Religion and Politics...Still...Sigh
Haunted by Mike Pompeo and Steve Bannon
Last night, I finally posted on X (formerly Twitter) something I’ve been thinking about all month:
Imagine, for a moment, that the presidential election had gone the other way or the Insurrection had worked. Donald Trump would be president and, most likely, Mike Pompeo would still be Secretary of State. Take a moment. Let that sink in.
However flawed President Biden’s response may be to the crisis or no matter how much one may disagree with his administration, they surely have helped restrain some of the hardline elements in the right-wing Israeli government from using even more vile weapons or exercising the nuclear option.
If Mike Pompeo were still Secretary of State that would not be the case. I have no doubt that Pompeo and company would have interpreted this moment as a “sign of the times” — a divine signal that the End Times is upon us — and tacitly or implicitly approved of using nuclear weapons in Gaza.
No, I’m not being alarmist.
And thinking about Mike Pompeo’s fascination with End Times politics isn’t a hobby. It is part of what I call my post-evangelical hangover. Long after “evangelical” is gone, bits of it remain lodged in the brain or gut or wherever, and memories of what was taught in Sunday school or sermons still remain.
Like pretty much everything about the End of the World.
And like thinking this passage — a favorite of high school pastor and youth group leaders — from Matthew 24 sounds like a CNN report:
‘So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
‘Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24: 15 -21, 29-31)
So many evangelicals think the news from Israel and Gaza was predicted. By Jesus. In the Bible.
And Mike Pompeo? He’s not an ex-evangelical or post-evangelical. He’s a True Believer, wholly given to this kind of thing. He wants the world to end because Jesus will return. Waiting for it, praying for it, working for it, including using American international policy to achieve it. He’s Dr. Strangelove meets Left Behind — the worst possible scenario imaginable. Apocalypse is a precondition of the Kingdom of God. You can’t have one without the other.
Honestly, give me Antony Blinken any day over a Rapture-obsessed Secretary of State. Protest Biden and Blinken and they will listen — at the very least they will pay attention to international public opinion and it will move the policy dial (maybe just a little, but you can already see this happening). But Trump and Pompeo? No matter how much you yell about human rights violations or suffering in this war, they will see your anger as proof of their righteous cause.
You might say, “Well, Trump isn’t president. Biden is.” That is true.
And it is also true that Trump is giving the American people — and the global community — fair warning as to what he will do in his second term. He’ll bring back loyalists. Like Mike Pompeo who stuck with Trump until the very end (worth noting: Pompeo’s White House memoir was titled Never Give an Inch). He’ll kick every person out of the government who disagrees with him out — bringing with him an army of bureaucratic True Believers to staff all levels in every department of the United States government. He’ll exterminate the “vermin” (it wasn’t a slip of the tongue — he said it twice last week, including writing it on social media).
Today’s Morning Joe played a clip of Showtime’s The Circus interviewing Steve Bannon, mastermind of Trumpism, architect of authoritarian Christian nationalism, and the real Dr. Strangelove, bragging how widely spread their movement is — and how they plan to deport millions and millions of people, jailing tens of thousands of others, and create a new America. Although Steve Bannon isn’t a Rapture guy, he wants to burn it all down, too. Because burning down the world we have gives him a clean slate for his utopia. For him, Apocalypse leads to the Kingdom as well. Different theology, perhaps. Same results.
Commentators often wonder why American evangelicals (not all, but most) sold their souls to Bannon and Trump. It isn’t hard for me to understand, haunted as I still am, even all these years later, by visions of a world aflame. We used to sit by campfires, staring into the blaze, and sing longingly for Jesus’ return, hoping our friends and parents would hear our plaintive words as an invitation for them to escape while there was still time:
Life was filled with guns and war
And everyone got trampled on the floor
I wish we'd all been ready
Children died, the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we'd all been ready. . .
There's no time to change your mind
How could you have been so blind?
The Father spoke, the demons dined
The Son has come and you've been left behind
You've been left behind
You've been left behind.
We knew it was coming. The destruction, the pain, the suffering, the terror. Sad, yes. But necessary. We started into the flames seeing both a perverse kind of burning bush and the embers of a dying world. We knew it needed to burn. But God would be with us, protect us, save us — the chosen — from the worst of it. It was God’s will after all.
No wonder the secular media doesn’t understand. How can you unless you’ve sat there, gazed into the blazing Warrior God, aching for the End?
I know Mike Pompeo. I know Steve Bannon. They are the guys from my youth group, the True Believers and the ones there for more worldly reasons. Whatever drew us to the flames, we understood about burning it all down. It was our job to help make it happen, the best we could.
The boys are all grown up now. And they wield power. Lots of it.
I got out. I wield only love. And words. I’m not an alarmist. I’m just telling the truth.
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