Warning: We’re about to drop into a rabbit hole, but there’s no way to tell this story without putting it into proper context, and I can just about guarantee that, with few exceptions, you haven’t ever heard all of this before.
Middlefield, Ohio Amish buggies
It took me a couple of days to realize WHEN the modern American Christian schism began in earnest. Its traceries reach back to the turn of the Twentieth Century, when the Scofield Reference Bible became a staple reference work for American Protestant ministers and laymen. And before that to the Plymouth Brethren.
We start with Rush Limbaugh Monday morning, right before the end of the first hour, when a caller tells Rush that one of the things he loves about America is the religious freedom.
Rush snaps back (approximately) There IS no religious freedom in America. Just try to put in a nativity scene at the local courthouse, and then tell me that there’s religious freedom!
There is a grand fallacy in this mass vomiting of religious bigotry, of anti-Muslim bigotry, of religious INTOLERANCE limned with every kind of other bigotry — as Limbaugh comes back at the top of the second hour and explains how ALL the Muslims hate America, and then that “racist” Reverend Jeremiah Wright (and thence, in the magickal logic of his fever dream, he digresses to tell us that Monica Lewinsky had a crush on George Stephanopolous) was screaming that “America’s chickens were coming home to roost” (actually quoting Ward Churchill in a convenient conflation), just to get the “Negro” dig in. You might think that the grand fallacy is that not allowing an “establishment of religion” on state property in no wise harms anyone’s free exercise of religion. (Just not on the courthouse steps, unless every religion –and NON-religion — gets to do it. )
You know, uniforms made out of white sheets and pointy mask/hats are very flattering to fat men. Much more so than suits.
But that’s not the grand fallacy. The grand fallacy is that there is any monolithic “Christian” culture in America, any more than there is ONE sort of “White” person.
Part i. Rushdooney to Judgment
In college, because TCU had just given up mandatory chapel, all students were required to take three hours of a “religion” course. And it was one of the most valuable classes I ever took there, even though it was the one class that I (and just about everybody else) DIDN’T want to take.
Our professor was a young history grad, and the first half of the semester was devoted to the standard: This is Hinduism, this is Islam, this is Buddhism, this is Jainism, Zoroastrianism, etc. Standard “comparative religions” stuff.
But the SECOND half, which seems to have been unique that that professor was the history of religious movements in America. And it struck me then, as it strikes me now that you cannot understand America without understanding all the religious movements that moved AS COMMUNITIES across the continent.
The Puritans (who had won the English Civil War) had to take it on the lam after the Restoration of King James I, and Cromwell’s relatives, Williamses all, were part of the great Puritan diaspora to Massachusetts. Not noted, by the way, for THEIR religious tolerance.
When you understand THAT, suddenly the continual friction between Massachusetts and King George III shows up in an entirely different light: these were the exiled victors of the English Civil War, the Roundheads, now out of power, but still hating Cavaliers, wh0 were once again in charge of English politics, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Maryland is acquired so that the oppressed remaining Catholics, left over from Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England, can leave the British Isles and practice their religion in peace, far across the Atlantic. The Quakers settle Pennsylvania, treat the Indians respectfully and fairly, and there is never an Indian war in Pennsylvania. The Oneida Colony made silverware to trade, the Amana Colony* in Iowa made household appliances.
[* I have been through the Amana Colony in the late Iowa summer, and the culverts and bridges are choked with "ditch weed" marijuana plants, left over from the U.S. Government's program to plant rope-making hemp in the Midwest, to make up for the loss of our primary source in Indonesia. Nylon rope solved the problem, but the wild hemp still rules the right-of-way fences, growing ten and fifteen feet high at the "borderline" fences along I-29. There is no implication that the religious Amana Colony -- still extant, having spun off the brand name "Amana" -- are potheads.]
Righting bewildered buggy bunglers
The Amish still populate Lancaster County in rural Pennsylvania, and the Wal-Mart in Hutchinson, Kansas has a special part of their parking lot blocked off with bales of hay to accommodate the Amish horse-and-buggy existence. (There are also significant communities in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio.) Sometimes locals get very mad at them for their position on taxes.
The cultural map of America often takes political views (‘red’ and ‘blue’ states or counties) into account, and often the ethnic makeup of regions into account, but very rarely the religi0us views of an area into account. We are a secret patchwork of religions and extended families, and it is in that cauldron that we must plunge. The story itself is simple, shorn of long equivocating digressions, as you find in most of the literature, and I’m going to boil it down.
Etheridge, Tennessee Amish buggy
The Plymouth Brethren were a fringe group in English Christian circles. John Nelson Darby was a fringe member of that fringe group, who never really caught on in the UK, but through his tours of the United States circa 1877, he made one very important convert to his freshly minted and heretical concept.
We’ll get to that below. The convert? A fellow named Cyrus Ingerson Scofield.
Now the Scofield Reference Bible was a great commercial success and innovation. Published in 1909 by the “Oxford Press” it filled a vast commercial void: an affordable Bible reference (with citations printed in the marginalia) it became indispensable to the prairie preacher — who had no way of knowing that Darby’s view was ONLY to be found in the SRF. No other scholarly bible reference book or concordance contained the Darbyite interpretation of Revelation. This was entirely Scofield’s addition to the text notes.
And, because Scofield had included Darby’s interpretation of End Times eschatology in the marginalia, the Book of Revelations quietly became the most important book in the Bible.
Now, throughout the Twentieth Century the idea sank into the fabric of “Evangelical” Christianity that the Beast was going to Stamp a Number on everybody’s forehead and there’d be a Rapture and a big battle at Armageddon and then Jesus would show up with his army of Angels and take over the Reins of Government for a Thousand Years.
John Nelson Darby
Well and good. Not really a problem or a widespread movement until 1948.
Why? We’ll get to that in a minute. Heresy first.
ii. A hair shirt for the hoary heretics
The modern concept of a “Tribulation” and a “Rapture” and “Millennialism” is just that, at least in practice. It’s like the question “who discovered America?” There is evidence of Carthaginian trade; there are the famous Viking settlements in Vineland, but for Western Civilization purposes, the question is answered with “Christopher Columbus” (neatly eliding over, uh, the Native Americans).
For all practical purposes of European, and, later, African and Asian emigration, Christopher Columbus is the answer.
For the question “who discovered the Rapture?” the practical answer is John Nelson Darby.
John Nelson Darby
Now, conservatives, listen to the most conservative of conservative religious positions. The original franchise of Christianity is the Eastern Orthodox Church, formed by Emperor Constantine I himself. Then, the johnny-come-lately Roman Catholic Church (who refused to move to Constantinople with the capitol), thence the Lutherans, followed by the Church of England and the Methodists, Baptists, Puritans, etc. etc. etc.
And, as I showed you the Nicene Creed that has barely changed from the final 481 AD revision (“The Biggest Foundation You’ve Never Heard Of,” 1 August 2010) so, too, the Christian mainstream’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation — the so-called “End Times” book that brings the standard Bible to a close and then comes the index, appendix and sometimes maps.
According to the oldest major branch of Christianity, the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church (about 300 million):
Scriptures are understood to contain historical fact, poetry, idiom, metaphor, simile, moral fable, parable, prophecy, and wisdom literature. Thus, the Scriptures are never used for personal interpretation, but always seen within the context of Holy Tradition, which gave birth to the Scripture. Orthodoxy maintains that belief in a doctrine of sola scriptura would lead most to error since the truth of Scripture cannot be separated from the traditions from which it arose. Orthodox Christians therefore believe that the only way to correctly understand the Bible is within the Church.*
[* This is at complete odds with "Evangelical" Christianity, which begins in England in the 18th Century and views the Bible as literally true, word for word.]
While the Orthodox consider the text of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) to be a part of Scripture, it is also regarded to be a mystery. Speculation on the contents of Revelation are minimal and it is never read as part of the regular order of services. Those theologians who have delved into its pages tend to be amillennialist in their eschatology, believing that the “thousand years” spoken of in biblical prophecy refers to the present time: from the Crucifixion of Christ until the Second Coming.
[* Scroll the the bottom of the page for the literal imprimatur of the Bishop of San Diego.]
Premillennialists hold, as do virtually all Christians (except certain postmillennialists), that the Second Coming will be preceded by a time of great trouble and persecution of God’s people (2 Thess. 2:1–4). This period is often called the tribulation. Until the nineteenth century, all Christians agreed that the rapture—though it was not called that at the time—would occur immediately before the Second Coming, at the close of the period of persecution. This position is today called the “post-tribulational” view because it says the rapture will come after the tribulation.
But in the 1800s, some began to claim that the rapture would occur before the period of persecution. This position, now known as the “pre-tribulational” view, also was embraced by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. Darby’s pre-tribulational view of the rapture was then picked up by a man named C.I. Scofield, who taught the view in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible, which was widely distributed in England and America. Many Protestants who read the Scofield Reference Bible uncritically accepted what its footnotes said and adopted the pre-tribulational view, even though no Christian had heard of it in the previous 1800 years of Church history.
Or look at it this way. There are the American “Evangelicals” and there is everybody else (Wikipedia):
There are two primary views among Christian denominations regarding the nature of Christ’s return:
- Dispensationalist Premillennialists (such as many Evangelicals, especially in the United States) hold the return of Christ to be in two stages. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is seen to be a preliminary event to the return described in Matthew 24:29-31. Although both describe a return of Jesus in the clouds with angelic activity, trumpets, heavenly signs, and a gathering of the saints, these are seen to be two separate events. The first event is to be unseen, the rapture proper, when the saved are prophesied to be ‘caught up,’ from whence the term rapture is taken. The ‘second coming’ is the public event when Christ’s presence is prophesied to be clearly seen as he returns to end Armageddon. The majority of dispensationalists hold that the first event immediately precedes the period of Tribulation. (See chart for additional Dispensationalist timing views);
- Amillennialists (such as most Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians (PCUSA), and others), Postmillennialists (such as some Presbyterians, and others), and Historic Premillennialists (such as Calvinistic Baptists, and others) hold that the return of Christ will be a single, public event. … Although the doctrinal relationship of the rapture and the Second Coming are the same in these three groups, Historic Premillennialists are more likely to use the term “rapture” to clarify their position in distinction from Dispensationalists.
And this is where the ever-growing and influential heresy of John Nelson Darby comes into conflict with standard American Protestantism and Catholicism. And also where we begin to see a profound shift in what had formerly been called “Christianity” in the United States. Because, with the emphasis on an imminent Second Coming and on the Book of Revelations, all activities were adjudged in the light of an immanent Rapture, and not, as the church had agreed for nearly two millennia, that the end would come when it came, and that one lived one’s life for today, irrespective of the end of the world. As the c0mmentary on Mennonite (includes the Amish) Article of Faith #24 notes:
Jesus counseled his followers against trying to set dates for the coming age (Matt. 24:36). We should also be cautious about too narrowly identifying persons, places, or events of the end times with particular people, places, and happenings of the present.
It’s a growing rift, and that’s not just a minor quibble. Here are the numbers:
Pentecostalism [a form of Evangelism], described by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life as a group of charismatic movements, has grown, according to researchers, from 72 million in 1995 to 525 million in 2000, though some have criticized these numbers as defining Pentecostalism too broadly. According to a 2005 paper submitted to a meeting of the American Political Science Association, most of this growth has occurred in non-Western countries* and concludes the movement is the fastest growing religion worldwide.
[* Michael Reynolds has been investigating THIS particular phenomenon and provides a rather chilling look into the interface of Evangelicals, U.S. Government contracts, and Kurdistan, in "American Evangelicals in Kurdistan" Alternet 12 July, 2010.]
And, for a somewhat personal view of Pentacostalism, see “God Swill” (31 August 2008, which I broke BEFORE the infamous “anti-witch” video at Sarah Palin’s church), “God Swill 40 Days Later,” (10 Oct. 2008), “Speaking in Forked Tongues” (8 Sept. 2008), etc.
IF that number is true, then Pentacostalism has surpassed Eastern Orthodoxy to move into the Number Two slot in Christian populations, as Texas supplanted New York for the number two slot in US state populations in the 2000 Census.
And my point needs to be made precisely: when any group acts within an existing Orthodoxy (as Christianity has been practiced for 1800 years by a vast majority of Christians, and is TO THIS DAY by a vast majority of all Christians) when a minority practices the unaccepted theology of “Rapture,” THAT group — by whatever label or labels you care to use and yes, Virginia, they ARE bewildering in their aggregate and variety — THAT group can be rightly termed “heretical.”
We take into account, of course, that every schism within “Christianity” creates two NEW definitions of heresy: that of the original sect and that of the sect splitting from the root branch. But, in the plainest possible terms, the “Dispensationalist” Rapture theory and the emphasis on the end times of the Apocalypse of John (Book of Revelations) is heretical in the most strict sense to virtually ALL of Christianity as practiced for two Millennia.
Which leads us to
iii. The Great American Rapture Schism
You see, the whole “Rapture” crowd (and I’m talking about the Darby and Scofield Evangelical branch that has Pat Robertson and Joseph Farah and R. J. Rushdooney and Sarah Palin and Ultra-rich Howard Ahmanson among its ranks) really has its roots in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
The Rapturites (for want of a better term, because the labels here are as thick as they are confusing) were SURE that Revelation was was now LITERALLY true. The fact of NO Israel since 70 AD (When Vespasian, who was about to become Emperor Vespasian inaugurated the Diaspora and razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground) had been a major stumbling block to the Pre-Millenialist heresy of John Nelson Darby. In 1948, now there WAS an actual “Israel.” Jesus was coming back any day now, and a whole new approach to Christian practice became the popular ever-growing, “Evangelical” movement.
Now, not all Evangelicals or even Pentacostals are outright Dominionists, but here’s a little example of one you might have heard of:
by Bruce Wilson
Posted: September 7, 2008 12:22 PM
… Sarah Palin’s churches are actively involved in a resurgent movement that was declared heretical by the Assemblies of God in 1949. This is the same ‘Spiritual Warfare’ movement that was featured in the award winning movie, “Jesus Camp,” which showed young children being trained to do battle for the Lord. At least three of four of Palin’s churches are involved with major organizations and leaders of this movement, which is referred to as The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit or the New Apostolic Reformation. The movement is training a young “Joel’s Army” to take dominion over the United States and the world.
Along with her entire family, Sarah Palin was re-baptized at twelve at the Wasilla Assembly of God in Wasilla, Alaska and she attended the church from the time she was ten until 2002: over two and 1/2 decades. Sarah Palin’s extensive pattern of association with the Wasilla Assembly of God has continued nearly up to the day she was picked by Senator John McCain as a vice-presidential running mate.
The Wasilla Assembly of God church is deeply involved with both Third Wave activities and theology. Their Master’s Commission program is part of a three year post-high school international training program with studies in prophecy, intercessory prayer, Biblical exegesis, authority and leadership. The pastor, Ed Kalnins, and Masters Commission students have traveled to South Carolina to participate in a “prophetic conference” at Morningstar Ministries, one of the major ministries of the Third Wave movement. Becky Fischer was a pastor at Morningstar prior to being featured in the movie “Jesus Camp.” The head of prophecy at Morningstar, Steve Thompson, is currently scheduled to do a prophecy seminar at the Wasilla Assembly of God. Other major leaders in the movement have also traveled to Wasilla to visit and speak at the church.
And what’s the Third Wave? Wikipedia:
The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit is a Christian theological theory first introduced by C. Peter Wagner to describe what he believed to be three historical periods of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century and beyond. In his 1988 book, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit: Encountering the Power of Signs and Wonders Today, Wagner defines the three waves as follows:
- The first wave at the beginning of the twentieth century with the rise of the Pentecostal movement, beginning with the Azusa Street Revival;
- A second wave during the 1960s as the Charismatic movement spread throughout some Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church; and
- A third wave during the mid 1980s.
You notice that all nineteen hundred years of PRE-Pentacostal Churches are more or less thrown out?
That’s the schism that we’re talking about.
The Eastern Orthodox, the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the American Baptists and the Lutherans might disagree about a lot of stuff, but they’d all agree that all three waves are more or less heretical.
I am not making a judgment here as to whether anybody is right or wrong, but in traditional, conservative terms, this is a form of Christianity that has major differences with the traditional practice, and has rent asunder the “Protestant” fabric of the “Protestant” founders’ United States of America.
And, by the by, the Mennonites (which hail from the Anabaptists, and include the Amish), state this as Article 24 of their Declaration of Faith:
Jesus counseled his followers against trying to set dates for the coming age (Matt. 24:36). We should also be cautious about too narrowly identifying persons, places, or events of the end times with particular people, places, and happenings of the present. Instead, God’s people should always live in righteousness, praising God, following Christ, led by the Spirit, awaiting in hope the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
That pesky Second Coming.
And that’s where we come circling back to Foster S. Friess.
iv. Heretics’ Home Skooling
The modern Christian homeschooling movement was basically founded by R. J. Rushdooney, whose contribution to modern Dominionism cannot be understated. I covered this in AVA OREGON!s, “Is Our Children Learning?” (13 January 2005), beginning:
Question: What do a pamphlet entitled “Slavery As It Was,” the Christian Reconstruction Movement, David Duke, Haley Barbour, Stonewall Jackson’s biographer, John Ashcroft, the League of the South, Moscow, Idaho, and homeschooling have in common? More than you might think.
The pamphlet, “Slavery As It Was” came to light nationally in mid-December 2004 when a Raleigh, North Carolina area school, the “Cary Christian School” found itself in a flap over the teaching of the pro-slavery text:
“Leaders at Cary Christian School say they are not condoning slavery by using ‘Southern Slavery, As It Was,’ a booklet that attempts to provide a biblical justification for slavery and asserts that slaves weren’t treated as badly as people think.
But, the Cary School turns out to be one of the over 135 schools nationally that have been “accredited” through Moscow, Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson’s “New Saint Andrews” scheme. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Far greater are the numbers of “home schoolers” who are regular recipients of Wilson’s educational program and publications — a scheme and movement that traces its roots to Stonewall Jackson’s chaplain and biographer, southern apologist and “theologian” R.L. Dabney, and R.J. Rushdoony — founder of Christian Reconstruction — the founder of the modern home schooling movement.
But that’s over 3000 words, and a good place to stop for today.
We’ll pick up on Rushdooney and Friess in the next installment of “Who’s Funding Tucker Carlson?”
Homework: READ Michael Reynolds’ “American Evangelicals in Kurdistan“ Alternet 12 July, 2010.” if you haven’t already. This is part VI.
Read the series in order.
- Tucker Carlson is Keith Olbermann; I am Glenn Beck (18 July)
- More Fake Cowboys (23 July)
- The Biggest Foundation That You’ve Never Heard Of (1 Aug. )
- Following Foster’s Buddies’ Money (10 Aug.)
- Foster’s Dominionist Pals (13 Aug.)
- Rubber Baby Buggy Bunglers (18 Aug.)
- Tucker Carlson – Profeshunel Jurnuhlizzum Strikes Agin! (12 Nov.)
- How Friess Fosters Tuckers Out – Conclusion (Dec. 31, 2010)