After listening to Gary North's interview with Paul Pressler, I was interested in learning about Gary North. I quickly learned that he was the son-in-law of Rousas John Rushdoony who was the founder of a movement called Christian Reconstructionism.
The name Rushdoony was familiar to me, but the movement was unknown. Rushdoony was frequently quoted by Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer and Rushdoony were both students of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was a Presbyterian scholar of Christian apologetics.
Apologetics is a term that is used to describe how Christians defend the credibility of their faith to each other and to non-believers. Cornelius Van Til developed an apologetic method known as presuppositionalism. It is based on the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that it reveals God's absolute truth for every area of reality.
While I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, I learned a little about Van Til and read nearly every book that Francis Schaeffer published. Schaeffer's books were texts in the philosophy and apologetics classes of many conservative members of the faculty. His contribution to apologetics was a, then, new emphasis on the influence of Christianity on culture. He often cited Rushdoony as an authority on the influence of biblical law on modern law.
After graduating from seminary and entering the pastorate, I decided to investigate the thought of R. J. Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North. I quickly discovered that the worldview reflected in Rushdoony's writings is virtually identical with that of Francis Schaeffer. Even their tone in voicing their piety is similar. Most people who read Schaeffer will find numerous resonances in the writings of Rushdoony.
Rushdoony, however, was less reserved than Schaeffer in talking about a perceived clash between Christianity and democracy. Before he published his Christian Manifesto (1982), you could tell that Schaeffer was no friend of church-state separation, but he did not write explicitly about Christians influencing government by concerted political action. In my opinion, the unexpressed intention of Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto was to rally Evangelical Christians to the Reconstructionist cause.
To understand the Reconstructionist movement, you have to know something about the thought and writings of R. J. Rushdoony. His magnum opus, published in 1973, is an 800 page tome patterned after Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Rushdoony entitled his work The Institutes of Biblical Law.
On page 294, Rushdoony gives an indication why he believes that the American system of pluralistic democracy is heresy. He wrote, "In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."
[To hear a 3.14 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers introducing Rushdoony and talking to him about biblical law as a blueprint for civil society, click here and give it time to download]
If Rushdoony and his disciples have their way, democracy will be abolished and a Christian theocracy will be established. A theocracy based on biblical law along the lines of John Cotton's Massachusetts Bay Colony. Rushdoony wrote, "The only true order is founded on Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion." (p. 113) He also made it clear that he expects that force will be necessary to impose such order, "Every law-order is in a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare." (p. 93)
[To hear a 1.10 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers talking to Rushdoony about the heresy of democracy, click here and give it time to download]
At its root, Reconstructionism is a militant Biblicism. In many ways, it is a revival of the holy war theology of the Hebrew Bible under the guise of Christianity. The chief difference being that Reconstructionists believe they have a mandate to claim more than the land of Palestine, they believe they are commanded to conquer the entire world and exercise "dominion" over all its peoples.
To a man, Reconstructionists believe that Biblical prophecies assure them that they will ultimately be victorious in the war they are waging to remake society. The chief thing that divides Reconstructionists are the methods they employ to change the culture and society. R. J. Rushdoony thought change would come as the gospel spread and lives were transformed. This would necessarily be gradual and could conceivably take centuries to accomplish. Gary North, on the other hand, thinks change can come rapidly by taking over the institutions of civil government in a manner similar to the way Fundamentalists took over of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their differences over tactics led to conflict between Rushdoony and North.
[To hear a 4 minute podcast (mp3 file) of Bill Moyers discussing North's tactics and questioning Rushdoony about them, click here and wait for it to download.]
Despite their differences over the tactics and strategy, all Reconstructionists are committed to making the laws of Ancient Israel the law of the land in the U.S. They believe the Mosaic law is God's blueprint for all societies. Transported to the context of twenty-first century America, they see themselves as "Christian Libertarians."
Stripped to its barest essentials, here is their dream for America. Their ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Constitution conform to a strict, literal interpretation of Biblical law. To do that involves a series of legal and social reforms that will move society toward that goal. Here is their blueprint: 1) Make the ten commandments the law of the land, 2) Strengthen patriarchically ordered families, 3) Close public schools - make parents totally responsible for the education of their children, 4) Reduce the role of government to the defense of property rights, 5) Require "tithes" to ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services, 6) Close prisons -- reinstitute slavery as a form of punishment and require capital punishment for all of ancient Israel's capital offenses -- including apostacy, blasphemy, incorrigibility in children, murder, rape, Sabbath breaking, sodomy, and witchcraft.
[To hear a 6.18 minute podcast (mp3 file) of Rushdoony explaining to Bill Moyers the rationale for applying the death penalty to adulterers, homosexuals and incorrigible children, click here and wait until it downloads.]
With the exception of the call to close prisons, significant steps toward the kind of reforms that Reconstructionists envision have already been made in our society. What they have been able to accomplish has been done by their allying themselves with the Republican party and other conservative Christians and working through the political process. By doing so, they have been able to exert extensive influence over the whole evangelical movement.
I use the term Dominionism to describe the broader movement, heavily influenced by Reconstructionist ideas, that is working from within the political system to takeover the institutions of government and create a theocratic republic. That is being accomplished by 1) declaring the United States to be a "Christian Nation," 2) electing conservative "Christian" candidates who are legislating biblical morality and law, and 3) electing and/or appointing "strict constructionist" judges who will rule in accord with biblical law.
[To hear a 6.12 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers trying to get Paul Pressler to talk to him about his involvement in the Council for National Policy (along with Falwell, Robertson, North, Rushdoony and others), click here and wait for it to download.]
[To hear a 4.41 minute podcast of Bill Moyers talking to Joseph Morecraft about the expected effects of a political alliance that he forged between Charismatics and Reconstructionists, click here and wait for it to download.]
The chief thing that distinguishes Reconstructionists from most of the conservative evangelicals in the Dominionist movement is that they are not ultimately pessimistic about the possibility of men ushering in the millennial reign of Christ. Most conservative Christians are pre-millenialists. They think Jesus has to return to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Reconstructionists, on the other hand, are post-millenialists. They think Jesus expects them to usher in the kingdom of God before he returns and some of them expect to do it by force -- by force of law and/or by force of arms.
Most of the people in the anti-abortion terrorist underground -- the people who bomb abortion clinics and shoot abortion providers -- are Reconstructionists who grew impatient with the slow pace of reform through involvement in the political process. They have already taken the law into their own hands.
Some Reconstructionists realize that, sooner or later, there is bound to be a backlash against the kind of society that they intend to create. Many seem to be biding their time until public sentiment turns decisively against the kind of reforms they are seeking. When that happens, I believe that some, if given the opportunity, will be willing to take up arms and wage another civil war. Some of their literature indicates that they believe that such actions can be morally and theologically justified if they follow a lesser magistrate (like the Governor of a state) who claims to be following biblical law while refusing to submit to a rule of law that is imposed by a secular constitutional authority. This kind of crisis could easily be precipitated by the Governor of state, like Alabama, refusing to execute a Court order to remove a ten commandments monument from state government property.
[Incidently, Aubrey Vaughn, the pastor whose church and congregants participated in the making of the Reconstructionist GOP takeover video, was arrested at the courthouse in Alabama for trying to obstruct the removal of Roy Moore's ten commandments monument. To hear a 4.6 minute podcast of Vaughn, identifying himself as Ray Jones, offering a resolution against government schools in the Hotze video, click here and wait for it to download.]
NOTE: The audio excerpts of Moyers with Rushdoony and Moorecraft are from Bill Moyer's 1989 documentary God and Politics: On Earth as it is in Heaven. The audio excerpt of Moyers with Pressler is from Bill Moyer's 1989 documentary God and Politics: The Battle for the Bible.
Tomorrow, I'll write about SBC Takeover Leaders and the Council for National Policy