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Rapture wrap up

Rapture wrap up

On Facebook yesterday, I wrote that I had heard enough jokes about the Rapture to last until the end of time. Padre Mickey Dresbach top me by noting that people were making such jokes like there was no tomorrow.

But now for a somewhat more serious take on the culture moment that transpired by not transpiring this past weekend.


First, as Susan Russell writes, the Rapture ho-ha was not a shining moment for American Christianity:

When the Crazy Christians take over the airwaves and dominate the popular media with their latest scheme to make Jesus look bad – as they have this week — what gets left behind is the message of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love each other. What gets left behind are the core Christian values of love, justice and compassion. And when the dust has settled and the jokes are over, the collateral damage of Judgment Day Gone Bust are all those folks who now have even more evidence to convince them they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And who could blame them?

From the “we’re going to heaven and you’re not” foolishness of Harold Camping to the homophobic hypocrisy of “Family Values” candidates like Newt Gingrich to the “protect marriage” driven actions of the Minnesota legislature once again turning gay and lesbian families into sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics … no wonder Jesus wept. And no wonder so many people looking for spiritual community won’t touch Christianity with a barge pole.

Meanwhile, Ted Anthony of the Associated Press tries to put his finger on why the transparently ridiculous utterings of such fringe-y figures as the Family Radio crowd achieved such widespread attention:

Bloggers blogged and blogged again. Newspapers editorialized about it – and some took Camping’s money and ran his advertisements, which also appeared on billboards in many countries. Cable news anchors spent big chunks of Saturday chatting about it – about not just the believers, but about we, the people, and how we might behave if the end was (to employ a word rarely used elsewhere) nigh.

“For every generation, there’s been somebody who’s saying, `Oh, the end of the world is going to be, say, April 11, 1985.’ So when that happens every generation, it’s kind of hard to take seriously,” said Jory Burson, 27, a multimedia producer in Stillwater, Okla.

But, she added: “I do think that people stop and consider all the tragic events that have happened recently – the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, things like that – and, I’m speaking of my Christian friends here, that they might think maybe there’s an element of truth here. But I think it makes people stop and reflect on tragedies and think about how we’re treating the world and how the world’s treating us.”

As Anthony points out, many of those who helped make the rapture a hot social media topic had their tongues placed firmly in their cheeks. However, Robbie Jones of Public Religion Research Institute points to the unsettling fact that 52 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats believe that “the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of Biblical end times.”

So the notion that much of the country is a little bit crazy is still in play.

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Bill Moorhead

Well said, John. One of the things that we have noticed-but-not-really-paid-attention-to is that for most of Christian history we all assumed that the age of the universe was relatively short. It took Archbishop Ussher to pin the creation down to 4004 BC (!) but over the centuries most Christians would have assumed that that was about the right order of magnitude. They didn’t make the big hairy deal of it that modern fundies do; they just took it for granted, in the absence of any better account. The Genesis stories made more sense than the other creation tales floating around. Only in the last century or so have we understood the immense age, the immense size, and the immense complexity of the universe. And I am convinced that we have to make modern cosmology a dimension of what we mean by “He will come again in glory,” and to develop an eschatology that is commensurate with the reality of the created cosmos in which we live.

“This Jesus…will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” I am scheduled to preach on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Obviously I have my work cut out for me. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in how it comes out!

John B. Chilton

Jeffrey, you make a good point. What I think The Episcopal Church should do is clear up the fog around the return idea. It’s all very well for us all to use our own reason, ask questions and come to our own conclusions, but I’d like to see the church demystify what return means and what the coming of the kingdom means, and our part in bringing about the kingdom.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I think that we have a lot more to consider about the “Rapture” topic than just one “crazy” predictor who had the temerity to set a date, manner and time. The whole issue of apocalypticism in Christianity has haunted us since the earliest days. Our very oldest Christian writing, the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians makes it pretty clear that his message at that time, at least, was at least partly (if not wholly) an apocalyptic one and that the essence of it was belief in the “one true” God and his son Jesus Christ who would return from heaven to save the believers from the “wrath to come.” Furthermore, there is no strong doubt that, for Paul, this was “soon” but a definite date not specified. For Episcopalians today, every year, at the end of the liturgical cycle and bridging us forward to Advent, we rehearse the “return” idea. We enshrine the concept of the “return of Jesus” in our eucharistic prayers and the Creed. We may be “softer” and “more vague” and less committed to the importance of this idea, but it is far from gone from us. We “apologize it” but do not jettison it. It is also pretty clear that this idea is considered “nuts” by a lot of the world today. Is it time to be rid of it entirely?

Michael Russell

What we might want to ponder is the level of commitment these folks have to their convictions. A high enough level to commit their money to publicizing on billboards around the world. What might we progressive Christians do if we had that same level of commitment?

Episcopalians are the wealthiest and best educated segment of American Christianity and yet totally invisible in the public sphere unless we are being attacked.

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