Tuesday, August 08, 2006


This post of found on the excellent blog Spontaneous Arising, courtesy of comment blog Moon of Alabama

"It's late and I really do not want to do this so we'll ask you bear with the typos. I'm tired and I just found this remarkable thread here.

The rapture mentality in America has been associated with the establishment of Israel in 1948. That was the sign, Luke 21:29-30, the flowering of the fig tree (a symbol for Israel) is a sign of the end and the second coming. A host of book, all bad, since Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth lit a fire in the emerging Jesus movement of the 1970's that lent it a true apocalyptic fever. add to this the continual risk of nuclear war and the expectation of the near time of the end became foundational in Pentecostals, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists and to a lesser extent, the Catholic Charismatic movement.

But throughout the the 1970's, this movement, despite the frequent appearances of Billy Graham with Nixon and Ford was primarily apolitical. The message was Christ and him crucified and in many cases a radical distrust of the "world". It was apolitical, with Democrats rejected for their liberalism, pro-abortion stance, and pro-education platform. "Secular humanism and Communism" were the enimies. But neither did these Christian embrace the Republican party, with its cold fish corporate elitism, immense wealth and corporate amorality and their reputation for pragmatism and agnosticism. All these identified both parties with being of the world and the big issue many of these Christians felt was whether they should vote at all. Many felt that their faith would be compromised if they became politically active or ran for office. To guard against the seduction of the world was a key goal. Many joked when a candidate for either party claimed to be a christina becuase the Christians of this movement and period were usually savvy enough to know that the key elements of their faith would have to be compromised to be a success in Washington. But this was to change.

It started in the late 1970's and the early 1980's, both with the first advent of Falwell's "Moral Majority" and the election of Ronald Reagan. Perhaps it was Lee Atwater, perhaps it was simply a situation the evolved from the emerging power when leaders of a revival that has lasted a decade realized that controlling a large number of people equaled power, maybe it was now that the money and influence Sun Myung Moon began to assert its seduction in Christian leadership. But it appears that several movements and events developed simultaneously and it changed the face of American Christiainty.

First many individual in the Catholic Charismatic movement left the Catholic Church and join or started independent Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. They brought with them a loud tradition of anti-abortion activism that was now coupled with charismatic prophetic rleigion. Traditional Pentecostal churches had little interest in the issue, but with the numbers of new Charisimatic churches and the advent of a number of parachurch organizations, it slowly became more central issue.

At the same time, a movement swept across churches all over the United states from Oklahoma and Texas. This was the start of the popularization of the health and wealth gospel, a large auxillary church movement that preached that God wanted Christians to be healthy and wealthy and the lack, poverty, and sickness were a curse from Satan that can be overcome by faith in key Scripture Verses expressed vocally and frequently (also called confession faith). this caught the interest of politcal conservative as wealth tended to resonate with their values. Parachurch organizations began having large inter-church meetings by the mid-1980's full of celebrities and high ranking military retirees claiming conversion. In one meeting I attended, just to give you the variety of people attending, I ran into Pat Boone, Debbie Boone, Richard Kiel (Jaws from James Bond) John DeLorean, Gen. Merle Allender, Tonto, Buffalo Bill's Grandson, Dale Evans and more.

The next development was the advent of the Megachurch, starting in Oklahome, Texas and Florida. Many of these and their imitations fell apart, but they continue to be a major feature. Church of 4,000 were common by the late 70's, and frew even stronger into the 80's. Now some of these church claim memberships in the tens of thousands and have created a cradle to grave experience for believers with everything from pre-schools to universities to profesional associations. the money these churches can raise in a week is staggering.

Finally, another development was the intentional steering this diverse movement into the arms of ultraright conservatism. This started in the early years of Reagan's first term and was both deliberate and calculated to politicize the church. I remember my first experience with this very well.

I was young and a member of a Jesus Movement church (think hippies) whose main mission was to help local junkies kick heroin and preach to young people. But it was a sincere group. It started as a home church in my parents house, grew to require the rental of an second floor office in a bad part of town, and finally, we rented space for 300 people to worship at Yale University. For several years, it was the most remarkable group I ever participated in. It was quite diverse: Blacks, hispanics, lesbian, homosexuals and street people came every week. But there were also blue collar workers, professionals, college students, medical students who worshipped together and had a sense of community I have never experienced since. I am not being completely nostalgic. There were many problems in this church. It was doctrinally naive, the leaders were young and uneducated, and focus of the message kept changing, mainly due to the pastor's immaturity and youth.

But in 1982, the pastor was invited to a Ronald Reagan Prayer Breakfast, something that flattered him immensely. He went. when he returned, the church was turned upside down. His next sermon mentioned "Satan's Liberal Welfare State," the evils of the "radical hairy legged lesbo-feminist of the Democratic Party," calls for the judgement of God upon homosexuals and the wrath of the Jesus church against lazy people who did not work and ripped off honest taxpayer by being poor and on welfare." The church changed. the non-white, non-rich, non-straight, and non-loyal (myself) left or were humiliated and driven off (someday I'll tell you about my personal five hour degregation ceremony). The church and many like it made a sharp turn to the right, ready to purge America of sinners and homosexuals and evil abortion doctors and liberal secular humanists. My world was shattered.

I rarely share with anyone the torment of the next few years, the inner doubts, the depression, the tension (this was my family's church and they split apart, many not talking to one another for years). Three churches later, a good pastor spent a long time with me and began to help me find those parts of myself I long suppressed. I ended up going back to school in my early 30's a double major in history and theology with a concentration in linguistics. I excelled. I then went to grad school and continued in Roman Social History and Early Church History. I'm now a decade post doc, tenured at a sane secular school! I could have gone to Yale, but I had nothing but painful memories in New Haven.

I keep most of this to myself in my new life. I attend a happy church of the religious left and have peace. And I spend much of my time looking at the phenomenom of the politically hijacking of the church by the ultrarightist. It is a fascinating story. This is only a very brief synopsis, but I thought I'd share this small bit of it. But I'm tired, its last call at the bar, and I'm slugging one down and hitting the sheets. Every try a Rum and Moxie?

Posted by: Diogenes | Aug 7, 2006 11:58:04 PM | 21

PHOTOS: Hal Lindsey in Jerusalem, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Lee Atwater, Sun Myung Moon, Falwell & Moon, Pat Boone, Dale Evans, Ronald Reagan, Hagee/?/Gary Bauer/Falwell, John Hagee

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