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The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party

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Dispensationalism is a system of theology that was first popularized by John Nelson Darby, 19th century British evangelist and forerunner of modern Christian fundamentalism.

Dispensationalism divides the entirety of history into seven dispensations, or epochs beginning with the age of innocence, or Adam. We are now in the sixth dispensation, the age of the Church, and are preparing to enter the seventh time period, or the Millennial Kingdom - a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth.

Darby is said to have originated the "secret rapture" theory wherein Christ will snatch away his true believers from this world without warning. The Scofield Reference Bible, written by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, popularized dispensationalism in the United States.

It's likely that the theory became increasingly popular as the threat of nuclear war loomed ever larger in the human psyche. The possibility of annihilating the entire human race and most life on the planet in a matter of hours became unthinkable for many people, and dispensationalism provided an escape from the potential horror.

Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, written by Jerry Falwell in 1983, welcomes a nuclear war: Nuclear War"'Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ' - the one brings thoughts of fear, destruction, and death, while the other brings thoughts of joy, hope, and life. They almost seem inconsistent with one another, yet they are indelibly intertwined." (Introduction)

The Christ portrayed by both Falwell and LaHaye does more than enable believers to escape terrible events. He also punishes non-believers. Biblical Prophecy tells of a "glorious time for all believers" writes Falwell, but "there will come a time when God will unleash his wrath and judgment upon unbelievers. He will crush them beneath his thumb." (p.14)

The New York Times points out that "Writers and artists have been imagining the Second Coming of Christ for 2,000 years, but few have portrayed him wreaking more carnage on the unbelieving world than Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins."

"Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood," Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins write. "It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.'' The authors add, "Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated."

Believers will be Raptured. They will rise up in the air to meet the Lord, and unbelievers will be left behind in a terrible state of confusion and suffering to endure seven years of tribulation.

During the Tribulation period, which follows the Rapture in Falwell's book, "a powerful ruler led by Satan and referred to as the Antichrist will rise to power ... God will be pouring out his wrath upon the earth and mankind, unlike anything that has ever taken place. It will be a time of terrible persecution and suffering ... At the end of the Great Tribulation, Jesus Christ will come in great glory and power to defeat the forces of Satan at the battle of Armageddon." (Nuclear War and The Second Coming of Jesus Christ, pps 6,7,8) Some dispensationalists believe the Rapture will occur at the very beginning of the Tribulation, others believe it will happen during the Tribulation, and still others believe it will happen at the end. After the final battle at Armegeddon, Christ will return marking the beginning of the Millennium, or one thousand years of earthly paradise with the Lord.

This belief in Biblical Prophecy has been popularized by novels such as The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay, and most recently in the Left Behind series by the Reverend Tim LaHaye and author Jerry Jenkins. Newseek reported in a cover story on May 24, 2004, that the Left Behind novels had sold more than 62 million copies.

The world's Jews must return to Israel for a dispensational interpretation of prophecy to be fulfilled. To facilitate that process, dispensationalists have been leading groups of pilgrims to Israel since Falwell's first visit in order to win financial and political support for settlement activity.

Last updated: January-2005