The 2012 Republican Rapture Test
Among the stories which dominated the news this week were two seemingly unrelated ones. Christian fundamentalist Harold Camping and his followers predicted the end of the world on May 21st. Meanwhile, grandstanding Republican leaders raged at President Obama for supposedly "throwing Israel under the bus." As it turns out, the two tales are not so disconnected as they first appear. After all, many of the GOP's leading voices not only look forward to the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ, but may believe it will come in the form of an End of Days conflict with Iran over the fate of Israel.
So with the 2012 presidential primaries approaching, voters need to know which of the Republican hopefuls would turn the GOP into the Party of Armageddon.
During a Republican presidential debate four years ago, three of the 10 GOP candidates raised their hands when asked, "Who doesn't believe in evolution?" Now, the Republican field needs to answer a different question not just for the party's evangelical base, but for all Americans:
Do you believe war with Iran is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy?
With that query come two others:
Do you support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine as expressed by presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama? If not, why not?
If you are elected President, what would the American response be to the successful development of nuclear weapons by Tehran?
Sadly, the need for these questions arose during the 2008 election. Republican nominee John McCain, who previously joked about "bomb bomb Iran" and killing Iranians with cigarettes accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee. McCain later announced he "must reject his endorsement," given the "deeply offensive and indefensible" remarks Hagee had made about the Holocaust. But McCain was silent on Hagee's insistence that the United States must attack Iran to fulfill the biblical prophecy of Armageddon in Israel in which 144,000 Jews will be converted to Christianity and the rest killed.
Hagee, of course, was not silent on that point. Sharing a stage with McCain and Texas Senator John Cornyn, Hagee declared:
"John McCain has publicly stated his support of the state of Israel, pledging that his administration will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons to fulfill the evil dreams of President Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map."
Speaking to the 2006 conference of his organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor Hagee described his own dream of Armageddon as foreign policy:
"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."
As you may also recall, Pastor Hagee and his group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have been at the bleeding edge of a Christian Zionist movement seeking to hasten the Second Coming of Christ and the final battle in Israel. Hagee and his allies in the radical religious right see Israel and end-of-times conflict with Iran as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy contained in the Book of Revelation. 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 [late] 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.
But those erstwhile friends of Israel 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 the late Reverend 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."
That belief explains their Armageddon acceleration program, which has included the so far unsuccessful effort to breed the "red heifer," the perfect calf that will signal the Second Coming.
Just how much influence the likes of Hagee have over the leading lights of the GOP is open to debate. But as Max Blumenthal and Bill Moyers each reported last year, Pastor Hagee counts Washington's hardest of hard liners among his friends and CUFI allies. In October 2007, 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...
CUFI considers its defining issue to be the growing challenge of radical Islam, particularly as relates to the security of Israel and the United States. CUFI is increasingly concerned by Iran and its potential nuclear threats. Hagee often alludes to Nazi Germany in order to underline what he believes to be the gravity of the situation:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are reliving history. It is 1938 all over again," Hagee explains in a 2007 speech. "Iran is Germany. Ahmadinejad is Hitler. And Ahmadinejad, just like Hitler, is talking about killing the Jews."
Among the would-be and would have been Republican candidates are several who may believe - or at least want the GOP's evangelical primary voters to think they believe - in the rapture (small "r") of Armageddon as a foreign policy objective for the United States.
Fox News host, former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee is a likely case in point. As it turns out, the now non-2012 candidate 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 2009 in essence backed de facto ethnic 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.")
With Mike Huckabee out of the race, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is angling to fill the void he left among evangelical voters This week, Bachmann not only put out a statement critical of President Obama's Middle East speech, but delivered 150,000 robocalls in Iowa and South Carolina in support of the Likud-line on Israel. Last year, the Minnesota Independent explained why:
At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Los Angeles last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered a candid view of her positions on Israel: Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist...
"I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States...[W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle."
What Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Rick Santorum , Herman Cain and the rest of the clown car that is the 2012 GOP presidential field believe about the End of Days remains a mystery. But American voters need to know. Because while the world didn't end this weekend, the questions to Republicans White House hopefuls believe about it should just be beginning.