By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
THESE PEOPLE LIVE AMONGST YOU
These people live amongst you: the Air Force pilots and accountants and musicians and housewives and students and artists and jes' plain ol' folk who stood outside Ocean Hills Community Church in San Juan Capistrano last Friday evening, waiting for the End Times. Each had paid $59 to attend "Steeling the Mind," a two-day conference that annually brings together speakers who address Christendom's most pressing subjects: UFOs. March 20. Book plugs. Humanism. Israel. Evolution.
"This is my first time here. How about you?" one Bob asks another Bob as they enter Ocean Hills' sanctuary. Each Bob wears a leather jacket to guard against the February chill.
"Third time," Bob tells Bob. "I always come out so energized." Bob goes on to explain to Bob how the last conference taught him Israel is the key for the Second Coming of Jesus.
"You know, there was about 6 million Jews that died in the Holocaust," Bob tells Bob. "Right now, the population of Israel is about 5.2 million." Bob pauses. "You just have to wonder. God is so exact in his numbers. I wonder if He's just waiting his time before he allows the fulfillment of the gentiles."
THE GREAT DECEIVER
The Ocean Hills sanctuary is sparsely decorated. A piano, drum kit, keyboard, podium and fake palms stand on the stage. Two big screens hang above; they flank a massive red-white-and-blue "Steeling the Mind Bible Conference" banner. An American flag sits on the floor to the right of the stage; to the left is the Christian flag: white field, blue canton and red cross. Two pillars near the stage's stairs feature Scripture: Revelations 4:11 ("You are worthy to receive glory, honor and power") and Psalms 95:6 ("Come let us worship Him and bow down").
Ocean Hill's seating capacity is 1,120, but demand for the "Steeling the Mind" conference is so great that people stand toward the back. Almost everyone carries note pads and materials handed out by ushers. A pamphlet lists the weekend's speakers. Inside is an order form—anyone who orders one of the weekend's lectures on tape, CD or DVD gets a free poster of the Empty Tomb, the tomb from which Christ rose on the third day. Another flier advertises a pendant etched with the Empty Tomb ("Anyone can wear a cross . . . but only a Believer will wear the resurrection!") and Ahava, an Israeli hand cream. "This stuff is awesome!" the flier boasts. "Just about everything in Israel flows to the Dead Sea . . . Everything from Jerusalem, everything from Galilee, all the sacrificial blood, everything. Now thousands of years later, they're making hand cream out of the minerals from the Dead Sea. And it's making people smile BIG TIME."
Ahava usually sells for $23 a tube; "Steeling the Mind" attendees can get it for $10.
The conference begins. Andy Day, a Christian pastor from Idaho, walks onto the stage with a guitar. He asks everyone to stand and sing "Come, Now Is the Time to Worship":
"One day every tongue will confess you are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still, the greatest treasure remains ?for those
Who gladly choose you now."
Bill Perkins thanks Day. He's the president of Idaho-based Compass Ministries, which runs the "Steeling the Mind" franchise. For the past decade, Compass Ministries has specialized in offering seminars for premillennial dispensationalists (also known as Christian Zionists), a unique subgenre in the fractured world of Christianity. Believers think not only that the End Times are imminent, but that Israel as a nation must exist in order for the Second Coming to happen. Believers have the ear of the Bush White House.
"Steeling the Mind" has visited Orange County every year since 2002, but 2006 is the first time a local church has sponsored it. Perkins, who looks like a slightly chubbier Bill Gates and talks in the same slow manner, thanks Ocean Hills for hosting them and repeats the weekend's speakers. When he utters some of the names—Chuck Missler, Dave Reagan, Kent Holvind—the audience murmurs in excitement. "With Missler, you have to hold on to dear life—really brilliant," a middle-aged woman whispers to another middle-aged woman. "You can count on Chuck to scare your socks off. I'm telling my kids to be ready for the End because of him."
Three speakers tonight; tomorrow brings five. First is Mike Riddle, a former Marine Corps captain who now writes for the Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis. Its website declares the ministry's "desire[s] to train others to develop a biblical worldview, and seek to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas, and its bedfellow, a 'millions of years old' earth (and even older universe)."
"No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record," adds the Answers in Genesis mission statement.
Riddle's topic is "UFOs and the Bible." "This very real and present phenomenon IS in the Bible—past, present and future! Great graphics!" Compass' website advertised in the days before the event. But the plug proves misleading.
Riddle begins by citing Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."