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Monday, September 19, 2005

Reconstructing Recontructionism

Back in May, Dignan posted a question about the Christian Reconstruction movement: What is the Left so afraid of? Some of you may need to take some time to recall that "Dominionism" was a hot topic at the beginning of the year. In the span of time it took most of you to forget this issue, Dignan asked me a couple of times to post something on the topic, but I didn't have anything of substance to contribute.

Last weekend, the Chalcedon Foundation hosted a 40th Anniversary conference in Cumming, Georgia entitled "The Blueprint for Christian Civilization in the 21st Century." The speakers were all major players in the world of Christian Reconstruction: Mark Rushdoony is the son of Rousas John Rushdoony, who single-handedly invented Christian Reconstruction. Martin Selbrede is the vice-president of Chalcedon. Gary DeMar is the president of American Vision, a Reconstructionist cultural ministry also based in Georgia. Doug Phillips is the president of Vision Forum and the son of Howard Phillips, who among other things ran as the presidential candidate for the Constitution Party in 1996. Joseph Morecraft III is the pastor of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming where the conference was held. Rev. Morecraft has many Reconstruction credits to his name, one of the least of which is that Googling his church will usually bring up a TheocracyWatch link on the first page of results.

After listening to the speakers—with the exception of Morecraft who didn't speak until Saturday evening—I'm inclined to say the Left has badly judged this Christian movement and whatever it may have to fear from them, it is definitely not a political agenda. There were certainly a couple sound-bites that would have got some play in the MSM had they covered this event. Critiquing the public school system, Doug Phillips said, "Government schools are systemically problematic and are in need of destruction and annihilation." Gary DeMar compared recent court victories for gay rights advocates to acts of terrorism saying, "Just as the war in Iraq has become a recruiting ground for terrorists, so has the homosexual, secular Left's pre-emptive strike on America become a recruiting ground for Karl Rove." And Selbrede’s advocacy of geocentrism—though not mentioned at the conference—would have found its way into mainstream reporting on the event.

One common theme that would have caught the MSM by surprise was the critique of an American Christianity that has sold itself out to right-wing politics. Martin Selbrede was perhaps the most provocative in this regard saying, "why are Christians courting the Republican party? That's low-hanging fruit." He seemed then to suggest Christians might have a greater impact if they could capture the Democratic party. The other speakers didn't agree with him on this, but they too were critical of Christian leaders in pursuing the Republican party as a means of cultural and spiritual transformation. Each of them was at pains to emphasize that Christian Reconstruction is not a political agenda.

Mark Rushdoony provided a useful insight on this topic. He said "people who are Statists cannot help but to interpret other ways of thought according to their own Statist way of thinking. To the Statist, everything is the politics of power and force; it's all 'top-down'. That's why they call us the 'American Taliban'". Statism sees Reconstructionism after its own image. (I have the distinct impression that Reconstructionists view virtually all moderates, liberals, and conservative secularists as Statists.)

In this part of Rushdoony's speech he answered one of the chief questions I brought to the conference. He said, "the media talks about Robertson, Dobson, and Falwell as if they were disciples of my father.....don't I wish!" I talked to some other conference attendees about this connection that has been made between major religious leaders and Reconstruction. While it seems apparent that Dobson et. al. are aware of R.J. Rushdoony and have probably read some of his works, they have only adopted a narrowly political perspective of it and even this possible influence is not consistent with Rushdoony's thought. No one I spoke to at the conference had anything positive to say about the influence of Robertson, Dobson, Falwell.

I lost count of the times the speakers said "Reconstruction is not a political agenda". They were preaching to the choir at this event, so I'm inclined to take them at their word. It does makes sense that a culture of power politics with a concern only for the immediate present would be given to misinterpreting an opposing point of view like this as simply another hostile force. Reconstructionists are "long view" visionaries. The thought of imposing their full vision on the current social context would offend the sensitivities of even the most ardent conservative, but their aim is not short-term and their methods do not include the use of force. They are unqualified in their rejection of political coups as a means to ends. They believe that the faithful preaching God's Word and "bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" will result in a society that freely endorses God's moral law and codifies it into civil statutes. Reconstructionists have a "bottom up" agenda. They seek to change hearts and minds and believe that laws will follow, not the other way around. They are not interested in the reins of political power as the means of change.

In assessing the socio-political significance of this movement, I am reminded of Gamaliel's address to the Sanhedrin regarding the apostles of Christ:
“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men...in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:35,38-39)
If I have time this week and there seems to be any interest, I will try to explore some of the details that came out in the various speeches.

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