He puts his arm around the woman’s waist. “Sophie, what did you think? Was I great?”
“You were beyond great,” the woman chuckles. “You have them right where you want them.”
What does that mean, you wonder. Instantly you realize you must stay with these people as long as you can. Something’s not right, and you need to find out what it is.
As you expected, they head toward the first class cabins. The Captain stops first and opens his door on the left – Room 337, you recall – and the others go a little farther and enter room 342 on the right. As soon as both doors are closed, you tiptoe past and slip into the alcove just beyond 342.
Sure enough, you can hear the voices clearly.
“Well,” says Sophie, “that just happened.”
“Yeah,” one of the men replies. “You can make them forget the Golden Rule if you know how to distract them.”
Another male voice adds, “It’s not rocket science.”
“The Captain told us they’d fall for it,” the woman reminds them. “Some of us thought the Christians would reject his whole premise. But some of us were wrong, weren’t we?”
A third male voice replies sheepishly, “My bad. I will never doubt again.”
Just then, you hear footsteps in the hall, followed by a knock, and the raspy-voiced Captain enters the room to polite applause.
“Did you see me up there?” he asks. “They loved me. I could have talked all night! Henry?”
“Yes, sir,” the third man answers.
“Half-wit Henry, you’re fired. Go to your cabin, or go to the concert. I don’t care. Just get out.”
“And the rest of you, take note. Nobody can do this but me. You have to trust me.”
There is silence in the room, except for the sound of the cabin door closing, then footsteps disappearing down the hall. Poor Half-wit Henry, you think.
“All right,” continues the Captain. “The Bible people have marching orders for their thing tomorrow? They’ll reinforce what I said tonight. That Romans thing was really something! I couldn’t have written it better myself!”
Sophie confirms, “Yes, they will cover all of that tomorrow in the Bible studies and the prayer meetings. We…”
The Captain interrupts, “Great. I need a drink.”
Sophie says in a low voice, “Captain, we have some things to talk about. Some problems.”
You press your ear against the wall, startled by the mention of alcohol – but much more by the word “problems.”
“Give me the condensed version. I’m too tired for a long, drawn-out story.”
“Well sir,” says one of the men, “there’s some kind of bug going around. A number of crew members have gotten sick.”
“Is it serious?”
“Some have gotten pretty sick, some are not too bad. I think some were sick before we left. People on the mainland are sick too – quite a few.”
“Maybe we should pray about it!” quips another man. There isn’t much laughter this time.
The Captain is not amused. “Listen, we have a lot of important work to do on this voyage, and we’re not going to let a bug slow us down. I don’t want the passengers to know about it. I’m sure it’ll blow over, but meanwhile, keep them happy and focused. Good night.”
And you hear the door close, followed by footsteps and another door. Room 337, you assume.
It’s been a long day, and you decide to head back to your cabin for some sleep.
Breakfast and Bible
After a fitful night, you make your way to the dining room for breakfast and plenty of strong coffee. Most of the tables are strewn with used plates and cups, and the buffet is not well-stocked. Looks like the staff is a bit short-handed, you think – then you remember the “bug,” and start to wonder whether that’s why.
You notice with alarm that some of the waiters look flushed; a few are coughing stealthily. You decide to skip breakfast, and take your coffee to the Atrium, where there is open prayer time with quiet music. The Bible study will begin shortly.
The room is not nearly as full as yesterday. You take a seat, then notice that projected on the wall up front is the verse from “that section called Romans,”
Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. (Romans 13:1)
Soon, the blonde woman mounts the stage and begins a cheerful welcome. She mentions the small crowd size and suggests gently that the sea was a bit rough overnight, and perhaps a few passengers are feeling a bit under the weather. She introduces the Bible study leader, a pleasant-looking, middle-aged man in a clerical collar.
“Good morning!” he exclaims. “Are we ready to dig into the Word of God? Hallelujah.”
The hour is devoted to a discussion of why God puts governments in place, Christians’ responsibility to set an example by submitting and, when possible, being a part of the system themselves. “God’s kingdom will come to earth when we require it of the people in power, or when we are the people in power. We,” he continues, “are the majority in the United States. Christians have always been the majority, but we’ve never claimed our rightful place. There is so much we can do for God when we take our rightful place.”
Pointing to the words on the screen, he declares, “God is placing us in power now. God has given us a chance to turn our country back into the Christian nation it was in the early days. Our captain has a plan…”
As the pastor talks on and on, your mind wanders back to the words of the captain and his entourage. “Nobody can do this but me.” “You have them right where you want them.” “The captain told us they’d fall for it.”
You snap back to attention just in time to hear, “…nobody will be able to stop this move of God if we play our cards right in the coming days.”
You shake your head and, to your surprise, you realize that your hand is in the air.
“How are we sure this is a move of God?” you hear your own voice saying. “Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and he taught us to love – but this sounds like a hostile takeover, almost like a…a coup.”
The Bible study leader looks surprised. He takes a deep breath and responds, “Jesus’ love can be revealed in power – when we use it to demand a return to holiness in our land. We are the majority now, and that brings responsibility with it. Are you ready to step into this opportunity to draw our nation close to God?”
He looks at the audience, some of whom are uneasy. “Are you all ready to step into this opportunity? As the number of Christians increases in America, poverty will decline, unemployment will decline. Crime, persecution of Christians, the erosion of our God-given rights – all those problems that have overtaken us since we allowed God to be sidelined – all those things will be fixed. We have the privilege of leading the way. Are you ready?”
Around you are murmurs of assent and a smattering of applause, but you and a few others stay silent.
The pastor asks again, more urgently, “Are you ready to take America back for God?”
You don’t like the way this feels.
It’s going to feel worse than this.