Name: Dr. Jack Leo Van Impe
Birth: February 1931, Freeport, Michigan
Claim to Fame: Apocalyptic televangelist and self-styled “Walking Bible,” head of the Jack Van Impe Ministries World Outreach Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan
Power Base: Mesmerized television viewers of “apocalypse porn” in 210 TV markets around the U.S., where his half-hour show Jack Van Impe Presents often airs between midnight and 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings
Google Hits: 33,000 hits for “jack van impe antichrist” as of 8/07/06 — although, to be fair, the guy talks a lot about the Antichrist, so the number is probably incidentally inflated.
Merits: “BEWARE OF JACK VAN IMPE,” writes David W. Cloud of the Fundamentalist Baptist Information Service. “He is a deeply deluded and very dangerous man.”
Although it is often true that fundamentalist Baptists and apocalyptic televangelists make very good bedfellows, Jack Van Impe has had a severe falling-out with a large number of people who would otherwise be a part of his natural flock over the past few decades.
A 1952 graduate of the Detroit Bible College (now known as William Tyndale College), Van Impe launched his career as a preacher in the Detroit area — warning about the dangers of rock ‘n roll, alcohol and communism. Eventually, he gained a national following as a traveling, musical “ambassador for Christ,” and later, through his syndicated radio show. As a popular leader among conservative Christians, Van Impe was well-known for his fierce advocacy of “Biblical separation” — the idea that most self-labelled Christian faiths were practicing in error, and that true fundamentalist Christians should isolate themselves from all the “wrong-thinking” faiths.
In the 1970s, however, Van Impe began to undergo an astonishing change of belief when he began to criticize the “appalling lack of love and unity among so many of the brothers and sisters in Christ,” striking an ecumenical chord and even going so far as to refer to Pope John Paul II as a “defender of truth.” As David Cloud observes, “The ecumenical river is running powerfully in the direction of the City on Seven Hills where the old harlot lives (Rev. 17) [i.e. Rome], and if a preacher does not aggressively paddle against the current, he will be swept down stream.”
In addition to Van Impe’s defense of Roman Catholicism, fundamentalist apocalyptics are suspicious of the following:
- Van Impe has lashed out at other apocalyptics. In 2005, for example, after Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Van Impe compared Robertson to Osama bin Laden, and called for Robertson to recant not only the Chavez remark, but also Robertson’s expressed hope that a Supreme Court justice would die and pave the way for a pro-life Court majority.
- Van Impe proclaims that Islam is a peaceful religion — much to the profound irritation of apocalyptics. In March 2003, according to Todd Stranberg of RaptureReady.com, Van Impe “all but declared Islam to be equal to Christianity.” Detractors point out that Van Impe has been praised by the Islamic Supreme Council of America for his “fairness,” and that in September 2004, Van Impe exhorted his viewers to “thank God for the Muslims who are preaching love.”
- The surname “Van Impe” is a Dutch-Flemish name which is believed to be derived from the old German word “impfen,” or “to graft.” By the 1400s, it was common to use the word “imp” to refer to “a child,” but it was even more common a century later to use the word to refer to a “child from hell,” or, the “spawn of Satan.” These days, “imp” is generally accepted to mean “fiend,” “evil creature” or “small demon.”
- Finally, Jack Van Impe is known to play a mean accordion — which, if it is not considered to be the devil’s instrument, it certainly should be.
Still, in all, J-Vim continues to host his weekly TV show with gusto, his slightly creepy amanuensis Rexella sitting by his side. (David Futrelle in Salon described Rexella thusly: “Prim and cheerful, with permed blonde hair and a Home-Shopping-Network fashion sense, Rexella speaks of the end of the world as calmly as if she were announcing a potluck.” Hard to beat that kind of prose.) He ebulliently quotes bible verses and interprets news stories with an eye towards showing that the Rapture, Armageddon and the Second Coming are just around the corner. He himself now seems to favor the theory that the EU is the Antichrist. He had seen, in the 1979 energy crisis, signs of an apocalypse that could have occurred as early as 1980; in the years leading to 2000, however, he was fairly Y2K-obsessed, predicting widespread catastrophes associated with the turning of the millennium, and he was also fond of saying that Bill Clinton was the “End of Times President.” Since then, in general, Van Impe has shrewdly kept his viewers on the edge of their seats, refusing to make an outright prediction of the date of the end of the world.
Quay Fortuna’s Analysis: Within the provincial world of apocalyptic fundamentalist Christians, Jack Van Impe’s turnabout from “Biblical separation” was a cutting and treacherous blow, and the sense of outrage over it tends to make Van Impe out to be a much more important character to the fundamentalist community than he really is to the rest of the Earth.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be just like the Antichrist to keep calling attention to the impending apocalypse, mollifying us with the right hand of anticipation while the left hand, while we’re not paying attention, grasps us firmly by the windpipe and clenches down hard? Yes, he’d be giving us false dates and false antichrists high and low, wouldn’t he? And the more clever among us would see right through it, by employing that one time-honored, tried-and-true rule — “He who smelt it, dealt it.” Ultimately, that is one law of nature that is difficult to argue with.
So, yes, there are some compelling arguments that Jack Van Impe might be the Antichrist. In my own humble opinion, however, if it were true — well, I must say I would’ve expected that the Antichrist would have a more hip haircut, wear nicer suits, and have a better time slot on the tube.