By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, Oct 28, 2004

(This is a slightly expanded version of the printed article. -GW)

Associations between George W. Bush and rapturist fundamentalism should at least give citizens pause

Suppose you’re a fan of the New York City-based indie band the Rapture, and you’re looking for their Web site on Google. You type in the band’s name in the search box, click on the search button, and up comes the first page of results. The link to the band’s site is the first listing, but then you notice the second link, www.raptureready.com. “Make sure you are Rapture ready . . . the need for moral canaries,” the description reads. You have no idea what this is all about.

Curious, you visit the site, and read that all born-again Christians will one day simultaneously vanish into thin air, leaving piles of clothes on the ground and their cars to go driverless off the road. After this Twilight Zone-like opener, all hell will break loose for seven years, a titanic battle between God and his angels on one hand and an evil Beast on the other will rage on the ancient battleground of Armageddon in modern-day Israel, and Jesus will return riding in the clouds and reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years. Anyone who hasn’t already accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior beforehand will then be cast into a lake of fire to deep-fry forever. All this will happen soon, the Web site avers.

Welcome to the world of premillenial dispensationalism, a radical fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation also known as End Times or Final Days theology that holds that the prophecies of the final book of the Bible have yet to be fulfilled (for a historical background that I have compiled on dispensationalism, visit www.celticguitarmusic.com/endtimes.htm).

Polls show that at least one in six Americans—and one in three Republicans—believe in this scenario. The Left Behind series of books, a fictionalized account of the “final days” by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, has sold 62 million copies.

While it is well-known that George W. Bush presents himself as devoutly Christian, and he is widely considered beholden to the fundamentalists who are at least a third of the U.S. population and the GOP’s core voting base, whether or not he is a dispensationalist has emerged as one the administration’s most closely held secrets. The White House even refuses to say if the president has read the Left Behind books.

Among evangelicals, though, there is a widespread conviction that Bush shares the End Times vision and has been divinely appointed to lead the nation. With the elections drawing near, voters need to know what the president’s beliefs are and how they influence his policies. Bush was asked by moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News during the third presidential debate on Oct. 13 what part his faith played on his policy decisions, to which he replied, “Religion is an important part . . . when I make decisions I stand on principle. And the principles are derived from who I am.” But what exactly are those principles?

Much could be at stake here. If the president thinks the Rapture is coming soon, as many critics think he does, why should he worry about pesky problems like the federal deficit, global warming, alternate energy sources, or achieving a two-state peace solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Among other things, dispensationalists believe Israel must be an undivided state for the Second Coming to occur. Could this explain the administration’s reluctance to criticize Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank? Some of the president’s foes think so, and have even accused him of attempting to trigger the Final Days by attacking Iraq.

“Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power: U.S. Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush’s Middle East policy,” wrote George Monbiot in The Guardian on April 20, 2004. Commenting earlier on this possibility, Charles Colson, an evangelical commentator and former Nixon aide, said in the March 10, 2003, issue of U.S. News and World Report, “Some wonder if the president might be influenced by evangelical teachings that envision an end-of-the-world battle between Israel and its enemies. It would be dangerous for a president to take a particular theology like that and apply it to world events.” Grave church-state separation issues obviously would arise as well.

As recently reported in The Washington Post, it is difficult to get direct confirmation of any of Bush’s specific beliefs. The White House will not disucss the matter. An e-mail message sent to the Rev. Lane Boyd, pastor of Bush’s congregation, the First United Methodist Church of Midland, Texas, went unanswered. Reached by phone, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Prayer Team, a group that coordinates the prayers of more than 2 million evangelicals for the president, said she didn’t know. Neither did Terry James, co-founder of raptureready.com. But are there some indirect indications that the president could be in thrall of this perilous worldview far from the American mainstream?

Although the president’s official biography states that Billy Graham introduced him to evangelism in 1985 at a time near Bush’s 39th birthday, Karl Rove has said that the change in Bush’s faith in fact took place a year earlier in Midland. According to Arthur Blessitt, a preacher famous for having carried a 12-foot wooden cross though 60 countries on 6 continents, he met and prayed with Bush, who converted on the spot. Blessitt might have been thought eccentric by some readers of the presidential biography, which may explain the omission of the Blessitt episode. Still, both Graham and Blessitt are dispensationalists, indicating Bush may be one also.

A third dispensationalist who influenced Bush was Dr. Tony Evans, a Dallas preacher and a founder of the Promise Keepers movement. According to Dr. Martin Hawkins, Evans’ assistant pastor, Evans taught Bush "how the world should be seen from a divine viewpoint." And Bush says in his book, A Charge to Keep, that he has been “spellbound” listening to Evans’ sermons

A key event of the End Times scenario is the rise of the Antichrist. Although the term antichrist never occurs in Revelation, Dispensationalists believe this figure will be a charismatic, anti-Christian leader who will become dictator of a world government (the Rapture Ready Web site says he will also be gay and encourage alternative lifestyles, much to the horror of the faithful). “The evil one is among us” is perhaps Bush’s clearest statement that seems in line with End Times philosophy. Writing for the online journal Counterpunch on October 19, 2002, Michael Ortiz Hill said, “I’d become accustomed to George W. Bush’s use of the word evil until he told the nation this last spring, ‘The evil one is among us.’ Anyone with a passing understanding of the evangelical world of Bush’s faith knows he was referring to the Antichrist. The implications of this are grave beyond telling and yet scarcely ever noted in the public discourse.”

Another possible clue is the heading of the press release issued by the White House on March 17, 2003, the day the president gave Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led attack: “Events in Iraq Have Now Reached the Final Days of Decision.” Using the phrase “the Final Days” may have been an intentional signal to the religious right.

Five months later, in August of 2003, MSNBC reported claims by televangelist Jack van Impe that the White House had contacted him seeking an outline of apocalyptic events. Van Impe wrote on his website, “I am not sure whether he (Bush) knows all of the prophecies and how deep of a student he has been in God's Word, but I was contacted a few weeks ago by the Office of Public Liaison for the White House and by the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to make an outline. And I’ve spent hours preparing it.  .. it’s in his (Bush’s) hands. He will know exactly what is going to happen in the Middle East and what part he will have under the leading of the Holy Spirit of God.” (van Impe’s outline may be viewed online at (www.unknownnews.net/vanimpe.html). The White House has denied having made this request.

What is more apparent, though, is that Bush sees himself as having been chosen by God to lead a war on evil itself in the form of terrorism. In Bob Woodward’s 2002 book, Bush at War, he writes, “The President was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God’s Master Plan.” Similarly, in the Oct. 17 New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind quotes Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan adviser, as saying Bush “truly believes he’s on a mission from God.”

The near-messianic statements the president has made are consistent with such a conviction. On July 1, 2003, The Isreali daily Haaretz reported that Bush had told an Arab meeting on June 24, “God told me to strike at Al-Qaida and I struck them, and then he told me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.”

Again, the White House Web site records that on March 3, Bush told a Los Angeles audience, “God loves you, and I love you. And you can count on both of us as a powerful message that people who wonder about their future can hear.” After mentioning himself in the same breath with God, Bush then topped himself when the Lancaster New Era reported on July 16 that in a private meeting with an Amish group in Lancaster County, he told them, “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” The White House has denied the statement.

Experts consulted for this article were divided as to the nature of president’s faith and its possible influence on his policymaking. David Domke, professor of communication at the University of Washington in Seattle and author of God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the War on Terror , and the Echoing Press, said in a e-mail message, “What they [the Bush administration] say and do strongly suggests an End Times outlook is present.” Domke cites two pieces of evidence for this view: first, “that administration consistently demands immediate action on its policies, so as to not have missed the opportunity should Armageddon strike. The second piece of evidence suggestive of the administration’s End Times worldview is that it consistently presents an Armageddon-like outcome as the likely result of not acting. . . . I combine this with the president’s occasional statements about having a divine mission in the Middle East, and it begins to appear to me that the U.S. is in Iraq and not North Korea for a particular reason.”

Others, however, take a skeptical view. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author, most recently, of Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, said, “The Christian right is a huge voting bloc, and the Bush administration certainly tries to mobilize it, just as Reagan did. But I think their influence on policy is very marginal at best.”

Frank Flinn, professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees with Chomsky, saying, ”Is Bush a dispensationalist? He is if it will get him a vote.” But, added Flynn, “He believes he has a special mission from God.”

It’s easy to see why the truth is hard to discover here. Were Bush to admit being a dispensationalist, mainstream voters would be scared off. Were he to deny it, he could lose support from the religious right. One wishes the mainstream news media had done its job and asked the tough questions about the president’s faith.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2004 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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