Former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, looking an awful lot like a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, is also trying to position himself as Israel's best friend, and plenty of conservative Jews are inclined to buy it.
Judging by a recent interview he conducted in his role as a Fox News host, he may also be positioning himself as the candidate of the Christian apocalypse, which raises some interesting questions.
Huckabee interviewed author Tim LaHaye, whose “Left Behind” novels describing in gory detail what's in store for us as Biblical prophecies unfold have sold more than 60 million copies, and the results were downright bizarre.
If this was a conversation between two Christian theologians or ordinary believers, it would be one thing.
But this was on a news channel, with a host who probably wants to be our next President. And yet there Huckabee was, with a straight face, discussing with LaHaye questions like, “are we now living in the end times?” (Answer: “Very definitely.”)
LaHaye talks about the creation of a “global religion” as well as a global economy and the prediction – now fulfilled, he says - that Russia and the Islamic nations will come together in an alliance against Israel. Bible prophecy, he said, is “History written in advance.”
Is it religious prejudice to say there is something unsettling about Huckabee's role as straight man to LaHaye's apocalyptic visions?
Are we to take it from the tone of his questions that he agrees we are in the “last days,” and that Israel has a dramatic, grisly role to play in the apocalyptic drama?
Is it appropriate to ask about the religious beliefs of a presidential candidate, if there is reason to believe those beliefs demand new horrors for Israel before some miraculous, very Christian redemption?
If he was still just a Baptist pastor, these questions wouldn't be relevant. But if he runs for president, don't they become fair game, given that he wants to be the man who shapes and implements our foreign policy?
If he does believe these things, how can he separate those beliefs from the job he would like to win as our nation's foreign policy leader?
A lot of “Christian Zionists” say they can compartmentalize: religious beliefs about Israel and the Middle East go in one box, practical views about policy in the region go in another.
Maybe they're right; I can't get into their heads.
But many of these same activists would be deeply offended if I said their religious beliefs aren't a fundamental part of their activism on OTHER issues like abortion, gay rights and so on.
Is it reasonable to believe their religious views inform their positions on every issue EXCEPT Israel?
It would be interesting to sit down with the former Arkansas governor and ask: if we are, in fact, in the “last days” prophesied in the Christian Bible, what, exactly, do you think will happen to Israel and to the Jews? Do those prophecies inform us of what U.S. policy should be? How much of Tim LaHaye's grisly vision do you actually buy?
While we're at it, Pastor John Hagee, the founder and president of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and a man who says prophecy has nothing to do with his pro-Israel activism, has a new book on the New York Times bestseller list. The title: Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation. I'm waiting for my copy before commenting.
There are some tricky lines here. If we open up the question of religious belief in our political wars, won't it just end with theological litmus tests further garbling our already tangled politics?
But isn't belief a legitimate and even an important issue for discussion when politicians make religious identification part of their pitch to voters? And isn't it relevant when it addresses today's real-world problems – like a Middle East conflict that has become so entwined with Christian Bible prophecy?
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