I don’t know what fundagelicals would even do with themselves if they weren’t panicking about the end of the world. A new date has been set for the Rapture–April 18th–but it’s not getting a whole lot of attention. Today Lord Snow presides over an increasingly backfired fundagelical tradition: failed Rapture predictions!
A Numbers Game.
Rapture predictions are a constant in the fundagelical world. Most of us probably remember the one that got Harold Camping all that attention a few years ago. Christians have issued many others before and since then, though. One of the more recent big scares was the so-called Blood Moon Rapture Scare. Before that, Wayne Bent, an apocalyptic cult leader who claimed to be “the embodiment of God” along with hundreds of other people throughout history, issued one for October 31, 2007. That one is outlined in the documentary about him and his weird little group, The End of the World Cult.
Rapture scares all essentially boil down to a numbers game. Christian conjobs manipulate all sorts of numbers to arrive at their various predicted dates. They shoehorn current headlines into the conspiracy theory, adjusting the predictions if an event completely wrecks it. Then they get their flocks all excited for all sorts of reasons, and they rest serene in the knowledge that nobody will ever get mad at them when the predicted day comes and goes.
And wow, do these predictions get Christians excited. They’ll literally sell their homes, get into huge amounts of debt, and annoy everyone they encounter with warnings about the big day.
It’s like they don’t even remember all the past predictions that didn’t come true.
The Latest Scare.
You can just about always count on a Rapture scare to be in effect at any given time.
This current one is set for “On (or Before) April 18, 2018.” It appears to come from Dallas-area evangelist (and discount David A.R. White) Riley Stephenson, who appears to be behind or connected to the account “gevte” on YouTube. Here we can find a crap-ton of videos explaining a truly wacky take on Christianity, including this 2-hour-long one which I am absolutely not watching. It outlines the entire glorious idea if you just can’t survive another day without knowing exactly how someone concocts a Rapture scare.
(In addition to apparently creating/uploading wackadoodle Rapture scares, Riley Stephenson also has a 100% crazypants personal site and Twitter. Like most hardcore fundagelicals, he’s never met a conspiracy theory or MLM scam that he didn’t love–and he thinks he’s a way better salesperson than he actually is.)
This Rapture scare is based upon the Book of Daniel, as most of them are. This time around, the scare centers around the notion that April 18, 2018 is the end of 40th Jubilee cycle since Jesus’ alleged lifetime. Somehow every Rapture scaremonger and eschatologist in existence, including Stephenson/gevte himself, has failed to notice this incredibly important detail.
Like all of these scares, what this one demonstrates is how extensively people can see patterns where none exist. Conspiracy theorists work in much the same way, building a huge web of coincidences into a grand puzzle. Every coincidence discovered and fitted into that puzzle lights up the conspiracy theorist’s mind like a little Christmas light.
When the Rapture Doesn’t Come.
Generally speaking, Christians don’t hold against their prophets a Rapture scare that fails to pan out. As with most stuff in the Bible, if they took the command about false prophets seriously they would end up imprisoned. Even fundagelicals only take literally the convenient verses or the ones that let them mistreat others.
Instead of being executed, the failed prophet simply re-issues the prediction for a future date. He might decide that he chose the wrong day through some miscalculation, but that is risky because it strikes at his credibility and discernment. Or he might decide that his god spared the world for a little while; if so, he’ll almost certainly attribute this grace to some great faithfulness on his group’s or his own part.
Wayne Bent, for example, reissued his prediction for December 15, 2007. Obviously that didn’t work out either, though he did go to prison for a while after being convicted of various charges involving child sex abuse (he was released in 2016 and returned to his cult). In a weird kinda way, I reckon the world did end for him for a little while.
The Hilarious Thing About This Scare.
I like to archive Christian sites, as longtime readers know. It not only prevents a page from vanishing into the ether, but it also reveals changes that have been made to a page over time. (Obviously, it also prevents hits/views/clicks from going to people I don’t like.)
The YouTube account I mentioned links repeatedly to the website associated with “gevte’s” 2-hour-long Rapture video. Here’s what that website looks like right now (also see the accompanying screenshot). Here’s what it looked like just two months ago. And here’s what it looked like on January 19, 2017. And on January 7th, 2015. (See endnote.)
I just have no words.
This exact page used to say the Rapture was totally for sure happening on September 23, 2015.
In the January 19, 2017 page, Stephenson was talking about 2018 as the last year of Earth’s existence. As he put it back then, in those wild and woolly days of his foolish youth:
September 23, 2015 starts the Great Day of the Lord and the Rapture must occur shortly after this date.
And our prophet was quite certain that “the New Millennium begins on January 1, 2018.” I am betting it was quite a surprise when the New Year came and went without the world ending.
Voting With Their Feet.
I’ve mentioned before that the “88 Reasons” Rapture scare is what frightened me into the Pentecostal church initially. Weirdly, I didn’t even wonder after the final date came and went about what had become of its failed prophet. I didn’t know his fate for years. We all literally forgot he even existed. We didn’t even think about holding Edgar Whisenant accountable–our relief (and disappointment) so overwhelmed us.
Snookered Christians repeat this process every single time, too. A failed prophet can safely ignore all past predictions. The flocks sure won’t remember. They’ll be rushing toward the next new prediction with the same anticipation and anxiety as they felt for the last one.
After all, “there’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet.” And fundagelicals need to know when they’re coming.
So! Got any plans? What are you going to be doing on that fateful day?
NEXT TIME: Join me for a look at a spectacularly failed apologetics attempt. We’ll be dissecting an Argument from Miracles that’s been making the rounds–see you soon!
Endnote: I’ve reached out to Riley Stephenson to confirm that the Rapture website and YouTube account are really his. As of publishing time, he hasn’t responded. I’ll update if needed. BTW: Riley Stephenson is also the Minister of Evangelism for Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Color me shocked that a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ like him doesn’t care about failed Rapture predictions!
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Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! Lord Snow is my sweet, elderly white cat. He presides over my household like Young Adam watching The Them rough-house.