Matthew Avery Sutton: Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics






Matthew Avery Sutton, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, is the author of “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America.”

THE end is near — or so it seems to a segment of Christians aligned with the religious right. The global economic meltdown, numerous natural disasters and the threat of radical Islam have fueled a conviction among some evangelicals that these are the last days. While such beliefs might be dismissed as the rantings of a small but vocal minority, apocalyptic fears helped drive the antigovernment movements of the 1930s and ’40s and could help define the 2012 presidential campaign as well.

Christian apocalypticism has a long and varied history. Its most prevalent modern incarnation took shape a century ago, among the vast network of preachers, evangelists, Bible-college professors and publishers who established the fundamentalist movement. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and independents, they shared a commitment to returning the Christian faith to its “fundamentals.”...

Fundamentalists’ anticipation of a coming superstate pushed them to the political right. As the government grew in response to industrialization, fundamentalists concluded that the rapture was approaching. Their anxieties worsened in the 1930s with the rise of fascism. Obsessed with matching biblical prophecy with current events, they studied Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, each of whom seemed to foreshadow the Antichrist.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt troubled them as well. His consolidation of power across more than three terms in the White House, his efforts to undermine the autonomy of the Supreme Court, his dream of a global United Nations and especially his rapid expansion of the government confirmed what many fundamentalists had feared: the United States was lining up with Europe in preparation for a new world dictator....



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