Though some believe judgment day is coming May 21, Tim LaHaye, the prominent evangelical Christian minister and co-author of apocalyptic fiction bestseller Left Behind, begs to differ. He talks with Marlow Stern about the Rapture, Barack Obama’s socialist agenda, converting gays with Jesus, and why the “end times” are upon us.
Plus, your guide to the end of the world, John Avlon on the doomsday unhinged, and Bryan Curtis on the man who spent his savings to tell New York about the Rapture.
On May 21, 2011, judgment day will be upon us. Five months later, the world will come to an end. The coded “proofs” are everywhere: Floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and pestilence. Plus, it’s exactly 7,000 years from the time of Noah’s flood to the date of the Rapture. At least, this is the theory of Harold Camping, the 89-year-old founder of Family Radio, a Christian network that spans more than 150 outlets in the U.S. and is valued at $100 million. His followers believe that about 200 million people—or three percent of the population—will be raptured on May 21, and the rest will be destroyed. This isn’t the first time Camping’s made such a bold prediction. In his book 1994?, published in 1992, he argued that Jesus Christ would return on Sept. 6, 1994. Needless to say, Jesus stood us up.
Photos: Rapture Across the Country
Tim LaHaye, the prominent evangelical minister, is best known as the co-author—along with Jerry B. Jenkins— of the Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction that has sold over 63 million copies worldwide, and spawned several film adaptations and even a videogame. LaHaye and his wife Beverly were among Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. In the accompanying story, Rev. Jerry Falwell said of the first Left Behind novel, “In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.” LaHaye is also the longtime friend and spiritual adviser of Mike Huckabee and he famously convinced Mel Gibson to tweak the ending of The Passion of the Christ to include a resurrection scene.
In an in-depth interview with The Daily Beast, LaHaye explains why Camping is a fraud, how Mel Gibson can be saved, why the “end times” are upon us, how President Barack Obama has an un-Christian, socialist agenda, and much more.
What do you think of Harold Camping’s claim that the Rapture will occur on May 21?
Well, coming from a two-time loser on date setting before, I’m not overly anxious. He’s an engineer, not a theologian. He’s got a very meticulous-type mind, and no one can tell him everything. He knows everything. He’s got his mindset that it’s going to be this way, but he’s just flat-out wrong. He violates a very, very important statement of Jesus in Matthew 24: “Surely I say to you this generation will by no means pass way until all these things be fulfilled… but that day and hour knows no one in the angels of Heaven, but my Father only.”
“[Harold Camping] comes around and trivializes prophecy, and ignores the words of Jesus himself. That’s a disgrace.”
So he’s a false prophet?
Exactly right. And you know the Old Testament rules on false prophets [stoning]. But prophecy is my life. I think we can prove who Jesus was and how authoritative the Bible is by the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy in the past. [Camping] comes around and trivializes prophecy, and ignores the words of Jesus himself. That’s a disgrace.
You do believe, however, that the Rapture is near.
Yes, I do. But there are things fomenting geopolitically, like the Arab world and the rise of the radical Islamics within the Arab people that are a threat to the whole world. I was just reading today that they want to conquer the whole world! I think it’s a demonic religion, to be honest with you. Ezekiel 38 and 39 predicts that Russia and the Islamic world are going to get together, go down and drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel.
What are your thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden?
See, I’m against murder—thou shall not kill. But government is entrusted with the responsibility of execution under certain circumstances. When he admitted his guilt in 9/11, he was executed by our government. That’s proper.
One other reason Mr. Camping gives his prediction is that homosexuality is “successful everywhere it turns” and “whole nations no longer consider it a sin, even though it is a sin.”
It’s not just homosexuality; it’s all kinds of sexual sins. That’s just one of many. It’s the breakdown of marriage, the family, morality, and decency. One of the best solutions [for homosexuals] is to lead these people to Jesus Christ, because the biggest change in homosexuals is accomplished by those who come to terms with Jesus Christ.
So you think they can be converted?
Yes, I do. So far, I’ve had 48 [formerly gay] people who tell me their lives have been changed by Jesus Christ.
Could you explain your pre-tribulation stance concerning the Rapture for those who don’t know?
The Hebrew prophet Daniel talked about that time of trouble that would come on the earth. There are seven years, and in the Book of Revelations, the apostle John got a vision from the Lord himself, and it came out to exactly the same: Two periods of three-and-a-half years, one of tribulation and one of great tribulation. That includes 21 judgments, during which time God is trying to get the attention of mankind to call on his Son for salvation by shaking the earth with earthquakes and all kinds of disasters. Man is shaken by his false sense of security and can then turn his faith to Christ. There will be millions of people that do that during that seven-year period of time, but that is after the Rapture of the church. So, as long as the church is still here, the tribulation hasn’t started.
These are, I think, warnings to mankind that we ought to get right with God. First of all, we need to come to grips with: “Who is Jesus Christ?” It’s the most important question in the world. Was he just a carpenter who got crucified? If he was, nobody would have ever heard of him, let alone 2,000 years later. Or was he the Son of God, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, and proved he was from God by rising on the third day, just like he predicted he would? Christianity offers hope to the world because there’s a life after death.
You are a spiritual adviser to Mike Huckabee, who recently bowed out of the 2012 presidential race. Was that disheartening for you?
I know Mike well and we go way back, almost 30 years. I have great admiration for him, and yes, I was very disappointed because I think he’s what America needs. But I respect his inner struggle. We all have one. Who knows? Maybe it’s just not his time. Now, we got to pray that the right person comes along who would make the same basic decisions he’d make.
Of the possible candidates, who is the “right person?”
I’ve narrowed it down to about four. I really believe Sarah Palin would be a good opportunity. Michele Bachmann is excellent—she’s very sharp and a strong person. [Then] Tim Pawlenty and I’m reserving the fourth one until I decide who it’s going to be.
Did Mike tell you why he bowed out?
No, I did not talk to him during that time.
Since you and Mike share similar beliefs, does he believe we’re living in “end times” as well?
I think that’s true. One of the things that we don’t know is whether the Russian-Islamic invasion of Israel is going to take place, and God destroys them as a testimony to the world that he is the supernatural God. It’s going to be an overt action, witnessed on TV by those around the world so the whole world will know that there is a sovereign God who they’re responsible to one day. The problem with governments today is we have too many people in charge who live as if they’re never going to be accountable to God for what they do, and that’s not true. They will give an account to God.
You’ve gone on record stating that President Barack Obama’s policy initiatives are bringing us closer to the apocalypse.
I don’t think I’ve said that. But the fact is, he’s a committed socialist. He was educated by a socialist, he thinks like a socialist, and he surrounds himself with socialist, ultra, ultra-liberal thinkers. The problem with socialism is, not only do they not believe in God or accountability to him…
…You don’t think President Obama believes in God?
I’m talking about socialism. He is a committed socialist. They’re wrong in believing in the perfectibility of man—that man is very good. That’s one of the cardinal mistakes that socialists make. The Bible says that man’s heart is desperately wicked, and he needs salvation. He needs a new heart put in him by spiritual force in calling for the name of the Lord. One thing you have to distinguish is those who claim they’re Christians, but who’ve never had an experience with Jesus. They’re usually people that hardly ever go to church, hardly ever read the Bible, but rather than be atheists or nothing, they say they’re a Christian. Well, that doesn’t make you a Christian.
Isn’t Barack Obama a Christian?
I challenge you: Name one Christian who he’s appointed to public office.
You’ve got to be kidding me. She’s a socialist. She is ultra, ultra liberal. And besides, have you ever heard of as many communists or socialists that have been appointed as tsars in our country? There are 134 of them and they’ve been appointed by this man who you claim is a Christian.
They’re unapproved. They’ve never been voted on and yet they’re the key people who run the government for the president. One adviser, I forget her name, but she was claiming that one of her great mentors was Mao Zedong, and she read his red book like Christians read the Bible. The guy was a butcher!
Well, you helped drum up support for George W. Bush in 2000, who is, at least to my knowledge, a born-again Christian. He did a terrible job as president.
I agree, but who was the alternative? It was the lesser of two evils. I’m convinced that we would not have seen the death of bin Laden had it not been for George W. Bush. Two days after Obama was made president of the United States, he quit using the techniques of waterboarding and getting information, from which they were able to get enough clues to catch bin Laden.
Actually, its been proven—as much as it can be—that information received from torture victims was not instrumental in bin Laden’s capture.
I don’t know where you get your information, but some of the key leaders in the government have said that they did.
Well, CIA Director Leon Panetta begs to differ. But do you support waterboarding and other torture methods on prisoners?
When they kill 3,000 of our people or threaten to, you bet. I think that the president should have the right to say yes or no.
Isn’t that very un-Christian? By torturing people to get information, aren’t you being pretty elastic with the Bible?
I’m thinking. Can’t you smell the wood burning? [Long pause] I think that, in a case where you’re surrounded by murderers—enemies of people that have a record of having no respect for human life—you have to use extreme measures to protect the people. One of the first rules the president accepts is to protect the people of America. We’re not doing a very good job of it.
Well, we haven’t had a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 2001. That’s not too shabby.
But look at the extreme measures we’ve had to go to in order to make that possible. You can be sure that there are all kinds of enemies of our country. You see, the socialists understand that the one thing that keeps them from controlling the whole world, the one country, is America. If they can topple America, destroy our economy and our effectiveness, they can control the whole world. I was seated next to a philosophy professor from UCLA on a flight once. We got in an argument and I said, “Professor, can you name one country in the world that has been improved by embracing socialism?” And he got so angry. He trembled and said, “That’s because of you capitalists! If you had let us have socialism over the whole world, then it would work.” If you can accept that kind of logic, you can pay thousands of dollars for that education at UCLA and other schools in the country.
So you think higher education is promoting this mindset?
When it trains socialists? You bet. You’ve got 350,000 teachers in America, and remember this: The socialists of Germany were driven out by the Nazis. Where did they go? They came to America. They had Ph.D. degrees from some German school, all based on some atheistic, humanistic philosophy. It’s a religion and they brought these people in because they’re so academically superior, but they’re religious fanatics for socialism.
Are you referring to Jews?
No. It has nothing to do with ethnicity.
OK. So, I heard that you also served as an adviser on Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ and convinced him to insert a resurrection scene at the end. What do you think about his very public fall from grace?
I pray for him that he will return to the faith he once had, and that he will accept Jesus. He’s a great producer, a good actor, but I grieve for him because he’s obviously messed up his life.
So, if we all got right with Jesus, would we prevent the Rapture?
No. That would be Heaven.
Finally, just to play devil’s advocate one last time, do you think there’s a problem with profiting off the Bible and Jesus’ teachings—to the tune of nearly 65 million books sold, films, a videogame, and various other products sold?
[Long silence] I really don’t think that I’ve profited all that much. You have no idea how I handle my money. By the time you split half with your co-writer, with your agent and many other things, it winnows down to just 10 or 15 percent. And my wife and I have commitments of investing what we have in Christian work—Christian colleges and ministries. When we stand before the Lord, I don’t think we’ll have to be apologetic for investing in the Lord’s work.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and has a master's from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.