February 12, 1999
Pastor Mike Perkins is preaching about sewer systems. He's explaining what to do if they don't work. He suggests that trash bags and 5-gallon paint buckets make fine porta-potties. And don't forget to sprinkle on some quicklime or Bio Green to keep things sanitary. Cost: $20.
"I never in my life thought I'd be talking about such things in church," says Perkins, inserting an apology into his no-nonsense talk about medical emergencies, food storage and home defense.
Nearly 100 people braved a rainstorm recently to hear his second of three seminars at Son Light Church in Orange. The topic: how to prepare in case widespread computer problems occur on Jan. 1, 2000, and the lights go out, the sewers fail and food is scarce - as some fear will happen.
Over the years, churches like Son Light have quickly jumped in to take leadership roles in times of community emergency. But for some, preparing for potentially serious computer-generated breakdowns is another matter.
Many church leaders such as Perkins see a need to help their congregations get ready for any computer-generated service problems. But many others are just beginning to grapple with with what role, if any, they should be playing.
"Many pastors feel they are in a Catch-22," says Laurence Weinstein, regional coordinator of the Joseph Project 2000. The national ministry helps churches steer through the murk of Y2K. It was an outgrowth of a Y2K meeting 30 Atlanta churches held last fall.
Weinstein notes that some church leaders see Y2K as a technical problem that doesn't concern their mission and won't have any societal impact. Others worry that Y2K talk might brand them fearmongers.
Still others want to avoid getting sucked into a theological quagmire.
Y2K has taken hold mostly among Christians, partly because of their distinctive belief in messianic predictions of the end times.
Y2K, for some, dovetails naturally into such millennial theology.
Some of the most vocal messengers believe that Y2K and the dawn of the millennium are part of biblically prophesied signs that will precede Christ's Second Coming.
Evangelist Jerry Falwell is typical of those messengers. He has a video on the millennium bug and has predicted that through Y2K, God may be preparing "to confound our language, jam our communications, judge us for our sin ... ."
Another is Gary North, a Reconstructionist Christian and director of the Institute for Christian Economics. His Y2K Web site has become a haven for those who think the Y2K solution is to buy grain and gold coins and head for cabins in the hills.
The FBI has waded into the theological fray, warning that extreme cultists might react irrationally to Y2K and their own doomsday prophecies. The remarks were sparked by the Denver-based apocalyptic group Concerned Christians, which was kicked out of Israel for planning suicide on the Mount of Olives.
In this climate, some mainline churces have gone out of their way to make their beliefs clear.
The Lutheran Church in America issued a statement warning the faithful to dismiss "wild prophecies."
The General Council of the Assemblies of God warned that alarmist tactics conflicted with the teachings of Jesus. They nixed hoarding food, withdrawing bank accounts and "believing the doomsday scenarios expecting social collapse of Western civilization."
The problem is that no one really knows how bad Y2K problems will be. Computers run everything from electric power grids to cash machines to air-traffic systems. Years ago, to save space, computer programmers used the two last digits of dates to represent years.
When the year 2000 dawns, some computers will misread the date as 1900. Governments and businesses have been working to correct the problem. Experts are mixed on whether this problem - called Y2K as a shorthand for year 2000 - will cause minor glitches or chaos or something in between.
That two societal kingpins - science and religion - are so closely linked in the Y2K issue is not lost on those studying it.
"Datapocalypse" is what San Francisco writer Erik Davis calls it.
"It's ironic proof of how all our mythical fears have always been bound up with technology," Davis, author of "Techgnosis," said. "However rational science and technology are, however much they encourage us to see ourselves rationally, there is always going to be an aspect of ourselves that technology can't control."
He says: "Technology never does become God."
Months ago, members of the Son Light Church began asking associate pastor Perkins what they should do about Y2K.
Perkins, who "thought it was nothing," did research so he could dispel members' fears. But the more he read government and business reports, the more concerned he became. Finally, he decided to educate himself in emergency procedures and pass them to the congregation in three Y2K seminars.
Though he believes in a Second Coming, he avoided apocalyptic messages and emphasized being prepared. He created a page of Scripture references for his congregation: how Joseph stored grain for famine, how Noah prepared his ark, how Timothy 5:8 says those who don't provide for their families are worse than nonbelievers.
He also told his congregation: "Don't blame me if you are underprepared or overprepared. Make the decisions yourself for your situation."
During one session, there were concerns about home defense.
"How about razor wire around our fence? " someone asked.
"Should we buy guns?"
It's this kind of talk that has scared many pastors from talking about Y2K. But Perkins wants such concerns out in the open where they can be dealt with rationally.
"Even if there were rioters, they aren't necessarily all going to your house," he joked, and then said more seriously, "Having a gun and shooting at paper targets is different than someone shooting back. Don't fool yourself. You have to have a lot of training if you are thinking in that direction. " Most Son Light members are more worried about electric power than they are about firepower. Some plan to buy generators.
Lorraine Cross feels it is her responsibility as a single mother with three kids to "make sure their well-being is assured."
She buys a few extra cans of food each week. "I can't afford to do it all at once, so it's good to start early. "She bought an air mattress, because family members are going to camp at her house on New Year's Eve. She is sharing tips with neighbors. "If I don't use any of it, I'm still prepared for an earthquake."
HANDWRITING ON THE WALL
Diane Auston's living room is piled with emergency provisions - dehydrated foods, straws that filter impurities out of water, bottles filled with homeopathic herbs, water packets that store flat, plastic bags that generate cooking heat when dehydrated meals are inserted.
The former saleswoman felt compelled to act after her pastor, Gary Greenwald of Eagle's Nest Ministries in Irvine, gave a talk on Y2K.
The 53-year-old widow, who has two children, three grandchildren and an ailing mother to worry about, spent the past months combing stores and catalogs to find items to lay away.
She has made Y2K preparation her personal ministry. She wrote a homegrown Y2K tip book, "Nuts and Bolts Solutions," which she is trying to self-publish. She and several prayer partners started a business called "Soaring to the Top. " They visit churches to offer advice on Y2K preparation and take orders for those wanting to buy bulk products.
Biblically, Auston sees Y2K as "the handwriting on the wall for the end times. " Preparing everyone for those tough times is a way to evangelize.
"I believe God wants us to link together like a chain that cannot be broken," Auston says.
Greenwald, her pastor, warned his congregation against what he believes are extremist measures - "buying gold coins and heading for the hills. " But neither does he want them to ignore Y2K "like many churches in our area are doing."
He does not see this preparation as a lack of faith that God will provide. "We have to be realistic. The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and unjust."
But while the belief in Christ's return is a major tenet of the Christian faith, there has never been a consensus on how it will happen. Over the centuries various groups have studied the Bible, especially the book of Revelation, and seen everything from wars to comets as signs heralding Christ's return.
But so, too, has the theology led some groups to conclude that nothing need be done about Y2K. Some believe God will take care of everything, and others subscribe to the apocalypse scenario that includes the rapture: They believe righteous Christians will be spirited away to meet God before great wars break out on Earth between good and evil.
Pastor Leon Hendrix of the Santa Ana First Church of the Nazarene doesn't buy this notion that righteous Chistians don't have to worry about a Y2K response. Hendrix is planning Y2K sermons every Sunday this month. His church runs a food bank and will store items for that use. "God gave us a brain and wants us to use it.
The more people think about what might happen, the better they will be able to handle emergencies."
Pastor Ron Martin of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Orange is addressing Y2K fears in church newsletters.
"We aren't on the side of those who say something big is going to happen in 2000," he said. "Jesus was born between 3 and 6 B.C. So the millennium has already passed us by."
Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, Santa Ana, has avoided any major sermons on Y2K. "Scripture says that if the Lord doesn't keep the city, the watchman wakes in vain. And so we are placing trust in God and playing down the hysteria that is building around Y2K."
Nevertheless, he tackled Y2K on his recent radio show, saying it was prudent to have a few provisions on hand for emergencies, Y2K or others. As for Y2K being a biblical end-times sign, he sees other markers that seem to reflect biblical prophecies more - "things like tensions in the Middle East, national identification cards."
Carmela Treanor, director of the Family Life Department of the Catholic Diocese of Orange, plans no Y2K programs for the 57 parishes.
"We don't believe in doomsday predictions or causing panic," Treanor says. She says the churches already keep emergency rations for earthquakes.
"The millennium is a time of celebration. The pope is calling it the Jubilee Year. There is much to be thankful for."
Pastor Darrell Owens of The Family Church, an Assembly of God church in Anaheim, also keeps supplies on hand for natural disasters. But he does not link Y2K with end times. "Are we so self-focused that because we go to the year 2000, we believe God will get stressed and say the world ends now?"
Y2K OR NOT
Norma Hinkson has been laying away emergency supplies for 50 years - long before the Y2K glitch surfaced.
Since the 1930s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has counseled the faithful to lay away a year's worth of food in case of unemployment or natural disasters. The church owns farms, ranches and regional facilities where produce is canned. The food is kept in scores of Bishop's Storehouses to be used for needy members and worldwide relief.
Long ago, the church's sixth president, Joseph F. Smith, explained it this way: "A religion which has not the power to save the people temporally ... cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually."
With the Y2K debate heating up, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in October told the biblical story of Joseph storing grain for times of famine. Hinckley warned: "It's time to get our houses in order."
Hinkson's garage is certainly in order. Shelves along the long wall bend under the weight of 10-gallon barrels of grains, powdered milk and eggs, Jell-O mix, lima beans, rice, macaroni, homemade jams.
On another wall is a behemoth cabinet. Bins are filled with canned tomatoes, beef stew, peaches, pork and beans, Spaghetti-Os.
Water is stored in closets, on shelves, in the back yard. Two freezers and a refrigerator are also crammed.
She has an electric grinder to make wheat flour. She also has a hand-cranked one, in case power fails. She is thinking about getting a generator.
"We store what we eat and eat what we store," says Hinkson, noting that she continually uses and replenishes for freshness.
She figures she has several years' worth of meals here. But she also has six children and 29 grandchildren, many of whom will gather here if Y2K problems become a reality.
"Spiritually, this kind of preparation puts you at peace," she says. "The Lord wants you to help yourself. I'm just following his plan."
(CHART-LIST) Books and Web sites address Y2K and theological issues
"Techgnosis" by Erik Davis (Harmony, $25)
"Y2K: An Action Plan to Protect Yourself, Family, Assets, Community" by Victor Porlier (HarperCollins, $10.95)
"Y2K: A Balanced Christian Response" by Shaunti Feldhahn (Multnomah Press, $12.95)
Federal government's main site for Y2K news: www.y2k.gov
The Joseph Project 2000, Christian nonprofit group: www.josephproject2000.org
Gary North, Reconstructionist end times theology: www.garynorth.com/y2k
Cassandra Project, a grassroots preparedness site: www.cassandraproject.org
Christian Broadcast Network Y2K updates: www.CBN.org
(CHART-LIST) Upcoming Y2K events, speakers "Countdown to Y2K": Warren Duffy, Christian radio host, and Donald McAlvany, investment adviser and editor of the McAlvany Intelligence Report, are among speakers at this conference to be held 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday at Sequoia Athletic Club, 7530 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park. $59, or $99 per couple.
Santa Ana First Church of Nazarene's Pastor Leon Hendrix will talk about Y2K theology at 10:15 a.m. services Sunday and Feb. 21 and 28. 1500 E. 17th St., Santa Ana.
Joseph Project 2000 preparedness day: The nonprofit national ministry will include religious, government and Red Cross speakers and exhibits. The free event will be held 8:45 a.m.-5 p.m. April 10, at Golden Concourse (Golden Hall), 202 C St., San Diego. Other events are planned. For information call Laurence Weinstein, (650) 573-1233. After March 8, call (619) 445-6778.