Christian Economics, the John Birch Society, and Christian Reconstructionism
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 05:24:26 PM EST
In his 1991 article, “Christian Economics: The Social Conditions for Wealth” Australian Ian Hodge, wrote about his view that the fall of Rome was tied to religion: “Whereas Rome was hostile to productive labor, Christianity positively encouraged human endeavor” (p. 20). Those noble productive Christians today apparently do a mind meld of doctrinaire Calvinism with economic Darwinism. Beam me up! I’m trapped on a planet influenced by the John Birch Society and Christian Reconstructionism.

How can I make this absurd claim?  Read on.

Hodge’s article appeared in the December 1981 issue of The Counsel of Chalcedon, a publication of the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia, which is an early proponent of Dominionist and Christian Reconstructionist ideas. Reconstuctionist Dr. Joseph C. Moorecraft, III was the minister of the church, and Reconstuctionists Gary DeMar and Greg Bahnsen were affiliated with the magazine.

Hodge is described in 1991 as the “Executive Director of The Foundation for the Advancement of Christian Studies,” in Engadine, New South Wales, Australia, and publisher of a newsletter Christian Economics. This is not the first publication with that name, and the U.S. serial of the same name (but no apparent connection) was founded in 1950 and published by the right-wing Christian Freedom Foundation (CFF) and sent free to some 175,000 ministers.

A 1993 study by Edd S. Noell , “A Reformed Approach to Economics: Christian Reconstructionism,” cites to another publication by Hodge, calling it a “critique of Vickers’ Christian approach to macroeconomics which focuses on the Biblical material dealing with monetary economics and applies it to modern Keynesian theory and policy.” The book by Hodge is: Baptized Inflation: A Critique of “Christian” Keynesianism. Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986.

Now Fred Clarkson will tell you that the Institute for Christian Economics is run by leading Reconstructionist Gary North, so Hodge seems firmly entrenched in that worldview.[cite]

I wondered if Hodge also embraced the same economic Darwinist ultra-libertarian ideology as the earlier Christian Freedom Foundation, so I poked around for other writings by Hodge. What turned up first was an essay on Usury, discussing how “Social Credit theory has raised the question of usury by calling for interest-free loans.” Hodge attempts to use Biblical analysis to question current lending practices among Christians. It’s online if you are interested, but I found it far-fetched and boring. [Cite]

What caught my attention were the footnotes. The first footnote was to the 1921 title Capital and Interest written by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk , and translated by George D. Huncke and Hans F. Sennholz . I know Sennholz as one of the leading ideologues of right-wing libertarian economic theory who was affiliated with the John Birch Society publication American Opinion back in the early 1960s. In fact the 1964 masthead of American Opinion read like a Who's Who of ultraconservates and Free Marketeers: Associate Editors Revilo P. Oliver and E. Merrill Root; Contributing Editors Meford Evans and Hans Sennholz; Editorial Advisory Committee, Clarence Manion, Ludwig Von Mises, J. Howard Pew, and Robert W. Stoddard.

Pew was a major funder of the Christian Freedom Foundation, which published Christian Economics, in which Ludwig Von Mises wrote articles.

Hodge also cites his own work, which appeared as Making Sense of Your Dollars: A Biblical Approach to Wealth, published by Ross House Books, an arm of the Chalcedon Foundation, created by the progenitor of Christian Reconstructionism , Rev. R.J. Rushdoony. (I pause here to note the proponents of Rushdoony are so techno-attuned that Rushdoony has his own podcasts, even though he is dead. [Cite] )

Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming, has been writing about how much of the Christian Right ideology was pioneered by the John Birch Society. She is right on target. And this also ties the trail back to Christian Reconstructionism Rushdoony was a member of the John Birch Society.

Fred Clarkson wrote about this in “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,” The Public Eye, March/June 1994:

Reconstructionist leaders seem to have two consistent characteristics: a background in conservative Presbyterianism, and connections to the John Birch Society (JBS).>

In 1973, R. J. Rushdoony compared the structure of the JBS to the "early church." He wrote in Institutes: "The key to the John Birch Society's effectiveness has been a plan of operation which has a strong resemblance to the early church; have meetings, local `lay' leaders, area supervisors or `bishops.'"

The JBS connection does not stop there. Most leading Reconstructionists have either been JBS members or have close ties to the organization. Reconstructionist literature can be found in JBS-affiliated American Opinion bookstores.

Indeed , the conspiracist views of Reconstructionist writers (focusing on the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations, among others) are consistent with those of the John Birch Society. A classic statement of the JBS world view, Call It Conspiracy by Larry Abraham, features a prologue and an epilogue by Reconstructionist Gary North. In fact, former JBS chairman Larry McDonald may himself have been a Reconstructionist. Joseph

Morecraft has written that "Larry [McDonald] understood that when the authors of the US Constitution spoke of law, they meant the law of God as revealed in the Bible. I have heard him say many times that we must refute humanistic, relativistic law with Biblical Law." [Cite]

In his thoughtful 1993 study "A Reformed Approach to Economics: Christian Reconstructionism," Edd S. Noell explains the nuts and bolts of how the Christian Reconstructionists view economic theory through the lens of Biblical law. Noell is an Associate Professor of Economics at Westmont College, and has done his homework. According to Noell:

The teachings of Christian Reconstructionism have been increasingly influential in recent years for evangelicals advocating social policy in various mainline denominations and independent churches. They have also induced a fairly strong and at times quite critical reaction both within and outside the Reformed community; among the sobriquets given to Reconstructionists are “ triumphalists ” and “the liberation theologians of the right.” (Bulletin, Association of Christian Economists, Spring, 1993, pp. 6-20) [Online]

I totally agree.

In fact, I think the roots of the economic theories pushed by Christian Right leaders today are in the John Birch Society and Christian Reconstructionism.

So when Stanley Kurtz over at the National Review online trashes the work of Fred Clarkson in The Public Eye, calling it conspiracy mongering and sneering that "All you have to do is quote a fringe Dominionist desperate to prove that his radical ideas are catching on," it is Kurtz who is parading his ignorance in public, not Clarkson.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates
Chip's Blog

I had somehow missed the smug ravings of Stanley Kurtz. (Amazing that people actually get paid to write stuff like that.)

I appreciate your principled and scholarly defense. But more importantly, thank you for underscoring the deep connection between contemporary libertarian economic theory and the most theocratic elements of the religious right.  

I know that there is considerable denial regarding the influence and import of Rushdoony and his followers in the development of the contemporary Christian right, however the nay sayers are absent any facts and their method is generally to chortle, pooh pooh, and deny.  

For some, I recognize that this is a matter of ignorance and the pyschology of "it can't happen here" on spectacular display. But for others, it is a matter of political convenience.

I am confident that history will judge us well. But my hope is that we won't have to wait that long for more folks to take these matters more seriously. After all, when people like Stanley Kurtz protest too much...  perhaps that is an indication that some of us are onto something they would rather people not know.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 09:38:00 PM EST

One point-from what I understand, theocrat Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series, was also a Bircher. I don't know if he still belongs to the Birchers, but his political world-view as expressed in his books and especially in the Left Behind series is classic Bircher conspiracy theory.

by khughes1963 on Mon Mar 05, 2007 at 09:51:54 PM EST
" ...Left Behind series is classic Bircher conspiracy theory. "

Isn't that so totally true?  And yet folks who never have explored John Birch Society rhetoric dismiss this claim as hyperbolic.

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 03:36:13 PM EST
Are now out on the web.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 12:57:36 AM EST

Hey Chris,

  Commendable research from one who has spent the past 27 years around these guys. I'm new to this list and pray I won't be veiwed as a "troll" or booted by a quick intolerent decision. But I do confess to being a conservative Christian, even with a "reconstructionist" background -- but one who has BIG problems with the more public faction of "The Chrisitan Right". I'm talking about the current George Bush/GOP neo-con, rapture/Tim Layhage/John Hagee pro Zionist faction now in warmongering power.

  Most of what you say in right on the mark. My only point now (which I'll make persuasively with a host of references later) is that there are at least TWO Christian Rights", and maybe three or four. It is not nearly the monolith that some opponents fear (and some promoters foolishly imagine!).

  The one I belong to (with old roots in Presbyterianism and some JBS connections) is VERY opposed to the warmongering Israeli/Zionism of a GOP/neo-con bent. These are mostly zealous but very naive and easily duped (by GOP country-clubers) baptist and evangelicals.

  Just call me a Agrarian/Distributist Christian Right guy (53) with eight kids (three married) who loves Gunniess (sp?) the Beatles, John Prine and Wendell Berry. More later.


PS  Ann Coulter should be considered an embarassment to the Christian Right and repudiated. I thought D. James Kennedy a far wiser man than to invite such as her to speak. I hope he's embarassed enough to speak out.

by Steward on Thu Mar 08, 2007 at 12:11:16 PM EST

"The Christian right" is a mythical beast - it doesn't really exist. It's just a linguistic convention. Why not "the Christian far right", "The Christian moderate right", "the Christian middle", etc. ? The cleavages commonly made are somewhat arbitrary and there's little awareness among many liberal Americans opposed to war that they'd actually have common cause, in theory, with reconstructionists on that count.  In reality, there are myriad shifting ideological groupings in politics, along many spectrums or axes. Any political grouping one wouldn't occasionally have reason to make alliance with on specific political issues would, by definition, be ( by one's own judgment ) completely evil. Is is doctrinally reasonable to cast entire population groups as completely evil or - to put it differently - where does that lead ? It almost inevitably leads, I'd contest, to eliminationalist thought.

We try very hard here on Talk To Action to steer clear of theological discussions and debates - for one thing they never end. And, we try to avoid demonizing religious beliefs or labelling any specific religious beliefs as "wrong".

That said, I think it can be fairly pointed at that there is a strong tendency on the Christian right that is inclined towards hard dualism, and strongly dualistic theology tends to cleave the world, or humanity, into the "good" and the "evil". But, human groups that are purely "evil" are not really human any more - they could be called "mythological", no longer in the Earthly, or profane, realm.

Both Christianity and Islam, to the extent each of the two world religions has been inclined more towards peace and less toward warlike stances at best are opposed to the sort of exclusivist thought dualism leads to. Or, to put it differently, dualism is fine in  heaven and hell but, when brought to Earth, it can be highly destructive especially when wedded to apocalyptic dispensationalist thought. That leads to a critical difference between Reconstructionism and apocalyptic forms of Premillennial Dispensationalism held by LaHaye, Hagee, some in the GOP and possibly some in the White House too :

Reconstructionism expects continuity, apocalyptic Premillennial Dispensationalism expects and hopes for catastrophic war waged against a demonized ( and I'd say mythologized ) foe. I actually wrote on Talk To Action, a week or two ago, about a post on Chalcedon's blog by Chalcedon's Communications Director Chris Ortiz that was critical of warlike rhetoric among fellow reconstructionist writers.

I think such distinctions are important to make - many who are critical of the general political and religious tendency don't know what even the most basic doctrinal distinctions among Christian right groups are, and that's just silly. I have a lot to learn ( Ortiz was sharply critical of my take ) but I think I'm aware of the basic landscape. It's simply a question of paying attention, and that's one powerful criticism that can be leveled at Americans critical of the Christian right who lack basic understanding of what they say they oppose.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Mar 09, 2007 at 08:59:42 AM EST

Anyone who likes Guinness and the Beatles, not to mention Wendell Berry, can't be all wrong in my book!
I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian (hardly analagous to a Presbyterian!). I support patriarchy (properly understood) and Tradition (properly understood and practiced). I also have great affection for Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement.

and Ann Coulter is sure 'nuff an embarrassment to most of us.  I wonder how many on the 'right' just cringe when she starts shooting off her mouth?

by rdrjames on Tue Mar 13, 2007 at 01:10:17 AM EST

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