Fear prompts end-time fanatics to push political agendas
My hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan teems with churches. It justifiably prides itself on being a church-going city. At the end of the street where I grew up, radio preacher Richard De Haan predicted that Christ would shortly come again earth. On his Radio Bible Class, teacher De Haan assured Christian boys like me who became teens in the early 1960’s that we would never make it to our 21st birthdays. Christ would return, sweeping us up with other believers into the clouds, before calamity struck on earth. DeHaan broke away from the educated biblical tradition in which I was raised. He said that my religious folk said too little about how God would wind up the ages. My people thought that DeHaan, who charmed radio land listeners with precise details about how the world would end, suffered from spiritual delusions.Across the street from his modest broadcasting studio was located a big bread company. These were the days when the Lone Ranger rode across tiny black and white TV sets. Somehow the bread company struck a mother lode of publicity by inviting Clayton Moore, who portrayed the Lone Ranger, to make a guest appearance. The Lone Ranger assured youngsters like myself that he wore a mask in search of truth and righteousness. He valiantly fought for good against bad guys. I thought that De Haan, with far-fetched predictions he said the Bible made clear, was a religious Lone Ranger, of sorts. He masked the truth of what the Bible surmises about when the world will end. I don’t doubt DeHaan’s sincerity. But he was sincerely wrong.De Haan taught that God divided history into seven distinct periods, “dispensations” was the fancy word he used. The last dispensation will open the door to the rapture when Jesus airlifts believers into heaven while hell breaks loose on earth. Armageddon would be fought near Jerusalem, promised De Haan. Millions would be slaughtered in this battle within Israel. Then Christ will return to Jerusalem to set up shop for a millennium, an actual thousands years. Christ, with his raptured believers alongside, will delight in dishing out death to the wicked still surviving. The Millennium will usher in a new heaven and earth, a heavenly place where believers will live without the wicked.De Haan filled in this broad picture with a myriad of details. He offered a nifty proof text to back up each claim.What’s curious is that De Haan never mentioned Iraq in his end-time predictions. He had little to say about the Palestinians. This is because in the early 1960’s conservative Christians obsessed with God’s plans for civilization’s future glossed over Iraq and the Arabs as the enemies. The colossal enemy for them, from whom the Antichrist would arise, was the Soviet Union. Pat Robertson regularly features prophetic teaching on his 700 Club. He taught that Russia was Christianity’s worst enemy. Robertson believed the godless bully Russia roamed over the world acting like a ferocious bear. Here was the ominous “foe from the North” the Bible targeted, ready to invade Israel and destroy it. Robertson, even into the 1980’s, detailed how the Soviet Union and the new European Union were the major players shaping end-time calamity. He hated negotiating disarmament treaties with the Soviets because that would wreck their notoriety as the Antichrist’s minions. Robertson never wavered in support of Israel against the Red Empire. He predicted that Jesus would come again by the end of 1982.With the 1995 rise of the Left Behind publishing mania selling over 70 million copies, the script has changed. Evil Iraq and the murderous Arabs are now the bad guys, replacing the Soviet Union and their atheistic legions. The one constant in this religious fantasy is the state of Israel. Robertson and Hal Lindsay, who wrote the Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970’s, key on Christ’s words: “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that the summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that [the Second Coming] is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:32-24). DeHaan, Robertson and Lindsey do not doubt that the fig tree is state of Israel.Nancy Gibbs is a leader in Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church where I once worked. She also writes cover stories for Time Magazine. Gibbs pointed out in Time’s July 1, 2002 lead story “Apocalypse Now” that these end-time biblical scenarios have a clear political agenda. The Bible is used as a cover to poke at threatening political trends. End-time soothsayers like De Haan, Lindsey, Robertson, plus Left Behind creators LaHaye and Jenkins, care less whether their dicey interpretations are accurate. They use the Bible to knock down political giants who make them anxious.Writes Gibbs, “To some evangelical readers, the Left Behind books provide more than a spiritual guide: they are a political agenda. When they read in the papers about the growing threats to Israel, they are not only concerned for a fellow democratic ally in the war against terror; they are also worried about God’s chosen people and their fate of the land where events must unfold in a specific way for Jesus to return.”Americans dived into nuclear bomb shelters in the 1950’s. We feared Russia. Stalin acted like the Antichrist. Now we fear because shelters can not save us from terrorists. Ditsy bible teachers on the Religious Right take the same texts De Haan used against the Russians and find Iraq written all over them.The Left Behind devotees who identify with the Religious Right are fearful. They shun coherent biblical interpretation because fear turns their minds into silly putty. They rely on faulty end-time predictions to legitimize political agendas. The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax exempt CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95. Vail, Colorado
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