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Apocalypse with a side of hope

Reverend Joseph Morris believes we are living in the end times

His followers call him Dr. Joe, or Uncle Joe, depending on how long they’ve known him. His name is Joseph Morris, and he’s the founder and creator of Joseph Morris Ministries and End of Days Update (EDU). Though based in Tulsa, Morris preaches at churches around the globe and offers messages and videos online through the EDU website—a kind of internet newsletter for the thousands of people who follow it.

His message is straightforward: The world as we know it is coming to an end soon.

It’s heavy stuff, but as harbingers of doom go, Joseph Morris seems genial. His warm Louisiana accent and professorial manner are disarming when he speaks of destruction and rapture. Morris is a nice guy.

“After decades of getting to know people and watching their kids be born and get married and standing with them through tragedies and funerals you start to feel like more than just churchgoers,” he said. “I think that’s why some people started calling me Uncle Joe. I’ve been doing this a long time.”

If this gentle Southern grandfather who talks about blood moons and Armageddon sounds paradoxical, you’re right. He’s paired an apocalyptic vision with hope.

The son of a devout Christian mother and an atheist father, Morris felt called to evangelize at a young age, but he wasn’t happy about it.

“When I was 13, God told me I was going to preach, and I was like ‘Well I don’t want to preach.’ I can remember it just as clear as a bell. Actually he told me to preach on the end times, and I said, ‘I don’t want to preach on end times!’ I just equated that with weirdness,” Morris said.

“Even going to Bible school I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ There’s nobody cool that preaches. I was around so many weird preachers that I didn’t want to be a preacher, like some John the Baptist goofball. As a young guy, you just want things to be normal.”

The reverend’s life has been anything but ordinary. He studied at Rhema Bible Training College in Broken Arrow before beginning his ministry in Tulsa in 1986. Since then, he’s traveled to more than 30 countries and spoken at hundreds of churches. His 2017 itinerary includes France, Germany, and Canada, as well as eighteen states across the U.S. When he preaches in Tulsa,  it is often at his home church, World Outreach Church. But wherever he travels, Morris unveils to audiences a complex tapestry of connections to and signs of the end.

“There’s about 50 main signs,” he said. “Jesus said the generation that sees Israel made [into] a nation—that generation would see the end. There’s kind of a lot of wiggle room in there, but I think the rapture will happen within ten or twenty years. That’s the one thing about scripture. In Isaiah, God said, ‘I’ll tell you how you can tell that I’m God. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen before it happens.’”

Morris also sees the chaos of the modern 24-hour news cycle through the lens of biblical texts. For instance, recent North Korean ballistic missile tests and the Russian invasion of Crimea point to, he believes, confirmation of the Bible’s Ezekiel prophecy that a coalition of nations will go to war with Israel. Even the invention of new technology like smartphones and selfie sticks are signs of the coming apocalypse. (2 Timothy 3:1-2 reads, “But understand this: In the last days terrible times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves …”)

“There’s so many things happening,” he said. “You got Israel made a nation. Jerusalem won back. You got the Hebrew language restored. Ethiopian Jews brought back. You got the fertility of the land of Israel.

“The one I like is the revival of the Roman Empire, and these are things the Bible said you would see right before the coming of the Lord. I’m intrigued that they’re so blatant, yet it’s so quiet. I would have always thought people would be a little more excited about it.

“I mean you had blood red moons on Passover and Tabernacle on the exact year that Israel was made a nation and Jerusalem was won back. So you’ve even got signals in the heavens. It’s exactly what the scripture said it would be.”

Though Morris’s views may sound radical, he represents thread of American Christianity that began to change near the end of the 19th century. A series of revivals started. Many theologians began believing that prophecies from ancient scripture were being fulfilled in the present day. The effect was immediate.

Apocalyptic preachers traveled the continent from New England to the breadbasket, and their congregations of farmers and converted city folks swelled into full-fledged movements. Among the Shakers, teenage girls collapsed to the ground and sang spontaneously about angels. A sect called Millerites was known for fits of ecstasy on church floors. There were fire and brimstone tent revivals with hundreds of thousands of people culminating in something called the Pentecostal movement. Even a little Scottish Girl named Margaret became a minor celebrity after having visions of the second coming of Christ and speaking in tongues. Nothing quite like this has happened in America before or since.

New schools of Christian thought were born in unlikely places like Oak Park, Illinois, and the famous Azusa Street in Southern California. Pastors like John Nelson Darby popularized a concept known as the rapture. It’s the idea that led to the popular Left Behind book and film franchise that made Christian kids in the 80’s and 90’s freak out whenever they lost track of their moms at the supermarket. Evangelicals still recall fears of coming home to find only a pile of clothes where their parents stood before being “raptured.”

Though Morris descends from some of these ideas, he believes that even the most frightening Biblical passages can be viewed from a positive perspective.

“What’s wonderful about the dire predictions is that it ends up being that the world’s never coming to an end. Jesus is just coming back and going to stop war. So the world will be here forever. I believe there’s a great future for our grandkids.”

To Morris, the Bible is more than an ancient book of teachings and aphorisms. It’s also a literal guide for the years to come. The stories of the testaments aren’t parables, but examples of God’s ability to bend the laws of space and time to help his people. He believes that these miraculous things have happened before and they will happen again.

“The hope is the rapture of the church,” he said. “What happens is the church is taken off of the Earth and God kind of hands off to the Jews for seven years. ‘The blessed hope’ is the rapture. I know that sounds like the craziest thing on the planet, but Enoch was raptured. Elijah was raptured. The scripture talks about the church being raptured.”

The seven years Morris referenced refer to a period of distress and anguish supposed to occur after the rapture—seven years wherein everyone who is left behind will be tested.

Squaring this vision of frightening tribulation for non-believers with the idea that Jesus loves everyone might seem tricky, but Morris doesn’t see it that way. He thinks the perilous future will bring out the best in humanity and lead millions of people to his faith.

“We were in Canada a few years ago and a 96 year-old man got saved. I gave the call for salvation and he raised his hand. We prayed with him. I left for the next day for the airport, and that pastor called me and said that man went home to be with the Lord that night. He cut it close. That’s kind of the mentality people have. They think ‘Well I’ll do it sometime.’ That seven year period is just to put pressure on people to make a decision.”

In his 25 years of ministry, Joseph Morris has grappled with some difficult questions. What is redemption? Is the world doomed? What is the nature of God? Nothing is more personal than those questions, and the answers to them that one reaches. The image of God he describes is complex, turbulent, and powerful, yet somehow still grounded in love.

“I really lean on looking at Jesus and his humility and his kindness. I always go back to that. Being in the ministry, you find out that the whole thought pattern of Jesus is kindness and unselfishness and mercy.”

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