Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 331-333
The opening lines of Chapter 16 explain why you should probably never accept that co-worker’s invitation to attend a service at their evangelical church:
Buck helped Chloe into the Range Rover, but before he could get around to the driver’s side, he was accosted by Verna Zee.
“Verna! I didn’t see you! I’m glad you made it.”
Buck feigns a smile and greets Verna with his best approximation of cheerful hospitality, but Jerry Jenkins has already told us what he’s really thinking. He’s “accosted” by Verna’s presence. She isn’t really welcome there.
Sure, Buck was the one who invited her in the first place. He has a duty to evangelize to the unsaved, after all, and Verna is one of the few unsaved people he actually knows (apart from Steve, Chaim, Hattie, his father, his brother, Spiky Alice, and everybody else at Global Weekly* — none of whom he as ever “witnessed to” personally). So to fulfill his sacred duty, he invited unsaved Verna to come to Bruce’s memorial service/altar call (even though the altar call bit was really just a one-step removed lecture on the importance of altar calls). You’d think seeing her there would thus make him happy. But no, he instead views her as a hostile outsider and regards her presence there as a threat.
The authors share this view, and they want readers to share this view of Verna as a threat to Buck. That comes across, but not in the way they intend. They want us to see Verna as a danger to Buck because she’s a potential Antichrist spy who has infiltrated the Tribulation Force’s sanctuary. But what we see, instead, is that Verna Zee is a threat to Buck because at every turn she acts like the journalist that he refuses to ever be:
“I made it all right, Cameron. I also recognized Tsion Ben-Judah!”
Buck fought to keep from covering her mouth with his hand. “I’m sorry?”
Buck’s near-panic here is not to prevent Verna from exposing Tsion to the Antichrist or to the Evil Jews hunting him. He’s desperately trying to stop her from revealing Tsion to the members of New Hope Village Church. Buck and the rest of the inner-inner circle of Tribulation Enforcers have already voted to affirm that Tsion will succeed Bruce Barnes as the spiritual leader of this congregation, and yet they’re still trying to keep his presence and his identity a secret from them.
I also can’t help but think that Buck’s reaction here isn’t Verna-specific. Every time he or Rayford hears any woman speaking, “He fought to keep from covering her mouth with his hand” seems like an apt description of their response.
“He’s going to be in deep trouble when the Global Community peacekeeping forces find out where he is. Don’t you know he’s wanted all over the world? And that your passport and ID were found on one of his accomplices? Buck, you’re in as much trouble as he is. Steve Plank has been trying to get ahold of you, and I’m tired of pretending I have no idea what you’re up to.”
Verna and Buck work together at a weekly news magazine, and their entire conversation here is premised on the idea that the international manhunt for renegade rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah is the top story in world news for the past week. That would seem absurd even if the past week had been a slow affair, news-wise, but that week actually has included things like the Global Potentate’s all-out nuclear war against his own Global Community, with the ensuing destruction of New York, London, Chicago, Cairo, and apparently every other major population center around the world. When it came time to vote on that week’s cover story, I’d probably go with “Nuclear Destruction of Every Major City” over “Messianic Rabbi Escapes Manhunt by Crudely Drawn Anti-Semitic Caricatures.”
But we have to set all that aside here because that’s what the authors do and what they require us to do in order for this scene to make any sense. This scene has to be read as a discrete, isolate event wholly unconnected to the larger context and larger plot. Forget about the worldwide nuclear war — Buck has, and the authors have, so readers will have to do so too if they want to keep up. For the purposes of this part of this chapter, we have to go along with the premise that Tsion Ben-Judah is the biggest news story in the entire world and the foremost priority of the Antichrist’s One World Government.
The other premise here is that Buck is the hero and Verna Zee is the villain. That premise may be even harder to swallow, as it requires us to condemn Verna for trying to get to the truth while praising Buck for his efforts to suppress it.
“Verna, we’re going to have to go somewhere and talk about this.”
“I can’t keep your secret forever, Buck. I’m not going down with you. That was a pretty impressive meeting, and it’s obvious everybody loved that Barnes guy. But do all these people believe that Nicolae Carpathia is the Antichrist?”
“I can’t speak for everyone.”
We just finished reading the “inspiring” scene in which nameless members of the congregation shouted out their willingness to take a bold stand for their beliefs, even if that meant martyrdom. Moments later, Buck Williams is asked a direct question about his beliefs and all he can do is dodge and waffle.
I’m picturing Buck standing as a godparent at a baby’s baptism. “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?” “I can’t speak for everyone. …”
Verna tries to pin Buck down:
“But how about you, Buck? You report directly to the man. Are you going to write a story in one of his own magazines that says that?”
“I already have, Verna.”
“Yeah, but you’ve always represented it as a neutral report of what some believe. This is your church! These are your people! You buy into all this stuff.”
“Can we go somewhere and talk about this or not?” Buck said.
Verna’s accusations here are spot on. For nearly two years, Buck Williams has had information that he regards as the most important news of all time, and for all that time he has also repeatedly said that his foremost duty as a Christian was to spread that news to as many people as possible. And yet in all that time he has never, once, published that information in his magazine unless it was an indirect quote presented as nothing more than one equivalent opinion among many.
That could have worked as a satiric attack on the dithering irresponsibility of he-said/she-said journalism, the vacuous approach that abdicates any duty to evaluate or confirm statements or to arbitrate between truth and lies. But the authors haven’t asked us to view Buck as the epitome of dishonest journalistic cowardice, even though that’s what he clearly is. They’ve insisted all along, rather, that we view him as the greatest reporter who ever lived, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time.
But Verna doesn’t have time to keep criticizing Buck for his failings as a journalist, she’s too busy doing what real journalists actually do:
“Anyway, I want to interview Tsion Ben-Judah. You can’t blame me for going for the scoop of a lifetime.”
Buck bit his tongue to keep from saying she wasn’t enough of a writer to do justice to a story like Ben-Judah anyway. “Let me get back to you tomorrow,” he said. “And then we can–”
“Tomorrow? Today, Buck. Let’s meet at the office this afternoon.”
“This afternoon is not good. I’m coming back here for the viewing at four.”
“Then how about six-thirty?”
“Why does it have to be today?” Buck asked.
One of these two people understands deadlines. The other one is Buck Williams.
He’s stalling here because he doesn’t want Verna to interview Tsion Ben-Judah. Why not? This is the guy who’s supposed to be foremost among the 144,000 evangelists that Tim LaHaye says the book of Revelation prophesies. His whole purpose in life is to get his message out by every means possible. Tsion also wants and needs a chance to tell his side of the story, to challenge and deny the false accusations made against him. Buck should be lining up interviews for Tsion, not trying to weasel out of them.
I get that Tsion is a wanted man, sought by the authorities in Israel who framed him for their murder of his wife and children, so he doesn’t want his whereabouts to become known. But it’s entirely possible for Buck to arrange this interview with ground-rules that would prevent Verna from exposing Tsion’s location. That’s actually what Verna herself is suggesting:
“It doesn’t. I could just tell Steve Plank or Carpathia himself or anybody I want exactly what I’ve seen today.”
“Verna, I took a huge risk in helping you out the other night and letting you stay at Loretta’s home.”
“You sure did. And you may regret it for the rest of your life.”
“So none of what you heard here today made any impact on you?”
“Yes, it did. It made me wonder why I went soft on you all of a sudden. You people are wacko, Buck. I’m gonna need some compelling reason to keep quiet about you.”
That sounded like extortion …
Because it sort of is. Verna is offering a deal: Give her the interview and she will help keep Tsion safe. She’s playing hardball to get her story, even though that means standing up to — “bucking,” if you will — the boss who has the power to fire her. But Buck doesn’t understand her reporter’s instincts. And he can’t seem to get past his idea that the he has to protect Tsion by preventing that interview — as though doing so would magically erase Verna’s memory of seeing him there in Mount Prospect that morning.
That sounded like extortion but Buck also realized that Verna had apparently stayed for the entire service that morning. Something had to be working on her. Buck wanted to find out how she could relegate the prophecies of Revelation and what had happened in the world in the last 20 months or so to mere coincidence.
Here again is where Buck should be playing his trump card of detailed, specific and imminent prophecy. If Verna wants to make a deal, he should offer her one. Make it a bet. She just heard Rayford’s sermon explaining that the sixth seal — the “wrath of the Lamb” earthquake — is going to happen any day now. If a month passes with nothing like that happening, then she’s free to publish whatever she wants exposing Buck and Rayford and Tsion as “wackos” and enemies of the Global Community. But if this prophecy is proved true, then she’ll agree to print that.
But that’s not what Buck has in mind. Instead of forcing Verna to confront what he knows to be the truth, he opts to lie to her:
“All right,” he said. “Six-thirty at the office.”
But he won’t be bringing Tsion Ben-Judah to the office at 6:30. Instead, as soon as Verna leaves, he’ll be tucking the rabbi away in a hole beneath the cellar of the church where he’ll be free to evangelize without any threat of international media giving him a platform to do so.
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* He also knows Nicolae Carpathia pretty well, as does Rayford Steele. But neither Buck nor Rayford ever seems to consider the possibility of “witnessing to” their unsaved friend Nicolae. I vaguely understand why they never imagine that possibility — Nicolae is the Antichrist, after all, so he’s fated by prophecy to eternal damnation. But as most evangelical sermons on the Supreme Obligation of Evangelism remind us, the commandment is to witness, not to succeed in making converts. A presumption of futility is never an acceptable excuse for not evangelizing at anyone else, so why should that let our heroes off the hook when it comes to Nicolae?
But I can’t help but think that their reluctance to testify to Nicolae — and the authors’ reluctance to imagine them doing it — has less to do with the certainty of failure than with the possibility of success.
This is, after all, the plot of the book of Jonah — the asshole prophet sent to preach divine wrath against the antichrist-empire of Ninevah. Jonah refuses this mission because he fears it may succeed. And when it does so — when, despite Jonah’s best efforts to sabotage the mission, Ninevah repents and converts — he is furious with God for extending salvation even to the Antichrist:
This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”