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Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence

March 11, 2010


An excerpt from Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence:

What is Reconstructionism?

Reconstructionism is a theology that arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), which proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or “Biblical Law,” is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth.

Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life–such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely “social” or “moral” issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion. Reconstructionists have formulated a “Biblical world view” and “Biblical principles” by which to examine contemporary matters. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly describes this view: “The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s law.”

More broadly, Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God’s covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband “submits” to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God’s laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called “theonomy.”

Capital Punishment

Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical “warfare” is the centrality of capital punishment under Biblical Law. Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, “sodomy or homosexuality,” incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, “unchastity before marriage.”

According to Gary North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, “along with those who advised them to abort their children.” Rushdoony concludes: “God’s government prevails, and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them.” Reconstructionists insist that “the death penalty is the maximum, not necessarily the mandatory penalty.” However, such judgments may depend less on Biblical Principles than on which faction gains power in the theocratic republic. The potential for bloodthirsty episodes on the order of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition is inadvertently revealed by Reconstructionist theologian Rev. Ray Sutton, who claims that the Reconstructed Biblical theocracies would be “happy” places, to which people would flock because “capital punishment is one of the best evangelistic tools of a society.”

The Biblically approved methods of execution include burning (at the stake for example), stoning, hanging, and “the sword.” Gary North, the self-described economist of Reconstructionism, prefers stoning because, among other things, stones are cheap, plentiful, and convenient. Punishments for non-capital crimes generally involve whipping, restitution in the form of indentured servitude, or slavery. Prisons would likely be only temporary holding tanks, prior to imposition of the actual sentence.

People who sympathize with Reconstructionism often flee the label because of the severe and unpopular nature of such views. Even those who feel it appropriate that they would be the governors of God’s theocracy often waffle on the particulars, like capital punishment for sinners and nonbelievers. Unflinching advocates, however, insist upon consistency. Rev. Greg Bahnsen, in his book By This Standard, writes: “We. . .endorse the justice of God’s penal code, if the Bible is to be the foundation of our Christian political ethic.”

Reconstructionism has adopted “covenantalism,” the theological doctrine that Biblical “covenants” exist between God and man, God and nations, God and families, and that they make up the binding, incorporating doctrine that makes sense of everything. Specifically, there is a series of covenant “structures” that make up a Biblical blueprint for society’s institutions. Reconstructionists believe that God “judges” a whole society according to how it keeps these covenantal laws, and provides signs of that judgment. This belief can be seen, for example, in the claim that AIDS is a “sign of God’s judgment.”

Reconstructionist Rev. Ray Sutton writes that “there is no such thing as a natural disaster. Nature is not neutral. Nothing takes place in nature by chance. . .Although we may not know the exact sin being judged,” Sutton declares, “what occurs results from God.”

A Movement of Ideas

As a movement primarily of ideas, Reconstructionism has no single denominational or institutional home. Nor is it totally defined by a single charismatic leader, nor even a single text. Rather, it is defined by a small group of scholars who are identified with Reformed or Orthodox Presbyterianism. The movement networks primarily through magazines, conferences, publishing houses, think tanks, and bookstores. As a matter of strategy, it is a self-consciously decentralized and publicity-shy movement.

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.”

As opposed to JBS beliefs, however, Reconstructionists emphasize the primacy of Christianity over politics. Gary North, for example, insists that it is the institution of the Church itself to which loyalty and energy are owed, before any other arena of life. Christians are called to Christianity first and foremost, and Christianization should extend to all areas of life. This emphasis on Christianity has political implications because, in the 1990s, it is likely that the JBS world view is persuasive to more people when packaged as a Biblical world view.

A Generation of Reconstructionists

Reconstructionism’s decentralist ideas have led to the creation of a network of churches, across a number of denominations, all building for the Kingdom. One Reconstructionist pastor writes that the leadership of the movement is passing to hundreds of small local churches that are “starting to grow, both numerically and theologically. Their people are being trained in the Reconstruction army. And at least in Presbyterian circles. . .we’re Baptizing and catechizing a whole generation of Gary Norths, R. J. Rushdoonys and David Chiltons.”

North writes that this percolation of ideas, actions, and institutions is largely untraceable. “No historian,” he says, “will ever be able to go back and identify in terms of the primary source documents, [what happened] because we can’t possibly do it.”

Part of the reason for this is that Reconstructionism cloaks its identity, as well as its activities, understanding the degree of opposition it provokes. For example, Gary North was caught donating Reconstructionist books (mostly his own) to university libraries under the pretense of being an anonymous alumnus. What might seem a small matter of shameless self-promotion–getting one’s books into libraries to influence American intellectual life by hook or by crook–is actually part of the larger strategy of covert influence and legitimation.

Similarly, while claiming to be reformers, not revolutionaries, Reconstructionists recognize that the harsh theocracy they advocate is revolutionary indeed. Gary North warns against a “premature revolutionary situation,” saying that the public must begin to accept “the judicially binding case laws of the Old Testament before we attempt to tear down judicial institutions that still rely on natural law or public virtue. (I have in mind the US Constitution.)” Thus, radical ideas must be gently and often indirectly infused into their target constituencies and society at large. The vague claim that God and Jesus want Christians to govern society is certainly more appealing than the bloodthirsty notion of justice as “vengeance” advocated by some of the Reconstructionists. The claim that they do not seek to impose a theocracy from the top down–waiting for a time when a majority will have converted and thus want to live under Biblical Law–is consistent with Reconstructionists’ decentralist and anti-state populism, which they often pass off as a form of libertarianism. Even so, there is an inevitable point when the “majority” would impose its will. North bluntly says that one of his first actions would be to “remove legal access to the franchise and to civil offices from those who refuse to become communicant members of Trinitarian churches.” Quick to condemn democracy as the idea that the law is whatever the majority says it is, North et al. would be quick to cynically utilize a similar “majority” for a permanent theocratic solution.

Reconstructionism’s decentralist ideas have led to the creation of a network of churches, across a number of denominations, all building for the Kingdom. One Reconstructionist pastor writes that the leadership of the movement is passing to hundreds of small local churches that are “starting to grow, both numerically and theologically. Their people are being trained in the Reconstruction army. And at least in Presbyterian circles. . .we’re Baptizing and catechizing a whole generation of Gary Norths, R. J. Rushdoonys and David Chiltons.”

North writes that this percolation of ideas, actions, and institutions is largely untraceable. “No historian,” he says, “will ever be able to go back and identify in terms of the primary source documents, [what happened] because we can’t possibly do it.”

Part of the reason for this is that Reconstructionism cloaks its identity, as well as its activities, understanding the degree of opposition it provokes. For example, Gary North was caught donating Reconstructionist books (mostly his own) to university libraries under the pretense of being an anonymous alumnus. What might seem a small matter of shameless self-promotion–getting one’s books into libraries to influence American intellectual life by hook or by crook–is actually part of the larger strategy of covert influence and legitimation.

Similarly, while claiming to be reformers, not revolutionaries, Reconstructionists recognize that the harsh theocracy they advocate is revolutionary indeed. Gary North warns against a “premature revolutionary situation,” saying that the public must begin to accept “the judicially binding case laws of the Old Testament before we attempt to tear down judicial institutions that still rely on natural law or public virtue. (I have in mind the US Constitution.)” Thus, radical ideas must be gently and often indirectly infused into their target constituencies and society at large. The vague claim that God and Jesus want Christians to govern society is certainly more appealing than the bloodthirsty notion of justice as “vengeance” advocated by some of the Reconstructionists. The claim that they do not seek to impose a theocracy from the top down–waiting for a time when a majority will have converted and thus want to live under Biblical Law–is consistent with Reconstructionists’ decentralist and anti-state populism, which they often pass off as a form of libertarianism. Even so, there is an inevitable point when the “majority” would impose its will. North bluntly says that one of his first actions would be to “remove legal access to the franchise and to civil offices from those who refuse to become communicant members of Trinitarian churches.” Quick to condemn democracy as the idea that the law is whatever the majority says it is, North et al. would be quick to cynically utilize a similar “majority” for a permanent theocratic solution.

The Conspiracy Factor

One aspect of Reconstructionism’s appeal to the Christian Right is that it provides a unifying framework for conspiracy theories. Gary North explains that: “There is one conspiracy, Satan’s, and ultimately it must fail. Satan’s supernatural conspiracy is the conspiracy; all other visible conspiracies are merely outworkings of this supernatural conspiracy.” Pat Robertson makes a similar argument in his book The New World Order, which all new members of Robertson’s Christian Coalition receive.

R. J. Rushdoony states that “The view of history as conspiracy. . .is a basic aspect of the perspective of orthodox Christianity.” A conspiratorial view of history is a consistent ingredient of Christian Right ideology in the United States, and is often used to explain the failure of conservative Christian denominations with millennial ambitions to achieve or sustain political power. The blame for this is most often assigned to the Masons, particularly an 18th-century Masonic group called the Illuminati, and, ultimately, to Satan.

Panicked Congregationalist clergy, faced with disestablishment of state churches (and thus their political power) in the 18th and 19th centuries, fanned the flames of anti-Masonic hatred with conspiracy theories. Pat Robertson claims Masonic conspiracies are out to destroy Christianity and thwart Christian rule. Throughout The New

World Order Robertson refers to freemasonry as a Satanic conspiracy, along with the New Age movement. The distortion of reality that can follow from such views is well represented by Robertson’s assertion that former Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush are unwitting agents of Satan because they supported international groups of nations such as the United Nations.

Another example of Christian Right conspiracy theory is the writing of Dr. Stanley Monteith, a California activist who is a member of the Christian Coalition and the Coalition on Revival. He is a leading antigay spokesperson for the Christian Right. In his book, AIDS, The Unnecessary Epidemic: America Under Siege,

Monteith argues that AIDS is the result of a conspiracy of gays, humanists, and other “sinister forces which work behind the scenes attempting to destroy our society.”

Monteith’s book is published by a self-described Reconstructionist, Dalmar D. Dennis (who is also a member of the National Council of the John Birch Society). Monteith’s actions underscore his words. At a conference of the anti-abortion group Human Life International, Dr. Monteith, who insists he is not anti-Semitic, shared a literature table with a purveyor of crude anti-Semitic books, as well as books claiming to expose the Masonic conspiracy.

A Whole Generation of Gary Norths

Still, it is in the next generation that most Reconstructionists hope to seize the future. “All long-term social change,” declares Gary North, “comes from the successful efforts of one or another struggling organizations to capture the minds of a hard core of future leaders, as well as the respect of a wider population.” The key to this, they believe, lies with the Christian school and the home schooling movement, both deeply influenced by Reconstructionism.

Unsurprisingly, Reconstructionists seek to abolish public schools, which they see as a critical component in the promotion of a secular world view. It is this secular world view with which they declare themselves to be at war. “Until the vast majority of Christians pull their children out of the public schools,” writes Gary North, “there will be no possibility of creating a theocratic republic.”

Among the top Reconstructionists in education politics is Robert Thoburn of Fairfax Christian School in Fairfax, Virginia. Thoburn advocates that Christians run for school board, while keeping their own children out of public schools. “Your goal” (once on the board), he declares, “must be to sink the ship.” While not every conservative Christian who runs for school board shares this goal, those who do will, as Thoburn advises, probably keep it to themselves. Thoburn’s book, The Children Trap, is a widely used sourcebook for Christian Right attacks on public education.

Joseph Morecraft, who also runs a school, said in 1987: “I believe the children in the Christian schools of America are the Army that is going to take the future. Right now. . .the Christian Reconstruction movement is made up of a few preachers, teachers, writers, scholars, publishing houses, editors of magazines, and it’s growing quickly. But I expect a massive acceleration of this movement in about 25 or 30 years, when those kids that are now in Christian schools have graduated and taken their places in American society, and moved into places of influence and power.”

Similarly, the Christian “home schooling” movement is part of the longterm revolutionary strategy of Reconstructionism. One of the principal home schooling curricula is provided by Reconstructionist Paul Lindstrom of Christian Liberty Academy (CLA) in Arlington Heights, Illinois. CLA claims that it serves about 20,000 families. Its 1994 curriculum included a book on “Biblical Economics” by Gary North. Home schooling advocate Christopher Klicka, who has been deeply influenced by R. J. Rushdoony, writes: “Sending our children to the public school violates nearly every Biblical principle. . . .It is tantamount to sending our children to be trained by the enemy.” He claims that the public schools are Satan’s choice. Klicka also advocates religious selfsegregation and advises Christians not to affiliate with non-Christian home schoolers in any way. “The differences I am talking about,” declares Klicka, “have resulted in wars and martyrdom in the not too distant past.” According to Klicka, who is an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association, “as an organization, and as individuals, we are committed to promote the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.”

Estimates of the number of home schooling families vary enormously. Conservatively, there are certainly over 100,000. Klicka estimates that 85-90 percent of home schoolers are doing so “based on their religious convictions.” “In effect,” he concludes, “these families are operating religious schools in their homes.” A fringe movement no longer, Christian home schoolers are being actively recruited by the archconservative Hillsdale College.

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