ATLANTA (BP)–The possibility of widespread computer malfunctions or computer crashes at the year 2000 could usher in historic evangelism opportunities, say two evangelicals who have written books on the increasingly discussed “Y2K problem.”
Because many computer programs use two-digit endings for dates, computers may interpret the upcoming turn-of-the-century “00” to mean 1900.
Warning signs already have surfaced, according to Mike Hyatt, vice president of Thomas Nelson Publishers and author of “The Millennium Bug: How to Survive the Coming Chaos.” His book lists such problems as:
— In Honolulu, the Hawaii capital’s electric utility recently ran a series of tests on its power grid to see what would happen come Jan. 1, 2000, and the system stopped working.
— Visa had to recall some credit cards with expiration dates into the next millennium, since machines reading them thought they had expired in the early 20th century.
— In Britain, a company’s computers mistakenly ordered the destruction of tons of corned beef it believed was more than 100 years old.
“When you get right down to it, the Year 2000 problem is not a technological problem,” he writes in his book, which sold 90,000 copies in two months after its release.
“We know exactly what the problem is, and we know how to fix it. We just don’t have enough time. The job is too big, and we are starting too late.”
Shaunti Feldhahn, whose “Y2K: The Millennium Bug — A Christian Perspective,” will be released in November by Multnomah Publishers, agreed.
“It’s important for people to understand this is not a technical issue,” said the Y2K consultant and former Federal Reserve employee. “In 1990 it was a technical problem. Now it’s a time and resource problem, which makes it a public policy and Christian issue.”
While few agree on the exact scope and impact of the problem, the situation has spawned dire warnings, more than 40 books and considerable attention from the U.S. government.
In mid-July, for example, President Bill Clinton said he would propose federal legislation to limit liability for companies sharing possible solutions that later prove faulty.
A week later, the U.S. Senate began hearings on the medical industry’s efforts to repair potential computer glitches. Last year, a British government study predicted between 600 and 1,500 deaths in England related to Y2K problems, according to a report in USA Today.
In a recent speech, Sen. Robert Bennett, R.-Utah, chairman of the Senate’s special committee on Year 2000 technology problems, outlined three areas of concern.
In addition to problem software, countless numbers of computer chips are embedded in everything from refrigerators to automotive manufacturing equipment, he said. There is also the problem of computers receiving faulty data through widespread networks, he added.
Noting a friend said the situation parallels the Tower of Babel, Bennett said after Jan. 1, 2000, modern nations also may be unable to talk to each other via vast computer networks.
“I am hoping … we use the opportunity to take the remaining (time) to see to it that when we get to New Year’s Eve 1999, we can look back and say that we were facing something as serious of the Tower of Babel, but we have — as a nation and as a world — faced up to that,” he said.
Despite some ominous warnings, Hyatt and Feldhahn believe Christians should not shrink with fear from the possibilities.
“One of the verses that has stood out to me is 2 Timothy 1:7, that God has not given us a spirit of fear,” said Hyatt, who lives in the Nashville, Tenn., area. “As Christians, there is no reason to panic. God is still on the throne and we do have a responsibility to trust him.
“He has given us a spirit of power. So as impotent as we may feel in the face of this crisis, by the spirit of Christ indwelling us, we can meet this challenge.”
Hundreds of churches across the nation already are gearing up for a variety of scenarios by forming Y2K task forces, he said. Three are located in the Nashville area.
In metropolitan Atlanta, a coalition of several hundred churches plans to host a community forum Sept. 12. Among the speakers will be Larry Burkett, radio commentator, author and founder of the nationally known Christian Financial Concepts ministry, and Jim Lord, a computer programmer and former contractor for the Department of Defense.
Dunwoody Baptist Church, a suburban congregation, will host a pastors’ planning meeting regarding the forum on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Feldhahn, president of a new nonprofit organization, Joseph Project 2000 based in Atlanta, said she hopes the forum will serve as a model for other communities and “light a fire” under the church.
Christians need to take this dilemma seriously, she said, but many shrug it off as a technical problem that Microsoft founder Bill Gates will fix.
“It’s absolutely an incredible opportunity for the church,” she said. “There needs to be a Christian response, globally.”
For her forthcoming book, Feldhahn interviewed such evangelical leaders as Burkett, Henry Blackaby, special assistant to the presidents of three SBC agencies; “700 Club” host Pat Robertson and financial consultant Ron Blue.
Most of her book is devoted to a Christian response to the situation, she said. Generally, those interviewed agreed on three major issues:
1) The need to become aware of the situation and prepare for it. While our job is not to predict the future, we should be ready to face it, she said.
2) The need for Christian leadership and service. This is the church’s chance to be a shining light on the hill, she said. Thus, it is important that believers remain in cities and other areas where trouble may occur, she emphasized.
“Larry Burkett said, ‘Why does God raise up an army if in fact the army quits when the battle starts? That doesn’t make any sense. God put us here to lead people to the Lord.'”
3) There may be a twofold message in this crisis. One, that God will use it to remove our focus from modern idols of technology and self-sufficiency. Also, it may represent his judgment.
The latter will not be aimed at the world, she said. In her discussion with Blackaby, he pointed out that in the Bible the Lord’s judgment usually fell on the church.
“Christian divorce and our rate of abortions are just as high as the world’s,” Feldhahn said. “We mirror all of the problems of society. It is not unthinkable that judgment could be coming on us.”
Walker is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky.