Jonathan Zimmerman

teaches history and education

at New York University

Let's imagine that Mitt Romney released a television advertisement in Iowa describing himself as "a Mormon leader." Reporters would descend like vultures upon Romney, the front-running Republican in the Iowa presidential caucuses, asking if he embraced Mormon doctrine on marriage, alcohol and everything else.

So why isn't anyone questioning Mike Huckabee about Timothy LaHaye?

Huckabee, whose advertisements proclaim that he is a "Christian leader," trails Romney by a mere 4 percentage points in the latest Iowa poll. His campaign received a boost from LaHaye, coauthor of best-selling novels, who sent a letter inviting selected pastors to all-expenses-paid conferences in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The only presidential candidate speaking at each event will be Huckabee.

So it's perfectly fair to ask whether Huckabee sees eye to eye with LaHaye. If he does, Huckabee - an affable, guitar-playing ex-minister - is a whole lot scarier than many of us have suspected.

LaHaye believes that Christians will rise into heaven in The Rapture. The rest of us will be

Left Behind

- get it? - to face nasty tribulations: plagues, earthquakes, hailstorms and more.

During this time of torment, the Book of Revelations predicts, the Antichrist will reign. But in LaHaye's 16 novels, which have sold more than 65 million copies, the Anti-christ is . . . the secretary-general of the United Nations! That's right: The U.N. is itself a kind of deviltry, because it prefigures the rule of Satan.

So do other secular world bodies, including the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. "It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt," LaHaye wrote in 1980, "that these two organizations are actively seeking to destroy our nation and establish a ruthless world dictatorship - to be run by them."

Therefore, the first question for Huckabee should be: What do you think of the United Nations? And if you're elected president, will you reduce or change America's commitment to the U.N. and to other international organizations?

The next set of questions should surround Israel. According to LaHaye, the final return of Christ - and the defeat of Satan - will be preceded by the establishment of "Greater Israel." That's one big reason why many evangelical Christians are Israel hawks, rejecting a two-state solution and supporting the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Again, somebody should ask Huckabee: Do you favor two states, for the Israelis and Palestinians, or just one? And why?

Then there's the war in Iraq. LaHaye has suggested that Saddam Hussein was a "forerunner of the Antichrist" - and that the Iraq war might itself represent the final, epic battle between Satan and Jesus.

Does Huckabee, too, think that the conflict is prefigured in Scripture?

And if so, how might this attitude influence his policy toward Iraq?

Finally, and most generally, we should also ask Huckabee how he might bring forth a more peaceful world. In LaHaye's novels, true peace is impossible until the return of Christ. Villains offer secular solutions, like the United Nations. But until Jesus comes back, all is war.

So does Huckabee buy it? A campaign spokesman recently confirmed that Huckabee had read some of LaHaye's

Left Behind

novels, and that the candidate enjoyed them. But did he believe them?

And that brings us back to Romney, whose religious ideas have received far more scrutiny than Huckabee's. Many evangelical Christians still view Mormonism as a kind of cult or even as a "stronghold of Satan," as one Southern Baptist told his convention a few years ago. Huckabee has waffled when asked whether Mormons are Christians. Other voters worry that Romney would take his orders from the Mormons' president, whom the church regards as a prophet of God.

So Romney has taken pains to separate his religion from his politics. And so has the Mormon Church, which has never endorsed a candidate for public office.

But LaHaye isn't neutral; he's working for Huckabee. So if Huckabee is elected, will he follow LaHaye's lead? We deserve some answers, before it's too late. Nobody knows when the Earth will end, of course, but Iowa will hold its caucuses on Jan. 3.

E-mail Jonathan Zimmerman, author of "Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools" (Harvard University Press), at jlzimm@aol.com.