PULLMAN, Wash. – In an op-ed piece published in today’s “New York Times,” Matthew Sutton, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, suggests the apocalyptic beliefs of millions of conservative Christian evangelicals might well combine with a rising tide of libertarianism across the U.S. to sweep a Republican into the Oval Office in 2012.
Sutton, an authority on evangelical politics and apocalyptic thought, writes that evangelical beliefs tying current events around the globe to Biblical prophesies of the second coming and Armageddon may prove a potent political force in the next presidential election.
“The left is in disarray while libertarianism is on the ascent,” Sutton says in the article, which is entitled “Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics.” “A new generation of evangelicals — well-versed in organizing but lacking moderating influences — is lining up behind hard-right anti-statists.”
Sutton writes that the current political climate in the U.S. is much like that of the 1930s and 1940s, when prominent Christian fundamentalists joined with right-wing libertarians in an effort to undermine President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom many fundamentalists feared was aligning the United States with Europe in preparation for a new world dictator.
And much like Roosevelt, President Obama is troubling for many Christian fundamentalists, he says.
“The specious theories about his place of birth, his internationalist tendencies, his measured support for Israel and his Nobel Peace Prize fit their long-held expectations about the Antichrist. So does his commitment to expanding the reach of government in areas like health care,” Sutton writes.
“While few of the faithful truly think that the president is the Antichrist, millions of voters, like their Depression-era predecessors, fear that the time is short. The sentiment that Mr. Obama is preparing the United States, as Roosevelt did, for the Antichrist’s global coalition is likely to grow,” he writes.
The 2008 presidential campaign of Republican nominee John McCain “presciently tapped into” evangelicals’ apocalyptic fears in producing an ad, “The One,” which sarcastically heralded Obama as a messiah, Sutton says.
“Mr. McCain was onto something. Not since Roosevelt have we had a president who, in charisma and global popularity, so perfectly fits the evangelicals’ Antichrist mold,” he writes.
While Depression-era fundamentalists represented only a small voice among the anti-Roosevelt forces of the 1930s, Sutton says evangelicals have grown savvier and now constitute one of the largest interest groups in the Republican Party.
“A leadership vacuum exists on the evangelical right that some Republicans — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and even Ron Paul — are exploiting,” he writes. “How tightly their strident anti-statism will connect with evangelical apocalypticism remains to be seen.”
Sutton, who earned a doctorate in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, teaches courses in 20th century U.S. history, cultural history and religious history at WSU. His current book project, tentatively entitled “American Evangelicals and the Politics of Apocalypse” (Harvard University Press) examines the relationships among American evangelicalism, apocalyptic thought and political activism during times of national crisis and war. He is completing a textbook, “Jerry Falwell and the Origins of the Religious Right,” which will be part of the popular Bedford “History and Culture” series (Bedford/St. Martin’s).
His first book, “Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America” (Harvard University Press, 2007), won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize from Harvard University Press, awarded annually to the best book in any discipline by a first-time author. The book also served as the basis for the Public Broadcasting Service documentary “Sister Aimee,” part of the PBS “American Experience” series.