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"Dispensationalism" Impacting U.S. Policy
By Tom Valentine
(Interview with Grace Halsell), Spotlight, 2 February 2000.
During the 19th century—long after the birth of Christ—a former con-man came up with his own twist on the teachings of the Bible that is taught by some people virtually as "scripture." It is having a major impact on the world today, particularly U.S. policy in the Mideast.
This peculiar philosophy—known as "dispensationalism" is political—and most emphatically not biblical. Yet many Christians in America consider it "gospel."
A courageous author who has investigated this bizarre phenomenon was the guest on the Jan. 15 broadcast of The SPOTLIGHT's weekly call-in talk forum, Radio Free America, with host Tom Valentine.
The guest, Grace Halsell, a veteran international journalist, author of 10 books and a professing, Bible-believing Christian, described her findings regarding this influential politico-religious force in her new book, Forcing God's Hand: Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture, which is available for $12 from Liberty Library, 300 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20003.
What follows is an edited transcript of the interview with Ms. Halsell. Valentine's questions are in boldface. Ms. Halsell's responses are in regular text.
How did you come about writing this book?
Let me go back to the very beginning. I've written a number of books and lived around the world in many different countries. I was born in Texas and I set out very early to see the world: Japan, South America etc. Actually, I went to the Middle East after I had been almost every place else and I did a book, Journey to Jerusalem. This was about 20 years ago. In that book, I lived with the Christians and Muslims and Jews and told their story and how they were living in Palestine and Israel.
One day I started living with the Jewish settlers who were taking land illegally from the Palestinians and many of these Jews were Americans who had moved over there from Brooklyn, N.Y. One of these was Bobby Brown, a third generation American who had moved to the Middle East. Sitting in this illegal colony outside Beth lehem, I heard Brown say, "You know God gave us all this land and the Palestinians all have to leave."
That hit me very hard because I had to ask myself what I believed as a Christian. Was God in the real estate business? Was he really giving land and taking it away from the people who had been living there for about 2,000 years?
So that question in my mind stayed with me and then later I began to take these tours with Jerry Falwell and meet Christians who condoned what Bobby Brown was doing, which was taking guns and illegally confiscating land from the owners who lived there. This led to this latest book, which is called Forcing God's Hand: Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture.
I would assume that the Jews living there (and being Old Testament people) would say, "Well, God dealt in real estate then. Why not now?"
That's correct. So these are the questions I raised and which I am raising in this current book. I think I definitely do answer the question in the book. As a Christian, I think I believe in the message of Christ, which is peace and brotherhood and love and not murder and not confiscation of land. I very definitely come out and say that Christ's message is what we need to accept if we want peace in the world.
You're originally from Texas. In your book you examine how the Southern Baptist Convention has been manipulated by this theory.
There are 16 million Southern Bap tist Convention members and the entire leadership has been taken over by this group of what I call these "militant Chris tians" who support Israel and what ever Israel does. You know, you can criticize France or China or even the United States, but you're not supposed to criticize Israel because the Southern Baptist convention leadership says that everything Israel does is orchestrated by God.
That's a very unique perspective and many of the big television evangelists promote this point of view. In your book you explain that the Southern Baptists were actually taken over by these people who say that you aren't supposed to criticize Israel in what was essentially a political coup.
It really was. It started in the 1960s, led by two men, and it became very political. It was a real coup. They took it over and turned it political. It became such a big force that they are very active in politics and they can actually be highly influential in politics, telling people whom to vote for.
This idea that Israel can do no wrong and that everything Israel does is directed by God actually came to the American Christian churches out of England through a theory called "dispensationalism."
Yes, this is quite a new belief theory that didn't exist in Christianity for 1,800 years. It came about just 200 years ago. It originated in England with a man named Darby and it was made popular in this country by Cyrus Scofield through his reference Bible. He wrote his theory within his Bible, on the margin, so that it became like a reference book. But some people reading that book take his words as almost the word of God. He believed that everything important in all of history must center around Israel. Everything.
I became a Christian about 15 years ago after having explored a lot of different philosophies. When I started looking into Christianity, I came across this Scofield philosophy and it's quite influential. I found that the Moody Bible In stitute was promoting Scofield ism.
So many seminaries are owned or controlled. The seedbed for this is the theological seminary in Dallas and they educate all of the professors who go out and head up other seminaries. So it's a vast, growing movement with all of the teachers and students who are learning this. There are countless seminaries teaching this doctrine.
I rejected Scofieldism when I investigated it, and I see it as being much more political than it is "Christian."
It is highly political and it gets so that it controls what goes on in the White House and controls what goes on in Congress. It's a vast number of Chris tians who are influencing Congress and the president. I give any number of ex amples in the book.
An article in The SPOTLIGHT written by Charles Fischbein, a former high-ranking figure in the Israeli lobby in America, pointed out that even former President Reagan and his attorney general, Edwin Meese, were praying for Ar mageddon to come during the Rea gan era.
Yes, that is very true. Ronald Reagan was tied very much into this belief system.
What exactly is it that they be lieve?
Well, Reagan undoubtedly tied in with this idea that there has to be an Armageddon. The reason they support Israel so much is that they say Israel has to be the "landing base" for Christ. And while many of these people don't like Jews as Jews, they do love Israel and make a cult of the land of Israel and they want everything protected for Is rael and what Israel wants, they say Israel should get, since Israel has to be the "landing base" for Christ.
I read the Bible for myself and I didn't see anywhere that Christ needed a landing base.
(Laughing.) It does get a little absurd, doesn't it? Well, Christ is king in our hearts and whatever he wants will be done and I think he's been crowned king for all Christians already.
It seems like these Scofieldian dispensationalists who say we must support Israel are saying that, "Christ didn't do it right the first time, so he's got to do it over."
Well, they want to force God's hand. God has to do it their way. It's pretty egotistical on their part, it seems to me, instead of "Thy will be done." It is like writing dogma your own way, and, as I said, it is a fairly recent dogma and it has become kind of a cult.
I guess they get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction with the certitude that they can say like Jerry Falwell: "I'm not worried about Armageddon. You know why? I ain't gonna be here."
It's like the idea that "me and my crowd are sure to be raptured and sit in the sky in grandstand seats and watch the destruction of earth below with all of the millions, billions, of other people being destroyed."
In other words, the followers of this theory that Scofield concocted and which has now become influential in so-called "mainstream" Chris tian thinking believe that they are going to be looking down and watching the people on earth murdering each other. It sounds to me like they are the ancient Ro mans and the others are the ones in the lion's den.
It doesn't sound Christ-like to me at all, that Christ would enjoy watching people burn. But as Jerry Falwell said, "I'm not worried . . . I ain't gonna be here."
In the meantime, though, they have this very, very powerful alliance and it gives them a lot of recognition and gives them a vast following. Tim LaHaye sells millions of copies of his book about the rapture. Hal Lindsay's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was a major best-seller.
I read Lindsay's book right after I became a Christian and I couldn't find where he was making these connections.
This is a danger to America because so many millions of people readily buy into this theory that's being taught by LaHaye and Falwell and Pat Robertson.
It's no wonder that the Muslims are upset when they hear Falwell and Robertson talking the way they do. Pat Robertson is an extremely powerful man. You point out in your book that in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, Pat Robertson rode into the fray in an Israeli jeep. In the war that followed, 200,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and wounded. Robertson said that Israel was "doing God's will." He actually believed that?
Oh yes, this cult of Israel is so real to some people. It's rather frightening. What interests me is that some of these Christian churches are now sponsoring the appearance in their churches of Solomon Gershon whose mission in life is to replace the Muslim mosque there in Jerusalem that is holy to a billion Muslims around the world.
He wants to rebuild Solomon's temple at that spot and he's worked very hard to breed up a red calf.
Yes, he wants to sacrifice a red calf there. But, of course, the mosque has to be destroyed and that could trigger a war very easily. However, they don't worry about that. And Christians are raising money to promote this. This is very real and Christians are raising money for an impending act of terrorism. Already there have been over 100 assaults on that mosque.
By far the most powerful lobby in America is the pro-Israel lobby and now we have Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and all of their followers and they all believe that Israel can do no wrong.
It is a powerful alliance between these militant Israelis and these militant Christians.
No wonder that Israel gets all of this foreign and military aid from the United States and has for decades. And the Israelis, in addition, have been selling high-tech weaponry to the Red Chinese and only The SPOTLIGHT was reporting it. This all ties in to what you are talking about regarding this alliance between the militant Is raelis and the militant Christians.
Neither one would be so strong without the other.
You can't call it an Israeli philosophy, though. It's actually a really weird twist on Christianity that is only 200 years old and has no connection with the Bible or anything in Christianity's history. How in the world could Darby, the English originator of this theory convince anybody of this?
Actually, the ones who got convinced were the Americans. It was not a big movement in England. But now these militant Christian evangelists such as Falwell and Robertson are beaming this theory around the world with their satellites.
You point out in your book that in March 1985, Jerry Falwell, speaking to an assembly of rabbis in Miami, pledged to "mobilize 70 million conservative Christians for Israel." Falwell also took credit for converting Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) into one of Israel's staunchest allies and then Helms soon was permitted to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Commit tee. So is it Christianity or is it politics in Christian clothing?
I did document the fact that Israel had given Jerry Falwell a jet airplane, which is a nice gift. He uses it to go around and he uses that jet, politically, I would say. I personally heard Jerry Falwell thank Israeli leader Moshe Arens when I was traveling with Falwell. He didn't know I was writing a book, but I traveled with two of his delegations that went to Israel.
What do YOU think ?
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