Thursday, July 14, 2011

Neo-Confederates and Christian Reconstructionists

Sarah Posner has posted an enlightening article about the connections between neo-confederates and Christian Reconstructionists.  Citing the work of Euan Hague and Edward Sebesta in a recent issue of the Canadian Review of American Studies, she finds Calvinism and biblical literalism to be the strongest links between the two ideologies:


An early advocate of the theological war theory, Sebesta and Hague maintain, was Robert Lewis Dabney, a 19th century clergyman who published a biography of Stonewall Jackson, and a theological dissertation on the meaning of the Civil war, in which he used passages from the Bible to defend slavery, claiming it was "a necessary good for what he called the 'depraved' lower classes." He supported secession as "the only relation of domestic slavery as authorized by God, that we defend," denounced abolition as "infidel" and "anti-scriptural," and argued that opposing slavery was "tantamount to rejecting Christianity."
Dabney, largely marginalized and rejected outside his Southern Presbyterian circles by the end of his life, was revived, Sebesta and Hague argue, as "since the mid-1960s conservative scholars and activists, at times operating within religious circles, have reevaluated and republished these marginal writings." One of these scholars was C. Gregg Singer, who played a role in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), which "envisaged itself as a successor to the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA), a denomination that had also formed in response to perceived heresy." And R.J. Rushdoony, Sebesta and Hague discuss, believed the Union victory was a "defeat for Christian orthodoxy and paved the way for the rise of an unorthodox Social Gospel in the postbellum United States." In addition, "Rushdoony has condemned public education and contended that the Civil War was not about slavery, but the consolidation and centralization of federal government power." Rushdoony, Sebesta and Hague write, "applauded" Dabney's defense of slavery.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and Sebesta Hague find the "theological war" gaining traction among neo-Confederates, like the League of the South, which was formed in 1994. One of its founding directors, Wilkins, is a member of the PCA who maintains that, according to Sebesta and Hague, "the cause of the Civil War was theological incompatibility between North and South, the former having 'rejected Biblical Calvinism.'" Wilkins has written that "there was radical hatred of Scripture and the old theology [and] Northern radicals were trying to throw off this Biblical culture and turn the country in a different direction," and that "the War Between the States was a war between two different world views: The old way of Biblical Constitutionalism and the 'new' way of Humanistic Centralism."
As the "theological war" hatched in the 19th century became increasingly popularized in the late 20th century, Sebesta and Hague conclude that "by the turn of the twenty-first century, therefore, this once peripheral interpretation of the Civil War as a theological struggle between orthodox Christian Confederate states and heretical Union states has gained credibility and adherents, becoming intertwined with wider Confederate heritage and conservative Christian opinion."

Considering the common Calvinistic biblical literalism and the close links between Southern Baptists and Christian Reconstructionists, it will come a little suprise to some to see that a publishing house associated with the Southern Baptist Convention is still publishing and selling books about Stonewall Jackson, who was a Presbyterian and not a Baptist.  This book is particularly popular among the religious and political right in Oklahoma.  A former editor of the Daily Oklahoman,  twice gave glowing editorials about it on the pages of the paper with the widest circulation in Oklahoma.  He also wrote a eulogy for R.J. Rushdoony when he died.

1 comment:

tomio said...

I'll toss in "Free Market" as a Calvinistic ideological bastard child. The idea that an "invisible hand" guides all things towards the greater good is not, after all, far removed from the idea of Calvinistic predetermination.