Irvin Baxter took a deep breath and surveyed the more than 2,500 faithful. Then, citing biblical text and current events, he voiced a dire prediction.
A raging war will soon incinerate a third of the world’s population.
“Two billion people will die,” said Mr. Baxter, whose fiery oration Saturday in Garland connected a homeland security measure, the Real ID Act of 2005, with Satan’s plan to enslave humanity.
A mushroom cloud appeared on a monitor. And Mr. Baxter said something unexpected.
“Can I pause for just a moment to tell you all something hilarious?”
Mr. Baxter explained how he had asked his wife to read the manuscript of a novel he had written in which Chinese missiles destroy Dallas. His wife objected, though, and demanded that Dallas be spared, so Mr. Baxter sent the nukes to Houston.
It seemed an odd joke, given that most of Mr. Baxter’s listeners expect nuclear holocaust, yet the audience still laughed. That, said several listeners, is the key to understanding Mr. Baxter and his thousands of followers.
“Will there be suffering? Yes,” said Roger Thornhill of McKinney, who went to the rally with his 3-year-old daughter, MaryAnn.
“But I’m not afraid, for me or my daughter, because I don’t think the end is really the end. I just live the best that I can and leave the rest to the Lord.”
Saturday night’s event at the Garland school district’s Special Events Center, designed to build opposition to national IDs, was part of the annual Prophecy conference organized by Garland-based Endtime Ministries, which publishes books and multimedia material based on Mr. Baxter’s interpretations of biblical end-time prophecies.
He and the Rev. Craig Treadwell also co-host a daily radio show, Religion and Politics, heard locally on KVTT-FM (91.7).
Mr. Baxter, 60, pastored a Pentecostal church in Richmond, Ind., for 32 years. His father had been the pastor there for 16 years before him. He moved to Garland last year.
“God talked to my heart,” he said in an interview last week.
When he was 19, he said, he heard a sermon that left him with such a hunger for knowledge that he read the Book of Revelation 19 times in 30 days. He quit his job as an internal auditor to become an evangelist. He studied and prayed all day and preached at night, delivering a sermon almost daily for eight years.
He never went to college or seminary.
“God told me that was not what he wanted me to do,” Mr. Baxter said.
He said he was able to identify three modern nations represented by biblical beasts in the Book of Daniel — England was the lion, the U.S. the eagle and Russia the bear — but the fourth eluded him for a time.
“I woke up one Monday morning and God said, ‘Go buy a newspaper,’ ” Mr. Baxter said. His evangelical travels found him in a small town in Louisiana and a paper wasn’t easy to find. But when he read the headline, he knew he had solved the mystery. “On the front page, it said, ‘Germany sells Leopard tanks to the Netherlands.’ Germany was the leopard.”
Mr. Baxter believes that end-time biblical prophecies are coming to pass.
“We have either just entered or we are just before the beginning of the seven-year period that will end in Armageddon,” he said.
Mr. Baxter operates in the tradition if not the mainstream of American theology.
“There is a long history in the Christian community, particularly in the American church, of interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation as outlining future events,” said Dr. Glenn Kreider, associate professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of Jonathon Edwards’ Interpretation of Revelation 4:1 through 8:1.
But many biblical scholars say most prophecy interpretations are misguided.
“What they do is ignore the question, ‘What could they have meant when written, to whom they were written?’ ” said Dr. Frederick Schmidt, an Anglican priest and associate professor of Christian spirituality at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.
Called to Garland
Mr. Baxter said he felt called to move from Indiana to Garland.
Friend D.G. Hargrove, pastor of North Cities United Pentecostal Church in Garland, said, “I was a voice of confirmation.”
Mr. Baxter isn’t the first to come to Garland to announce the end times; his best-known predecessor traveled farther, from the other side of the world.
In 1997, Hon-Ming Chen and about 160 members of a Taiwanese religious group called Chen-Tao � registered in the U.S. as God’s Salvation Church � bought more than 20 homes in a south Garland neighborhood.
Group members were vegetarians. They dressed in white, wore cowboy hats and drove luxury cars. They reportedly believed that two young boys in their group were the reincarnations of Jesus and Buddha. They told reporters they had come to Garland to watch God come to Earth and take human form at 10 a.m. on March 31, 1998, at the home of Mr. Chen, a former college professor.
“Garland is the land of God,” Mr. Chen was quoted as saying before half his group moved to New York and the rest returned to Taiwan. “It sounds like God-land.”
The city lived up to that name Saturday night, when Mr. Baxter’s roaring audience welcomed him on stage.
The presentation began on a surprising note. Indeed, just before Mr. Baxter denounced government data gathering, he asked listeners to fill out information forms placed on every seat.
Noting the irony, he explained his request on grounds that the speedy fulfillment of biblical prophecy might soon necessitate speedy communication.
“I mean, if we find out the rapture is going to happen in three days, wouldn’t you like us to send you a letter?” he asked
Mr. Baxter then made a pitch for his magazine by noting, after asking for a show hands, that more than three-quarters of the audience expected imminent apocalypse but only a quarter subscribed to the magazine.
“Well, I don’t quite understand this,” Mr. Baxter said. “If you believe you are living in end times, and it would seem, logically, that there is only one magazine for you to subscribe to.”
Fortunately, Mr. Baxter said, the information cards doubled as subscription cards for Endtime, and new subscribers were entitled to a 10 percent discount on Endtime merchandise on sale in the lobby.
June 18, 2006
Richard Abshire and Andrew D. Smith