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Evangelicals, Israel, and the End of the World

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It's been just nine years since dooms-dayers expected the new millennium to
bring the end of the world, yet the cry of "Armageddon" still rings out.
Last month alone, NASA had to allay fears of a 2012 end-of-the-world
scenario.

And why not? We all know humans are doomed. Either our sun will
explode in a few billion years or God's wrath will consume the planet
tomorrow. But few Americans have embraced the coming of the End Times as
intensely as the Evangelicals profiled in Waiting for Armageddon, a
documentary I co-directed with Kate Davis and Franco Sacchi, to be released
theatrically in New York City, Providence and Boston in January. In the
film, we join Christian Evangelicals on an explosive tour of the future as
they see it, from anguish to the sublime perfection of a new world.

There are some 50 million Evangelicals in the US who believe in the
literal truth of Bible prophecy. You can argue theological accuracy all you
want. This massive block of citizens possesses unshakable belief that the
end of the world will be heralded by a series of prophetic events some of
which have occurred (e.g. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) some of which are
ongoing (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

I am not talking about Bible-thumping, street-corner ravers, though one
or two do appear in our film. The people we profiled -- from Evangelical
leaders to rank-and-file believers -- are for the most part formidable,
intelligent, well-educated. And all are fixated upon Israel (the land of
Christ's return).

Waiting for Armageddon opens with James and Laura Bagg, an attractive
pair of 30-something jet-propulsion engineers living in Connecticut. Yes,
Evangelical rocket scientists from the Northeast.

"We could be raptured out of this world during this interview," Laura
says, referring to a miracle where all good Christians disappear from earth
and rematerialize in the clouds as chaos seizes the world. "There will be
car crashes and plane crashes. And the people left behind will be asking,
'Are they coming back for me?'"

Then James Bagg explains that, "You see God has a plan for the world
and it all centers around Israel."

The Baggs are, in a way, typical. Millions of Evangelicals share one
political belief even more sacred perhaps than opposition to abortion or
same-sex marriage: The belief that Israel must remain a Jewish state
forever.

If that sounds unfamiliar or contradictory, then you've never spent much
time listening to Evangelicals. End Times theology declares that the Jewish
people must maintain control of Israel and Jerusalem, and retake the Al-Aqsa
Mosque (a/k/a the Dome of the Rock), or Jesus won't return. Period.
Understand, they are talking about mankind's ultimate salvation. And if that
means embracing foretold disasters and wars including the Battle of
Armageddon, so be it.


Professor Gary Dickerson from the all-Christian Corban College puts it
this way: "I don't look at the wars in the Middle East with the hope that
things will work out. We've been told, Israel will experience this distress
all the way to the end."


Thus comes the central political reality explored in Waiting for Armageddon: that Evangelicals risk creating what the Rev. Barbara Rossing calls "a self-fulfilling prophesy of death and destruction."

This is no small sect. Evangelicals control some 60,000 US radio
stations. They meet in 25,000-member megachurches and sit on school boards
and legislatures across the country. As the Rev. Mel White, former
ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham and Pat Robertson puts it,
"They are everywhere and they are not going away."

Embedded in its dramatic illustration of the End Times, including a
Christian tour of Israel, Waiting for Armageddon offers an object lesson:
That if people believe their God has revealed the ultimate course of
history, then nothing, not even war, with all its bloodshed and horror, is
to be feared. It's a reality that, whether dealing with the Taliban or the
Jews or the Evangelicals or even Sarah Palin, every leader -- religious or
political -- needs to understand if true dialogue can take place. Because
for a great many true believers, the end of the world is just the beginning.