May 25, 2013
California and the Rapture-Ready Candidacy of Newt Gingrich
Posted on Jan 19, 2012
Letter From the West is a monthly series by Deanne Stillman that explores what is going on in our wide open spaces and what we do to one another and all that lives there.
California may be a blue state in terms of voting patterns, but it’s very involved in red state politics, if you consider the role of evangelical voters—as Obama himself did when he asked Pastor Rick Warren of Orange County’s Saddleback Church to give the invocation at his inauguration. To make sure that Newt Gingrich won’t be left behind in the South Carolina primary election, Southern California-based Timothy LaHaye, author of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of books, has just endorsed him. In doing so, LaHaye provides a rapture-ready seal of approval for the former speaker of the House, and may deliver enough votes to upset Mitt Romney, a Mormon whose church has a different approach to saving people, often involving sending young men to France, which was where Mitt once preached “The Book of Mormon”—this, not this. (The latter, by the way, is one of the best American plays in recent memory.)
In the case of the LaHaye endorsement, the idea is that Gingrich is ready to meet his maker … or at least he knows that certain things need to be in place for the Messiah to return and usher in the end times. If you don’t know what those things are, click here for my look at the biblical breakdown, and find out about the hottest affair on the planet—evangelicals and the Holy Land. Are rapture A-listers correct in their literal interpretation of the good book? Well, we may be on a fast track to doomsday as I write this—if you believe along with millions of others that bar codes on consumer goods are a sign of the apocalypse. I happen to count myself among that group, although I’m not sure why we have to decode the New Testament for the news. In any case, now that Gingrich has received LaHaye’s endorsement, I can’t get the following image out of my head: President Gingrich is in the Oval Office, taking that critical 3 a.m. phone call. Our nation has just been attacked! In the middle of the call, he ascends through the roof of the White House as the Messiah makes a landing in Israel. Big surf ravages the land and the fur flies in many nations. Those who are not rapture ready are left behind, at which point the looting begins—and bar codes are instantly meaningless!
Can a nod from LaHaye really make this happen? Perhaps not. To hurry things along, Jerry Falwell has also checked in with an endorsement—from the grave. “As my friend, the late pastor Dr. Jerry Falwell told me personally,” LaHaye said, “ ‘Speaker Newt Gingrich is the most qualified man in America to run as president of the United States.’ ”
Certainly blessings from religious figures for presidential candidates—as well as commanders in chief themselves—are nothing new. We often speak of a separation between church and state in this country, but on some level it doesn’t exist. Is there any living ex-president who hasn’t conferred with Billy Graham moments before launching a war? And what about the role of the black church during the civil rights era? Dr. Martin Luther King’s alliance with the Kennedy brothers—President John and Sen. Bobby—had deep ramifications; without the involvement of the black church in the South, there would have been no civil rights legislation. And then there was Jimmy Carter—a deacon! A man of the Word (cloth? Cloth?) in the very Oval Office, a living embrace of God and the Constitution.
Strangely, Clinton’s fate may have been affected by another dead pastor, an evangelical from California who fanned the Jones flames from upstairs, helping to create a situation whereby the president was almost burned at the stake. I speak here of Aimee Semple McPherson—“Sister Aimee,” as she was known—founder of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Los Angeles during the 1920s. With her theatrical sermons and flair for luring the press, she was not just the most renowned revivalist of the day but one of the most celebrated women in the country. On the day she “drowned” in Santa Monica Bay, a Cecil B. DeMille film opening went coverage-free while reporters swarmed the beach to cover the search for her body.
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