Biblical Capitalism - The Religious Right's War on Progressive Economic Policy
Rachel Tabachnick printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 01:21:59 PM EST
Tea Party ideology is not new but taps into decades of Religious Right instruction on "Biblical Capitalism."

The second annual PA Progressive Summit 2011 was held in Pittsburgh on January 22 and 23. I again gave a presentation on "Biblical Capitalism" or the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated. The Religious Right is well known for its regressive social activism, but less publicized is the role it has played in the war against progressive economic policy, labor unions, the regulatory structure and social safety net. The sacralizing of laissez-faire capitalism predates the Tea Party movement and has been a major theme of fundamentalist textbooks for more than three decades.  Over the next two weeks I will be posting several additional articles providing links to material included in my presentation as well as other resources on this topic.

 Hundreds of progressive leaders from around Pennsylvania gathered to participate in the conference sponsored by Keystone Progress, Service Employees International Union, Alliance for American Manufacturing, Democracy for America, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.    

For those who are visiting the site for the first time, welcome to! Following is the first installment of the overview of my presentation at the summit. Note that you can search for articles which include specific words or names by using the "TTA site search engine" in the upper right corner.  I would recommend that search function as opposed to the second box titled "Find Stories by Topic," since each Talk2action article can only be listed under one topic.

A summary of my presentation from 2010 can be accessed at "Biblical Capitalism - The Sacralizing of Political and Economic Issues" and includes numerous links and resources.  

An excellent resource on economic justice and documentation of anti-regulatory and anti-union history is The Public Eye of Political Research Associates. The chart included in the presentation showing the anti-union think tank recipients of over 170 millions dollars and the source of this money (including 63 million from foundations which have been controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife) can be downloaded at The Public Eye

My article on the lessons we should learn from the Texas Social Studies curriculum controversy, titled "From Schoolhouse to Statehouse," can be downloaded in pdf format from The Public Eye. The article begins on page one and continues on page 17 -22.   An online version is also available  (My apologies for the formatting.  The footnotes are listed with Roman numerals which is not very reader friendly, but you can access live links in this version.) Many of the resources footnoted at the end of the article were used in my PA Progress Summit presentation.  As documented in this article, the anti-regulatory and anti-labor themes of the Tea Party movement have been taught to some home schooled and private school students for decades as well as seminars for adults.  Be sure to read the text box on David Barton on page 17.  Barton was an advisor to the Texas School Board of Education and has also been a regular feature on Glenn Beck's show and online "university."

The video clips which I showed in the introduction of the presentation included:

Ret. Lt. Gen. William Boykin's "Marxism in America" in which Boykin claims that Obama is leading the nation into authoritarianism, including the claim that the healthcare bill provides for a force much like the "brown shirts" of Nazi Germany. You can watch the six minute video at the website of MorningStar Ministries.  A full transcript is can be accessed at this Talk2action article. The video was produced by a relatively new Religious Right organization called The Oak Initiative and was widely disseminated through the organization's local chapters and Tea Party websites prior to the 2010 election. Boykin is on the board of directors of The Oak Initiative.


The Cornwall Alliance three minute video about which demonizes environmentalism as the anti-Christian "cult of the green dragon."  Currently the video can be viewed in the upper left corner of Right Wing Watch.  The video features numerous national Religious Right leaders including Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council.  Both the AFA and FRC have Pennsylvania auxiliary organizations.


Examples of political leaders using creationism to justify political policy include the video of Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen recorded by the Arizona Guardian.

History of Biblical Capitalism Ideology

My previous article Biblical Capitalism includes a brief history of American fundamentalism and how it was encouraged by some business leaders as a counter to the social gospel.  The article continues with the efforts to engage religious leaders in an effort to role back New Deal legislation.  (I recommend an excellent book by Kim Phillips-Fein titled The Invisible Hand: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal.)  I continued with the development of the modern Religious Right and its war on progressive economic policy.  This year I emphasized the impact of the Tea Party movement.  

There is nothing new about Tea Party ideology as can be seen in an examination of fundamentalist textbooks used to teach students in some private schools and homeschooling. The Tea Party's "Christian Libertarianism" is a creative repackaging of narratives that have become increasingly popular over the last three decades.  These narratives blend radical free market ideology with theocratic ideology.  In other words, regulatory powers of the federal government would be eradicated and the void would be filled and society controlled through adherence to biblical law.  

Theocratic Libertarianism may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a growing phenomenon with narratives that can be traced to the ideology of the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, who took Ayn Rand-type free market fundamentalism and repackaged it as a biblical mandate, thus literally demonizing competing economic philosophies. Rushdoony is the father of what is called Christian Reconstructionism.  While he is not a household name, he is considered the father of modern homeschooling and the source of much of the the agenda of today's Religious Right and Tea Party movements.  Perhaps most importantly, Rushdoony provided much of the ideological foundation for "Christian dominionism" or the belief that his brand of Christianity must take "dominion" or control over government and society.  

For instance, Rushdoony developed the narrative that secular education is a religion in competition with a biblically based curriculum. Rushdoony is credited by his followers with paving the way for the reintroduction of Creationism and the current war on evolution. A prolific writer, Rushdoony provided a revisionist Christian nationalist history of America. Rushdoony's efforts were supported by Howard Phillips, founder of the Constitution Party and chairman of The Conservative Caucus.  Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation was financially supported by Howard Ahmanson, Jr., a major funder of right wing causes who has stated his desire "for the total integration of biblical laws into our lives."  

Recognize that in this context, biblical law replaces the federal regulatory structure so hated by the wealthy backers of right wing causes.  In this holy and reconstructed society, federal government will not be required.  This is often the meaning behind the buzzwords about "restoring the Constitution."  It becomes difficult to determine whether religion is leading politics or vice versa.

Gary North is Rushdoony's son-in-law and perhaps his leading disciple.  The Religious Right has struggled between withdrawing from public schools or working to take "dominion" over public education.  North has written about the ultimate goal behind removing a generation of students from public schools in order to train a generation in pursuing theocracy.

"So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God's law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort."

Christian Libertarianism

One of the promoters of "Christian Libertarianism" is the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, founded in Auburn, Alabama by Lew Rockwell and named after a leader of Austrian School Economics  in the United States. Lew Rockwell's blog regularly featured Christian Libertarians including Rep. Ron Paul and Gary North
Rockwell was Paul's chief of staff from 1978 to 1982 and North also worked for Paul during his first term in Congress.

In the presentation I showed numerous slides from Gary North's writings including selections from Biblical Economics Today which was published by North's Institute for Biblical Economics. These included an article titled "The Christian View of Labor Unions" and an article authored by Pat Robertson titled "A Christian Action Plan for the 1980s."  This 1979 article reprinted from "Pat Robertson's Perspectives"  foreshadows the Tea Party by decades with it's revisionist narrative of American history and instructions that, "If Christians want to rule, they must be diligent.  There is no magic shortcut."  

Robertson's founded the Christian Coalition which is generally better known for its social conservatism than economic conservatism.  However, the strategies of Christian Coalition began working from the bottom up instead of top down after Robertson's unsuccessful run in the 1988 presidential primaries.  An initial goal was taking control of 500 school boards.

For those interested in the role of the Austrian School of Economics in today's radical free market fundamentalism, see Chip Berlet's article "Von Mises Rises From the Scrap Heap of History."  

A  good background article on Christian Reconstructionism is Libertarian Theocrats at The Public Eye.  However, I would argue that although the author is correct in pointing out that the core Reconstructionist movement is small, the success of the Religious Right and politicized Christianity is grounded in the ideology of Rushdoony and dominionist theology.  This has become increasingly apparent with the emergence of the Tea Party movement.

Gary North explains that dominion is not just about getting a piece of the pie.

"The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church's public marks of the covenant - baptism and holy communion - must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel. The way to achieve this political goal is through successful mass evangelism followed by constitutional revision."

Why does racism repeatedly rear its head in the Tea Party's Christian Libertarianism?  Curiously, in this ideology the Confederacy is often romanticized as being the model for a Christian society free of the much hated federal government.  To better understand the appeal, read this letter to Lew Rockwell's blog titled "Catholic Confederate Libertarian."

The Christian nationalist histories of the Religious Right and Tea Party movement romanticize the Confederacy.  I will provide several examples in Part Two of this series.  But simultaneously many of the same groups are cultivating minority participation.  I address this paradox in an article "Rushdoony and Theocratic Libertarians on Slavery".  

The board of The Oak Initiative (which promoted Gen. Boykin's video seen above) includes: Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference which is advertised as representing 16 million evangelical Hispanics; African American leaders Bishop Larry Jackson and Ardell Daniels; and Native American leader Niegel Bigpond.  All of these Relgious Right leaders are apostles in the apostolic and prophetic movement or New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).   Other apostles and prophets on the board include Rick Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, and Bob Weiner.  

The apostles and prophets lead the Charismatic branch of the Christian Dominionist movement and have had much greater success drawing a mass following than Rushdoony's Reconstructionist camp. The Charismatic stream of evangelicalism dominates Christian broadcasting and is produces slick public relations products like the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains campaign which argues for Christian dominion over arts, education, media, religion, family, government, and business.

There will be more information about the political organizing of the apostles and prophets and their growing clout in the Religious Right and Tea Party movement in future installments of this series.  

One of the most prominent promoters of Christian nationalist history of the Rushdoony brand is David Barton who graduated from Oral Roberts University and belongs to the Charismatic Dominionist stream.  Barton has worked closely with the apostles and prophets for many years.  Barton is author of the Myth of Separation of Church and State and founder of Wallbuilders, a Texas-based organization promoting a Christian nationalist version of American history in seminars around the nation. Barton served as the vice chair of the Texas Republican Party from 1998 to 2006, during which time, in 2004, the Texas GOP platform asserted that "America is a Christian Nation" and referred to the "myth of separation of church and state."     Barton now reaches a larger audience through Glenn Beck's show and online "university" program and his close ties with Newt Gingrich. Barton was an advisor for the Social Studies curriculum changes in Texas public schools and his media is now marketed on many Tea Party sites.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review Attacks the PA Progressive Summit 2011

[Author's note: I did not reference the Pittsburgh Tribune Review article in my presentation but this is an excellent example of why progressive activists need to understand the foundations of Tea Party ideology.]

Prior to the PA Progressive Summit 2011, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review posted an article in which two members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) complained about the union's support of the summit.  One fifth grade teacher reported that this was unfair since the union leadership would not support a Tea Party event.  This is ironic since PSEA's stated mission is to advocate for all members and for strong, effective public schools.  

The Tea Party movement, and the Christian Libertarianism on which it is founded, is anti-union and anti-public schools. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is owned and published by Richard Mellon Scaife, who has controlled family foundations which contributed over 63 million dollars to "free market" think tanks which promote anti-union and anti-regulatory ideology.

Ron Paul is credited as the intellectual godfather and hero of the Tea Party concept and the inaugural event was the Boston TeaParty07 including a "money bomb" fundraiser which tallied 4.3 million dollars for Paul's presidential race in one day. Paul supports the Alliance for the Separation of School and State and has signed a proclamation supporting "the end of government involvement in education," in other words, the eradication of public schools.  This sentiment has been echoed by Tea Party candidates including David Harmer (who lost in CA's 11th Congressional District), author of an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle titled "Abolish  Public Schools."

The Tea Party organizations (and the Religious Right) have been at the forefront of demonizing teacher's unions as well as targeting public service employees.

As noted in the question and answer session of my presentation, in an interview with John Kennedy, Jr. in George Magazine  Richard Mellon Scaife denied being part of the Religious Right.

"I'm not a member of the Christian right. I am a firm believer in Planned Parenthood. I've even given to abortion rights groups. And I think Trent Lott's remarks about gays were totally uncalled for. So what I'm trying to say is, I'm not your average conservative."

Scaife's 63 million dollars of funding has been donated to primarily secular "free market" think tanks.  But these think tanks produce ideas, not mass numbers of voters.  The Religious Right plays a strategic role in convincing American voters that progressive economic policy is not only wrong, but evil and in competition with Christianity.  The Tea Party is continuing this decades-old narrative.

Progressives should recognize that this is the ideology behind much of today's Religious Right and Tea Party movement.  The foundations are often not acknowledged because Rushdoony was an extremist who taught that those breaking biblical law should be stoned to death.  The term theocracy is not used because it has negative connotations, however, many of the narratives being taught in Religious Right seminars and conferences around the country and marketed on Tea Party websites can be sourced in Rushdoony's ideology, theocratic agendas, and the Charismatic variation of "Dominion theology."

Parts Two, to be posted shortly, includes numerous quotes from fundamentalist school textbooks and media teaching aids for adults which document that the Religious Right played a role in the war on economic justice and progressive economic policy many years before there was a Tea Party movement. [ Part Two and Part Three are now posted.]

Thanks so much for this in-depth and well-researched article! It was very interesting. I am passing this article link along to others.

Isn't it funny that in all the discussion about (so called) Biblical Capitalism based on the OT, I don't seem to recall anywhere that these folks advocate a 'Jubilee'; a time when debts are forgiven, land is given back, slaves are freed, etc. The Jubilee was the most prominent feature of the Law. It appears that these theocrats like to 'pick and choose' through the various features of the Law of Moses, ignoring those that give relief to the poor and downtrodden.

by COinMS on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 02:11:46 PM EST

...they most certainly pick and choose.  And you see the same cherry-picking in their version of American history as I will document in the next article in this series.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 03:07:15 PM EST
... and look at Rushdoony's books to see what he had to say on this.  I don't recall off the top of my head.  I have many volumes of his writing and its difficult reading.  The Institutes of Biblical Law alone is over 800 pages.  I certainly do not recall Rushdoony saying that the land should be given back to Native Americans!  I think that I would have remembered that.  When I get a chance to pull out my Rushdoony collection, I'll get back to you.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 12:13:02 PM EST

Actually, Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, did advocate a Year of the Jubilee, and even advocated that North America be returned to the Native American tribes.  Unfortunately the only online info I've managed to dig up about this is on the following page:

Although it's not on the above page, I remember reading somewhere else that Rushdoony was, at some point in his life, a missionary to some Native American tribe, and used his advocacy of the Jubilee as a way to win converts.

Be that as it may, that's an aspect of hist belief system that his followers have not emphasized.

by Diane Vera on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 09:22:54 PM EST

God help the poor tribe he was a missionary to!

As far as promises of returning the land (or not taking any more land), those have been repeated time and time again for centuries.  Some southern Native Americans were snookered into supporting the Confederacy by claims of leaving the people in the "Indian territories" alone.  (Conveniently forgetting how horribly those trying to stay in their homelands were treated by the South!!!)  Of course, then entire tribes were punished for the support once the South lost.

Rushdoony may have wrote it, but I seriously doubt that he actually believed it.  Maybe if the tribes renounced their heritage and own religious faiths, and converted to his idea of "Good Christianity" (fully assimilated), but otherwise?  Nope.  

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 10:33:40 AM EST

If I remember my Bible correctly, the only time Jesus lost his temper is when he kicked the capitalists out of the temple.

by tiredofidiots on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 06:50:39 PM EST
Good way of putting it!

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 07:12:13 PM EST

... through Gary North's archived issues of Biblical Economics Today.  The concept that radical free market fundamentalism is holy has been out there for some time. If you read some of these you'll recognize some of the narratives that have convinced people to vote against their own best interests for years.  I don't think people necessarily know they're quoting Rushdoony and North, but these ideas are now widespread.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 07:43:18 PM EST

I remember the anti-"Socialism" diatribes and the ranting about the goodness of capitalism even from my Assemblies days - back in the late 70s and early 80s.  I'd drunk deeply of the kool-aid and ate it up, to my sorrow.

I'm not sure if there was that connection then, but I clearly remember the loudly expressed attitude about how great capitalism was (and how bad anything else was).

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 12:17:11 AM EST

... and before Rushdoony's work had taken root, we were told that there would be light bulbs and tires that would work forever if it weren't for unions! It would be hard to know which word was considered more of an insult - Yankee or union.  It was interesting as an adult to go back and study the extent of the efforts to keep unions out of Southern mills, including race baiting to stop white and black workers from unifying.  And I have often joked that many of us from the South were born with a chip on our shoulder about the evil federal government.

These attitudes existed long before Rushdoony and were considered holy even back in the days of my youth, but Rushdoony codified them and provided a history in which this worldview was biblically sanctioned.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 09:04:47 AM EST

The story is right on except for the author's assertion that Rousas J. Rushdoony "is considered the father of modern homeschooling," which is way off base. "Modern homeschooling" began in the 1960's with liberal school reformers, like Ivan Illich, John Holt and with Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. It wasn't until the 1980s--with changes in the tax regulations for Christian schools, which forced the smaller among them to close down by the hundreds--that conservative Christians began homeschooling in droves. Homeschooling is diverse! As one veteran noted, "Any way you slice the American pie, you're going to find a homeschooler." Anyone, who thinks the the RRR came up with homeschooling, is a believer in the RRR lie. Their claim to homeschooling is another way they have co-opted good things, branded them with their version of the cross and sold them as their goods. For more info, see "A Brief History of Homeschooling," ing/a-brief-history-of-american-homeschoolin/

by Shaysea on Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 12:36:24 PM EST

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