The Rapture: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You?

I wonder: Were any of the Christians being "caught up in the air" in this cartoon rendering of the Rapture sitting in a movie theater at the time of their ascension?

I’m currently researching an essay (tentatively titled “(Non)conformity at the Cinema: The Brethren in Christ (Don’t) Go to the Movies, 1910-1980”) that will examine the denomination’s changing attitude toward theater-going during the twentieth century.

My research for this piece has been incredibly rewarding and quite interesting. I’m especially intrigued by a frequent refrain sounded by a number of individuals I’ve interviewed: their fear — rooted in the Brethren in Christ Church’s premillennial dispensationalist eschatology and strict two-kingdom theology — that the second coming of Christ would occur while they were in the movie theater.

Of course, most of those espousing this fear grew up in a church culture that considered theater-going sinful (it was “of the world”). Thus, the logic progressed, being found at a theater during the second coming would prevent one from being “caught up in the air” with the rest of the saints.

We’ll read some first-hand accounts of this theater-going guilt, after the jump.

Although she does not recall the first movie she saw or when she saw it, Dorothy (Witter) Schrag — who grew up at the Rosebank church in Kansas and served for many years as a faculty member at Messiah College — does remember exactly how she was feeling:

I was frightened when I first attended [the movies] and thought perhaps the Lord would come when I was in a theater.

Church historian E. Morris Sider echoes Schrag’s sentiments:

That is a kind of . . . common reaction: the very first time you went to a movie, you had that kind of experience. . . . [I]t’s the question of, “What would happen if the Lord would come and find me in the movies?” That is a kind of psychological thing: you want to be there, but in a way [you feel like] you’re betraying your people, your church. There’s just still the sense of just maybe you shouldn’t do [it].

But perhaps the most interesting evocation of this sentiment comes courtesy of Beth (Kanode) Sider. As Sider recollects,

[When I was in elementary school,] my father was the executive secretary . . . of the Home Mission Board, so he went around to different churches, holding their council meetings. And the Philadelphia church was still Brethren in Christ; William Rosenberry was the pastor. So we were down there . . . and my father was having the council meeting that night, and we had dinner [with the pastor and the other mission workers]. . . . There was a picture on the wall — I still remember [where it was hanging on the wall], it’s very vivid in my recollection — and [while] I looked at this picture, . . . one of the mission workers was there and she came over and said, “This is a picture of the second coming [of Christ].” It was a picture of a town or a city, the Christians were all going up in the air. And [the mission worker] said specifically, “Here is the theater. And nobody is going out of there.”

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Rapture: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You?

  1. Ken says:

    Devin – Interesting stuff. Best wishes on that essay.

  2. Harriet Bicksler says:

    Interesting piece! I wonder how many BIC went to see “Sound of Music” as their first theater movie. That was the first one I saw in a theater, and even though I really liked the movie (it’s still on my list of all-time favorites!!), I remember feeling vaguely guilty. What helped was that I went with my best friend and her family. Her dad was our pastor!

  3. devincthomas says:

    @ Ken: Thanks. God willing, the article will appear in the December ’10 issue of “History & Life.” Of course, that is contingent upon me finding time in the next two months (before grad school starts) to write it!

    @ Harriet: Many, MANY Brethren in Christ credit “The Sound of Music” as being their first theater-going experience (or at least a particularly significant theater-going experience). As Doyle Book told me, seeing “The Sound of Music” after a tough period of missionary work in Japan was “practically therapeutic. . . . It was almost a healing that took place. That movie was so beautiful, so wholesome.” Wow.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Jean Swalm says:

    I am not sure if The sound of Music was my first but I did see it and it too is my favourite. I like to watch it on video every Christmas season or on TV. Others were Ben Hur, Chariots of Fire and other good ones. It is interesting how other BIC’s feel the same as I.

  5. Elaine Byer Reed says:

    I’m late on this reply, but I just saw the article. You’ve got so much here!
    We (my family) only saw Ben Hur, The 10 Commandments, etc. when I was a child. I had the same fear reaction even then. Thinking back,
    some of those were so violent! I loved the Sound of Music. I saw it with Mennonite Brethren college friends.

  6. Pingback: Coercion, Dancing Dutch Children, and Brethren in Christ Nonconformity | the search for piety and obedience.

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