Politics of Tribulation
Sarah Palin and the Rapture
RAYMOND J. LAWRENCE
this country ready for a president who is excited about and
eagerly looking forward to the Rapture?
The Rapture, as it is called, is the imaginary day when Jesus
will come down from the sky and lift up into heaven all those
who are saved, leaving behind all unbelievers to destruction and
Anyone who believes in the Rapture scenario will likely
interpret a catastrophic nuclear exchange as the opening scene
of the Rapture. Thus an American president who believes in the
Rapture would arguably have at least some ambivalence toward a
nuclear holocaust. A believer in the Rapture with his or her
fingers on the nuclear trigger might even be tempted to bring on
the Rapture. The Rapture, for those who believe in it, is hardly
a negative event. Rather it is culmination of everything they
hope for, deliverance into the heavenly arms of Jesus.
Presumably Sarah Palin believes in the Rapture. It is one of the
doctrines of her religion, and she has nowhere disavowed it. Are
Americans ready to sleep at night with a President who longs for
The doctrine of the Rapture is a very recent invention within
some of the radical fringe churches of Christianity. The Rapture
doctrine is first cousin to millennialism, the belief promoted
by various groups who have predicted that “the end is near.”
Millennialist groups have popped up and burnt out from time to
time throughout Christian history.
The Rapture doctrine has no support in the historic Christianity
of any of the main traditions - Roman Catholic, Eastern
Orthodox, or Protestant. The doctrine of the Rapture is cobbled
together from several obscure, unrelated comments drawn from the
epistles of Paul the Apostle. No credible biblical scholar in
two thousand years of Christian history has taken seriously the
Rapture doctrine, millennialism, or anything similar to it.
The American people ought to be concerned about the religious
beliefs of its political leaders as those beliefs may determine
the life of the nation as a whole. It would be foolish of the
American people not to be deeply concerned about the religious
beliefs of Sara Palin, who may be elected Vice President for the
oldest President ever inaugurated into the office.
When John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency in 1960, many
Americans were concerned about his commitment to the Roman
Catholic Chruch. The fear was that he might be subject to
directions from Catholic priests, or from the Pope, since he was
a practicing Catholic, and Catholic leaders are typically quite
directive and authoritarian. Kennedy answered that concern in
speaking to the Houston Ministerial Association during the
campaign. He declared boldly and correctly that no political
leader should take directives from religious authorities
whatsoever. He claimed a commitment to the strict separation of
church and state. Kennedy’s assurances were widely accepted by
The Sarah Palin problem is somewhat different. The concern is
not whether she would take orders from her pastor. That is
unlikely. Her church does not typically exercise that sort of
authority. The problem is both more simple and more worrisome.
The public must presume that Palin believes in the Rapture,
since it is one of the central doctrines of her church.
Furthermore, the American people should assume that Palin’s
personal religious beliefs will have consequences in her
decision-making as a President. Both Palin and McCain have
already made clear that their religious views about abortion
will determine presidential appointments to the courts.
The press and much of the public seem reluctant to engage Palin
on her religious views, considering them to be a personal
matter. In certain respects that is admirable restraint. We do
not want candidates for office grilled on their private
religious views as long as those views do not impinge upon the
public welfare. Whether an individual believes in the bodily
assumption of the Virgin Mary, predestination, or other such
religious views should not be subject to political scrutiny.
Such beliefs have no inherent impact on public policy.
However, a belief in the Rapture as an historic event toward
which history is rapidly moving, is a belief with potentially
catastrophic political implications. Do the American people want
a believer in such a fantasy to hold in her hands the nuclear
power to destroy civilization?
Raymond J. Lawrence is
an Episcopal cleric, recently retired Director of Pastoral Care,
New York Presbyterian Hospital, and author of numerous opinion
pieces in newspapers in the U.S., and author of the recently
Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom (Praeger). He
can be reached at:
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