October 31, 2006
Halloween Special: Armed for Armageddon
Something truly scary for All Hallows:
The lights were down in the giant amphitheatre of Cornerstone Church, Texas, as last weekend’s Feast of the Tabernacles got into full swing. An orchestra, backed by a several hundred-strong choir, is belting out biblical hymns. Centre stage, two camouflaged figures embrace, one dressed as an Israeli soldier complete with machine gun, the other his US army counterpart.
George Bush may be facing defeat in the upcoming mid-term elections from an electorate alarmed by Middle East wars and ballooning federal spending, but one corner of the country remains firmly behind him—the Christian right.
… Cornerstone Church, a vast squat white temple in San Antonio, is rapidly becoming the movement’s epicentre, thanks to the charismatic founder, Pastor John Hagee, the rising star of America’s TV evangelists. For these evangelists, the war in Iraq is not a disaster, but the beginning of the fulfilment of biblical prophecies that culminate, possibly very soon, in a mighty struggle between good and evil at Armageddon.
This belief lies at the core of the teachings of the bespectacled pastor, who argues that Christians and Jews must make common cause against forces of darkness he identifies as Arabs, Russians and even a future president of the EU. Christians who fail in their duty will be “left behind” when the obedient are summoned to heaven.
“Listen up, president of Iran,” booms the pastor. “We are going to be your worst nightmare, Mr Ahmadinejad. The pharaoh threatened Israel, he ended up fish-food in the sea. When you say Israel is going to disappear in a sudden storm you may be predicting the way you disappear.”
The 5,000-seater church, patriotically decked out in red carpet, white walls and blue seats, is packed and the crowd are immediately on their feet, arms raised, shouting hallelujah.
And to hell with church-state separation:
[One] follower, teacher Patrick Hewitt, said the pastor will shortly post instructions on his website on how parishioners should cast their ballots for the mid-term elections. “I’m going to vote the way he tells me,” he said.
But Texas doesn’t have a hold on crank Christianity:
This wasn’t your Daddy’s religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a day-long spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and Jackass-style stunts. Then the music lowered and Christian comedian Brad Stine appeared. With his rat-a-tat delivery and aggressive style, Stine quickly whipped the crowd into a chorus of “Amens!” “A lot of guys out there wouldn’t have the balls to be here,” he shouted. “Are you ready to be a man? Are you ready to kick ass? Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‘OK family, I’m going to lead you?’ Buckle up. This is GodMen!”
… Beyond the thrashing music, Saturday’s event included a number of risqué panels. One forum, titled “Training the Penis,” addressed struggles with masturbation and pornography. These were regarded as morally reprehensible but as weaknesses that should be addressed honestly. In another talk, Nate Larkin, a former pastor, told the crowd how he picked up his first prostitute on the way to preach at a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Larkin says that he only began to overcome his sex addiction when he stopped pretending to be a perfect Christian.
Sounds like he stopped pretending a whole lot earlier.
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