THE THEOLOGY OF NUCLEAR WAR
In this prophetic article of Larry Kickham published in the nonconformist book Apocalupse culture by Adam Parfrey (1957 - 2018)who has just passed away on 10 May 2018 we see very ominious signs concerning present day situation inm Middle East, USA-Russia relation, Jerusalem problem.
Dispensationalists think lhey are living al lhe very end of the "Church Age" which they believe will culminate in the Rapture, when the members of the "true" church will be removed from the planet. After the seven-year tribulation period prophesied in the Bible, dispensationalists expect a one-thousand-year reign during which they will rule and reign with Jesus, the Millennium Kingdom.
Like many millenarians, dispensa1ionalists are dualist in the way they look at the world and at history. They readily adopted a fierce anti-com munism during the political scares of 1919-21 and the early 1950s. An old idea left over from John Cumming, a British apocalyptic writer during the Crimean war,1 that Russia was Magog, the prophesied invader of Israel in the last days, spread among dispensationalists afler the Russian Revolution in 1917. II seemed plausible to them that the officially atheist Soviet State could be "Magog," the prophesied invader of Israel in the last days (Ezekiel. chapters 38-39). "Gog" is the prince of Magog. In their interpretation of Ezekiel 38:2-3, "thus saith the Lord Jehovah; Behold I am against thee. 0 Gog, Prince of Rosh, Meshech. and Tubal." they identify "Rosh" as Russia, "Meshech" as Moscow and "Tubal" as the Soviet province of Tobolsk. Equating the Soviet Union with "Magog." dispensationalists became convinced that the Soviet Union was an evil empire that had a special mission in the last days.
Since Darby's time, dispensationalists have also believed that Israel would be rescored in the last days. Many dispensationalist believers interpreted the creation of the State of Israel in I948 as a literal fulfillment of prophecy and an "infallible" sign that "this" was the last generation before the Second Coming of Christ. Believers have long interpreted events, especially in lhe Middle East, as pieces of prophecy coming together. The British capture of Jerusalem in World War I as well as the Israeli capture of old Jerusalem in 1967 were interpreted as signs of che last days.
Fond of reading the Bible as a key to current events dispensationalists also read the invention of nuclear weapons in 1945 as a means of "literally" fulfilling Bible prophecy. The bomb, many thought, might be the device by which the elements will melt in the fiery apocalyptic vision of Revelation. Country and western songs like "Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb," and popular books like Hal Lindsey's The Are Great Planet Earth helped spread the notion that nuclear weapons are somehow related to the Second Coming of Christ.
ln 1983 Jerry Falwell attacked the nuclear freeze movement with a "prophecy packet" (two tapes and a pamphlet) entitled "Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Christ." As Falwell states in his pamphlet: "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. Yel. they are indelibly intenwined. Falwell, like many of his follow dispensationalists, believes he will be raptured before nuclear war breaks out.
Dispensationalists, however. are not all agreed as to the liming of the Rapture. There are three main positions on the question that cut across the greater division between fundamentalists and Pentecostials. Probably the majority, like Falwell, a fundamentalist, and Jimmy Swaggan, a Pentecostal, believe in a Rapture that will take place before the prophesied sevcn-year period of tribulation, the popular ''pre-tribulationist" ("pre-trib'') position. Others believe in a "mid-trib" Rapture that will rescue Christians from the worst of the tribulation, snatching them away before the nuclear "Gog-Magog" war which is supposed to occur sometime in the middle of the seven-year tribulation period. Others, like Pat Robertson, believe in a "post-trib" Rapture: Christians will have to go through the entire seven-year period of tribulation but will be especially protected by God, and at the end of the tribulation the Christians would be rap1ured to return wi1h Jesus a1 the final battle of Annagcddon. Adherents of all three positions agree that they, as the. triumphant saints, will rule and reign with Jesus for a thousand years in the Millennial Kingdom they envision emerging in the near future. The nuclear war many of them foresee will not be the end of the world, but the prelude to a glorious one-thousand-year kingdom.
The divisions between pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-trib believers can somelimes influence views on matters of public policy and national defense and make for strange bedfellows. Mid- and pos-tribbers who believe "Christians" will have to live through all or part of a seven-year "tribulation" are naturally more interested in survivalist skills, food cooperatives and other forms of mutual aid, popular "end-time" economic theories. and civil defense schemes than are the pre-tribbers who think they will magically disappear before the prophesied bad times. Post-tribbers like Robenson believe that Christians should prepare for the tribulation by organizing food and other cooperative organizations. Mid- and post-tribbers share an interest in survivalism with racist "Identity" believers, the devotees of a rival theory of biblical prophecy who are training in paramilitary tactics, preparing for the racial ..purging" they foresee after the inevitable nuclear war. Right-wing groups of rival persuasions can find a common bond in anticommunism and even work together on counter-insurgency projects. Paramilitary groups like Civilian Materiel Assistance (formerly Civilian Military Assistance) and those associated with Soldierr of Fortune· magazine, along with Robertson's CBN, support the contras in Honduras and have supplied aid to refugee groups on the Hon- duran border.
There has been friction between the various dispensationalist factions. Mid- and post-tribbers like Mary Relfe and Gary North have denounced the pre-trib theory as "defeatist." The post-trib theory, long considered pessimistic by old-line pre-tribbers, has won new followers. The upbeat ""Kingdom Agers" believe that they will be especially protected by God during the '"tribulation." The "Kingdom Age" theology Robenson presents in his book, The Secret Kingdom emphasizes the gradual emergence of the Millennial Kingdom and a new theocratic world order. Robenson seems 10 believe that a Christian takeover of the American govemment may be part of that process and that Christians like Robenson will learn the skills they will need to manage the Kingdom "on the job" in positions of national responsibility.
One point all the cribbers can agree on is the need for a "strong defense"---even a first strike capability. Most dispensationalists in the government probably do not like the debate between the "theologians" very seriously. All agree that these are the last days. And, for the most pan, they agree 10 disagree. Most hope for a prr-trib Rapture, but many sec the mid- and post-trib position as more "realistic.'" They leave the fine points of the dispute 10 the theologians.
What does President Reagan Relieve?
President Reagan has displayed a long-time interest, even a fascination, with biblical prophecies of the last days.2Reagan believes that "this may be the last generation" before a nuclear war destroys the Sovet Union (the so-called Gog and Magog war) and before the Second Coming of Christ. Reagan, like many of his religious supponers, seems to be a dispensationalist. For Reagan, as for many other dispensationalists, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy and a sign that Annageddon is not far off. Evidence of Reagan's interest in dispensationalist prophecy first appeared in print in 1968. Reagan told a reporter from a Christian magazine about a conversation he had had with his pastor Donn Moomaw about the "signs of the times"· -- Reagan said:
We (Reagan and Billy Graham] got into a conversation about how many of the prophecies concerning the Second Coming seemed lo be having their fulfillment at this particular time. Graham told me how world leaders who are students of the Bible and others who have studied it have come to this same conclusion that apparently never in history have so many of the prophecies come true in such a relatively short time.
After the conversation I asked Donn to send me more material on prophecy so I could check them out in the Bible for myself. You know I was rnised on the Bible. I also taught it for a long time in Sunday School.3
Reagan again referred to biblical prophecy in a radio program entitled "Palestine," broadcast during the weeks ofApril 9-27, 1979. He mentioned prophecy only in passing, saying:
When Israel was created as a nation (carrying out a centuries old Bible prophecy) its borders enclosed less than twenty percent of the area called Palestine.
Reagan also spoke about dispensationalist prophecies of Armnageddon with Jerry Falwell during the 1980 presidential campaign. According to Falwell, they discussed prophecy during a limousine ride in New Orleans:
He told me, back in New Orleans - we were riding together, just the two of us, security officer up front, of cours, with the driver - we were riding and he said. "Jerry, I sometimes believe we're heading very fast for Annageddon right now." But he said, "I am not a fatalist. I believe in human responsibility. l believe that God will respect us for making all-out efforts toward world peace, and that is where my commitment lies."
That's where my commitment lies, too. The President is a man of great faith. He's a man who knows what the Bible has to say. That is why I trusl him so implicilly.4
Reagan brought up the subject of biblical prophecy of the end of the world again at a meeting with the Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan Philip in the White House on April 7, 1983. According to the report of the meeting, "The President alluded to the Bible and the prophecies of Armageddon. He mentioned the natural disasters that the entire world was suffering and has suffered of late, and felt all these happenings were warnings that should be heeded for the avoidance of that doom."
Reagan is not the only one in his administration who sees current events in terms of end-time prophecies. Secretary of Defense Weinberger has also been quoted on the subject:
I have read the Book of Revelation and, yes, I believe the world is going to end by an act of God, I hope - but every day I think that time running out.
Q: Are you scared?
Weinberger: I worry that we will not have enough time to get strong enough to prevent nuclear war. I 1hink of World War II and how long took to prepare for it, to convince people thal rearmement for war was needed. 1 fear we will not be ready. I think time is running out ... but I have faith.6
Senator Howell Heflin, Democrat from Alabama, reported a conversation with Reagan ahout the end-times and an Annageddon 1hat involves the Soviet Union.
We got off into the Bible a little bit. We were talking about the fact that the Middle East, according to the Bible, would be the place where Annageddon would start. The President was talking 10 me about the Scriptures and I was talking a little to him about the Scriptures. He interprets the Bible and Armageddon to mean that Russia is going to get involved in it.7
Only days before American Marines were killed in a bombing attack on their Beirut barracks Reagan told Tom Dine, executive director of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (J\lPAC), that he saw the world situation in terms of end-time prophecies:
You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Annageddon, and I find myself wondering if - if we're the generation that's going to see that come about. I don'1 know if you've noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we're going through.'
Reagan's comments to Dine later inspired two reporters from People magazine to ask the President to explain his remarks:
I've never done that publicly [talked about Armageddon). I have talked here, and then I wrote people, because some theologians quite some lime ago were telling me, calling attention to the fact lhat theologians have been studying the ancient prophecies - what would portend the coming of Annageddon? - and have said that never, in the time between the prophecies up until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this.
And one of them, the first one who ever broached this to me and I won't use his name9 I don't have permission to. He probably would give it, but I'm not going to ask- had held a meeting with the then head of the German govemmeni, years ago when the war was over, and did not know that his hobby was theology. And he asked this theologian what did he think was the next great news event, worldwide. And the theologian, very wisely, said. "Well. I think that you're asking that question in case that you've had a thought along that line." And he did. It was about the prophecies and so forth.
So no. I've talked conversationally about that.
Q: You've mused on it. You' ve considered it.
THE PRESIDENT: (laughing) Not to the extent of throwing up my hands and saying, "Well, it's all over." No. I think whichever generation and at whatever time, when the time comes, the generation that is there. I think will have it go on doing what they believe is right.
Q: Even if it comes?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.10
The prophecy issue surfaced during the 1986 campaign debates when one of the reponers on the debate panel asked Reagan to explain his statements about "nuclear Annageddon":
Q: Mr. President. I'd like to pick up this Annageddon theme. You've been quoted as saying that you believe deep down that we are heading for some kind of biblical Armageddon. Your Pentagon and Secretary of Defense have plans for the United States to fight and prevail in a nuclear war. Do you feel that we are heading, perhaps, for some kind of nuclear Annageddon? And do you feel that this country and the world could survive that kind o f calamity?
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Kalb, I think what has been hailed as something I'm supposedly, as President, discussing as principle is the resull o fjust some philosophical discussions with people who are interested in the same things. And that is the prophecies down through the years, the biblical prophecies of what would portend the coming of Annageddon and so forth. And the fact is that a number of theologians for the last decade or more have believed that this was true, that the prophecies are coming together that portend that. But no one knows whether Armageddon - those prophecies - mean that Annageddon is a thousand years away or the day after tomorrow. So I have never seriously warned and said we must plan according to Armageddon.11
Reagan's remark that the prophesied events might not happen "the day after tomorrow" or until long into the future is characteristic of dispensationalism. Billy Graham has said essentially the same thing in a copy of his magazine Decision (April 1983). There he wrote, "It seems all the signs are pointing to Armageddon. The storm clouds are gathering, the lightning is flashing, the thunder is roaring. The great Armageddon could be now or a hundred years from now. We don't know." Falwell, too, is of the same opinion, as he says in his tape Nuclear War and rhe Second Coming of Christ, "I am living as though Jesus Christ were coming today. But I am planning and laboring and working as though I had another twenty-five or fifty years. I think that is the proper posture for a believer."
Reagan's interest in end-time prophecies, as is clear from his own remarks, goes back at least to 1968, when he discussed it with pastor Moomaw. Like Henrietta Mears and Billy Graham in the 1950s, Reagan was disposed to see Communism in religious terms. He also apparently shared the dispcnsationalist beliefs about God's plan of unfolding prophecy in the Middle East. In 1971 when Reagan was still Governor of California he talked more about the end of the world with the president pro tem of the California State Senate, James Mills. Mills wrote up his notes and recollections of that conversation in 1985. According to Mills, Reagan excitedly told him that:
It can't be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God's people. That must mean that they'll be destroyed nuclear weapons. They exisc now, and they never did in the past. 12
According to Mills, Reagan went on to identify "the enemies of God," the prophccicd invader of Israel. "Gog," with the Soviet Union:
Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation 1hat will lead all of the powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been saying for genera1ions that Gog mut be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn't seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russian has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself up against God.
Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.
In 1985, looking back on that conversation with Reagan, Mills concluded that his "coolness to all proposals for nuclear disannament'' is consistent with his apocalyptic views. Certainly the arms race speeded up significantly under Reagan and has threatened to run away out of control as the U.S. begins to deploy a first-strike arsenal. The D-5 or Trident II missiles to be deployed in 1989 are accurate enough to destroy hard targets and, like MX (the so-called Peacekeeper), these missiles can be used in a first-strike against hardened enemy missile silos. "Star Wars" is not likely to work well as a shield from a theoretical Soviet frst strike but may be adequate to partially shield American targets from a Soviet second- strike.
Reagan has refused to agree to a nuclear test ban. No arms control proposals were agreed to under the Reagan administration and the nuclear arms race has spread to space.
With first-strike arsenals in place, the balance of terror will become unstable. Some American analysts fear that the Soviet Union will adopt a launch-on - warning strategy and begin to deploy its own versions of the "Peacekeeper" and Trident II missiles. If both arsenals are set al launch on-warning the two war machines will be on a hair-trigger.
Apocalyptic ideas might be the wild-card in the nuclear pokergame. An American Presidcn1 who believes that nuclear war with the Soviet Union is inevitable because of biblical prophecy might make building a first-strike arsenal the chief national priority. A severe crisis in the Middle East could be interpreted by a dispensationalist President as the beginning of the prophesied Gog and Magog war.
Would President Pat Robertson hear a voice telling him to act as the tool of God's desnuction and rain nuclear fire down on ..Magog?" It wouldn't be the first time that apocalyptic ideas led to war but it could well be the last.
1. Cumming, a preacher of the Scottish National Church, published two apocalyptic books in 1855, Signs ofthe Times; Or the Present, Post, and Fw11re, published in Philadelphia, and The End: The Proximate Signs ofthe Close of This ispensation, published in London. Cumming's books arc cited and discussed in Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premi//enarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. 1977).
2 . See Lawrence Jones, ''Reagan's Religion.'' Journal o f American Culture, Vol. 8 (1985). pp. 59-70, for a summary of the e11idence concerning Reagan's apocalyp- tic beliefs.
3. W. Rose. "The Reagans and Their Pastor." Chrisrian Life, May 1968. Reagan taught Sunday School at the First Christian Church of Dixon, Illinois while he was in high school.
4. From an interview Falwell had with Robert Scheer. Los Angeles Times, March 4.1981.
S. From The Word, Anliochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Nonh America. June 1983.
6. "Washington Talk," New York Times, August 23, 1982.
7.New York Times, Octobcr28, 1981 .
8. Jerusalem Post. October 28, 1983. Reagan had this telephone conversation with Dine on Oclober 18, 1983.
9. The theologian Reagan here allm.ks to is Billy Graham tint.I the German leader is Konrnd Adenauer. Reagan told the same .'\IOI)' to the Boones, Otis, Bredesen, and Ellingwood during theircon11ersation in 197Uabout proph1.'Cy and 1hesoon Second Coming ofChrist. Jones, np. cir., n. 2.
10. An interview with Garry Clifford and Pa1ricia Ryan of Peuple maga<:inc on December 6. 1983. Tr.mscript published in Weekly Compifa1im1 of Preside111ial Dornmem.r, 1983, pp. 1708-1713. An edited 11ersion of the interview appeared in l'eople, December26, 1983. See Jones, op cir., n. 2.
I1. From the debate held on October 21, 1984, transcript published in the Ni:w York October22. 1984.
12. James Mills, "The Serious Implications of a 1971 Conversation with Ronald Reagan." San Diego Maga::ine, August 1985.