By Dr. Bruce Prescott
Interfaith Alliance forum on Religious Extremism
Westminster Presbyterian Church April 11, 2002
Thirteen months ago I opened my morning newspaper and read an editorial that confirmed what I had been suspecting as I read the Daily Oklahoman since I moved to Oklahoma 3 ½ years ago. On March 10, 2001 I read an editorial lamenting the death and eulogizing the memory of Rousas John Rushdoony. The editorial described Rushdoony as “A man of rare grace . . . a scholar with a pastor’s heart . . . (whose) care extended to not only fellow protestants, but also to Catholic friends influenced by his integrity.”
Very few people in Oklahoma or in our entire country have any idea who Rousas Rushdoony was. Fewer still know the impact that his thought and writings are having on life in our society. Most of the people who have been influenced by him are loathe to admit that his ideas have had an impact on their thinking. Some, like John Whitehead who heads the Rutherford Institute and was a prominent advisor to George W. Bush during the legal battles in Florida after the last presidential election, acknowledged Rushdoony’s influence in their early writings, but have found it necessary to distance themselves from him as they acquired positions of public influence. Oklahoma is one of the few states where influential people have little fear that their credibility could be undermined by being openly identified with Rushdoony or with the Chalcedon Foundation that he started. I suspect that the Daily Oklahoman is the only major daily newspaper in the world to eulogize Rushdoony on its editorial page and State Representative Bill Graves of Oklahoma City is one of the few elected officials in the country who writes articles for the Chalcedon Report -- the Foundation’s monthly newsletter. Bill Graves has articles published in both the January and the March 2002 issues of the Chalcedon Report.
Openly identifying with Rushdoony and the Reconstructionist movement is problematic for people in the public eye because Rushdoony was an adamant opponent of the First Amendment to the constitution. His magnum opus, published in 1973, is an 800 page tome patterned after Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion that Rushdoony entitled 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.”
If Rushdoony and his disciples had their way, democracy would be abolished and a Christian theocracy would be established. A theocracy based on the Bible 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)
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. That is why Reconstructionism is also known as “dominion theology.”
To a man, Reconstructionists believe that Biblical prophecies assure them that they will ultimately be victorious in the war they wage. This chief thing that distinguishes them from a lot of the conservative Christians who have been influenced by them is that they are not pessimistic about the possibility of men ushering in the millennial reign of Christ. A lot of conservative Christians are pre-millenialists. They think Jesus has to return to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Reconstructionists are post-millenialists. They think Jesus expects them to usher in the kingdom of God before he returns and they expect to do it by force – by force of law and/or by force of arms.
The laws that Reconstructionists want to enforce are those of Ancient Israel. They believe that 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 blueprint 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 their goal. 1) Make the ten commandments the law of the land, 2) Reduce the role of government to the defense of property rights, 3) Require “tithes” to ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services, 4) 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, 5) Close public schools – make parents totally responsible for the education of their children, and 6) Strengthen patriarchically ordered families.
With the exception of the call to close prisons, significant steps toward the kind of reforms that they envision are already being 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. One of those who taught them how to work through the political process was Paul Pressler, an appellate court judge in Houston who was the chief architect of the Fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Reconstructionists realize that, sooner or later, there is bound to be a backlash against the kind of society that they intend to create. Many of the people in the anti-abortion terrorist underground – the people who bomb abortion clinics and shoot abortion providers -- are Reconstructionists who have grown impatient with the slow pace of reform through involvement in the political process. They are already taking the law into their own hands.
Most Reconstructionists 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. Their literature indicates that they believe that their actions can be morally and theologically justified if they can follow a lesser magistrate who claims to follow biblical law while refusing to submit to a rule of law that is imposed by a secular constitutional authority. It appears to me that Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has been trying to spark this kind of crisis for the past several years with his plaques and monuments to the ten commandments.
In conclusion, knowing that a picture (and some audio) is worth a thousand words, I would like to show about five minutes (to learn more or listen to an mp3 file of the audio click here) of a 30 minute video that was sent to me twelve years ago. The video instructs people on the procedure for taking control of a Republican party precinct meeting. Along with the video came instructions on how to run the meeting if you succeeded in getting yourself elected to be the chairperson of the precinct. Other materials listed proposed resolutions that could be passed on to help form the party’s platform – among them are resolutions about “the sovereignty of the church” and “the legitimate function of civil government” and on “non-state schools.” (See handout)
The video features a Christian Reconstructionist, Steven Hotze, giving one of the speeches that mobilized Christian activists all over Houston to takeover Republican Party precincts in the third largest city in America. That made him the political boss of the Republican Party in Houston. Since he has come to exercise “dominion” over Harris County, Texas, he has been very successful in defeating moderate candidates in Republican primaries. He has also been very successful in electing ultra-conservative right wing candidates to public offices – particularly in the judiciary. There is no way to know for certain how many of the candidates he endorses are full-fledged Reconstructionists, but it stretches the realm of credulity to believe that none of them share his theological viewpoints.
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