Premillennialist thinking is alive and well. This was a movement in the early 20th Century. The movement supported the idea that the end of the world was coming and one should worry about the salvation of one’s soul. Millennium relates to a period of time of one thousand years.
Premillennialism centered its theology on the Second Coming of Jesus. They believed that Jesus’ return is imminent and he would physically return to earth to gather the elect – those who were saved by the end of the 20th Century. It was rooted in Protestantism and was prominent in the South.
There are two movements within this movement. There is the “historic” movement vs. the “dispensational” movement. The historic context did not believe in the Rapture and other tenants. The dispensationalists broke down scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) into seven dispensation times for earth, which lends itself to interpretation.
Premillennialist doctrine was built “literally” based on the Book of Revelation. This in and of itself poses problems, as Revelation is a largely symbolic book and to be taken figuratively. The movement was fundamentalist in its reasoning. It cobbles together beliefs based on various aspects of the Bible and uses it to justify interpretations that serve its own end.
One of the problems with this is movement is it uses scripture to justify its own ends. It uses scripture as it sees fit to maintain power. If slavery is written in the Bible then it needs to be taken literally, thus it is justified in our society.
Much of the present-day justification for racist beliefs stems from this kind of thinking. It advocates for the separation of the races. It relegates women to a position less than men.
Billy Graham was a premillennialist. His fire and brimstone teaching wowed audiences and continues under the leadership of his son Franklin. It is estimated that 70 percent of followers believe in its tenants.
One response to this form of thinking was the Social Gospel. This movement was headed by Washington Gladden who supported workers’ rights and unions. It was continued by a New Yorker, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Protestant minister and supported by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day along with Jesuit Karl Rahner. The Social Gospel examined ethical beliefs to solve ills of society.
This group was instrumental in examining society and relating to the root problems of racism, poverty, alcoholism and other problems that undermined the family unit and corrupted individuals that led to unrest and war in our society.
Social Gospel thinkers were concerned with addressing the problems of society from a perspective of the scriptures that relate to community and how we are all one Body in Christ. A Social Gospel thinker would point to how Jesus brought people together to identify problems and use community to bring out the best of those in society. Using talents to inspire others to be their best selves would allow for a harmonious expression of God’s will for His people. St. Paul writes extensively about this when he addresses the “Unity of the Body of the Church and Its Parts.”
This movement examined scripture through the lens of how community formed to survive as one entity. We all have a role to play to use our gifts for the benefit of the common good. When we are optimizing and using them for the greater good, we are building the Kingdom of God on earth.
Theologically speaking, when we look at the battle lines that are being drawn today, we can see that our country is divided into one of these two camps.
We see the use of power to oppress people and keep the status quo of systemic racism. We see the use of scripture to justify maintaining power and undermining those who are seeking change for the betterment of our society.
These Christian beliefs have rooted themselves in our politics as well. Maybe this is why our discourse is rife with dissension. Political and religious discussions can be problematic.