Book review: Our Great Big American God

OUR GREAT BIG AMERICAN GOD : a short history of our ever-growing deity, by Matthew Paul Turner. New York: Jericho Books, 2014. 241 pp. ISBN 9781455547340 This is a book about the history of Christianity in America, written by a young, white, evangelical blogger from Nashville, Tennessee. As best I can tell, Matthew Paul Turner […]

The Joels and their Islamic Antichrist

Heard the one about the Islamic Antichrist?

That’s the latest story seeking to grant American Christians a license to hate in the name of love. Muslims, the story goes, are willing dupes of Satan, anxiously waiting for the arrival of their messiah, called the “Mahdi.” This mighty ruler is the person identified in the Bible as the Beast and the Antichrist.

Just ask Joel Richardson. Haven’t heard of him?

Joel Richardson is a painter and lay preacher who has turned out books arguing that the Antichrist will be Muslim. Islam, therefore, is evil. He often remembers to add that all Muslims are not necessarily evil. It’s just that they follow an evil belief system that serves the Devil.

Richardson seems to think he has been chosen by God to “release new prophetic understanding concerning the end times.”1 Mostly this understanding consists of reading the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation as if they explicitly refer to Islam.

Of course, no one had heard of Islam until A.D. 622, nearly six centuries after the New Testament was finished.2 People would probably give Richardson a hard time if he claimed to find references to Coca-Cola or NASCAR in the Bible.3 How then does Richardson justify finding Islam in there?

Well, he says he did a lot of reading about Islam. Books about “Islamic eschatology.” But more important, Joel Richardson has a personal hotline to the Lord. Continue reading “The Joels and their Islamic Antichrist”

No blackout of love

Who do you think wrote this? It wasn’t the Quakers.

Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate [—] and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no blackout of love in time of war. When men and nations are going mad with hate it is the duty of Christ’s ministers and His churches to declare by spirit, word, and conduct the love of God in all men. In time of war it is our Christian responsibility to prepare for peace. We would, therefore, urge our churches to think and work toward a Christian social order in which a just and lasting peace can be realized.

That statement, according to conservative Christian dissident Laurence Vance, came from the Southern Baptist Convention. The year was 1940 — early days in the “good war” that many of us regard today with something like religious veneration. It would be easy to cynically dismiss this, to associate the Baptists of that time with the opportunistic pacifism of American fascists (such as the Lindberghs) who agreed in essence with Hitler’s ideas. Except that the language of this appeal seems to draw on the Baptists’ dissenter origins, when they and their Quaker brethren, with other religious misfits, condemned all moves by the state to associate piety with obedience to power.

What I find most striking in the statement is the warning against a “blackout of love.” This was at a time when Americans were earnestly putting out lights and covering windows in case of a pre-emptive raid from the Luftwaffe — a fear that seems quaint in hindsight, but was taken as seriously at the time as any of our current geopolitical fears. Very well, this Baptist author writes, cover your windows, but don’t put out the light in your hearts. Continue reading “No blackout of love”