Paranoia in the Church: A firsthand account
I couldn't really say why I "had" to write this - pacing around, typing into a phone - (I stared at a blank page for some time, then gave up on the idea of using the computer for this like some sort of professional) - while the mother of all storms dumped water, hail, and snow all over this part of the country.
I wonder about the audience that might find this - I can imagine a Venn diagram of different reactions. People who were raised secular, in small or large churches. Those who may find what I write surprising, then the jaded or cynical, who will soon be thinking: "...well, what did you expect?"
Years ago, a sort of petty scandal broke out at a church I used to go to. This place was already popular with around 4000 attendees each week, but the pastor's ambition was to continue growing the church beyond that. Maybe he could secure the church's future generations from now - "church attendance may be down nationwide, but ours survived thanks to this man," our descendants would say.
Outside consultants were hired. Their opinion: the word "Baptist" would have to go. Not the theology, just the name. All the big churches are non-denominational these days. Studies must've showed the average church-goer no longer particularly cared whether their pastor adhered to the theology of believer's vs infant baptism - or worse - they associated the name with the Southern Baptists Convention.
Some took notice when he gave a canned sermon, (presumably ghostwritten for megachurch pastors.) Others were dismayed by the favoritism he showed towards the band over the choir. Some of the senior members started feel like they were being deliberately ejected, and looked for different churches to attend.
Although I stopped being a regular churchgoer, I still had indirect contact with a few of those old members, (maybe they still remember me as the kid who made pots of coffee). So one day - as a result of everything I mentioned above - I got a recommendation to attend a place called Calvary Chapel, a church found somewhere in Chino Hills.
Not wanting to be out of accordance with the godhead of the universe, I decided to go.
Calvary Chapel is large - they boast 10,000 attendees each week. They're proudly non-denominational, which for those who don't know, is short for "you have to watch every sermon to discover the kaleidoscope of heresies the pastor endorses." The creed of such churches in actual practice, is whatever opinions the pastor came up with while reading a stack of 20th century apologetics. But this isn't really a story about denominations.
Every week, the church fills up completely, and then keeps filling up some more. If you came on time, you were already too late. The parking lot was full, and people had to drive blocks away to a strip mall or a Walmart, throw on their coats and cross the streets in pious herds. Inside there were no pews, instead hotel convention-style chairs were tightly packed together. The overflow crowd was redirected to separate rooms to watch the sermon on video.
The pastor's name is Jack Hibbs. There isn't much I could find about him. He is in his 60s, (I keep checking because he looks younger), has already been called a "creep" before in print, (I found that out later), is popular enough to be difficult to reach if you're not in his inner circle, and if you want to know who he voted for, he'll tell you on his Facebook profile.
I came once and only saw the choir. I was almost late, and overdressed. (Hibbs is a jeans and denim jacket-type.) The tinny speakers carrying the music in the back reminded me of the bare-minimum sort of speakers you'd find on an office PC. On Wednesday I got to see an actual sermon.
He said he was going to talk about signs of the end times. I was momentarily distracted, otherwise I would have caught a mention of Charlie Kirk, who Hibbs would be co-preaching with in a future sermon. That's a name I recognized, but couldn't remember why. There were probably dozens of Charlie Kirks in the country anyway... Nope, same guy. Just three days later the top search results for Charlie Kirk were about a recent quote of his: "someone should've just took care of it the way we used to take care of things in the 1950s or '60s" - a reaction to trans people in the NCAA.
Hell of a first exposure to someone. It's not like I go into churches expecting to see people with blue hair and dumb-sounding degrees, but I was sort of expecting a church in the sunny state of California to have an anti-cross-burning stance.
Knowing this I was only a little surprised when, around the same time, one of Hibbs' YouTube channels was suddenly suspended - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The sermon began with a rapid fire succession of several verses: Matthew 24:1-4, Jeremiah 29:8, Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 John 3:7, Acts 1:4-11, Jeremiah 29:8. The gist of all that was that Hibbs had looked for any verse outside Revelations that might be related to the End Times, also ones warning you not to be deceived. These verses were thrown up on a screen, quoted, then just as quickly dropped.
"Quote scripture - in context" he said at one point, the irony being lost on him.
I wasn't familiar with the myriad of end-times theories, except that they tended to be wrong, given enough time. "No man shall know the hour," but people keep trying. Premillennialist, Postmillennialist, what did any of that even mean? You have to go out of your way to learn this stuff, a preacher isn't going to tell you.
He lined up his first pieces of evidence that we were indeed in the End Times: 2000 years having passed since Christ (significant in itself, I guess?), the re-existence of Israel as a nation - "They'll come back and unbelieve," Hibbs said. "Most of them claim to be atheists," a smug expression appeared on his face, "go figure that out." I thought about it. "They don't believe in the god that put them through the holocaust and everything else." - and also that "every nation that seeks to go against Israel, will be destroyed."
To make his point he showed a Fox News article up on the big screens - in 2020 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made an anti-Israel statement. But Iran currently still exists, so I wasn't sure what he was getting at. (I realized much later he must have been talking about COVID.) Perhaps Saddam would've been a better example. Though he hasn't been in the news in awhile.
"Somebody might say, 'you guys believe- you Christians check your brain in at the door when you go into church,'" Hibbs said. "Well I don't know what you're doing somewhere else, but that's the opposite here. You want to come in thinking, Bible open, and knowing history." (There was a small applause.) "Because God is the author of history. And God's the author of the future, that's why the two coalesce perfectly... You may not believe Israel is a viable nation today, but it's enemies do. Their opinion matters, ours doesn't."
The rise of international tensions between the nations was the name of the next section. "It is heating up on a global scale," he said. "You and I living in the west, now we're predominantly occupied with China, Russia, and North Korea. But you're not paying close enough attention to the brink of war between India and Pakistan. Both of them pointing nuclear weapons at each other."
Hibbs was definitely old enough to remember the Soviet Union. The closest they ever got to nuking the Earth into a different orbit back then was in 1983, when the Russians blew up a Georgia congressman and the Americans and Europeans were playing DEFCON 1 wargames while everyone was feeling kind of trigger happy.
Hibbs started talking about the destroyed Chinese weather/spy balloon, a recent news story. Suddenly he went off on a tangent - loosing his breath while his voice cracked - when he reported learning that there was English written on the reassembled parts - "who made the balloon? Did we sell it to them?!"
Then he started talking about the balloons spotted over other countries. "For those of you who are in military - some of you may find this new, it's not new - but China has now threatened to shoot down our balloons that are over China. Yes it's true, we have had balloons over China for a long long time."
Were veterans really blown away by the concept of spying? Somehow I doubted it.
"Balloon balloon balloons, everything was about balloon - and then - there's these things - and we heard comments like, well we're not sure what they are. And then you started to hear, those 3 letters, UFO, UFO, UFO. It's amazing to me how we go from a balloon, to almost UFO panic. And... now out of the woodwork people are reporting UFOs all around the world."
"Note this: you're a Christian, you've got the Bible open, you know your God, you're smarter than the average Bear. You discern things. And so, I want the guys to play this clip, and then we'll talk about it."
Projected onto the screens was the enormous face of Tucker Carlson.
AIR/WATER UFO SEEN OFF SAN DIEGO BY U.S. NAVY.
To the right of Carlson's face was grainy footage of a UFO taken from the USS Omaha, off the coast of San Diego on July 5, 2019. He was commentating.
Somehow I'd stumbled into some some sort of political cartoon caricature of what goes on in Churches. Is Tucker Carlson even a Christian? Well, I looked it up. Apparently he's an Episcopalian but wishes they were around 30x more conservative.
Hibbs reported that a UFO was recorded underwater travelling at a speed over 500 MPH. "That's impossible," he said. "'Well then it's from some other world' - I think it's from some other world all right! But not the world you're thinking of!" He grinned.
A piece of conspiracist lore stored in the back of my brain was dragged kicking and screaming up to the surface. I had heard the demon explanation for UFOs years ago. In fact, I can explain it better than Hibbs can.
Why were abduction stories so depraved? Violating people and doing "experiments" with no possible contribution to science. Aliens that are supposed to have travelled hundreds or thousands of light years, or even greater distances for this? It defies all logic.
Then you have stuff like the "Lam" entity summoned by Aleister Crowley. Aliens that are communicated with telepathically, contacted through astral projection, or described in dreamlike terms.
No time to dwell on that, there was still a sermon - "I believe we are now starting to see on a more 'acceptable level.'" (air quotes) "We are certainly being primed like a pump - to start talking from b- From 4 days we went from balloon to UFO!"
Was he about to drop a reference to Project Blue Beam, I wondered?
"A couple of them are in trouble with their pentagon peers, because they said - 'we may be looking at extraterrestrial activity.' And they've been scolded for that. I would only add this - it's extraterrestrial all right, it's demonic! This is satanic deception! Able to manifest itself enough to be so deceptive that the Bible says in the last days 'don't be deceived!' ... I submit to you tonight, that something has happened in recent times that has opened the door as it were of demonic activity that is now upon planet Earth!" He paused to smile. "Next clip."
Another Fox News video, this time one with Sean Hannity: RYAN GRAVES FORMER NAVY PILOT WHO ENCOUNTERED A UFO. FEW ANSWERS AFTER MILITARY TAKES OUT ADDITIONAL FLYING OBJECTS OVER U.S. AND CANADA.
It's an odd sort of feeling, when you attend a church service and the preacher starts jabbering about demonic tic-tacs playing grabass with American fighter pilots.
"One more with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business which you should watch every Saturday." (Hibbs has his own show on Fox Business.)
"HAVEN'T RULED OUT ANYTHING" GENERAL CONSIDERES EXTRATERRESTRIAL ORIGIN FOR OBJECTS.
Karine Jean-Pierre appeared on screen for a few seconds, causing the audience to instinctively burst out laughing. I wanted to ask what the big deal was, but the person next to me was in a trance of some sort, unable to do anything but mutter insults at the figure on the big screen. Apparently the whole congregation was in on some joke - and I wasn't. And I doubted the explanation could be found by looking into the Bible.
U.S. HAS SHOT DOWN 4 FLYING OBJECTS IN 8 DAYS.
Talking heads with diametrically opposed ties. The headline was referring to General Glen VanHerck, but he wasn't in the clip. Elissa Slotkin (D, MI) appeared giving a statement that there was "no reason to believe this is a UFO."
Hibbs' response: "The general said it. And quite frankly, Elissa Slotkin, for her to say what she said, is ridiculous. She's rebuking a general, and a couple of years ago I think she was working at Baskin Robins."
The audience laughed. (Slotkin was actually recruited into the CIA after graduate school)
"When you have bizarre manifestations across the United States and various parts of the world where, animals have been disemboweled through a little pinhole in the stomach where everything's been sucked out, that's weird. When there's massive burn marks on fields where something landed, that's weird! But it's demonic! It's not from some star cluster behind Andromeda somewhere. It's demonic! ... And I just find it amazing that our culture for decades or longer, maybe a half a century, have been pumping out movies about sci-fi stuff, right? And then all of a sudden 'no it's just a balloon it's just a balloon don't think about it!'"
Alas... another victim of Hollywood.
"It's going to be a great cover for the rapture," he went on, "'the aliens took us away, because we were bad people.'"
I was familiar with this idea too - from a conspiracy theorists website. I could bet even money the idea had come to him from a Facebook post.
The idea that UFOs are the Devil's playful little imps is an interesting enough thought experiment, but Hibbs was utterly convinced of it. I wondered what he would say if, in a few years, the identity of these UFOs turned out to be something else entirely.
What if the whole thing was revealed to just be a big disinformation campaign orchestrated by a bunch of spooks like Elissa Slotkin?
Hibbs was finally moving on from UFOs - this sermon wasn't over yet. The next target of his wisdom was the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, "that delivered life saving natural gas to Europe. And worth billions of dollars to the Russian economy!" He described the pipeline in a great amount of detail. "The United Nations is going to, I hope, hold us accountable."
(The pipelines were already not in use due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine)
The speech was getting more manic. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're in trouble tonight. Nobody wants to play with us anymore. Listen there's people tonight, in Europe, that are regulating their gas to stay warm because they don't have enough, because we messed them up. We've angered Germany, and we made the Norwegans look like idiots! We played them! And oh by the way, to date, when that gas released into the ocean..." He started to ramble more than usual. "...and into the atmosphere..." (more rambling) "...has done more devastation to the environment than something like 200 years of the world's current emissions of CO2. Who did that? Joe, and his Democrat team!"
(Apparently the leak was closer to around 0.14% of "global annual oil and gas industry emissions". Feel free to look this one up and email me with some pedantry.)
"We're looking at facing war on this, and we just made the biggest ecological disaster in human history, because of the buffoonery of these clowns in office - or the goons that are pulling the strings behind. We're being deceived! The nation's been deceived!"
"Just wait 'till he finds out about Nixon" I said to no one in particular. Nobody looked amused though. Hibbs' understanding of politics didn't seem to go any deeper than the handful of characters getting thrust into the spotlight each night on cable TV.
And his obvious fixation with Biden's shadowy cabal of handlers - it could have been made less mysterious if he had looked up who was working on Biden's staff. Come on, why not? He cares about this stuff but not enough to do any research? From what I've heard about the Regan years, Biden probably wasn't setting any new precedents for how hands-off a president could be.
"The only hope for the population within this country," Hibbs said, "is one Christian telling somebody else about Jesus Christ."
"Amen!" someone shouted. The sudden mention of Christ around 45 minutes in must have woke somebody up. I suddenly remembered this was supposed to be a church sermon and not some talk radio show.
"...The US did everything to hide it, and what that guy revealed was so top secret, that we had to own it. And boy," (an especially big grin was on his face), "Laverov, the defense minister of Russia immediately called, a full session of the UN, to condemn the United States."
The idea that Russia had this moral high ground really seemed to delight him. Left unmentioned were the Europeans who would be recieving Russia's not-so life saving supply of 39mm rounds this year.
('Debilitating emotional and mental stress', said the screen.)
According to Hibbs the verses from Luke 21:20-26 were a prediction of the End Times. "This is the second coming stuff. This is nearing the end of the tribulation period people!"
Wait, that stuff already happened. In 70 AD! It was a prophesy that came true after just 40 years.
Hibbs was actually aware of this. "But" he says "it's going to repeat! In a much faster pace-scale, during the tribulation period." What?
He was insistent. Where he's getting this interpretation from, he didn't say.
('Interpersonal Divisions Between one Another' the screen suggested.)
Hibbs then quoted Matthew 10:21. A verse which sounds like it could be about End Times, until you realize it's a chapter of Matthew, not Revelation, and is probably referring to the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire.
Hitler and Stalin were brought up as proof that we were actually living in the times when "children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death." Hibbs doesn't stop there. "Do you realize that if somebody would have said 'if you know somebody who's not vaccinated, you better turn them in-'" he held his thumb and index finger together- "we were that far away from it! Or, what if you didn't wear a mask?"
I had heard a lot of this sort of thing. So when I ended up travelling by airplane in early 2021, I was waiting for the moment when jackbooted armed men would come in to strip me naked and waterboard me until I could produce some paperwork proving I had been vaccinated, but the moment never came. The only unusual thing to happen was that everyone on the plane wore a mask. (My unlucky streak of getting the flu on airplanes was broken that flight - think about it, trapped in a can with all that damned recycled air.)
Hibbs continued. "Even today, when I post something on my social media," (he started to ramble again), "watch how fast a popup comes up and it says something that 'this statement has not been verified', or, 'you need to look up the latest data provided by the CDC.'"
I had to admit that using Facebook did sound like a horrifying and demoralizing experience, although I wasn't aware until then that preachers were being forced to use such a dystopian site against their will.
(the author refused to finish this section, what follows is an unedited transcript)
"There are now children turning in their parents, and child protection are taking the kids away from the parents, because the bonehead teacher put a doubt in the kids head, the kid goes home and tells the mom and dad 'I think I'm a girl', and the mom and dad say 'you're not a girl you're a boy!' where'd you learn that stupid stuff craziness from? Then the kid goes back, innocently tell the teacher, and then the teacher tells the principal, and then- you think I'm making this up? Listen, I'm repeating what some of you have lived- (sentence trails off incoherently) -where child protection services shows up at /your house!/ Because you did not accept their view of themselves. That's happening!" (determined pointing at floor)
Part ? - Unhinged Lawlessness and Violence.
Hibbs lamented the paranoia he must go through on a daily basis, locking his car simply to get gas. The dangers of getting to LAX.
Part XPXPXP - A systematic assault against the nature of God
Genesis 1:24-25. Hibbs puts a great deal of emphasis on the specific word "kind" in the creation story, in the style of young-Earth creationists. (I don't know if he's one himself.) The congregation started laughing at another joke I didn't understand.
"There's no creeping things and cattle getting together," he pointed out. This was getting weird. He calls the next part the "saddest verse in the bible," because the animals in the first chapter of Genesis presumably didn't run off instinctively when they saw a human. Over an hour into this dismal screed and he wanted to let you know he was really the nice Mr. Rogers style of Christian this whole time.
He started to quote verse 27. "So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female-"
Suddenly the entire room burst into applause!
"God said male and female. God said male female-" he started chanting it again and again: Male and female! Male and female! It must have been the greatest verse in the canon! "The Bible already anticipated that too," he said. What?
He paused for a moment while the congregation basked in his enormous intellect and clear-thinking. Apparently after reading Genesis, this was the single most important point he had gotten out of the whole book.
As far as I knew, the existence of intersex people ("hermaphrodites") was never an earth-shattering realization for Christians in the past. But the preacher in front of me was utterly consumed with trending topics and seemingly incapable of producing thoughts outside the current zeitgeist. Every headline on the news retroactively rewrote his whole entire Bible.
Any sermon he gave must've sounded like the ravings of a madman to anyone within earshot who hadn't sold their soul to politics to the same shameless extent.
It wasn't over yet - "If there is no God, then you can have 100 genders," he said.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 was quoted next. "Your kids are being taught- deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons are infiltrating your kids theology, mind and thought process. Listen, you think doctrines of demons comes from rouge pulpits?"
"Yes" I started to say, but I was interrupted. "That's the obvious!" he shouted. An ugly sneer came over his face. "Satan's too smart for that. Hasn't Satan always gone for the children first?"
There would be no self-reflection here. The heavy atmosphere of paranoia and panic was having an effect on me.
I tried to remember all the teachers who had corrupted me back in school, but I couldn't come up with any of the sort Hibbs was describing, just a flat-earther and young-earth creationist.
"What about the increase in cultural and moral depravity?" Through the power of divine insight I could see where this sermon would be going soon. But I wasn't ready for it.
"Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22 NKJV) "Isn't that what they say constantly?" Hibbs said, "'you need to listen to me I'm the expert.' We all learn now that 'experts', that term now means nothing anymore." (Now as opposed to the 1967 years since the epistle was written?) "If somebody says 'I'm an expert' just go away. Seriously, I don't want to hear about it."
I almost wanted to agree in some way. Glaringly opaque sources the news, comments sections full of pedants with keyboards who'd breathlessly complain about any politician that had taken a piss without consulting a ballistics expert first.
And yet in the context of this sermon, Hibbs was openly declaring that it was impossible to reason with him. He's already learned it. Everything he says is The Truth, end of story, doesn't want to hear it! Go away!
Where had he learned it?
Actually, it didn't seem like he had any problem quoting "experts", but when he did this they didn't seem to be real quotes.
"Ask Ted Bundy - well you can't now - Ted Bundy said he started out looking at his mom's underwear catalogue. and he went through every form of porn of pornography, then every form of prostitution, and then every form of sexuality, and none of it eventually could get him excited, until he was murdering somebody during the act. Ted Bundy."
This one I had heard before also. The "fetish begets every other fetish plus sexuality" theory one sees bouncing around on imageboards. (I wondered which one Hibbs was an avid reader of.) This sort of random speculation posturing as The True Knowledge is something I had genuinely come to despise awhile ago.
I was on the verge of suddenly leaping onto the stage in an uncontrollable fit. Coincidentally, I found out another person who had been invited to attend that day had once lived a quarter-mile from 5 of the Bundy victims. I can only imagine what it was like to get pulled 45 years back in time and fed such a simplistic message, but his mood later seemed downright mutinous.
He had it all figured out, didn't he. It was those goddamn sleazy porno mags that made Bundy butcher 30+ women and change his sexuality(?)!
"...The penalty for which their error which was due" Hibbs had found the next victim for his sermon. "The female doesn't receive female protein, in the lesbian act."
"What the hell is he talking about?!" I exclaimed.
"But the male receives male protein. And that male protein within the male, immediately the receivers immune system goes on high alert - I mean - it just goes into full battle array! Foreign protein! Attack, attack! That's why people who practice homosexuality, have such short life spans, is because, on the male side, is because, they predominantly die of - colds and flus!" He smirked and stifled a laugh. "Eventually because they have no more immune system! Because their body fought their whole time together, other male protein."
I tried to remember which neo-Nazi had told me this bombshell of wisdom before.
As far as I can tell, this sort of rhetoric came roughly 30 years ago when everybody was lying about AIDS, and since then it had mostly disappeard as the human kind evolved good taste and a sense of decency. Although you can still find the idea floating around.
"Dr. C. Everett Koop wrote in his findings when he was surgeon general of the United States - I believe - help me out - under Regan maybe?" (Where the fuck did they find these people?! Under the great pastoral rock?) "Dr. C. Everett Koop said - ladies listen up - girls - if you receive protein from a male, it stays in your metabolism, in your body for 7 years."
If that sounds like a strange thing for a surgeon general to- ah fuck this! I'm not looking this shit up too! Instead I found a quote from real C. Everett Koop, who said "at least a dozen times I pleaded with my critics in the White House to let me have a meeting with President Reagan. Too many people placed conservative ideology far above saving human lives." Right-wingers at the time criticized Koop for daring to suggest people wear condoms. Hibbs would have been roughly 30 when all of this was happening.
"One sex partner, one night stand, 7 year deposit, inside of you, working through your - immune system. What if it happens twice a year, two different people? You're killing yourself; You'll die." He smiled like a wise sage.
I was beginning to feel like a pinned insect. The situation was getting desperate. I was in a sanctuary filled up with some utterly paranoid goons. Everybody in here thought I was public enemy number one, they reviled me more than Satan and were happy to cave in my head if I started acting too different.
Secret demons and institutional cabals... after hearing enough of this it was enough to make you question your own sanity. Personality hijack; mindless fear and depravity! This siren-call, blow years of your life away and get nowhere. The thought of having the stuff forced down my throat every week made me sick.
As I staggered out in the middle of the sermon he started quoting out of a Breitbart article. Images of Baphomet filled up the screens.
I knew my visit was only scraping the surface of this whole mess. How many Jack Hibbs there were out there, preaching to a collective audience of millions? Why would anyone bother going out to picket Westboro Baptist church when their brand of preaching could be found in Left Coast USA? (This was a state which I have been assured many times, is a liberal hell-on-Earth which was destined to one day sink into the Pacific when the Big One finally hit.)
It was enough to demoralize you about the whole system. Hibbs was stupid enough to get his YouTube channel suspended, but there were many more preachers who had cushy gigs as televangelists. Like that guy Kenneth Copeland, who always looked like a demon wearing a costume made out of human skin.
Hazy words were swept out of the sanctuary. "A lot of people are departing, you see all the data all the stats, don't worry!"
"...don't worry about that!"