Groups address Y2K anxieties

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | WASHINGTON, D.C. | December 23, 1999


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 23, 1999) -- Just as polls were indicating

that public anxiety over Y2K had lessened, the U.S. government issued

new warnings this week about possible terrorist attacks now through

mid-January.

Potential targets include groups gathered at holiday and millennial

celebrations all over the world, the State Department warned. Many

denominational and interfaith services are planned on and around New

Year's Eve, both in the U.S. and overseas.

While a few religious groups are equating Y2K with the end of the

world, many church leaders have been actively trying to separate

millennial fatalism from their theology.

Daniel E. Weiss, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches

USA, addressed the threat of violence. He said: "All Christians

should be wary of writers and commentators who are making an inherent

connection between these computer-related problems and the

fulfillment of biblical prophecy. At best it is well-intentioned but

highly speculative interpretation of Scripture."

"At worst it is the catalyst for fear, self-preservation, and

violence -- none of which are worthy of a people committed to a

loving God," he said.

Even while churches brace for potential terrorist attacks, they are

also addressing their own parishioners' anxiety about terrorism and

trying to combat public perception that all churchgoers believe Y2K

is the end of the world.

Some denominations have served as Y2K information resources for

church members, providing practical tips on Y2K readiness as well as

positive theological reflections. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in

America (ELCA) has created an "AD2K" Web site designed to facilitate

Y2K compliance in local congregations and to inform people about

present and potential future Y2K problems.

Called "AD2K: Helping the ELCA Respond in Faith to Y2K," the site

covers an array of materials from simple definitions of the Y2K

problem to theological statements.

"Whether Y2K turns out to be disruptive or not, we can witness to our

trust in God and our concern for others through our calm faith in the

face of uncertainty and through our generosity towards others," said

AD2K Project Director, Ray Mueller.

Joining the Lutherans in Y2K readiness is the Catholic Relief

Services (CRS) agency based in Baltimore. CRS spokesperson Franne Van

der Keilen said, "We have advised our offices to take necessary steps

-- again depending upon their local assessment -- to ensure that they

can continue to function during any outages.

These include having sufficient cash on hand, up-to-date records,

reduced travel, verifying international communication, and other

minimizing exposure."

When asked about Y2K problems of CRS internationally, Van der Keilen said,

"there are areas of vulnerability relating to transportation --

particularly of domestic food supplies -- and basic services like

electricity, communications and water that may, again depending upon

the location, suffer varying degrees of disruption."

Likewise, United Methodist Committee on Relief spokesperson Thomas

Hazelwood based in Washington, D.C., said he believed the Federal

government is set to handle any emergency that might arise due to Y2K

problems. Internationally, "UMCOR will respond to any international

problem when we are invited to do so by our churches or partnering

agencies."

Hazelwood said he does not anticipate any catastrophic event

occurring because of Y2K related issues.

But the U.S. government, in a statement issued Dec. 22, warned that

"terrorists may be planning to conduct attacks, including against

official and non-official Americans, in and around the New Year

period, from now through mid-January 2000."

Airport security has been tightened, and an investigation is

continuing into possible accomplices of a man arrested in Port

Angeles, WA last week for trying to enter the United States with

nitroglycerin and other potential bomb-making materials in his car.

Some faith-based groups are trying to combat fears of terrorist

attacks by advancing positive theology, by taking security

precautions, and by assuring parishioners that they are ready.

A spokesperson for Church World Service simply put it, "we think

we've covered all the Y2K bases on this end."

President Clinton said last week that the Federal government is 99.9

percent Y2K compliant and "ready for the year 2000." Nevertheless,

the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the President's Council on

Year 2000 Conversion, and the American Red Cross are advising people

to prepare for a Y2K as they would for a three-day snowstorm.

"Everyone should always have on hand the supplies they'd need in the event of

a winter storm or other severe weather," said FEMA Director James Lee

Witt during a Dec. 17 Washington news conference.

Specifically, Witt recommended that people should have on hand a

three-day supply of food and water (one gallon per person per day),

including special foods for the elderly or infants, if necessary.

Also, people need to store nonperishable food and a manual can

opener, and should have on hand emergency supplies such as

flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, and first aid kit.

Whether New Year's Eve brings power outages, terrorist attacks, or

simply a quiet night, Y2K-related problems will not end on Jan. 1,

most experts report.

According to the Gartner Group, a technology research firm, only a

fraction of Y2K problems are expected to occur around Jan. 1. The Y2K

computer bug will continue to be with us in the next millennium. The

group predicts that 55 percent of the problems will occur throughout

2000 and another 15 percent in 2001. This year Americans will only

encounter 30 percent of the problems.

Posted December 23, 1999


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