1. Rod Parsley: Anti-Muslim Crusader
Here's a not-news flash: Rod Parsley, the dispensationalist who preaches that the Bible predicts that Jesus will come back and vanquish all religions but Christianity, thinks Islam is a false religion. Mother Jones' David Corn plucked Parsley's anti-Muslim statement out of the televangelist's 2005 diatribe, Silent No More, and then hounded the McCain campaign to denounce Parsley. Not surprisingly, no such denunciation was forthcoming.
For Parsley's followers, of course, who believe that the Bible is encrypted with stories, symbols, and prophecy that foretell how the world will end, the notion that he would find Islam "false" is neither a surprise nor an outrage. And just like the indignation over John Hagee's anti-Catholic statements was finally given a pass by the arbiter of everything that is right and just about religion, the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, Parsley's anti-Muslim sentiments will also be given a pass. Not because a majority of Americans, or even a majority of Christians, share his eschatological beliefs, but because so many people remain suspicious about Islam. If Islam weren't thought of as The Other, why would the false rumors about Obama being a Muslim instead of a Christian, or the repeated use of his demonized middle name, gain so much traction as a campaign narrative and, indeed, a news story?
If Hagee, after all, could get away with calling the Catholic Church "the great whore," Parsley surely will get away with calling Islam a "false religion." American Muslims don't have their own -- pardon me -- media whore to rival the screen time that Donohue gets.
2. What Parsley Believes About Islam
Like his friend and colleague Hagee, Parsley believes that an army of Muslims, led by the Russians to attack Israel, will be vanquished by God; that the Antichrist will try to enter Jerusalem and claim it for his own; and that Jesus will gallop into the Holy City on his white horse, annihilate the antichrist and all nonbelievers, and rule the world from the Temple Mount.
It's hard to imagine that people's lives are actually animated by this scenario until you go into the trenches -- churches like Parsley's and Hagee's -- and talk to people, who believe it and live their lives by it. They hope that they'll be raptured, or hope that they will be one of the "remnant," the Christians left behind to preach the Gospel to non-believers during the Tribulation period, so that they will survive Armageddon. They view the world through the prism of spiritual warfare, in which they (the godly) do battle with The Other (Satan). God gave Israel to the Jews, Hagee has said, but the antichrist wants it for its own. So guess who the antichrist is in that scenario.
Here's Parsley from an early 2007 episode of his television program, "Breakthrough," in language that is typical of his preaching, and typical of like-minded dispensationalists: "A cataclysmic drama is about to be played out in the drama of world affairs," said Parsley, "the fulfillment of bible prophecy. ... With the back pages of your Bible reading like the front pages of the daily news, I felt impressed in my spirit to help you understand more fully the prophetic hour we're living in." Reading from the Book of Revelation, Parsley claimed that the "signs of the times unanimously indicate Jesus Christ is coming and coming soon" and that "it is our privilege, our responsibility to share the gospel with every creature before it's eternally too late," meaning that everyone should be converted to Christianity.
"What happens in Jerusalem is the foremost indicator of the end of the age ... [and] the fulfillment of all things." Jerusalem, Parsley added "has been a target because God has chosen it as his dwelling place for the generations." Parsley concluded, "So it attracts the wrath of the ungodly," referring, of course, to Muslims.
Behind all of this is a profit motive: Parsley was selling his DVD series, "The Days Before Eternity," which included his sermon, "Israel-Iran, Impending Apocalypse." All that for "sowing your seed" of $40 or more -- putting your money in Rod Parsley's pocket.
3. And What About Hagee's Anti-Catholicism?
Anti-Catholicism is so pervasive among Pentecostals/charismatics like Hagee, says Shayne Lee, sociologist at Tulane University and author of T.D. Jakes: America's Preacher, that it is "very normal to hear anti-Catholic rhetoric" at church. Lee, who not only studies the movement but experienced it first-hand growing up Pentecostal, said that many Pentecostals and charismatics don't believe Catholics are even real Christians. "The charismatic movement goes against formalism in general. Religiosity, they call it," Lee says. Because Pentecostals and charismatics emphasize their personal relationship with Jesus and the gifts of the holy spirit (such as being filled with the holy ghost, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and faith-healing) Catholic emphasis on rituals is suspect. "The fact that they're baptized at birth rather than making a conscious decision to serve Christ [is] one of the main reasons why they're challenged," Lee says. Charismatics choose baptism, and therefore believe they chose their walk with Jesus and doubt Catholics' personal experience with Christ.
As for Hagee's "great whore statement," Lee says that "for years, Pentecostals and charismatics have been suggesting or alluding to, some even explicitly saying that the Pope was the antichrist ... I would say this is a 20th century phenomenon, with fundamentalists and charismatics and Pentecostals ... it's believable to a lot of charismatics, because they see it as a big, powerful institution of religion, but no relationship [with Jesus]."
So if this anti-Catholicism is, as Lee says, so embedded in Pentecostalism, particularly of Hagee's generation, then why was it acceptable for McCain to declare Hagee's anti-Catholic statements "taken out of context?"
4. The New Religious Right?
At the National Press Club last week, religious right political animals Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson rolled out their new book, Personal Faith, Public Policy, which purports to expand the agenda of the religious right beyond abortion and gay marriage. Flanked by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, both of whom represent the "evangelical center," Perkins and Jackson gave the first public presentation of their new face, without some of the divisive old guard in the room.
Quite by accident, I found out where the rest of the religious right leadership was -- I went to the Family Research Council's headquarters, thinking the event was there, and was asked by the security guard if I was there for the Arlington Group meeting.
The purveyors of the new religious right agenda haven't yet explained how they're going to reconcile their distrust of government with their pledge to, for example, solve the health care crisis. Perkins made it clear that he's opposed to universal health care because, echoing the tired old conservative rant, he wouldn't want the same government that screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina to make health care decisions for him. Michel Martin, the National Public Radio host who moderated the panel discussion, shot back, "that was the Bush administration, wasn't it?"
Really, if they're going to convince anyone that they have anything new to say, they're going to have to get off the conservative antipathies and start talking about real, workable solutions. Otherwise, they will just continue to be defined by their daily fretting on such matters as vilifying cohabitation before marriage or "the failure of the condom culture" or gay marriage "crisis" in Florida, all matters about which the Family Research Council sent out press releases and action alerts in the days following the book launch.
5. ChristianityLite Assailed at Take Back America
Across town on Monday, at a self-organizing session at the Take Back America conference, liberal theologian and pastor Ray Dubuque discussed his Web site, Liberals Like Christ, through which he tries to demonstrate that Jesus' teachings are liberal, not conservative. But if this election cycle has shown us anything about mixing religion and politics, it is that we should get off trying to define Jesus and get busy defining American policy.
Much more entertaining was Robert McElvaine, chair of the history department at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and author of the forthcoming Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America, which is a highly entertaining (and infuriating) romp through the foibles of extremism in all its forms: extremist conservative politics, extremist self-righteousness, and extremist "ChristianityLite," as McElvaine calls it. ChristianityLite, he says, is the perfect consumer item: salvation for nothing. It resembles, says McElvaine, schemes that promise weight loss without diet or exercise. "Be saved without sacrifice or good works!" ChristianityLite is about professing faith, but not living it.
McElvaine nails the absurdity of the "I am a Christian, therefore I am immune from criticism" mentality with his example of how his fellow residents of Clinton, Miss. excused Bernie Ebbers, convicted in the largest corporate fraud case in U.S. history, because he's a "good Christian man." (As CEO, Ebbers looted his company, WorldCom, which was headquartered in Clinton.) ChristianityLite, writes McElvaine, "doesn't recognize sin in people who have accepted Jesus" -- except, of course, if the "sin" is homosexuality. Don't question your fellow Christians, and certainly don't sue a corporate bandit like Ebbers, the thinking goes, even if they've robbed you blind.
"My memory must be failing me," writes McElvaine. "I don't recall which of the Commandments it is that states, "you can screw them, but don't sue them."
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.