Billy Graham, WorldNetDaily, and the End of the World

From WorldNetDaily (WND) again, last week:

Just as Noah did in ancient times, world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham is sounding the alarm that the Second Coming is “near” and signs of the end of the age are “converging now for the first time since Jesus made those predictions.”

…In an exclusive email interview with WND, Graham, 94, who is giving what may be his last message to the world as part of the My Hope America with Billy Graham evangelistic outreach in early November, said the world is “coming toward the end of the age.”

“There’s a great deal to say in the Bible about the signs we’re to watch for and when these signs all converge at one place we can be sure that we’re close to the end of the age,” Graham wrote. “And those signs, in my judgment, are converging now for the first time since Jesus made those predictions.”

For WND, an apocalyptic quote from one of the world’s most recognizable Christian “names” is a very useful tool for promoting and mainstreaming various “Last Days” prognostications:

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly “biblical prophecies are being realized.”

And last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., claimed the world has entered the last days.

…The remarks by Graham, Netanyahu and Bachmann come amid a steadily rising wave of public interest in the end times, as demonstrated by recent polls and New York Times and bestselling books such as “The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future,” by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, and “Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change,” by Pastor John Hagee.

Now, a new wave of end-times predictions for 2014 and 2015 involving blood moons on Jewish holy days and prophetically significant events on the Shemitah – the ancient biblical year of the Sabbath – are igniting even more interest in humanity’s ultimate fate.

Throw in next year’s reboot of the “Left Behind” film featuring Nicolas Cage and the cinematic destruction of biblical proportions in “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, and last-days fever is back with a mainstream vengeance.

I’ve discussed the two books by Cahn and Hagee previously: both items approach the Bible’s eschatological passages as a kind of cryptic code that can be cracked by applying idiosyncratic extrapolations derived from elements appropriated from Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. Netanyahu, meanwhile, was making the general claim that the modern state of Israel reflects the vision of the Hebrew Bible prophet Amos:

As the prophet Amos said, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again.

That’s a reference to Amos 9, which follows a series of warnings that Israel will be punished; the chapter also predicts the restoration of the Davidic monarchy, and may be an addition to the text dating from just after the end of the Babylonian Captivity.

But what about Graham’s claim that end-time signs are “converging now for the first time”? Although Graham is best known for talking about general Christian themes, he actually has a history of statements on this subject going back many years. In 1981 he published Till Armageddon, followed by Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse two years later; the latter book was revised in 1992 as Storm Warning and then again in 2010. He has tended to avoid going into too much detail (“I do not want to linger here on the who, what, why, how or when of Armageddon. I will simply state my own belief that it is near”), but it’s clear he’s seen end-time signs “converging” for decades. For example:

There has never been a time in history when so many storms have come together as they have in our lifetime… In America, we see continued racial division, homelessness, crime, physical and sexual abuse, and the disintegration of the traditional family. And these storms are further complicated by plagues of many kinds, including AIDS… All of these are combined with earthquakes, physical storms, and natural disasters of many kinds across the land…

And so on. There’s also a statement on the subject in reply to query from a reader on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website:

Every day, millions of people all over the world face a host of other disasters: famine, disease, economic chaos, racism, ecological and natural catastrophes, and so forth.

Do these mean Jesus’ second coming is very near? It certainly may be, because He indicated that just before He comes again the world ‘s problems will increase. He declared, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7). While these problems are part of every age, the Bible says they will increase in intensity toward the end.

(Doom-mongers often claim that earthquakes are “increasing”, although in fact it’s completely untrue – see here and here)

Given this discrepancy with “converging now for the first time”, one wonders whether the “exclusive email interview” with WND was actually conducted with Graham personally or if a staffer handled it; the details were published just days before the the evangelist was admitted to hospital.

Graham is a global figure whose a generous temperament and sociability have allowed him to transcend the intellectual limitations of his evangelical tradition; unlike his son Franklin, he’s usually managed to avoid being pigeon-holed as a ideologue of the “Christian Right”, and his charisma is such that no lasting damage was done a few years ago when it came to light that he had expressed anti-Semitic views in private with Richard Nixon in 1973 (Journalists have long been disarmed – in 2005 The Revealer drew mocking attention to a particularly pandering and cliché-ridden sentimental profile that had been published in Newsweek).

It would be odd if after decades in the public eye, Graham’s last public thoughts on religion should appear on a fringe-media Tea Party website most famous for promoting birtherism and other conspiracy theories.

UPDATE: Here’s an interesting detail: Jonathan Cahn recently made another appearance on Jim Bakker’s TV show, during which Bakker drew attention to the fact that Cahn had recently published an article in Graham’s Decision magazine.