Richard John Neuhaus, the neoconservative intellectual and editor of the journal First Things, thought that adherents of “dominion theology” were nutty, but he did not think they were inconsequential.

In his May 1990 article “Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation,” Neuhaus introduced the prominent players and prominent ideas in play among the “theonomists” or “reconstructionists” or “theonomic reconstructionists” — the gothic Presbyterian wing of dominion theology or dominionism.

Dominion theology also has a creepy Pentecostal wing, the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation” which takes a very different route — more Peretti-esque “spiritual warfare,” less ultra-Calvinism — to arrive at a very similar millennialist political and theological agenda. Neuhaus here is writing before the rise of that branch of dominion theology, although he foresaw its arrival in the growing influence of theonomic reconstructionist doctrine among influential Pentecostals such as Pat Robertson.

Neuhaus’ tone in the piece is glibly dismissive and a bit condescending, but that’s just how Neuhaus wrote about everyone he disagreed with. He did not lightly dismiss what he viewed as the very real danger of the dominionists’ very real and growing influence.

Neuhaus begins with a brief introduction of some of the main personalities and a pithy summary of their shared ideology:

The theonomic movement is in some ways small, with perhaps no more than a dozen prominent representatives. Its influence, however, is disproportionate to its size, and familiarity with its personalities, positions, and purposes is important to understanding the ways in which some fundamentalists and evangelicals are making the connections between religion and public life. …

… To date the leadership of the theonomist movement is the trinity of [Rousas John] Rushdoony, [Gary] North, and [Greg] Bahnsen. Other prolific writers in the movement are David Chilton, Gary DeMar, George Grant (not the distinguished Canadian philosopher), and, at least until recently, James Jordan. In truth, “prolific” is hardly adequate to suggest the veritable flood of publications from these writers. …

Most other Christians … are conventionally given to saying that the Bible contains “no blueprint for the right ordering of society.” That is precisely what the theonomists deny. In fact, one set of books is called “The Biblical Blueprint Series,” and it is nothing if not specific. The determining proposition is that the Mosaic law given at Sinai was not just for Israel but is God’s design for all nations of all times. … As most of the proponents of this viewpoint do not hesitate to say, a theonomic social order is a theocratic social order, and a theocratic social order is a Christian social order. (Some theonomists prefer “Christocracy” to theocracy.)

Bible law requires a radical decentralization of government under the rule of the righteous. Private property rights, especially for the sake of the family, must be rigorously protected, with very limited interference by the state and the institutional church. Restitution, including voluntary slavery, should be an important element of the criminal justice system. A strong national defense should be maintained until the whole world is “reconstructed” (which may be a very long time). Capital punishment will be employed for almost all the capital crimes listed in the Old Testament, including adultery, homosexual acts, apostasy, incorrigibility of children (meaning late teenagers), and blasphemy, along with murder and kidnapping. There will be a cash, gold-based economy with limited or no debt. These are among the specifics broadly shared by people who associate themselves with the theonomic viewpoint.

That’s an extreme agenda, but the details — extreme social conservatism, gold-buggery, economic lawlessness — may be a bit familiar. Those extreme ideas are more mainstream today than they were when Neuhaus published this article in 1990.

Neuhaus wasn’t wrong about dominion theology’s “disproportionate” influence.

(more…)

President Donald Trump’s core supporters are celebrating his announcement earlier this month that the United States will be moving it’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is something white evangelical Americans have been wanting to see for many years, and they’re elated it’s finally happening.

What’s that all about? Well, it has to do with “Bible prophecy.” And with white evangelicals’ insistence that America must demonstrate “support for Israel.”*

Some really smart people who understand this particular intersection of sectarian Protestantism and foreign policy have written a bunch of very good articles providing an overview of just why this is something of such great concern for white American evangelicals. I recommend all of these:

• Julie Ingersoll, “Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem

• Sean Illing, “This is why evangelicals love Trump’s Israel policy

• Diana Butler Bass, “For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics

• Jonathan Merritt, “Understanding the Evangelical obsession with Israel

• Matthew Avery Sutton, “Jerusalem: Trump’s gift to evangelicals

Julie Ingersoll and Matthew Avery Sutton, in particular, put their finger on just what makes this announcement so exciting for Rapture Christians. Here’s Ingersoll:

The nation of Israel and the role of the city of Jerusalem are central in the “end-times” theology – a form of what is known as “pre-millennialism” – embraced by many American conservative Protestants. ​

While this theology is often thought of as a “literal” reading of the Bible, it’s actually a reasonably new interpretation that dates to the 19th century and relates to the work of Bible teacher John Nelson Darby.

According to Darby, for this to happen the Jewish people must have control of Jerusalem and build a third Jewish temple on the site where the first and second temples – destroyed centuries ago by the Babylonians and Romans – once were. In Darby’s view this was a necessary precursor to the rapture, when believers would be “taken up” by Christ to escape the worst of the seven-year-period of suffering and turmoil on Earth: the Great Tribulation. This is to be followed by the cosmic battle between good and evil called Armageddon at which Satan will be defeated and Christ will establish his earthly kingdom. All of this became eminently more possible when the modern state of Israel was established in the 1940s.

And here’s Sutton:

For the last century and a half, a long line of evangelical preachers, theologians and media personalities have insisted that the re-establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people with Jerusalem as its capital would set the stage for Jesus’ Second Coming.

In recent years, best-selling authors and theologians have reinforced such conclusions.

In the 1970s, the heavily mustachioed, Mississippi-River-tugboat-captain-turned-evangelist Hal Lindsey published “The Late Great Planet Earth,” a book that sold more copies in the 1970s than any other work of nonfiction in the United States. It has remained in print ever since.

Israel occupied the center of Lindsey’s analysis. He believed that as the world moved toward the battle of Armageddon, three events would occur. First, the Jews would retake Palestine. Second, they would repossess old Jerusalem and its sacred sites. Third, they would rebuild King Solomon’s temple on its original historical site.

The first of these steps was accomplished in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. The second occurred in 1967 when Israel captured Jerusalem during the Six Day War. The final event has not happened. Yet.

It’s all about dates and check lists and the final countdown. And, as Sutton says, the key date for late-20th-century Rapture Christians was the creation of the modern political nation of Israel in 1948. That event set the stage for a late-20th-century revival of this Darbyism. It set the final countdown in motion. Starting in 1948, the clock was ticking, and Rapture mania roared back to life.

The timing for this seemed providential for white evangelicals in America. It came just in time to reassure them that all the cultural changes their fervent prayers had failed to prevent — the Civil Rights Movement, the end of (sectarian Protestant) prayer in schools, Medicare, feminism, hippies, peace protests, Woodstock, Elvis. Aron. Presley. — were not horrors to be lamented, but horrors to be celebrated as Signs of the End. Their once comfortable world was going to Hell in a hand basket, but that was Good News, because it was just exactly what their “Bible prophecy” said would happen in the Last Days!

Premillennial dispensationalism’s pessimistic theology of accelerating decline was perfectly congruent with the increasing pessimism white evangelicals were feeling about an American society in which they felt increasingly at sea. They were losing their cultural influence and their moral authority. Kids these days with their long hair. And those other people — women, black people, gay people — no longer seemed to accept their ordained place in the scheme of things. Surely some revelation is at hand; surely the Second Coming is at hand.

And the Third Coming, too, since Rapture Christianity has Jesus returning twice.

Greatest

That date of 1948 became a major touchstone for Rapture Christians because their “Bible prophecy” also included the belief that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” That’s a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, and why it can or should have anything at all to do with the founding of the modern nation of Israel in 1948 is neither simple nor obvious, but Rapture Christians seized on that as the assurance that their desperately awaited Second and Third Comings of Jesus were destined to happen within one generation of that date. They latched onto the idea of 40 years as a “biblical generation” (because Moses) and, began feverishly predicting that there was no conceivable possibility that the Rapture could occur any later than sometime in the 1980s.

The most bluntly literal of such “Bible prophecy” prophets was a man named Edgar Whisenant, whose infamously popular book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 could be summed up as “1948 + 40 = 1988.” Poor Whisenant managed to stick to his guns for a few years after that, employing the full array of “Bible prophecy” fudge factors — the year zero glitch, the Julian/Gregorian switch, and a handful of other such complications that really couldn’t be made to salvage the basic arithmetical wrongness of his original prediction.

Most of the more reputable “Bible prophecy” scholars were savvier than Whisenant about trapping themselves in specific (and thus falsifiable) date-setting. After all, “No man knoweth the day or the hour,” etc. But their criticism of Whisenant wasn’t really fair, considering that if you listened to what any of them were saying in 1980, none of them allowed for much possibility that the world would still be here by, say, 1995.

Spoiler alert: The world was still here in 1995.

While the unprophesied arrival of the 1990s was thus awkward for Rapture Christians, they still clung to the prophetic significance of that 1948 date, busily rewriting their earlier insistence on a 40-year “biblical generation.” For a look at one way they went about that, see this revisioning of a 52-year “biblical generation” from contemporary End Times preacher Walter Eugene Brazington. (You remember Brazington? We discussed him last week in, ahem, a somewhat different context.)

The numerology of “Bible prophecy scholars” is remarkably elastic, but it’s still odd to find someone still pushing this 52-year generation idea now, in 2017. That’s a ’90s thing.** The whole point of it was to get past the failed arithmetic of 1948 + 40 to something still defensible, with the added bonus of 1948 + 52 yielding precisely the big round end-of-a-millennium number that allowed late-20th-century premillennial dispensationalism to survive the Great Disappointment of the Rapture-less 1980s. The impending Year 2000 — the end of 20 centuries of stony sleep — surely had to mean something, and the excitement of that helped Rapture Christianity maintain some of its fervor right on up until the Y2K bug proved not to be one of the Seven Seals of Revelation.

The passing of the century and the millennium sapped a lot of the energy and urgency from Rapture Christianity. That big date of 1948 was starting to seem like a very long time ago. That’s not insurmountable — the ever-flexible numerology could be recalibrated to make a “biblical generation” equal “three score years and ten” — but still, the Rapture just didn’t seem quite as any-moment-now imminent as it had back in the 1970s.

The influence of Rapture Christianity has been waning ever since the 21st Century began. I wish I could say that this was due to the quixotic crusade of one blogger’s long, devastating critique of what was then the most popular and influential series of books promoting Rapture mania, but — alas — I don’t think that had anything to do with it. It had to do, rather, with the passing of that Big Round Number milestone, and with the election, then re-election, of George W. Bush. Bush’s ascendancy helped to dispel white evangelicals’ cultural pessimism, thus dampening their enthusiasm for eschatological pessimism. At the same time, premillennial dispensationalism was competing with a new rival framework — a strange form of post-millennial eschatology involving “dominionism” and “seven mountains” theories of restoring Christendom. This competing eschatology has been rapidly spreading among Pentecostal/charismatic churches — a branch of Christianity that is itself growing rapidly, rather than shrinking like the forms of white fundamentalism that had most fervently embraced PMD Rapture folklore.

Along with all of that, Rapture Christianity has also had to contend with its perennial Why Are We Still Here? problem — a problem that gets more acute with each passing year. Tim LaHaye recently died of old age. “Bible prophecy” scholars were never supposed to reach old age, let alone to die from it (or to die at all). The final countdown had ticked down to zero years ago, and it was getting harder and harder to argue that we were still lingering only in some kind of divine stoppage time.

So I think some of the white evangelical celebration following Trump’s Jerusalem is a sense of relief and of renewed hope that Rapture Christianity might stage a comeback. Rapture Christians have now been given a pretext for resetting the clock and restarting their perpetual countdown. Never mind 1948. The clock starts now — with God’s chosen people (America) officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump just gave them a fresh set of downs — another 40 years in which to revive their message of an urgently imminent Rapture.

Of course, most Rapture preachers don’t have another 40 years. John Hagee is 77. Hal Lindsey is 88. Billy Graham is 99. To continue for another generation, Rapture Christianity will need a new generation of leaders — of “Bible prophecy scholars” and “Bible prophecy” preachers, authors, peddlers, marketers, hucksters, hustlers and barkers. And at this point I can’t see where that new generation is going to come from.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* This white evangelical imperative of “support for Israel” is based on God’s promise to Abram in the book of Genesis: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” For American evangelicals, oddly, this hasn’t prompted any ideas of “support for” or solidarity with all Jewish people as the children of Abraham, but only “support for Israel” meaning political support for the political entity of the modern nation-state called “Israel.”

In practice, it means seeking God’s blessing by ensuring that the United States “blesses” the nation of Israel with military aid and weapons systems, and with the use of America’s veto power on the UN Security Council. But this “blessing” does not prevent these same Israel-supporting American evangelicals from, for example, snarling a hostile “Merry Christmas” at their Jewish neighbors here in America as an annual reminder that they mustn’t challenge Christian hegemony in this Christian nation.

** Then again, Winona Ryder is the star of a hit TV show, The New York Times is credulously promoting bogus conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, and Dave Grohl brought the house down this weekend on Saturday Night Live. Bust out the flannels — the ’90s are back, baby.

Bob Smietana* interviews scholars Brad Christerson and Richard Flory to provide an insightful and disturbing introduction to the next generation of Strang-ian hustlers reshaping charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity here in America: “The ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion.”

Here’s Smietana’s introduction:

Largely behind the scenes, a group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to Southern California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through signs and wonders.

Their movement, which Christerson and Flory called “Independent Network Charismatic” or “INC” Christianity, has become one of the fastest-growing faith groups in the United States. Apostles like Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Cindy Jacobs, Chuck Pierce, and Ché Ahn claim millions of followers. They’re also aided by an army of fellow ministers who fall under their “spiritual covering.”

Many of these apostles run megachurches, including Bethel Church in Redding California, HRock Church in Pasadena, and the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. But their real power lies in their innovative approach to selling faith. They’ve combined multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers. That allows them to reap millions in donations, conference fees, and book and DVD sales. And because these INC apostles claim to get direction straight from God, they operate with almost no oversight.

I added the links for some of the names above so you can click over to the archives of Right Wing Watch and read for yourself some of what these folks have been preaching over the years. It’s an ugly stew of Christian nationalism, dominionism, vicious anti-gay hysteria, and — in recent years — paeans to the spiritual deliverance promised by a pussy-grabbing pathological liar.

Christerson & Flory have done their homework, particularly on the financial model that sets these new “apostles” apart from the earlier generation of Benny Hinns and Jim Bakkers and all the other TV and radio preachers who used to dominate the pages of Charismanews.com. INC Christianity is a money-making machine.

Flory: These apostles are able to access a lot more money, because they are operating with a pay-for-service model, rather than relying on people’s donations and their goodwill. Congregations bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep the butts in the seats; people don’t have to pay unless they feel like it. But this is a completely different financial model, and it tends to generate much more money.

The archaic term for this “pay-for-service” model is Simony. That name comes from Simon the sorceror, a Samaritan convert in the book of Acts.

That’s a Philip story. Philip is my favorite character in Acts — the first of the early Christians to really understand what Pentecost meant. While the other disciples were still squabbling in Jerusalem about the necessity of circumcision and the theoretical possibility of welcoming unclean Gentiles, Philip was hotfooting it to Samaria and baptizing sorcerors. The apostles heard about that and sent Peter and John to regain some control over Philip’s wanton evangelism. When Simon saw Peter and John laying hands on the new believers so that they could “receive the Holy Spirit,” he tried to pay Peter to teach him to do the same. Peter sternly rebuked Simon for thinking he “could obtain God’s gift with money.”**

Technically, then, I suppose what the INC apostles are doing isn’t exactly what Simon did. They’re not trying to obtain the Holy Spirit with money, but are offering to provide it to others for a price. But the same basic idea is at work — the buying and selling of spiritual gifts in exchange for money — and that still seems to fall under the category of Simony. It’s the same sin whether you’re buying or selling.

Charismascammery

So what exactly are they selling? Flory describes it as “a more experiential, embodied way of understanding religion,” which makes it sound like they’re doing Yoga or something. But that’s not it. What they’re offering, instead, is the promise of a first-hand experience of the power of God: signs and wonders and miraculous healing.

Christerson: The traditional megachurch uses music and exciting preaching from great communicators. But we found that wasn’t the case with these INC-lings. They are actually not very exciting preachers. That really surprised us. For them, it’s all about encountering these supernatural manifestations. That’s the exciting experience.

It’s very spontaneous. We went to a conference where a number of apostles were speaking and Bill Johnson was doing a Bible teaching. He had probably talked 20 or 30 minutes, and you could feel the restlessness in the room. He said, “I know you are just waiting for me to stop preaching because you want the power. But just hang with me here.” People weren’t there to listen to him. What they wanted was for him to lay hands on them.

After he finished, people came up to the stage, and they were being slain in the spirit. People were falling down and getting healed. That’s what they are there for.

Christerson is trying to be generous there, describing this experience in terms that participants themselves might use. But he slips into a more skeptical, more accurate description when he says “People were falling down.” Those “slain in the Spirit” wouldn’t say they fell on their own, but that they were knocked over by the spirit-filled power of the apostle’s touch.

I’ve been to services where this happened and I didn’t see anyone convincingly “slain” by the laying on of hands. I saw people falling down — flopping like basketball or soccer players trying to trick the ref into calling a foul. But, of course, there was no referee on hand — so this unconvincing performance wasn’t trying to draw a whistle. It seemed to me, rather, that the people falling down were doing so to convince each other and to convince themselves.

If that sounds cynical, I’m afraid I’m even more cynical about the other aspect of this experiential experience — the claim that “People were … getting healed.” In response to Smietana’s question about this movement “staying out of the spotlight” of the broader culture, Christerson describes a huge INC event in Los Angeles:

They have their own networks for disseminating information and getting attention. They are not sending our press releases. For example, they had this Asuza Now conference at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and it drew 50,000 people on a rainy day — if not for the bad weather, the crowd probably would have been even bigger. And it didn’t even make the Los Angeles Times. Fifty thousand people show up for an apostle’s conference at the LA Coliseum, and nobody covered it. That was mind-boggling to me.

So, OK, 50,000 people at a service offering miraculous healing. Let’s say that only 1 percent of that crowd actually sought such healing from an actual, physical ailment. That’s 500 people. And let’s continue with that conservative estimate and say that only 1 percent of those who sought such healing claims to have received it. That might seem like an unimpressive success rate, but it would still be five people — five ironclad case studies for doctors and journalists and skeptics to be confronted with. Five people with names and diagnoses that had been suddenly and otherwise inexplicably reversed.

Give me those names and get them to sign HIPAA waivers and I’ll believe that “healing” is taking place at these INC events. Otherwise, I’m forced to view this “healing” as not just a hoax, but a particularly cruel and predatory one.

In other words, this isn’t just Simony, but a Simony scam. They’re not just trying to exchange God’s gifts for money, but collecting money for a counterfeit forgery of those spiritual gifts.

May their silver perish with them.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* This piece appears in Christianity Today, which usually invokes the disclaimer of CT’s self-own about being a publication that believes gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society.” But since snatching up former Gannett reporter Smietana was such a smart move, and since I personally admire anyone who hires the good people cast aside by that incompetently run newspaper chain, I’ll give them a pass this time.

** Acts 8:14-24

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.”

Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

When this story is invoked to denounce the sin of Simony, people often leave out that last bit, from verse 24, in which poor Simon repents just as Peter said he should. We don’t hear any more of what happened to him, but the text doesn’t suggest that he remained trapped in “the chains of wickedness.”

Simon the sorceror repented and received forgiveness and liberation from the sin that now bears his name. I like to think that same kind of happy ending is available for those Simonious believers now supporting the bogus Trumpian Gospel of the sham-apostles of INC.

Here’s a little video from the Church of Christ (Not That One) recently highlighted by Christian Nightmares and many others:

This achieves that rare feat of being simultaneously charming and creepy as hell. The kids are adorable, gamely attempting to lip-synch along to the ghastly lyrics, which aren’t really in kid-friendly language and thus, one hopes, strike those poor kids as incomprehensible strings of syllables.

Some thoughts:

1. The first thing I thought of watching that video was this:

z1cgz

2. The “Church of Christ” here is not the same as the Churches of Christ — the “restorationist” Protestant denomination known for its a capella singing and for Richard Beck. And it’s not the same as the International Church of Christ, known for its “flirt to convert” outreach efforts and for its insistence that it is not a cult, not at all, definitely not that.

This Church of Christ is the Iglesia ni Cristo — a charismatic denomination that began in the American colony of the Philippines in the early 20th century. Its doctrinal language and statements about the authority of the Bible read much like that of any other white evangelical/fundamentalist group on the charismatic/Pentecostal side of the family. But, as the lyrics of that song reveal, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find some far-out, freaky stuff that it’s hard to refer to as anything other than heresy:

Always submit to the church administration
For they were placed by Lord God to lead his nation
If we obey then we will receive salvation
Sing along with me

So, then, a big scoop of dominionism paired with the belief that salvation depends on unquestioning obedience to authoritarian church administrators, rather than on Jesus Christ. Phew.

3. Of course, the bonkers authoritarian cult stuff and the tomorrow-belongs-to-me dominionism really don’t distinguish this group from many other charismatic/Pentecostal evangelical groups here in the U.S. Just go have a look-see at Charismanews.com and you’ll find endless variations of this same stuff all over their site. List a bunch of statements from the ICC along with a bunch of statements from, say, the International House of Prayer and you’d have a hard time telling them apart. Heck, people from ICC and IHOP would have a hard time telling them apart.

This theology may be wacky, incoherent, anti-biblical, and heretical, but hey — it won in Iowa and came in second in New Hampshire.

4. Given the authoritarian streak in the ICC, would anyone want to bet against the likelihood that some sort of hideous, horrifying sex-abuse scandal is eventually going to blow up in this outfit?

5. The ICC is another example of why the conservative/liberal framework distorts more than it clarifies when we talk about religion and theology. Groups like this get placed on the “conservative” end of that theological spectrum — somewhere out near Bob Jones and Al Mohler and Ken Ham and Michele Bachmann. You’ll find a lot of ideas out there, but you’d have a hard time explaining why any of them should be regarded as theologically conservative.

6. The Iglesia ni Cristo is an example of the kind of two-thirds world Christianity that is often cited as evidence that evangelicalism is a global phenomenon rather than a peculiarly white American invention. That misrepresents what we see in churches like this one. What we see here is simply colonial white evangelical theology reflected back from the colonized.

7. I would very much like to hear a hard-core punk version of this song. And also maybe a K-Pop rendition. Or maybe just Regina Spektor transposing it into a minor key.

Jon Corvino, “It’s time to remove Kentucky clerk Kim Davis”

Unlike the conscientious objector, Davis is not being drafted into service against her will. She has chosen a job that requires her to grant licenses in accordance with civil law. She is no longer willing to do that. She should not expect to keep her job, any more than a military commander would keep his job if he became a pacifist, or a surgeon would keep her job if she became a Christian Scientist and refused to perform surgery. Religious liberty does not entitle the bearer to line-item vetoes for essential job functions.

… Private citizens are free to express their religious views about homosexuality — however hypocritically and inconsistently — and to practice their faith as they see fit. But religious liberty is not a “get out of your job free” card.

Julie Ingersoll, “Meet the Tea Party’s evangelical quack”

Because he says very little about contemporary Democrats, it’s clear that [David] Barton’s purpose is to connect them with racist Southern Democrats, while completely ignoring the relationship of modern-day Republicans with racism. Most glaringly, the Republican “Southern strategy” is entirely missing from Barton’s account of the parties’ political strategies with regard to race. From the Johnson administration through the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, Republican strategists effectively used race as a “wedge issue.” Southern Democrats would not support efforts by the national party to secure civil rights for African Americans. By focusing on specific racial issues (like segregation), Republicans split off voters who had traditionally voted for Democrats. The contemporary “states’ rights” battle cry at the core of the conservative movement and Tea Party rhetoric is rooted in this very tactic. Barton and Beck want to rewrite American history on race and slavery in order to cleanse the founding fathers of responsibility for slavery and, more importantly, blame it and subsequent racism on Democrats.

Elias Isquith, “Donald Trump & white America’s anxiety: The political throes of a forgotten country”

While I cannot relate to the substance of these people’s grievances, I can imagine that experiencing the transition from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama is profoundly disorienting. I also can imagine that the mix of loss and fear that seizes them is a pain not easily forgotten. If I were in similar circumstances, I might decide to go down swinging, too. I might be drawn to the candidate who says we’re halfway across the point of no return already. I might not want to go gently into that good night.

Derek Penwell, “9 Arguments From the Bible Fundamentalists Should Have to Make”

I am weary of playing defense against fundamentalism, as if it holds some sort of privileged theological position that requires a special deference, as well as the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate.

It’s not that I resent having to come clean about my own hermeneutical presuppositions, to be required to set down the story I’m telling about how I interpret scripture. What makes me unutterably exhausted is the popular assumption that a fundamentalist reading of scripture is somehow the hermeneutical true north by which all interpretations are to be judged. The assertion that the Bible is to be read in a common sense fashion, as close to literally as possible, is not only itself merely one interpretative strategy among other strategies, it’s also a fairly recent development in the history of interpretation.

T. Christian Miller, “The FBI Built a Database That Can Catch Serial Rapists—and Almost Nobody Uses It”

That’s what’s striking about ViCAP today: the paucity of information it contains. Only about 1,400 police agencies in the United States, out of roughly 18,000, participate in the system. The database receives reports from far less than one percent of the violent crimes committed annually. It’s not even clear how many crimes the database has helped solve. The FBI does not release any figures. A review in the 1990s found it had linked only 33 crimes in 12 years.

 

• Con-artist, habitual liar and right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton illustrates the stopped-watch principle by accidentally saying something partly true. Barton celebrated the lackluster box office performance of the new Left Behind movie because, he says, it teaches a false and unbiblical eschatology. True! Barton complains that the pessimistic outlook of premillennial dispensationalism discourages Christians from working for change in this world. Also true!

Of course, Left Behind’s strain of dispensationalism differs from the earlier variations taught by folks like Scofield and Hal Lindsey, in that it’s married to Tim LaHaye’s John Birch Society political ideology, encouraging an activism that closely aligns with Barton’s own right-wing dominionism. And if I were forced to choose between the passively destructive pessimistic quietism of earlier PMD eschatology and the actively destructive paranoid theocracy promoted by LaHaye and Barton, then I’ll take the former, thanks.

Arthur_Tress_10
For Halloween, Arthur Tress’ photographs inspired by children’s descriptions of nightmares.

• This seems like a smart idea in Conshohocken: “The chief has designated the parking lot and the lobby at police headquarters as an online safe transaction zone. He says if you’re conducting a one on one transaction where money is changing hands. This is the safest place to do it.”

• “It would seem that the Bible belt has been unbuckled and the fly is now open.” Michelle Krabill on rape culture in christianamerica.

• Glioblastoma multiforme will kill you within a few short months. With the very best medical treatment in the world, it will take a precious few months longer to kill you. But it will kill you. It is, without exception, a death sentence.

So if Pat Robertson can do what he says and heal people with this deadly form of cancer, then he needs to get his butt out of the TV studio and go do it. Otherwise he really, really needs to STFU right now and stop telling people that dying from a terminal disease is some kind of moral failing.

Phil Plait has a good post on how it’s not really news that Pope Francis accepts the science of evolution. He blames the “unholy marriage of the Republican Party and religious conservatives” for the widespread American surprise over the unremarkable news that a religious leader doesn’t reject science. The “science versus religion rhetoric” of the religious right, Plait says, “has polarized our country so badly that a lot of people perceive all religion to be totally anti-science, and that’s not true, and not fair.”

Yep. And the perception that this is how it ought to be — that real, true religion ought to reject all science — has been far more disastrous for religion than it has been for science.

• And by the way, the West Chester University Golden Rams women’s rugby team is now 5-0.

• In The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith writes about “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” Here’s a musical illustration of what such interpretive pluralism looks like. (I forget whether I posted this previously, but either way, it’s still wonderful.)

• The one thing that unites every blogger here at Patheos — Christian, atheist, Pagan, Buddhist, mixed-drink martial artist — is our shared frustration with autoplay video ads. That frustration is shared, too, by our hosts here, because their contracts with advertisers make it clear that such ads aren’t supposed to be allowed here.

Anyway, the IT crowd is working on technical fixes to put a stake through the heart of this evil. And also to figure out the app-store glitch that’s hijacking pages when we try to read them on an iPhone. (Hemant has a good summary of some steps you can take if you want to assist Patheos’ tech crew in this righteous battle.)

Soon, I hope, Patheos will be autoplay-video free, after which all the bloggers of the various faith traditions can argue about which of our prayers were responsible for that result (with the atheist bloggers arguing, of course, that it was secular code — not supernatural intervention — that solved the problem). That will be a happy day.

• The Puppy Spring: “What started quite literally as a walk in a park with a dog has exploded into grave sin writ large, moral crisis, or subversive coup attempt depending upon who you ask.”

• Back-to-back in my Feedly reader yesterday: “Pat Robertson: Gay People Are Terrorists,” followed by a post about these “terrorists” in Wyoming:

WyomingTerrorists

 

That’s Marvin Witt and Mike Romero, who’ve been together for 30 years, applying for a marriage license in the Natrona County Courthouse. “These people are terrorists,” Pat Robertson says. “They’re radicals and they’re extremists. … And I think it’s time pastors stand up and fight this monstrous thing.”

OK, then.

Chris Kluwe addresses #GamerGate. He was a pretty good punter but his real gift seems to be the profanity-laced rant — an underappreciated art form.

• Remember back in 2011 when conservative Christians were claiming that dominion theology was a “myth”? People like Joe Carter, writing for First Things, denied its existence or significance, claiming it was just a bogeyman dreamed up by “liberal blogs and websites.”

Well, here’s what that imaginary bogeyman had to say at a recent fundraiser for the right-wing activist group, Alliance Defending Freedom. This is featured speaker David Benham:

What we see now is the struggle for dominion. … God is sovereign over all things. The Bible says in Psalm 24 “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” including government, entertainment, media, education, the legal system, everything. My finances, my sexuality, everything is under God. … Does this agenda, this sexual anarchy agenda, does it want dominion? Take a look. Has it got dominion in government? Has it got dominion in entertainment? Has it got dominion, I mean, you name it, in the marketplace? Yes. Absolutely it does. How does God get dominion back?

The other featured speaker at the event was New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. But sure, let’s just pretend this is just a fringe ideology far from any real influence or power.

Peter Enns really likes the new edition of The Jewish Study Bible, sharing a great example of what it gets right that other study Bibles (and a lot of Bible readers) get wrong. The book of Leviticus says sex is a no-no during a woman’s menstrual cycle, but it says this twice — commanding two very different, irreconcilable punishments. A lot of Christian study Bibles have notes cross-referencing the two passages in a way that seems to try to obscure or fudge the contradiction. The Jewish Study Bible just says, “Thus the law in 18:19 … directly contradicts [the law in 15:19-24].”

One tradition says that a “high view of scripture” compels us to ignore and deny such direct contradictions. Another tradition says that reverence for scripture requires us to recognize contradictions and contend with them. Which seems more respectful of the actual text?

• So last night, shelving cleaning products while bopping to “All the Things She Said,” I realized I hadn’t provided the answer to our little Simple Minds question: their Top 10 hits “Don’t You Forget About Me” and “Alive and Kicking,” plus “All the Things She Said,” “Sanctify Yourself,” and “See the Lights.” (I’m not complaining, mind you. The Muzak loop with the surprising number of Simple Minds songs is much more up my alley than the mellow-oldies one they sometimes play that includes both “Afternoon Delight” and the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” sometimes back-to-back.)

 

In “Love and Death in the House of Prayer,” journalist Jeff Tietz provides a bit of background about the theology of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri.

What strikes me in his description of that theology, below, is the way IHOP seems to have merged two competing strains of End Times mania. Their view seems to borrow from both premillennial and postmillennial mythologies:

At IHOP’s frequent, frenetic conferences, attendees learn that they are “in the early days of the generation in which Jesus returns,” as IHOP founder Mike Bickle puts it. “I believe that people alive on the Earth today will actually see the Lord with their own eyes,” he has preached. But Jesus has no clear return path. Demons, he says, have steadily taken possession of Christian hearts and infiltrated earthly institutions.

Dude, we could be, like, the best of all the generations that have ever been seen on the face of the Earth.

In 1983, Bickle says, God instructed him to “establish 24-hour prayer in the spirit of the tabernacle of David.” The tabernacle was the tent erected by King David to house the Ark of the Covenant after the conquest of Jerusalem; it became a dwelling place of God and a site of ecstatic worship. To resurrect this spirit of worship, Bickle would build IHOP’s first prayer room, a storefront hall next to the Higher Grounds cafe and Forerunner Bookstore in an IHOP-owned strip mall in South Kansas City. Bickle believes that unceasing, euphoric worship and song at IHOP and in prayer rooms across the globe, which should never close or be empty, will promote passionate intimacy with the Lord, revive the church and demolish demonic strongholds. And so IHOPers pray all day and night, through blizzards and blackouts, in hours-long sessions of mesmeric, musical worship, repeating the same phrases over and over, expecting to precipitate the Great Tribulation and the final battle between good and evil that precedes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This is IHOP’s most alluring tenet: God needs IHOPers to effect the Tribulation and bring Christ back to Earth. “The church causes the Great Tribulation,” Bickle has preached. Before founding IHOP, he argued that “God intends us to be like gods. God has conceived in his heart of a plan to make a race of men that would live like gods on Earth.” Bickle sometimes affects to know God as he would a peer. “I heard what I call the internal audible voice of the Lord,” he has said. He claims that he visited heaven one night at 2:16 a.m., and the Lord charged him with preparing for an End Times ministry and seated him in a golden chariot that lifted off into the empyrean. At IHOP, where prophetic experiences are endemic, the mortal and divine commingle liberally.

The vanguard of God’s End Times army, according to Bickle, will be made up of young people, or “forerunners,” seers specially attuned to the will of the Lord, “the best of all the generations that have ever been seen on the face of the Earth.” For seven years of Tribulation, they will battle the Antichrist. When Christ returns, he will slaughter by sword in a single day the unsaved, and his warriors will rule heaven and Earth forevermore.

IHOP is not the only charismatic movement in America to adopt this theology of aggressive prayer. A constellation of ministries shares its vision. Together, they make up what has been called the New Apostolic Reformation, a decades-old rebellion against traditional Christianity that counts millions of adherents worldwide; it has become such a force in evangelical America that Texas Gov. Rick Perry hosted an NAR prayer rally in Houston for his 2012 presidential campaign. As prayer rooms are established in ever more locations, according to NAR, the “seven mountains of culture” – government, business, family, educational systems, the media, arts and religion – will fall under its influence.

The New Apostolic Reformation’s theology is broadly postmillennial. Where premillennial theology of the sort preached by Tim LaHaye focuses on fleeing this world, the NAR is focused on conquering and ruling it. In the pessimistic outlook of premillennialists, Christians can only wait and watch as the world becomes more and more depraved until the Rapture carries them all away. But for the folks at IHOP and throughout the rest of the NAR, Christians have an agenda — conquering the “seven mountains.”

This is quite different from the soft post-millennialism of the Social Gospel movement in the early 20th century. It’s not about a gradual process of reform that might, over time, “Christianize the social order” through an ever-greater approximation of this-worldly justice. It’s war — a Manichaean battle between the children of light and the children of darkness, winner-take-all.

Such militant postmillennialism is sometimes called “dominionism” — from adherents’ expressed desire to seize “dominion” over every aspect of this world. But earlier forms of “dominionism” — like the Southern-Gothic Calvinist “Christian Reconstructionism” of the Rushdoony cult — completely rejected the Scofield mythology of the premillennial dispensationalists.

The dominionists of the NAR, though, seem too fond of that mythology to let it go. Thus they’ve grafted parts of it into their own postmillennial vision.

Which parts? The fun parts. The exciting parts.

They can’t get rid of the whole Great Tribulation battle against the Antichrist, because that just sounds so cool. Sure, the Tribulation is seven years of wrath, death and suffering, and it’s also a dispensationalist construct that’s otherwise incompatible with the End Times framework promoted by the NAR. But if there’s no Tribulation, then there’s no Tribulation Force and no chance to fantasize about being a brave and heroic champion of that elite God squad.

That’s what it’s all about, the ability to tell oneself — to pretend, to fantasy role-play — that one is part of an epic struggle during “the most critical time in the history of the world.”

Given that, it’s not surprising that the NAR and IHOP and the other various para-church para-denominational groups embracing this new End Times mythology are also embracing the far-right politics of the tea party. Both appeal to the same basic fantasy.

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