Theocracy Goes Mainstream
Back in 1994, I wrote a multi-part article on Christian Reconstructionist movement for the scholarly Public Eye magazine. Obscure to most Americans, even many conservative evangelicals, it is neverthless and important ideological engine that has animated the religious right political movement for several decades. I wrote at the time, that Reconstructionism is a movement of ideas, comprising a number of scholars and publishing houses and a few small organizations. Then as now, relatively few people call themselves Reconstructionists, and many flee the label, largely because the ideas of the explicitly theocratic Reconstrucitonist writers are considered too controversial, even in conservative Christian circles. There were and are many reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that the Biblically-based criminal code they advocate, has a long list of capital crimes, as derived from the books of the Old Testament. These are mostly religious and sex crimes, such as heresy, apostacy, blasphemy, and propagation of false doctrines; as well as adultery and homosexuality, and in the case of women, unchastity before marriage. Approved methods of execution are burning, stoning and "the sword." Neverthless, I wrote at the time:
For much of Reconstructionism's short history it has been an ideology in search of a constituency. But its influence has grown far beyond the founders' expectations. As Reconstructionist author Gary North observes, "We once were shepherds without sheep. No longer."
If one is going to have a government and politics based on the Bible, and only on the Bible -- what would it look like? That's what the Reconstructionists sought to answer, albeit from a very far right perspective. The results were not pretty, as they imagined a theocracy so harsh it would make the Massachusetts Bay Colony look like a hippie commune. I maintained in 1994, as I do now, that the leading thinkers of Christian Reconstructionism have played a major role in shaping the religious right. For example, whenever you hear the now ubiquitous term "Biblical worldview," you are hearing an articulation of Reconstructionism or someone influenced by it. For a further example, the works of seminal Reconstructionist thinker R. J. Rushdoony were (and may still be) taught at Pat Roberton's Regent University Law school for many years.
I am not going to reprise all of the evidence and arguments here (check out my Public Eye article above, or my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocray and Democracy for an even more detailed discussion.) But consider the common sense of it. Certainly not everyone who has read Rushdoony or the others, buys the whole program. But like any of us who read the books of any important thinker or group of related thinkers, there are those who have come away from the experience, changed. That's the power of a movement of ideas. And by that standard, Christian Reconstructionism has been wildly successful.
Now, it seems that even Reconstructionism's single most controversial writer -- Gary North -- can be a featured speaker and appear on the same program with more mainstream religious right leaders without scaring them away. Indeed, they even underwrote the conference where he appeared. That's a signficant step in the mainstreaming of Reconstructionism.
The conference, titled "Preparing This Generation to Capture the Future," was organized by the Powder Springs, Georgia-based American Vision, a Christian Reconstructionist think tank and publishing house founded in 1978 and headed by Gary DeMar. The event was sponsored, which is to say, bankrolled by such major organizations as the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal strategy organization which was created by top evangelical broadcasters including James Dobson (Focus on the Family political honcho Tom Minnery is on the board ; Liberty University Schoool of Law (where Newt Gingrich recent gave the commencement address), Home School Legal Defense Association, Summit Minisitries and World magazine, edited by former Bush advisor Marvin Olasky. Time was, when leaders of the religious right, including the Falwell empire, were afraid to too publicly associate with Reconstructionists like American Vision honcho Gary DeMar and Gary North. But apparently, the days of worrying about associating with overt advocates of Biblical theocracy are over.
The event was promoted heavily by the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, and it was held in a facility owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest non-Catholic denomination and a religious body closely aligned with the Bush administration.
Gary Cass, the former head of the televangelist D. James Kennedy's now defunct political arm, the Center for Reclaiming America, in one of the more bizarre claims in recent American politics raised the specter of Darfur scale genocide against conservative Christians.
"We need a new American vision... because we've lost our biblical heritage, our Christian birthright, which has been given to us by our founders, we have squandered for a poisonous bowl of atheistic humanism and political correctness.
Doug Phillips a Reconstructionist publisher of home school materials, according to Leaming, railed "against what he said was a plot by secularists to write Christianity out of American history, concluding that 'those who control history define the culture.'"
Revisionist history in the service of Christian nationalism is a dynamic ingredient in the ideology of the Christian right, and much of it is produced and marketed by explicitly Christian Reconstructionist agencies such as Phillips' Vision Forum and DeMar's American Vision. As Bruce Wilson and Chris Rodda have reported in an ongoing series of posts, at Talk to Action such material is being taught not only in private conservative Christian schools and homeschools, but even in some public schools and in elements of the military.
Leaming's article in the current issue of Church and State underscores how the story of America as a Christian nation is central to the Reconstructionist project -- even as some of Reconstructionism's most radical thinkers are being publicly promoted by leading organizations and institutions of the religious right.
There is indeed a struggle underway for the narrative of American history. Phillips, DeMar, David Barton and others are aggressively seeking to rewrite history support of the Christian nationalist project, and the underlying theocratic norms of some of the colonies prior to the ratification of the Constitution. As I argued in a recent article in The Public Eye, it is essential that we recognize the depth and breadth of the struggle for the story of America and develop a coherent narrative of our own, because, as Doug Phillips clearly understands, history is powerful.
Theocracy Goes Mainstream | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)
Theocracy Goes Mainstream | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)