Rapture Right: How to get the Good kind of Bad PR

Publicists should take lessons from the Rapture Right. In lieu of the humdrum press release, branded tchotchkes or complimentary tickets, the purportedly hardcore, right-wing Christian duo simply threaten boycotts. Responses from the media run the gamut from “Huh” to bona fide alarm and even the occasional 700-word column in an alternative-news-weekly.

The post-goth garbed Rapture Right represent the vanguard of contemporary ultra-conservative religious activism. Their public relations arsenal brims with all order of contemporary messaging tools — social media profiles and educational videos on YouTube as well as original music and forays into public protest. Of course, their penchant for pedantry and relentless religiosity keeps the ranks small. Their total headcount numbers two — just enough to enjoy one of the more elaborate inside jokes to be conceived, immaculately or otherwise, in Sonoma County.

As the Rapture Right, the doctrinaire duo Timothy and Trevor Christian position themselves, among other things, as “a hardcore Christian electro-goth band that has been writing music for God through God for God to listen to for the past couple of years.” Doff the pageboy do’s and pancake makeup and they’re Glen Stewart and Daniel Walker, respectively, whose métier is an arresting hybrid of performance art, activism and satire that raises eyebrows — and sometimes fists.

Like their corporate counterparts the Yes Men (the consummate culture-jammers who don blue-chip personae and wreak havoc on major media advancing dubious agendas in the name of capitalism) the Rapture Right similarly deconstruct the codifications of a particular social paradigm to both edify and entertain.

Like magicians or conmen (the most convincing performers are often both), the Rapture Right has also honed the art of misdirection. Their joke isn’t necessarily on the conventional God-fearing folk to whom the Rapture Right might represent some kind of dyed-black apotheosis. Rather, their targets are the comparatively silent voices in the religious debate — agnostics and atheists — whose activism often ends with the application of a “Co-Exist” bumper-sticker on their car.

In the past decade, there have been a few occasions in which secular interests mustered effective commentary in comedy, the most successful example being the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Created by Oregon State University physics grad Bobby Henderson, the absurd deity was a protest against the Kansas State Board of Education, which had permitted the instruction of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public schools circa 2005. Henderson’s gambit was that the description of an “intelligent designer” was vague enough to include his “Pastafarian” theory of creation and should likewise be taught in science classes.

Later, Bill Maher made waves with his pro-secular documentary Religuous (naturally, the Rapture Right boycotted it and were featured on the film’s website after Stewart phoned its distributor and claimed to be covering the boycott for a local daily metro). What distinguishes the Hail-Mary-pranksters is the personal peril they put themselves in while confronting secular humanists, a group with which they both identify philosophically. In a way, they’re martyrs.

According to Stewart, real Christians tend to shy away from the Rapture Right. “They’re either afraid when they see it or they’re embarrassed when they see it, so they stay away altogether — 90 percent of the people who email us are secular who are so outraged, yet, they don’t get it, they didn’t see the satire and they’re just so mad.” Stewart added, “It’s nice to see that happen because it’s actually motivating them.”

Ironically, it was one of the non-believer brethren that confronted them during a recent mock protest of a Santa Rosa BP station. While shouting “Calm down!” through a bullhorn and brandishing signs that read “Real Christians support BP,” the Rapture Right was approached by an irate, self-identified atheist who was filling up his jeep. Appalled by their antics, the man assailed the performers for touting, among other notions, that “Oil is natural.”

“I said you should be driving a hybrid, you know, you shouldn’t even be here,” Walker recounted.

Throughout, neither Stewart nor Walker broke character, not even when the police arrived after the atheist aggressively knocked the video camera from Walker’s hands. As he later remarked, “It’s a lifestyle for us.”