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The Rapture Racket
T he rapture is a racket,” writes Barbara R. Rossing in the first sentence of her recently published book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Westview Press, 2004). Rossing, a New Testament scholar and an associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, maintains that the Rapture is a fraud of monumental proportions, as well as a disturbing way to instill fear in people.
“Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world,” Rossing writes. “In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape. In place of Jesus’s blessing of peacemaking, the Rapture voyeur- istically glorifies violence and war.... This theology is not biblical. We are not Raptured off the earth, nor is God. ”
What if the “Book of Revelations” doesn’t spell doom and gloom? What if it doesn’t mandate the death, destruction, and annihilation of all but true believers? What will Rapture-mongers do?
Reverend Tim LaHaye and his co-author Jerry Jenkins are as responsible as anyone for taking the Rapture mainstream. Their Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels has sold nearly 60 million copies and for several years has been a regular staple of fiction bestseller lists across the country. The final book in the 12-volume series, Glorious Appearing , was released last spring and quickly found its way onto the bestseller lists.
LaHaye—a longtime religious right political leader, who co- founded the Moral Majority in 1979—does the novels’ imagining, while Jenkins, the author of more than 100 books, including Out of the Blue with former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser and Just As I Am , Rev. Billy Graham’s memoir, does the writing.
The phrase left behind derives from “the Christian fundamentalist belief in the Rapture [also known as the End of Days] that is, at the sound of a trumpet, Jesus will soon appear in the clouds to take believers up to meet him, thus escaping the horrible calamities foretold in the Book of Revelations,” writes Guy Manchester in Freedom Writer . Manchester, the author of Acts of the Apostles , a novel about theocracy in the U.S., maintains that Rapturists believe that those who aren’t lifted up will be left behind to suffer the consequences of “the Great Tribulation,” a seven- year period, the last three and a half years of which will contain great suffering and devastation. Jews, among others, will be left behind to suffer, but before it’s over “144,000 of them will accept Jesus as their savior. The rest will perish.”
For millions of true believers the Rapture is a glorious prospect. Some fundamentalist Christians see the war in Iraq and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Rapture and as a way to speed up the end of times. The Rapture scenario is what many believe drives evangelical Christians to demonstrate their unwavering support for Israel. Rossing writes, “... the new movement of ‘Christian Zionism’ is a militant all-or-nothing kind of Zionism that scripts Israel as a player in the dispensationalist Christian end- times drama in a way that baffles even Israelis.”
“They [the Left Behind books] are instilling this terrible fear in children that people are going to be left behind. It is not biblical. There is no Rapture in the Bible,” Ros- sing told Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead.
“9/11 was a wake up call to America,” LaHaye told Morley Safer in his “60 Minutes II” interview. “Suddenly, our false sense of security was shaken. Now we realize we’re vulnerable. And that fear can lead many people to Christ.”
“I see many signs of the Lord’s return. This could be the generation that’s going to hear Jesus shout from the heaven and we’ll respond to be with him. And you don’t want your loved ones to be left behind,” he pointed out.
In her interview with Whitehead, Rossing turns the tables on the Rapture faithful who see death, annihilation, and years of terror: “I was on ‘60 Minutes’ [II] with Tim LaHaye. He said that liberals have created this loving, wimpy Jesus and that we need the judgmental, warrior Jesus. The big question now is what is the true image of Jesus? A loving Jesus is not wimpy. A loving Jesus is precisely who Jesus is and that is how he is portrayed in the Gospels.”
Rather than scare the living daylights out of folks, the “Book of Revelation” actually aims “to comfort and inspire Christians to a vision of hope,” Rossing stated. “In the early Roman Empire, when it looked like violence was getting out of hand—much like things today—it was a message to people that the empire would not last much longer and that the emperor was not the one in charge of the world. Jesus is in our midst, but He is not the avenging warrior Jesus. Jesus is the lamb who is leading us to a different way of life—one espousing love.”
The Left Behind series has helped launch an extraordinarily profitable cottage industry where there’s no shortage of new products and spin-offs: Left Behind II: Tribulation Force —the second Left Behind movie starring Kirk Cameron —is now available on DVD; the Left Behind Prophecy Club is a fee-based website and newsletter designed “to help people understand how current events may actually relate to end times prophecy”; “In a world where madmen rule, the voice of God will not be silenced,” reads the promotional blurb for Jerry Jenkins’s latest novel titled Silenced (book two in the SOON trilogy).
For those looking for Rapture scorecards, webmaster Todd Strandberg has created the Rapture Index, which he playfully calls a “Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity.” The Rapture Index tracks a number of indicators aimed at gauging how bad things are on earth. Included in the mixed bag of categories are:
- False Christs
- The Mark of the Beast
- The Anti-Christ
- Stats on unemployment, inflation, interest rates, and oil prices
- Drug use, liberalism, and civil rights
Two weeks after 9/11, “the index hit an all-time high of 182...as the bandwidth nearly melted under the weight of 8 million visitors,” Time magazine reported. As of late December, the Index stood at 153, down four points from the year’s high. The Index’s record low number was 93 and was registered December 12, 1993, the end of Bill Clinton’s first year as president.
Comparing the theme of the Left Behind series to ethnic cleansing, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote: “If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of Glorious Appearing and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit.” Kristoff added, “It’s disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.