Thursday, December 31, 2009

Southern Baptist Heresy: Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism

This week Baptist Press, the public relations / promotion arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, explores and explains why Southern Baptists must place their faith in the 1830s-era religious heresies of Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism.

Almost all Southern Baptist college and seminary professors believe in Dispensationalism and Rapture, with variance on minor details, according to Baptist Press. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, declares thus: "The truth of the rapture is not up for debate, but its timing is something we can graciously disagree on." Lamar Cooper, the interim president of Criswell College in Dallas, insists "premillennial dispensationalism is a logical conclusion from the simple exegesis of the inerrant Word of God."

For the uninitiated, contemporary theories of the Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism were created in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby, a renegade minister in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. A few historians also credit a contemporary of Darby's, and a handful of obscure individuals in the decades prior to Darby wrote vaguely of a secret coming of Christ for the faithful. Going further back, Joseph Mede in the 17th century proposed a two-stage return of Christ, but not in secret form, and without a period of tribulation in between. In short, Mede and some later Christian thinkers influenced by Mede, spoke of Christ suspending believers in the sky for a matter of hours (perhaps a day or two) while God destroys evil on the earth and lowers believers back down to the planet.

But to Darby goes the public credit for the formal concepts of Rapture and premillennial dispensationalism, for which he is justly known as the "father of premillennial dispensationalism."

In short, while most Christians prior to Darby believed that Christ would one day return and judge the world, Darby crafted the formal theory of a "secret" second coming of Jesus in which Christ removes believers entirely from the earth, prior to an extended period of earthly troubles, followed by a traditional second coming.

But Darby did not stop there. He also invented an entirely new system of eschatology (a word that means "end times") based upon his creation of a seven-age "dispensationalism" of world history (in effect, a dividing of human history into seven periods of time, each characterized by a different manner in which God interacted with humanity, and culminating in the Rapture, followed by a seven-year period of intense tribulation on earth and the final second coming of Christ in triumph). Although neither dispensationalism nor rapture were biblical concepts, Darby taught that the Bible must be interpreted in light of his personal theories.

Collectively, Darby's theories became known as premillennial dispensationalism ... and outside of his little circle of followers, were immediately dismissed by Christians as heresy.

But then a very strange thing happened: Darby's heresy began a slow journey to orthodoxy. His followship grew slowly but steadily, and although Darby died in 1882, in the early 20th century his heretical creations were blessed by Christian fundamentalists (who arose in the late 19th century, but that's another story!) as ... biblical truth. The final seal of approval arrived in the form of C. I. Schofield's Study Bible, which in 1917 presented Darbyism as orthodoxy.

Yet the transition from heresy to truth must be understood against the backdrop of history. In the first half of the 19th century, many Western Christians believed that world conditions were getting better, and therefore the (one) second coming of Christ would come after a thousand year period of peace and prosperity (a view known as "postmillennialism"). By the early 20th century, however, many fundamentalist Christians were convinced that the world was succumbing to evil, and the concept of a pre-second coming Rapture to rescue Christians from the evil world seemed rather appealing.

Now, almost a century after the transformation of Darby's heresies into orthodoxy, fundamentalist Southern Baptist theologians and leaders pledge almost universal allegiance to an 1830s fabrication. Yet this is simply another example of the post-biblical nature - if not simple biblical illiteracy - of fundamentalism in the upper echelons of Southern Baptist life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do Corporate Feudal Lords Own America?

The impending Senate passage of a health reform bill hopefully (further congressional wrangling lies ahead) marks the beginning of a new era of respect for humanity and ethics in America (here's the rundown of the bill). Sadly, however, unified Republican opposition indicates that the GOP is determined to maintain its status quo as the lap dog of big corporations. (Not that Democrats haven't caved to corporate masters on some points.)

This most recent hurdle surmounted in the ongoing health care debate takes place against the backdrop of a larger question: What does the current health care debate reveal about modern America?

Here's a brief review of my earlier blogs regarding free market health care: As a nation, we (now) willingly allow the free market health insurance industry to kill 40,000 or more people a year by denying coverage or claims; force hundreds of thousands of insurance customers into medical bankruptcy; and destroy lives and families at will. And we allow these things for what reason? In order that more of the nation's wealth will be redistributed to multi-millionaire insurance industry executives, according to a former insurance industry insider. Doctors are also well aware of the evils of today's skewed free market health care system.

In short, the status quo is that of greed and disregard for human life (i.e., your insurance company is concerned only with your money, not your life).

And sadly, many Christians (including many self-described pro-lifers) so worship capitalism that they defend our current free market health care system that kills Americans, destroys families, and robs the poor in order to give more money to big corporations and wealthy executives.

So who owns America? If health care reform ultimately fails, or if only the most modest of steps forward are achieved in the next few months, big corporations may yet be allowed to continue hoarding even more of our nation's wealth. The richest 1% of citizens own about 40% of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 40% of American's citizens in terms of wealth, own .2% of the nation's wealth. (Click here to see a listing of studies on wealth distribution in America.) This disparity has resulted in America being near the bottom of the list in terms of "income inequality and poverty" among large nations. Furthermore, American wealth distribution has degenerated to such a degree that we are now on par with the Third World (undeveloped) nations in terms of the amount of national wealth controlled by a few rich citizens.

Is America, now mired in Third World status in terms of wealth distribution, destined, for the foreseeable future, to be owned by a handful of big corporations and wealthy individuals who in effect are feudal lords? Will our free market system continue to value greed over life, perhaps to an ever-greater degree?

The end result of the current health care debate may well answer these questions. America's corporate feudal lords of the health insurance industry variety do not want the citizenry to view well-being and life as a human right, for should we ever, as a nation, arrive at such a conclusion with conviction, the trajectory of power and freedom just might restored to the citizens.

In at least one city in America (Vallejo, California), human life is valued more than corporate profits. One can only hope that this revolutionary idea will spread to other locales, should national health care reform fail.

As Adam Smith noted in his Wealth of Nations: "Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged." - Bk. 1, Ch.8, Par. 36

There was a time in American history when Baptists - outcasts, impoverished, and considered religious heretics - fought for equal treatment of all citizens in matters of religion. They insisted upon pluralism, religious liberty, and separation of church and state. Perhaps there are a few Christians - Baptist or otherwise - who will not rest until twenty-first century Americans realize the fuller dream of human equality expressed in well-being and life as more important than greed. We do have a 20th century example: Baptist Tommy Douglas, recognized by his fellow citizens as the greatest Canadian of All Time because of his creation of Canada's public health care system, understood this most basic of moral principles.

The primacy of life and well-being, after all, is a core conviction not only of democracy, but also of the founder of the Christian faith, the One whose birth - and the hope and joy it represents - we celebrate this Christmas season. My prayer this holiday season is that all who claim the name of Christ will embrace His call to life, rather than find no room for Him in hearts devoted to corporate America.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tea Party Gains Momentum, Fertile Ground For White Supremacists

The Anti-Obama Tea Party movement in America continues to gain ground. Some polls now suggest that the movement has made significant inroads into the heart of the Republican Party, which itself is increasingly right-wing, eschewing any middle ground.

Bill Berkowitz offers a good analysis of the inherent racist dynamic of the Tea Party movement, a topic I've discussed before in historical perspective. In short, Berkowitz notes that although not all Tea Partiers are racist, the movement is the new ideological home of the white supremacist movement.

Will the racist-infused Tea Party movement capture the Republican Party, or perhaps even relegate the Republican Party to second-class status among conservatives? Maybe. While turnout at one recent rally suggests the movement is losing momentum, at least one poll indicates political conservative are more attracted to the Tea Party than to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, some Florida Republicans are horrified at the civil war among conservatives. Speaking to the Tea Party movement: "'If you tried to devise a strategy for destroying the Republican Party in Florida, you couldn't do much better than this,' said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican and a former Heritage Foundation fellow."

Speaking to the big picture of Republican woes, Republican and former George W. Bush administration appointee Michael Petrilli, writing for the Wall Street Journal, argues that Republicans need to reach out to non-racist "Whole Foods Republicans"—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics.

While the final dimensions of the Tea Party movement's impact upon the Republican Party are not yet known, it seems certain that the Tea Party will figure prominently in both the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. Unknown at this time is which conservative political faction the Religious Right (in effect, social conservatives) will throw their weight behind in the coming three years. While many conservative Christians are enthusiastically involved in (or are cheering for) the Tea Party movement, whether or not they largely abandon the Republican Party for the Tea Party has yet to be determined. If there is one person who holds the key to the Religious Right vote, it is likely Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin, who some are calling the next James Dobson.

Wherever one stands on the political spectrum, next year promises more political fireworks, while the voice of white supremacists grow increasingly prominent in American politics.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Huckabee, Palin and God's Will For America

In the face of a clemency scandal, Mike Huckabee's prospects in the 2012 presidential election are quickly fading. Sarah Palin appears to be a likely beneficiary. Indeed, some analysts suggest she is posed to become the new figurehead of the Religious Right even as Tea Partiers and the Religious Right are allying to push the Republican Party into embracing an ideological purity test.

Could Palin become the next James Dobson or Jerry Falwell? An October 16, 2005 worship service at her home church in Alaska, the Wasilla Assemblies of God, offers insight into this question.

During the worship service, Pentecostal pastor Thomas Muthee (the man who ran a woman out of her hometown because Muthee claimed she was supernaturally causing car crashes) christened Palin as America's savior, with the approval of Palin's congregation and Palin herself.

Muthee declared that God had called Palin as His instrument for transforming American society, bringing God and the 10 Commandments back into public schools, combating the forces of witchcraft, and abolishing the separation of church and state.

See the video for yourself. Is this the future that the Religious Right envisions for America?