Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War
Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War, By Grace Halsell. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1986. 200 pp. $14.95. Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore
In Prophecy and Politics Grace Halsell describes a frightening—and ultimately depressing—reality of an actually established Jewish state and American television evangelists with millions of followers just waiting, even with joyful anticipation, for the Millennium—even if billions are sacrificed in a nuclear holocaust.
Author Halsell grew up in the dry plains of west Texas, in a devoutly religious, Bible-centered household. Revivalist preachers in those days warned congregations to "Repent or Perish," to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, to be born again, in the still commonly-used phrase. In this religious milieu, Christ was a peaceful and loving God.
In her research for Prophecy and Politics, which included two separate tours of Israel with the Reverend Jerry Falwell and hundreds of his followers, Miss Halsell discovered a harsh, Judaic-centered "Christianity," ready, indeed welcoming, any violence, even total destruction, so long as this would hasten the "End Times" and the Millennium. She also experienced tours conducted by Jewish tour guides only; that hardly mentioned the physical and spiritual Jesus; that diverted attention from the three million Palestinians under, Israeli control; and that stressed the Old Testament and an angry God of vengeance.
On one chilling occasion in Jerusalem, Halsell saw hundreds of Falwell's people shouting Hallelujahs and Amens as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens depicted Israel's brutal 1982 aggression in Lebanon—in which 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed—in terms of smiting "enemies" and "Communists." The killing in Lebanon was applauded as a possible precursor of the hoped-for Armageddon.
Such a reaction can only be understood in terms of a set of beliefs that might strike most Americans as nonsense. From disjointed Old Testament analogies in the Books of Ezekiel, Daniel and Isaiah and the New Testament's Revelations, the Evangelical-Fundamentalists have created an imagined perfect world that will come with the Millennium.
Before this sublime age can dawn, however, the Jews must have first been in-gathered in the Holy Land, a climactic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil—Armageddon with, yes, Russia as the Prince of Darkness—must be fought, and Christ must have appeared in a Second Coming. Most of mankind, including most of the Jews, will have perished in a river of blood. This almost unimaginable disaster is viewed with equanimity by the "born again" who will be "raptured" into the clouds out of danger. When the fighting is over they come back down with Jesus to enjoy the Millennium. The relatively small number of surviving Jews will enjoy it too for, in this belief system, they will perceive, however belatedly, that Christ was the Messiah after all.
One of the seemingly mad consequences of this mind-set is that armaments must be piled higher and higher—for how could Armageddon-to-be-followed-by-the-Millennium occur in a disarmed world?
Miss Halsell provides two fascinating pieces of information about television preacher Jerry Falwell. First, his expensive private jet plane is a gift from the government of Israel. Second, before 1967 the now ever-so-political Falwell said preachers should stay out of politics. Falwell never talked of modern-day Israel before 1967. Indeed, he is quoted in 1964 as having said that nothing, including fighting communism, could induce him to stop preaching "the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ." On his money-making tours of Israel in recent years, however, Falwell appears, as noted, to be neglecting Jesus Christ.
It seems clear from Prophecy and Politics that Falwell and Israel are scratching each other's backs and that neither's devotion to principle looks the better for it. Israel turned to the fundamentalists after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war because mainline U.S. churches became deeply and visibly concerned over continuing violations of Palestinian human rights. Falwell, responded, in part, perhaps, because millions of his powerless followers were psychological Rambos who saw Israel's brilliant 1967 military triumph over the Arabs as the biblical "terrible, swift sword," that they somehow perceived as now being in their hands.
A fascinating aspect of Prophecy and Politics is a discussion of whether President Reagan himself harbors evangelical-fundamentalist beliefs. Certainly he has left many with the conviction that he does. Rhetoric aside, some of his recent actions suggest the contrary. One can only hope that in this acutely sensitive area he has only been "playing politician."
Very simply and clearly written, Miss Halsell's book on an enormously complex subject is of immediate, compelling concern.