John Fea is an assistant professor of history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. In a recent column titled "Finding Common Ground," he comments on the improved relations between Fundamentalists/Evangelicals and Catholics. All well and good—except he makes a mistake in claiming that the Left Behind books (specifically, Tribulation Force, the second book of the series) have a pro-Catholic passage in them:
Today, evangelical cultural warriors such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson applaud the late pope's unbending moral convictions. Evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders have united to produce ''Evangelicals and Catholics Together,'' a statement affirming what these two branches of Christendom hold in common. And in the best-selling Christian novel Left Behind (the first in the popular series of ''end times'' fiction by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins), the pope actually gets ''raptured'' -- suddenly and without warning removed from Earth to join fellow believers in heaven.
Again, the passage actually occurs in Tribulation Force, the second book of the series (which suggests that Fea may not have read it, but is relying on second-hand information). The problem is that the novel's depiction of the "rapture" of the pope is actually a clear instance of sly anti-Catholic polemicism.
As I point out in great detail in my book, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, Tim LaHaye is an open and unabashed anti-Catholic in the classic Fundamentalist mold. I write this of the passage that Fea refers to:
After reading one of my articles criticizing the Left Behind series, a Catholic fan of the books told me that my concerns had no basis in reality. "You know," he said, "they actually have the Pope raptured. So they cannot be anti-Catholic." I encouraged him to read the books more closely since the passage he was referring to, found in the second book of the series, Tribulation Force (Tyndale, 1996), is actually an example of how the Catholic Faith is subtly attacked in the Left Behind books:
"A lot of Catholics were confused, because while many remained, some had disappeared including the new pope, who had been installed just a few months before the vanishings. He had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the "heresy" of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to." (p. 53)
The intent of this passage is clear: the new pope is secretly Raptured despite being Catholic because he embraces the views of Martin Luther and has, by virtue of this fact, renounced Catholic teaching. So those Catholics who reject the Catholic Faith can be "saved" and Raptured, with the logical conclusion being that Catholics who are loyal to Church are not "saved," are not true Christians, and will not be Raptured.
For more evidence of the anti-Catholic beliefs of LaHaye and co-author Jerry B. Jenkins, see my two part article, "The Left Behind Books: Harmless Fiction or Anti-Catholic Propoganda?" (part one and part two). Or read the e-mail exchange that I had with LaHaye a couple of years ago.
Yes, there are many wonderful advances in ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals. But Tim LaHaye, in his book Revelation Unveiled (Zondervan, 1999), refers to "ecumenical church unity" as "a plan of the devil." He writes: "As we approach the end of the Church age, we can expect to see liberal Protestantism, in the form of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, being swallowed up by the Church of Rome," and: "Today it is not just liberals who are trying to beat a path back to Rome, thus nullifying the Protestant Reformation" (p. 272). He then launches into an extended attack on the Catholic Church and the alleged killing of millions of Protestants by Catholics during the Reformation era. So, I think it's safe to say that LaHaye—although baptized as a baby in a Catholic Church—has no interest in the sort of "common ground" that Fea writes about in his column.