• Rise of the Televangelists

Rise of the Televangelists

The 80s were somewhat of a renaissance for religious broadcasting, the growth of the mass media allowed fundamentalists to spread their beliefs to the unconverted on an unprecedented scale. Indeed their influence was so substantial that a new cultural term was coined to describe them; the televangelists, a¬†colorful¬†cast of eccentric characters promoting the apocalyptic dispensational worldview to a mass audience. Typical of these preachers is Jack Van Impe, who’s show reaches out to millions on both TV and Radio. Of the prospect of nuclear doomsday Impe comments;

So does the Bible say that there will be a nuclear war during the Tribulation? Definitely! A third part of men will be killed by the fire and by the smoke, and by the brimstone (Joel 2:3)….The whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy (Zephaniah 1:18). For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven (Malahi 4:1). Therefore both the Old and New Testaments are in agreement concerning a nuclear holocaust.

Other dispensational broadcasters include Chuck Smith, host of “The Word for Today”. Ray Brubaker, host of “God’s News behind the News” and owner of Reflections on the News magazine, Charles Taylor, host of “Today in Bible Prophecy” which airs on more than 20 stations globally. Paul Crouch, owner of millennial theology TV station ‘Trinity Broadcasting Network’. James C Dobson, religious broadcaster and founder of “Focus on the Family”, a conservative church with over 2 million members and an annual budget of $114 million, Luis Palau, host of weekly TV program aired in 22 countries who is estimated to have spoken to 12 million people in 67 nations, and Oral Roberts, who in 1987 appeared on TV stating that at unless his viewers sent $8 million dollars in donations, God would kill him. (The Oral Roberts University has recently been at the centre of another scandal). Here you can listen to him tell you, at great length, where you can put your penis.

Flamboyant preachers appealing for donations from the faithful are a characteristic of classic televangelism, which was at was at its height a $2.5 billion-a-year industry. Much of the money generated lined pockets of the televangelists themselves, but it was also used to fund evangelising “charities” and extremist groups in both the US and Israel. Perhaps the individual to have profited most out of this religious phenomenon was Pat Robertson, who’s televangelism funded media empire has made him a billionaire several times over. His hugely successful Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) not only preaches his version of the gospel to countless millions, but also published pamphlets like “Freedom from Demon Bondage”, which explains that mental illnesses such as paranoia and schizophrenia are actually caused by demon possession.

Robertson’s personal views are hard to pin down and often contradictory, changing depending on which audience he seeks to address and often denying extreme statements he’s made despite the fact they have often been recorded or published in print. The thrust of his evangelising is his weekly show ‘The 700 Club”, which he regularly hosts. Amongst his guests are both Christian and Jewish fundamentalists such as “Rabbi” Gershon Salomon of the Temple Mount Faithful, who Robertson claims is “not a crackpot, he’s a very fine man”. Roberson has made a number of bizarre assertions on the 700 Club, in 1985 he claimed to have diverted a hurricane away from Virginia Beach through the power of prayer, and on another occasion claimed God asked him to televise the Second Coming.

Like many of his contemporaries, Robertson considers virtually everything uncomplimentary to his extreme worldview as part of a nefarious conspiracy masterminded by Satan.

Feminism, he believes, is “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Halloween, also, is a “satanic ritual” that Christians ought to “close down”, and homosexuality is “a sickness, and it needs to be treated”. Homosexuals, humanists (a.k.a. the “humanist religion”), socialist and liberals all he claim have an “anti-Christian” agenda and goes as far as comparing the Nazi persecution of the Jews to “liberal America’s” persecution of evangelical Christians. Even Church and state separation was a plot by the malevolent forces of Communism.

Robertson is also not shy about expressing his disdain for other faiths, labelling ancient religions such as Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism as “cults” in touch with Satan and demon spirits; “what you’ve got to recognise is that Hinduism is another guise [of Satan], and what is Hinduism but devil worship, ultimately?” The Mormons are also a cult (here we can agree) as are other denominations of Christianity which he brands “false religions”. Environmentalists are also one of the forces of darkness, one CBN broadcast labelled them as extremists who put the survival of endangered Owls before the well-being of people. In one bizarre rant on the 700 Club, he argued that if deforestation destroyed the birds natural habitat “smart owls” would “move to another tree”, before tailing off into a story about Owls getting depressed and becoming alcoholics. “Psychotic owls, roaming the woods, I mean its nuts!”

In 1988, Robertson claimed God told him to run for President, and drawing on his enormous fortune campaigned across America hoping to woo the legions of born again Christians, especially in the Bible belt. Robertson’s sudden desire to lead the nuclear superpower was disturbing given his beliefs in regard who was qualified to hold office. He once commented that only Christians and Jews are qualified to “reign” because “anyone whose mind and heart is not controlled by God Almighty is not qualified in the ultimate sense to be the Judge of someone else”. It also appears that Robertson envisions the US as some kind of fundamentalist theocracy, unsettling for a man who believes that entire nations can succumb to “demon power”.

“There was no concept between God and Government in the New Testament or the Old Testament… The concept that was before us in the Bible is that rulers are ministers of God, that the sword that they wield is not in vain, but they’ve been placed in authority by God to make sure that law and order prevails in our land and there is no anarchy.”

Furthermore Robertson’s choice of friends offers a disturbing glance at his visions for US government, he was known to Hobnob with Mobutu Sese Seko, the brutal ruler of the impoverished Zaire, who in 1989 outlawed all but six religions. Robertson and Mobutu are said to get on famously, which may also have something to do with his African Development Company which he established to mine the country’s diamonds and transform its forests into timber. He also had similar business dealings with Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor. And if this was’t bad enough, according to an article in The Virginian Pilot;

Two pilots told The Virginian-Pilot in 1997 that airplanes sent to Zaire by Operation Blessing, Robertson’s tax-exempt humanitarian organization, were used almost exclusively to ferry equipment for the diamond venture.

Robertson is also friends with Guatemalan dictator Jorge Serrano, a Pentecostal Christian whose mentor General Efrain Rios Montt routinely used death squads to murder “leftist Guerrillas” by burning, beheading, hacking to death and disembowelment. Robertson sees Serrano and Rios Montt as “enlightened” leaders of “godly government”. Another of Robertson’s friends is former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who in 1991 declared to the world his country was a true “Christian Nation”. Henceforth all public schools taught only Christian fundamentalist theology, state run TV would transmit only religious programs, abortions were banned and all “obscene” materials were burned. Robertson viewed such actions as inspirational, asking his audience on the 700 Club “Wouldn’t you like to have someone like that as the President of the United States of America?”

Robertson’s campaign was dogged by allegations of draft dodging, and he was perceived by many as a loose cannon due to comments about Congress being able to ignore the Supreme Court “if they so choose” and frightening statements on how the US should form “hit squads” to assassinate terrorists. Thankfully for the world but unfortunately for Robertson, much of the Christian Right instead voted for rival Christian candidate George Bush. Perhaps a little bitter at losing to the ex-CIA chief, Robertson gave Bush a role as a tool of the Antichrist in his 1991 conspiracy tome “The New World Order“. New World Order puts forward a hackneyed but compendious account of a secret plot by anti-Christian forces to establish a Satanic one world government via the UN. It was also according to the editor of Church & State magazine a blueprint for harsh, puritanical American theocracy. It was a New York Times bestseller.

Such conspiracy theories became central beliefs of the Christian Coalition, a dispensational group founded by Pat Robertson which still maintains a respectable image due to the moderate public face of youthful evangelist Ralph Reed. Its goals are that of criminalising abortion, making school prayer mandatory, opposing Gay rights, and teaching of creationism in school. During the 1994 Mid Term Elections they revealed their “Contract with the American Family”, a legislative plan to re-draft the First Amendment to allow “parents” (i.e. fundamentalist Christians) to have Veto power over the school curriculum. Republican leader Newt Gingrich had already promised a floor vote on the proposals.

While maintaining they are non partisan the Christian Coalition have showed extreme bias towards “pro-Christian” sympathies; i.e. the Republican Party. At one meeting in 1992 a speaker proclaimed “it’s impossible for Christians to vote for a democrat” and they routinely publish voter guides which clearly favour Republican candidates. Their rallies have something of a siege mentality to them, perceiving virtually all other elements of American society engaging in clandestine conspiracies against Christians in way outlined in Robertson’s New World Order. In the Christian Coalition, those who don’t believe in some form of conspiracy are the outsiders.

The peace process in the Middle East, the intention of which was to create an autonomous Palestinian Authority and withdraw Israeli troops from the occupied territories, was perceived by many evangelicals as the work of Satan. Mike Evans wrote in his 1997 book “Jerusalem Betrayed” that the peace process is part of an international plot to steal Jerusalem from the Jews, which was masterminded by the Antichrist. John W.Schmitt and J.Carl Laney’s “The Messiah’s Coming Temple” simultaneously wrote that’

“Someday newspaper headlines around the world will announce the Destruction of the Dome on the Rock. That event will prepare the way for the rebuilding of the Temple in fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.”

Televangelist Jerry Falwell meanwhile was so convinced that the construction of Temple was near that he organised church trips to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he would routinely point to the Dome on the Rock and proclaim loudly “This is where we will build the Third Temple. We have all the plans drawn for the Temple, even the building materials are ready”. Falwell seems unconcerned at the reaction to his proposals in the Islamic world, and remains at best indifferent that destroying the Islam’s third most holy shrine would provoke a massive Arab retaliation against both the United States and Israel, which could potentially result in a nuclear exchange. Disturbingly Falwell believes that:

“Armageddon is a reality, a horrible reality… We are part of the terminal generation, that last generation. All of history is reaching a climax…. I don’t think my children will live their full lives out. [At Armageddon] there will be one last skirmish and then god will dispose of this cosmos… God will destroy this Earth, the heavens and the Earth”

It is worth noting that Falwell’s excursions to Israel are by no mean the Christian Right’s only activities in the Holy Land. During the 80s especially a number of groups came into existence who’s sole intention was the expansion of Israel and the construction of the Temple, many though have a moderate public face. Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC) asks churches to adopt (illegal) Israeli settlements by juxtaposing language from America’s own colonial past and emotive Biblical terms. The CFOIC describe extremist settlers as “those pioneers now fulfilling the covenant to Abraham, Issac, Jacob… regarding the restoration of all the land God has allotted to Israel.” The International Christian Zionist Centre goes further, teaching the Rapture hasn’t come and won’t come, until the Jews accept their responsibility and build the Temple.

Above: 1981 CNN Special on the increasing influence of Televangelists, which sociologist Jeffrey K.Hadden calls “The most powerful cultural and social influence in American Society”

The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem states noble intentions of helping the “reborn State of Israel” and states it wants to be a reconciling influence between Arabs and Jews. However, the idea of ‘reconciling’ appears to entail telling Palestinians to simply deal with the Israeli occupation, as it states unequivocally that West Bank and Jerusalem should become the undisputed territory of Israel. The group, along with other fundamentalist Christian groups such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition have successfully worked to get pro-Israeli representative voted into office to reflect this ambition. Dispensationalists unconditional support of Israel is derived from Genesis 12:3; “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. In addition, the same passage reads that Judgment of nations and individuals is dependant how they “bless Israel”. This translates in the political domain as unconditional political, economic, and moral support for the state of Israel. Jerry Falwell makes this clear when he preaches “Theologically, any Christian has to support Israel… If we fail to protect Israel, we cease to be important to God”

The Israeli government doesn’t mind the political, military and financial support it receives largely as a consequence of millennial beliefs. Since the Establishment of Israel the US has given more than $83 billion in aid to Israel, more than has been given to all of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa combined. Not bad for a country with a smaller population than Hong Kong. Blessing Israel However does not necessarily entail caring for the future of the Jews. In the dispensationalist worldview the Jews are simply a means to an end and are destined according to most evangelists to fate much worse than the holocaust. After the battle of Armageddon “only 144,000 will remain” and they will all be converts to the “true faith” of Christianity. According to Hal Lindsey they will be like “144,000 Jewish Billy Grahams turned loose at once”. Regardless of this grisly fate awaiting the Jews in the millennial worldview, many Jewish intellectuals urge US Jews to support fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson simply because they are pro-Israel.

During the 90s dispensational evangelist Tim LaHaye provided the theological outline for a series of novels based on the book of Revelation, updating the setting to the contemporary world. The bestselling “Left Behind” series begins with all true Christians mysteriously vanishing from Earth, and the dramatically named Antichrist “Nicolae Carpathia” becoming Secretary General of the United Nations (which relocates its Headquarters to Baghdad). The subsequent seven novels describe in detail the torments of the unbelievers during the seven years of the Tribulation, and paints a bleak future for those who refuse the word of Christ. More recently, a children’s’ series of Left Behind were published, aimed at the 10-14 age group.

Above: The trailer for Tim LaHaye’s massively successful Left Behind movie.

But not wanting to put all his theological eggs in once basket, LaHaye founded the “School of Prophecy”, a body dedicated to constantly reevaluating prophesies in light of world events (such as the fall of the USSR). It explains on its website that;

The time has come when serious students of biblical prophecy must be clear about what is fact, what is assumption, and what is speculation. For example, just because a war breaks out in the Middle East does not mean that war will necessarily lead to Armageddon. Just because modern geopolitical Iraq includes the ruins of ancient Babylon does not necessarily meant that Iraq will be the Babylon of the last days.

The issue at stake is that we must carefully distinguish between the facts of prophecy and our own assumptions and speculations. This is why we are launching the Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy at Liberty University. We want to help our students study, understand, and teach Bible prophecy properly and effectively — based on the facts.

In other words the “School of Prophecy” hopes to allow dispensationalists to make prophetic predictions which are fluid and constantly changing in relation to real-world situations but theologically consistent in terms of message. If a prophesy fails, it was mere speculation and can be put down to human error, but if it appears correct it is seen as proof of the authenticity of both the scriptures and the dispensational worldview. Thus, they can never be wrong. In this spirit Hal Lindsey wrote the official follow up to his 1970 bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth”, in which he hoped to update his message for a new generation.

Despite claiming in his previous book that the world would end in 1988, his 1996 sequel “Planet Earth 2000 A.D.: Will Mankind Survive?” claimed that many of his predictions have actually come true. Furthermore he embellishes the more paranoid elements of his previous bestseller by making outrageous claims such things as the era of 60′s was the work of Satan, the nuclear disarmament movement is a Communist plot, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is the most powerful man in the world and UFO’s are actually demons. He also perpetuates the belief that there is a vast Satanic conspiracy against Christian America masterminded by communists/the UN/liberals. He furthermore makes unsubstantiated claims that Iranian moderate Hojatalislam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani proclaimed that Muslims want to rule the world.

The far reaching paranoia of the Clinton era led the Christian-right to make an array of bizarre allegations regarding the President and his wife. Clinton himself was accused of being a Satan worshipper, the allegations of his using marijuana being “proof” of his occult leanings. Some elements of the Christian Right also claimed Hillary Clinton was a “High Witch of the Illuminati” because she hung “occult” ornaments on her Whitehouse Christmas tree. This relentless (and often literal) demonisation may have had something to do with the Christian right having considerably less influence on US foreign and domestic policy during his term in office. His government was dogged by a series of scandals based around him being morally unfit to hold office, what the first lady called a “vast right-wing conspiracy”.
Despite the best efforts of the Christian Right to have him removed, Clinton survived to the end of his second term where he focussing (much the dispensationalist’s disgust) at a revitalisation of the Middle East peace process. The Christian fundamentalists though were about to return to the forefront of world politics in a dramatic and contentious way. In late 2000 republican Candidate George W.Bush won the Presidential election via a controversial decision by the US Supreme Court which saw him win by a mere 500 odd votes. Bush, a supposed moderate of the Christian Right became “born again” in the late 80s and took apocalyptic evangelist Billy Graham as his spiritual mentor, a man who believes “God’s perfect form of government is monarchy”. Although many see Bush’s Christian stance as contrived and cynical, the evidence does suggest that he is a deeply religious man. In one book a former aide describes a daily routine of Bible study and prayer, which the President makes time for regardless of his busy schedule.

Bush’s first year in office was characterised by a gradual alienation from the world community. In March 2001 the US withdrew from the Kyoto climate treaty to cut down global warming, in July rejected a draft of the UN’s ban on biological and chemical weapons and also refused to ratify a comprehensive test ban on nuclear weapons. In addition the US was thrown off the UN human rights body and the UN International Narcotics Control Board and on September 4th walked out of a conference on racism over the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. Exactly a week later and inspired by this very issue, Islamic militants hijacked four planes and took their own holy war to the shores of America.

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