07 September 2010

In the Belly of the 'Land Beast'

Outside the downtown post office stands a plastic dispenser for free publications. A local Seventh-Day Adventist church fills it with monthly issues of Signs of the Times, a publication of the Pacific Press Publishing Association. The current issue's cover story asks, "is the United States in Bible prophecy?" and the question tempted me to look inside. Inside was the typical wishful exegesis, with an unexpected twist at the end.

Marvin Moore's answer to the cover question is yes. The U.S., he argues, is the "land beast" described in chapter 13 of the book of Revelation (New International Version), one of "two powerful beasts that will dominate the world at the end of time." Moore explains that Adventists have identified the U.S. as the land beast for the past 150 years, on the grounds that the beast symbolizes a political power, that it is said to have "global political authority" (it "made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast" according to Rev. 13:12), and that it must be a present-day superpower, since Adventists hold that we are living now in the "end time." To drive the point further, Moore emphasizes that the land beast has "two horns like a lamb." Since the word "lamb" is identified exclusively with Jesus, the presence of lamb-like attributes on the land beast indicates that it represents a Christian superpower. Since Moore, ignoring the European Union, sees "no other candidates" that match the description, he concludes that his country is a beast of Revelation.

What role are we to play in the end time? Moore predicts that since the land beast's business is to "enforce its false worship with an iron fist," the U.S. will someday abolish "this nation's historic separation between government and religion." Curiously, however, Moore is less concerned with the nature of the "false worship" (Islam? Environmentalism? Obama-ism?) than with the threat posed to religious freedom by fellow Christians.

I am frankly troubled by the profound hostility some Christians in America hold toward the principle of church-state separation, which is the foundation of religious freedom. Church-state separation simply means that government and religion operate in distinctive spheres, each recognizing the unique responsibilities of the other. They are separate in the sense that neither should ever control the other. And yet history shows that the line of separation is not neatly drawn. Challenging issues sometimes bring the policies of the state into direct conflict with the values of the church and vice versa. It is at this intersection of public and private life that the judicial branch of government seeks to protect the church from the state and the state from the church, preserving both the rights of government and liberty of conscience.

A secular liberal would be challenged to put it better. For extra measure, Moore warns that "Should the United States ever abandon its commitment to the principle of church-state separation, persecution of dissenters will inevitably follow." While Moore concludes pessimistically that "Revelation's prophecy about the land beast suggests that this will indeed happen someday," he counsels that "we should defend, for as long as possible, the principle that government and religion operate in separate spheres, neither dictating the laws that govern the other." Although I can't admire his credulity, I compliment Moore's spirit. He has, for all intents and purposes, warned Christians that they might be the beast they're waiting for, to reuse some old political rhetoric. Better yet, he has not allowed his belief in prophecy to demoralize him to the point of passive fatalism. At a time when too many Christians scoff or rage at the idea of church-state separation, Moore remains a true believer in the true American faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

According to the book of Revelations, we've been living in the "end times" for nearly 2000 years now.

I didn't realize lambs had horns. I didn't think the horns grew until they reached a point of maturity where they are no longer lambs, but rams.

I could go on and on and on showing the stupidity and incredulousness of these people, but why bother?