Monday, August 15, 2011

The Rapture and the Presidency

I've been reflecting on the fact that two evangelical Christians now seem to be in the lead for the Republican Party's nominee for the presidency in 2012: Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa Straw Pool, and Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy on Saturday and immediately was perceived to be in the top three (with Bachmann and Mitt Romney).

I'm wondering about the implications of having a candidate for the Presidency who believes in the "Rapture," i.e., the belief that in the end times, the "saved," will be caught up into the air, there to join Jesus Christ and those raised from the dead (cf. I Thessalonians 4:17 -"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Cf. also Mt. 24:40-41 - "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill. The one shall one taken, the other left.") Now it must be granted that beliefs concerning the Rapture, especially its timing and sequence in the events of the end times, vary considerably among those Christian groups that hold this expectation. But the fundamental idea is common to all.

Let me say first of all that I do not believe in the Rapture. I regard the passages quoted above from the New Testament as products of a time in which there was an expectation of an immediate end of the world, within a few decades at the most. There was no "New Testament" when these words were uttered, either by Jesus or by Paul, and there would have been no need for one, given the shortness of the remaining time. It was only after those hopes and expectations were disappointed (that first generation died and the end still had not come), that adjustments were made, and it was realized that Christians were going to be around for a long time and needed instruction and inspiration. Thus the New Testament canon was formed over the course of a century or more. The prophecies of a "rapture" were reported, but could no longer mean what they originally had meant. Ever since, Christians have debated what they mean for subsequent generations. There have always been some Christians who have believed that they apply to the time in which they live, up to the present time (as recently as last May 31st).

I do not know precisely what Rep. Bachmann or Gov. Perry believe about the Rapture. But polls have indicated that, in Rep. Bachmann's case at least, 31% of her followers believe in the Rapture. It seems likely that she does too. And I assume that means that she hopes and expects that when the Rapture takes place, she will be among the saved who are "caught up." If so what are the implications of that for her candidacy? Well, I feel that any candidate who believes in the Rapture should be disqualified for the office of the presidency.

The president-elect takes this oath at her or his inauguration:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

I do not see how someone who believes in the Rapture could take this oath in good conscience. They would be affirming their determination to defend the Constitution of the United States even while believing - and indeed hoping - that should the Rapture occur during their term of office, they would be "caught up" and thus be unable to fulfill their presidential obligations. It seems to me that to take this oath in good faith, one would want to be, and intend to be, among those "left behind," in the rapture.

There is no question that if the Rapture does take place, it will be followed by severe social dislocation (what the Bible calls "tribulation"). Airplanes will be left pilot-less; subway trains will lose their engineers; patients on the operating table will lose their chief surgeon, etc. We will need strong hands on the tiller at every level of government to restore order out of the resulting chaos.

Of course, the "saved" could not care less about this. In fact, those who believe in the Rapture probably feel that those left behind deserve to suffer because they are the "damned," so the more chaos the better. But those of us left behind may have different ideas on this.

If the Republican Party ends up nominating for the presidency someone who believes in the Rapture (and who sees himself or herself as among the "saved") won't that send a message that the party cares little for the American people as a whole and just wants to save the skins of the few? But, come to think about it, that's what their fiscal policy is all about! But that's another whole issue.

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