By Sullivan, Amy
The Washington Monthly , Vol. 36, No. 6
Not too long ago, I attended a party thrown by my evangelical next-door neighbors in our Capitol Hill neighborhood. In the past, these gatherings--an evening packed in a house with 50 or 60 conservative evangelicals, most of whom attend the same Baptist church--were rife with social minefields. There may have been beer in the refrigerator and Madonna on the stereo, but the conversation was not similarly secular; it was only a matter of time before I was identified as a recovering-Baptist-turned-liberal-Episcopalian. Introduced as "the Democrat" to partygoers who work for Sen. Rick Santorum, write for conservative publications, or work in the Bush White House, I often found myself patiently explaining that, yes, it was possible to be a Christian and a Democrat. "I once knew a guy in college who was a Democrat!" one friendly fellow exclaimed upon meeting me, cementing my impression that, in this crowd, I was a rare and somewhat baffling specie.
On this particular evening, however, I had a foolproof plan for fitting in. I had just read the first two hooks in the 12-part Left Behind series that has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide, primarily in evangelical circles. Beginning with the onset of "the Rapture" (the event that some Christians believe will result in the spontaneous ascension to heaven of all true-believers), the books paint a picture of what would happen if the events predicted in the biblical Book of Revelations occurred now. Modern-day heroes Rayford Steele and Buck Williams lead a merry band of recent converts--the "Tribulation Force"--through action/adventure plots that are more Tom Clancy than Thomas Aquinas, with a fair amount of right-wing politicking thrown in for good measure. I was prepared to discuss the series with any and all comers at the party.
There was just one problem. No one I talked to would admit to having read any of the books. A number of people conceded, "Oooh, yeah, my morn read those," wrinkling their noses and giving embarrassed shrugs. Several women offered that they had thought about reading the books after die former "Growing Pains" star, and heartthrob of our teen years, Kirk Cameron made a monde adaptation of the first installment. But after even some Christian publications panned the film, they had reconsidered.
I was surprised. Yes, they were "all well-educated Washington wonks, but these same people weren't above devouring a Tom Clancy or John Grisham book at the beach. Most of them didn't require a leap of faith to accept the theological premises of the books. They were familiar with the teaching that says the Rapture will be followed by seven years of trials and tribulations, at the end of which Jesus will come to earth once again to lead the forces of good against the forces of evil in the battle known as Armageddon. In between the two cataclysmic events, those who are left behind at the Rapture have the chance to become faithful Christians and thus make it to heaven in a sort of divine do-over. While my friends are poised to be precisely the kind of Christians who are not left behind, riley would have more than a passing interest in the adventures of the Tribulation Force as it struggles to convert the rest of mankind while simultaneously disrupting the plans of the Anti-Christ, who rules the earth during the seven terrible years of the Apocalypse.
Nor was it the book's politics that kept them away. Most of the partygoers would agree with the general political thrust of the series, in which any number of liberal causes come under attack. In this particular imagining of Revelations, the Anti-Christ isn't just any world leader, but the Secretary General of the United Nations (a title he changes to "Global Community Supreme Potentate"). And his nefarious plans to take over the earth include the standardization of the world's currencies and languages, global disarmament (requiring our heroes to stockpile weapons, militia-like, in order to stand up to Satanic forces), and a peace treaty in the Middle Fast. …