IFAS | Freedom Writer | November/December 1999 | millennium.html

Millennial madness

By Skipp Porteous

Faith-based politics pose a threat not only to the separation between church and state, but to world peace. A small article appearing in the Southern California Christian Times [November 1999] stated: "The Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement (TMLIFM) will again attempt to place the cornerstone for the Third Temple at the Temple Mount. TMLIFM has made similar attempts to place the cornerstone in previous years; all attempts have failed." The article did not state when this action would take place.

For some California Christians, that innocuous-appearing item was indeed a source of encouragement. In fact, members of Calvary Chapel, in Costa Mesa, California, as well as other Christians across the country, have given large sums of money to help extremist Jews rebuild the Holy Temple.

Many Christian fundamentalists believe that Jesus will return and sit on a throne in a Temple rebuilt on the site of the former Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Emperor Titus in 70 C.E tore down Herod's Temple. In keeping with their faith-based politics, these Christians believe that Jesus cannot return until Jews rebuild the Temple. Many Orthodox Jews, too, believe that the Messiah will come to the Third Temple when they build it, and therefore gladly accept financial support from Christians.

However, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third-most holy shrine, currently occupy the Temple site. Muslim's believe that Mohammed descended into heaven from a rocky mound on this site, and have built the Al-Aqsa Mosque as a commemoration, and the Dome of the Rock to protect the site from the elements.

Today the Temple Mount is controlled by Muslim authorities, and protected by armed Israeli soldiers and police. While the site is also holy to Jews, Jews are not allowed to pray there. Some Orthodox Jews would like to, and plan to.

We recently visited the Temple Mount. A friend, who used to be in charge of security for the Old City, took us there. We happened to arrive during one of the five Muslim daily prayer times and were prohibited from passing through the stone arch to the Temple Mount. While we chatted with Israeli police armed with Uzis, we watched a lone Arab boy running around in circles holding a red prayer mat over his head like a kite. Except for the boy, the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock was deserted. Inside the mosque, the devout prayed to Allah.

In 1984, in the very first issue of this newsletter, we wrote about the Temple Mount and the dangers posed by those who plan to build a Third Temple. Many believe that any attempt to remove the Muslim shrine and rebuild the Temple would trigger a world war. When we asked one Christian about this, he replied, "I'm not worried, I know where I'm going."

Some readers may think that we're making too much of this issue. If we are, then The New York Times Magazine [10/3/99] made too much out of it too. In its cover story titled "Jerusalem Endgames," the Times wrote: "There are Jews who want to seize the Temple Mount by any means necessary. And Christians who want to see the Jewish Temple rebuilt and destroyed to bring on Armageddon. And Muslims who will never give up the Dome of the Rock. Will the peace process be stalled by the apocalypse?"

In early November, the Israeli government expelled 21 members of an apocalyptic Christian group called the House of Prayer. The group was living near the Mount of Olives, where they believe Jesus will return. One of the group's members proclaimed, "We have nothing to do with violence. God is going to do that. We are just sounding the alarm to warn the world."

Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation has entered the picture. A recent 32-page FBI document detailing the Bureau's Project Megiddo explains, "The city of Jerusalem, cherished by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, faces many serious challenges as the year 2000 approaches. As already evidenced by the deportation of various members of the religious cult known as the Concerned Christians, zealotry from all three major monotheistic religions is particularly acute in Israel, where holy shrines, temples, churches, and mosques are located. While events surrounding the millennium in Jerusalem are more problematic for the Israeli government than for the United States government, the potential for violent acts in Jerusalem could cause reverberations around the world, including the United States. The extreme terrorist fringes of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all present in the United States. Thus, millennial violence in Jerusalem could conceivably lead to violence in the United States.

"Israeli officials are extremely concerned that the Temple Mount, an area already seething with tension and distrust among Jews and Muslims, will be the stage for violent encounters between religious zealots. Most troubling is the fact that an act of terrorism need not be the catalyst that sparks widespread violence. Indeed, a simple symbolic act of desecration, or even perceived desecration, on any of the holy sites on the Temple Mount is likely to trigger violence. For example, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to coincide with the arrival of the year 2000. Thus, even minor provocations on or near the Temple Mount may provide the impetus for a violent confrontation.

"The implications of pilgrimages to Jerusalem by vast numbers of tourists are ominous, particularly since such pilgrimages are likely to include millennial or apocalyptic cults on a mission to hasten the arrival of the Messiah. There is general concern among Israeli officials that Jewish and Islamic extremists may react violently to the influx of Christians, particularly near the Temple Mount. The primary concern is that extreme millennial cults will engage in proactive violence designed to hasten the second coming of Christ. Perhaps the most likely scenario involves an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. Some millennial cults hold that these structures must be destroyed so that the Jewish Temple can be rebuilt, which they see as a prerequisite for the return of the Messiah. Additionally, several religious cults have already made inroads into Israel, apparently in preparation for what they believe to be the Endtimes.

"It is beyond the scope of this document [Project Meggido] to assess the potential repercussions from an attack on Jewish or Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. It goes without saying, however, than an attack on the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa Mosque would have serious implications. In segments of the Islamic world, close political and cultural ties between Israel and the United States are often perceived as symbolic of anti-Islamic policies by the Western world. Attacks on Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, particularly by Christian or Jewish extremists, are likely to be perceived by Islamic extremists as attacks on Islam itself."

In a frightening new book, Forcing God's Hand, Grace Halsell quotes the Rev. Jerry Falwell: "Armageddon is a reality, a horrible reality. We are part of the terminal generation, the last generation. All of history is reaching a climax.I don't think my children will live their full lives out." According to Halsell, other popular ministers who support Armageddon theology include radio evangelist Jack Van Impe, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, Paul Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network, James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Christian Coalition. There are about 50 million Christian fundamentalists in the United States. While they are not all of one mind as to how the scenario will play itself out, they believe that we are in the last days and terrible times are on the horizon.

Halsell interviewed supporters of the Jerusalem Temple Foundation. One man, Terry Reisenhoover, a born again Christian from Oklahoma, told how he raised money for Jewish terrorists to clear the way to rebuild the Temple.

According to Reisenhoover, Stanley Goldfoot serves as chairman of the board of the Jerusalem Temple Foundation. Goldfoot is notorious for planting a bomb that destroyed a wing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel in 1946.

"He's a very solid, legitimate terrorist," Reisenhoover said admiringly of Goldfoot. "He has the qualifications for clearing a site for the Temple."

"Reisenhoover also said," according to Halsell, "that while Christian militants are acting on religious fervor, their cohort Goldfoot does not believe in God or sacred aspects of the Old Testament. For Goldfoot, it's a matter of Israeli control over all of Palestine."

The Israeli government, and most Jews in America and in Israel, support the status quo, that is, keeping Jerusalem a multicultural city, and letting the Muslims pray on the Temple Mount and the Jews at the Western Wall.

It is one thing to hold radical theological positions concerning prophecy, and quite another thing to have the power to trigger apocalyptic events. The only prophecy we need to fear is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Not only do the faith-based politics of the radical religious right continually pose a threat to the separation of church and state, the movement is a virtual time bomb. The FBI's Project Megiddo warns of extremist groups and individuals that, based upon their theological views, may attempt to trigger race wars and an overthrow of the government as we enter the new millennium.

To counter these threats, we must remain vigilant in our participation in democracy. Meanwhile, time is our best defense. As time passes, false prophets will readjust their predictions, but the further we get into the new millennium, the further we'll be from potential worldwide calamity.

© 1999 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.