Election Day Antichrist Hunting

I was fascinated with all things Antichrist growing up. Whether the 1972 film “A Thief in the Night” or Salem Kirban’s novel “666,” I couldn’t get enough about the end times and this villain of villains.

I was terrified to realize that Ronald Wilson Reagan had three sets of six-letter words to his name. When Pope John Paul II was shot, I pondered if this would be the survived injury that I saw my Bible as predicting the Antichrist would miraculously recover from. The one thing I was sure of was that the Antichrist would be revealed soon, what with living in the end times and all.

Imagine my great disappointment upon eventually learning that the Antichrist of the biblical book of Revelation likely was code for the Roman emperor Nero, not someone on the evening news. Thankfully biblical scholars are not often listened to, so the game of Antichrist-hunting continues to provide hours of unabated entertainment among Christian fundamentalists and others worldwide.

The idea of the ultimate evil one tricking the world into worshiping him is forever appealing, particularly when knowing that in the end he is to be defeated and cast “alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”

The idea of decoding the 666 secret and identifying his helper, “the false prophet that wrought miracles before him,” heightens the intrigue. One popular theory is that bar codes have a symbol for six at the beginning, middle and end, so the prophecy is fulfilled that we cannot buy or sell without this mark; perhaps we all will be tattooed with a barcode. Again, how crushing that the author of Revelation was signaling to Christians of his time that their persecutor Nero would be defeated, not us about bar codes.

An Internet search of “antichrist Hillary Clinton” turns up about 480,000 results, while one for “antichrist Donald Trump” turns up around 494,000. If there were any doubt that one can prove almost anything by stringing together small excerpts from any book a couple of inches thick — whether the Bible, the collected works of Shakespeare or the Quran — check out these websites.

You might as well squander time on Sudoku or Pokémon hunts as try to align micro-clues from scattered Bible verses with each wannabe leader crossing the headlines.

A more useful if devilish deduction is actually consistent with the idea of the Antichrist (i.e., contrary to the teachings of Christ) and requires far less tea-leaf reading. Asked the most important commandment, Jesus said loving God, then immediately added loving your neighbor. Asked who is a neighbor, Jesus used a parable involving the much-despised Samaritans to say it is likely the person you least find likable.

You could hear a thousand modern sermons and never guess it, but Jesus said nothing in the Bible about getting politically involved, abortion, homosexuality, protecting the environment or universal health care. Instead, the much harder assignment is loving your neighbor.

The essence of the Antichrist would thus be someone who teaches us to hate our neighbor. One who identifies a group (e.g. Samaritans) as despicable and scapegoats them. The genocidal hall of fame — with members like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot — is full of leaders constantly on a purge, forever seeking an elusive purity in ethnicity, belief or both.

Proceed with your Antichrist quest this election season. Just don’t waste time decoding names. Instead ask yourself which candidate(s) spend the most time telling us whom to hate and why, encouraging collective punishment of those impure in ethnicity or belief. Then cast them alive into a ballot box of fire, lest you too be culpable.

[This column originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on October 16, 2016.]

A Christian-Muslim Wedding Ceremony

 A few years back I performed a wedding ceremony for a couple with whom we are friends, with a Christian bride and Muslim groom. I was sadly surprised I could not find multiple sample ceremonies to work from. So here’s what I put together, in the hope someone out there finds it of use. Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit. And may your marriage last forever.

Marriage of BRIDE [Christian] & GROOM [Muslim]

          BRIDE and GROOM, you have come here today to seek the blessing of God, family, and friends as you join in this marriage of two faiths.

          First we hear these words from a translation of the Qur’an, referring to “People of the Book,” a group which includes Christians:

          This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues[–] if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).

          Also these words from the Qur’an:

          Among His proofs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, in order to have tranquility and contentment with each other, and He placed in your hearts love and care towards your spouses. In this, there are sufficient proofs for people who think.

          And these:

          Interact with your wives in a good manner for if you feel dislike for them, it may well be that you dislike something in which Allah places much good.

          And finally these:

          Whoever marries has completed half of his faith. So let him beware of Allah regarding the other half.

          Now we hear these words from the Bible:

          But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no one separate.

          And these:

          If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

            If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

          GROOM, you have taken BRIDE to be your wife.  Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, to be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

          [The Husband answers: I do.]

          BRIIDE, you have taken GROOM to be your husband. Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, to be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

         [The Wife answers: I do.]

         BRIDE and GROOM will now exchange rings, as gifts that will remind them of their love and commitment to each other.

          By the power vested in me by the State of Texas, I declare you husband and wife.  You may kiss the bride.

          Now, may the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be upon you and your marriage. For we ask the Lord to not only bless your marriage, but also to keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

          Amen.