Reductio Ad Antichristum
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made remarks on Sunday before the election that should Obama win, his victory would lead to the reign of the Antichrist.
“I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he’s not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes,” said Jeffress.
“President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
Man, this really gets to me. The media have a habit of finding some crazy thing a pastor at a small, out-of-the-way church says, and blowing it up as if it were representative of Christian thinking. Alas, First Baptist Dallas is a huge church, and thoroughly mainstream in Dallas, even establishmentarian. Lots of really good, faithful people worship there. It ticks me off that on the Sunday before the election, the pastor stood in the pulpit and accused the president of the United States of being in league (literally) with Satan incarnate.
Cards on the table: I am an orthodox (and Orthodox) Christian who, with the tradition, believes what the Book of Revelation says about the coming, at the end of history, of a literal Satanic figure called the Antichrist. But having spent a couple of teenage years emotionally caught up in the Evangelical “end times” world, I have seen firsthand how that prophecy stuff seizes the mind of millions of Christians (mostly Evangelicals, but Catholics and Orthodox have their own less well known versions). It’s kind of a joke among my longtime readers how susceptible I am to apocalyptic thinking about finance, the environment, and so on. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty confident it’s all a legacy of the emotional imprint of waking up every day when I was 13 and 14, reading in the paper about the ratcheting up of nuclear tensions between the US and the USSR, and, under the guidance of Rapture-ready reading, expecting the advent of mass slaughter and Satanic tyranny any day now. I came out of that eventually, and was so embarrassed and disgusted with how I’d given my mind over to such lurid fear that I threw Christianity away for years. To be clear, I hadn’t been raised in that kind of religion, not at all. I found my way to it on my own, chiefly because the story it told about how we are living in the last generation before the End Of The World was electrifying. Addictingly so.
Now we have the pastor of one of the largest and most influential Southern Baptist churches in the nation taking to his pulpit two days before a presidential election, and telling people that if they vote for Obama, they’re paving the way for the reign of the man Christians believe will be even worse than Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. It’s insane. Why would you do such a thing as a pastor? The day may come when that kind of rhetoric may be justified — say, if the second coming of Adolf Hitler is only one election away from taking power — but to believe that we are anywhere near that point, and, as a pastor, to encourage people to interpret their politics in such hysterically maximalist terms … well, I’m sorry, it’s to make a fool of yourself, and of the faith.
I am a conservative Christian who believes that Obama’s re-election is on balance a bad thing for American Christians, for a number of reasons. I see no reason why a pastor shouldn’t have given a sermon warning about the threats, as he saw them, of returning Obama to the White House. But invoking the Antichrist, and working the congregation up into thinking that this election was an apocalyptic choice (even if you non-credibly disavowed that this is what you were doing, e.g., I’m not saying that Obama is the Antichrist, but…)? Come on.
If I had been in that congregation and listened to that sermon, that would have been my signal to find another, more spiritually sober church. Apocalypticism is a narcotic among millions of American Christians, and it makes us drunk, ruining our political judgment and making us prone to say things in public that make ordinary people think Christians are crazy.
To be clear, I don’t really care what this kind of thing does to the Republican Party. I very much care what it does to the church. Putnam & Campbell found that Millennials have turned away from the church in significant numbers because the church became so associated with conservative politics. Granted, churches cannot compromise on what they believe to be the Truth because it doesn’t fit into the political preferences of young people. But do they have to make it so easy for young people to consider church nothing more than the Republican Party at prayer? Because that’s what you do when you give a sermon saying that people who vote for the Democratic presidential candidate are casting their lot with Satan.
Come on, Church, be better than this. Again, I’m a conservative Christian who believes in traditional eschatological views on the End of Days, and who believes that this is an important topic of study and serious discussion among Christians. Just to make that clear. But the wildly disproportionate interest that popular American Christianity has with the End Times not only makes us look stupid, it also makes us actually stupid, insofar as it corrupts our prudential judgment with emotional hysteria.