Militia's rapture, Bible scriptures simply don't jibe

April 15, 2011 

The godfather of Alaska's growing militia movement is Commander-Pastor Norman Olson of Nikiski. Olson is pastor of the Freedom Baptist Church and a commander in the Alaska Citizens Militia. Formerly, he founded the Michigan Militia infamous because Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, attended at least a few of its meetings and Olson reportedly counseled McVeigh before he was executed.

So when Fairbanks militia members including Shaeffer Cox were indicted on weapons charges and two others on conspiracy to murder a judge and two state troopers, it was natural I would invite Olson and his lieutenant, Ray Southwell, to speak to my anthropology of religion class at Kenai Peninsula College to try to figure out what makes the militia tick. Their message is that the world is in trouble bordering on chaos. They target two problems: corporate power supported by a complicit government.

No argument here. In this regard the far right and the moderate left merge. Corporations grew from a simpler capitalism to raise money for expansion. But now boardroom policies increasingly maximize short-term profits at the expense of long-term stability. As a matter of course they downsize, outsource jobs overseas, work to minimize legitimate taxes (like Alaska's petroleum industry) and environmental regulation, exert neo-colonial control, replace skilled workers with low paid start-ups, minimize employee health care, and other practices that reduce costs and destroy communities and families.

Big government's partnership in these actions is another theme militias have in common with the left. For example, the United States is now engaged in three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. All have oil wells or major pipelines and even a donkey can figure out that we are in these wars for reasons of resource control or corporate profiteering.

While I understand where Pastor-Commander Olson is coming from, we differ in the methods to achieve change resulting in economic and social stability.

Two religious principles motivate Alaska's militia: God's law supersedes man's law, and the post- tribulation rapture. The supremacy of God's law gives divine license for domestic insurrection as we're seeing in the Fairbanks militia trials. Carried to its logical extreme, that means anarchy and the question of "whose God?"

The biblical basis for the rapture is in a few passages in Daniel and a verse in Revelation as interpreted by a 19th century Scottish evangelist named John Darby. From these, rapture believers have conceived of two competing scenarios.

Pre-tribulation rapturists believe when the end times come God will rapture the faithful into heaven and the rest of us will endure seven years of hell on Earth whereupon some will then go to heaven and the remainder burn forever. Militia members disdain pre-tribulation rapturists such as preached at the Anchorage Baptist Temple and similar feel-good mega-churches that have created a self-indulgent theology of non-involvement in social causes because they're going to heaven anyway. The concept is summed up by Anne Coulter who wrote, "God gave us the Earth. We have dominion over (it). God said, 'Earth is yours.' Take it. Rape it. It's yours.' "

Instead, most militia members believe in a version of a post-tribulation rapture. When the seven-year time of tribulation comes they will be the chosen ones who will battle through it to be raptured into heaven. Hence they are survivalists, stockpiling ammunition, guns and food, and honing their militia skills. This explains their passion for the Second Amendment and personal arms escalation. Any law that restricts gun ownership limits their tribulation fight and potential rapture. They'll enter the Kingdom of Heaven with a smoking Glock 19.

Rapture theology is relatively rare in world Christianity. Theologians such as Barbara Rossing, a Lutheran, consider it a "complete fabrication." As a justification for armed resistance, post-tribulation rapture theology is anathema to the general message of the New Testament, which is based on love, forgiveness, and doing good toward those who hate you, even if it's the corporation that capriciously fired you or the government that over-or under-regulated you.

The day may come when the country needs a revolutionary transformation, but we're not there yet -- not even close. Meanwhile the weapons of change are the ballot box, the op-ed piece, emails, blogs, peaceful demonstrations and YouTube videos based on a theology of love, not hate.

Don't take your guns to town, son; leave your guns at home.

-- Johnny Cash


Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. You can see the entire Kenai Peninsula College class with Norman Olson and Ray Southwell at http://krc-stream.kpc.alaska.edu/users/inapp/Boraas_Anth_Religion_03-2011.html or read Jenny Neyman's Redoubt Reporter story about the class at http://redoubtreporter.wordpress.com/page/2/

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