It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times
In recent years, Pew Research, Time and others have found that almost half of Americans believe that the Second Coming of Christ and the End Times will occur during their lifetimes. Now, conservatives just need to make up their minds about whether this is a good thing. Because while Left Behind series author Tim Lahaye fretted this week that Barack Obama is hastening the Apocalypse, his allies on the religious right have been doing everything they can to make it happen in the Middle East.
A month ago, Lahaye worried that the addition of Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court could be one of the "signs of the times." Now in a Fox News appearance with former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, the man who brought rapture to millions of readers suggested the end could be nigh under President Obama:
LAHAYE: [Obama's Socialism] is going to work against our country, and bring us closer to the apocalypse.
HUCKABEE: Are we now living in the End Times, from your perspective?
LAHAYE: Very definitely governor. I believe that what we see around us, for example the three major issues of our day are the global government, global economy and global religion and those are the three legs of the stool of globalism. And it happens at the same time that Israel just happens to be back in their land for the first time in almost 1900 years. At the same time that Russia and the Islamic nations are getting together - they've never done that in the history of the world - and yet now they're the enemies of this country that God said they'd bring back into the land.
If so, that should be just fine for Mike Huckabee and his friends in the religious right and the Republican Party. As it turns out, many of the leading voices of a major American political party not only look forward to the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ but believe it will come in the form of an End of Days conflict with Iran over the fate of Israel. For them, Armageddon isn't a concern, it's their foreign policy.
Predictions of the fulfillment of biblical prophesy have long been a staple in evangelical circles and the far-right fringe. But what may have been a laughing matter for some became deadly serious during the 2008 presidential election when John McCain sought (and later renounced) the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee.
While Hagee's anti-Catholicism and praise for the divinely mandated role of Adolf Hitler led McCain to throw him under the bus, it is the influential pastor's belief that final the biblical battle against the Anti-Christ will be fought by the United States against Iran that should have frightened Americans most. As Hagee put it in 2006 at the annual gathering of his group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI):
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West...a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
To accelerate that process, Hagee and his allies are doing their utmost the keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on full boil. His organization has not only donated millions of dollars to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It counts among its fellow irredentists two of the frontrunners for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.
As it turns out, Huckabee doesn't merely oppose the consensus around a two-state solution in the Middle East. (Last year, Huckabee proclaimed, "The two-state solution is no solution, but will cause only problems." Previously, he insisted there's "no such thing as a Palestinian.") In Israel to support extremist Meir Kahane acolyte Dov Hikind to raise funds to expand Israeli settlements, Huckabee in August in essence backed de facto ethic cleansing as the answer to Palestinian aspirations for a national homeland - somewhere else:
"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."
"I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."
(As Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic, while Palin "holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel," the minister of the Assembly of God church she frequented believed that "based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation.")
Given the stand-off over the Iranian nuclear program even as the regime faces growing unrest, the need to scrutinize the End Times views of the GOP's leading lights is becoming even more urgent. With the likes of John Bolton, Rush Limbaugh, and Alan Kuperman agitating for military strikes against Tehran, the growing influence of Rapture Republicans is a potentially combustible catalyst.
But these developments are not new. As I wrote back in May 2006 ("Bush, Iran and the Second Coming"), key figures in the radical religious right and their allies in the Bush White House see Israel and end-of-times conflict with Iran as the realization of biblical prophesy contained in the Book of Revelation.
The influence and impact of evangelical thinking and language about the End of Times and divine intervention upon the now departed Bush administration is made clear in books like Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy" and Michael Lind's "Made in Texas." Phillips concludes that George W. Bush is convinced that "God wanted him to be president", a view backed by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who reported, "Among the things he said to us was: I believe that God wants me to be president." As White House official Tim Goeglein once put it, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility."
President Bush himself has not publicly claimed to have a divine mandate. (As Time reported after September 11, however, "privately, Bush even talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment.") But Bush is clear in his belief that God's hand was at work in his presidency. Just last week, Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq, declaring:
"I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free."
During a February 2003 National Prayer Breakfast, the President intoned:
"We can be confident in the ways of Providence...Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God."
During a March 2006 appearance in Cleveland, President Bush brushed aside the question, "Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the Apocalypse? And if not, why not?" While Bush may or may not literally believe that Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ are imminent, his radical right Republican base is another matter altogether. Appearing on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight in March 2006, Kevin Phillips noted that while Bush couldn't publicly state that he literally believes in the biblical prophecy of Armageddon in the Book of Revelations, his conservative Christian allies clearly do:
"A survey by "Newsweek" several years back found that 45 percent of American Christians believed in Armageddon, that it was coming. And about the same percentage thought the anti- Christ was already on Earth. Now, if you were to take the religious Christians, and the Republican coalition includes most of the religious Christians, you probably have about 55 percent of the Republican coalition that believes in this."
By "this," Phillips is referring to the end of times struggle in Israel, the conversion or mass death of Jews with the Second Coming of Christ. As the late Jerry Falwell put it, "scripture is clear on that." (Falwell also told Newsweek's Howard Fineman that he introduced George W. Bush to Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" series on the Second Coming and the Rapture.) That future, as Rod Dreher described it in the National Review several years ago:
"To Jews who adhere to ancient tradition, whose number include religious Israeli nationalists, the long-awaited Messiah will return to become the king of Israel and high priest of a rebuilt Temple, which can only be on Temple Mount. For Christian fundamentalists, Jesus Christ's return at the height of the battle of Armageddon, in which forces of the Antichrist clash in Israel with a 200 million-man army from the East, will require a Third Temple from which the Lord will begin a millennial reign."
The result for Bush's amen corner was what Fineman described as "Apocalypse Politics." That entails above all unswerving support for Israel. Israel is seen as ordained by God, a view held by 44% of Americans, according to a 2003 Pew Research survey. But the evangelical Christian Zionist movement goes further, seeing in Israel "a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus," a belief shared by 36% of Americans in the Pew research. For the Republican religious right, Israel must not only be staunchly supported in its conflict with the Palestinians, but that the conflict itself should be welcomed, even accelerated.
Bush's conservative Christian allies back Israel in both word and deed. Billy Graham and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network offer daily prayers for Israel. For one-time presidential candidate Gary Bauer claimed, "America has an obligation to stand by Israel" because "God has promised that land to the Jewish people." Evangelicals organize pilgrimages and tours of Israel and even provide Jewish settlements in the West Bank with financial support. When the President Bush pressured Ariel Sharon in 2002 to pull back its tanks from towns in the West Bank, the White House received a hundred thousand emails from Falwell's followers and faced the Christian Coalition on Mall in Washington. Bush backed off. As the Village Voice reported in 2004, the Bush White House consulted with rapture Christians before finalizing its policy on Sharon's proposed Gaza withdrawal.
But the friends of Bush are not content to wait for the Second Coming of Christ and with it, the slaughter of the mass of Jews with the conversion of the remaining 144,000. As Falwell suggested, the arrival of the End of Times should be prodded, advanced and cajoled:
"The danger, if there is a danger in believing in the imminence of the Lord's return - and I do, is to become a fatalist, that certain things are going to happen regardless and there's nothing we can do about them. That isn't true."
Nowhere is this desire to accelerate biblical prophecy more on display than in the ongoing effort to breed the symbolic "red heifer." Since the early 1990's, fundamentalist Christians in the United States have been trying to help breed the perfect calf that will signal the Second Coming. As the NRO's Dreher described the biblical role of the red heifer:
"The ashes of a flawless red heifer - an extremely rare creature - were required by the ancient Hebrews to purify worshipers who went into the Temple to pray. In modern times, rabbinical law forbids Jews from setting foot on the Temple Mount, thus violating the site where the Holy of Holies dwelled, until and unless they are ritually purified. Without a perfect red heifer to sacrifice, the Third Temple cannot be built, and Moshiach - the Messiah - will not come."
It's no wonder Haaretz columnist David Landau deemed the red heifer "a four-legged bomb" with the potential to "set the entire region on fire."
But it is John Hagee who is at the bleeding edge of a Christian Zionist movement seeking to accelerate the Second Coming of Christ and the final battle in Israel. Since the 1990's, Hagee and his group CUFI has tried without success to breed that red heifer. As Sarah Posner wrote in the American Prospect, "for Hagee's new project - agitating for war with Iran - his influence over Washington is less important than his influence over his audience." His book Jerusalem Countdown sold over 500,000 copies. And as Posner reported, Hagee is not alone:
Hagee calls pastors "the spiritual generals of America" an appropriate phrase given his reliance on them to rally their troops behind his message. The CUFI board of directors includes the Reverend Jerry Falwell, former Republican presidential candidate and religious right activist Gary Bauer, and George Morrison, pastor to the 8,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, and chairman of the board of Promise Keepers. Rod Parsley, the Ohio televangelist who is rapidly becoming a major political figure in the Christian right, signed on as a regional director.
Just how much influence the likes of Hagee had - and have - over Bush, his foreign policy team and the Republican leadership is open to debate. But as Max Blumenthal and Bill Moyers each reported in 2007, Pastor Hagee counts Washington's hardest of hard liners among his friends and CUFI allies. In October, Moyers described CUFI's annual summit in DC featuring Hagee's friends in high places:
At the recent annual CUFI summit in Washington, D.C., prominent politicians were present to pledge support for this growing movement, including Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, as well as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Lieberman particularly sang Hagee's praise:
"He is a Ish Elokim, a man of God and those words really fit him...like Moses he's become a leader of a mighty multitude, even greater than the multitude that Moses led from Egypt to the promised land."
Meanwhile, despite Lahaye's worries about Barack Obama, the leaders of the 50 million evangelicals who now constitute the backbone of the conservative movement aren't merely "waiting for Armageddon." When it comes to fomenting conflict involving the United States, Israel, Iran and much of the Middle East, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, John Hagee, Pat Robertson and a host of other rapturous Republican stalwarts are taking a hands-on approach. For them, apparently, the End can't come soon enough.