Christian Reconstructionism: The Template for American Theocracy

Christian Reconstructionism: The Template for American Theocracy July 18, 2018

(Ed. Note. The following is part 2 of 5 of our continuing republication of Dominionist Theology: A Guide to Theocracy for Secularists originally published on the  Left Hemispheres blog in 2011 by Steve Barry. Following each article we follow up with a discussion of how the ideas presented have manifested over the course of the last 7 years. Click here to read part 1.)

Christian Reconstructionism: The Template for Modern American Theocracy

By Steve Barry, 2011

Christian Faith As Politics

Christian Reconstructionism is in many ways the forerunner of the modern American politico-religious movements. Although it is influenced by Calvinist/Presbyterian theology, and the other main competing Dominionist group (the New Apostolic Reformation or NAR) evolved from Pentecostal/Charismatic theology, much of the political machinations of the more recent NAR can be directly attributed to Christian Reconstructionism. As I mentioned in Part 1, many religious and secular critics on the subject have conflated Dominionism with Christian Reconstructionism as if they are the same thing. While incorrect, this is understandable. Christian Reconstructionism is a type of Dominionism. For three decades Reconstructionism was easily the most influential Dominionist brand of Christianity active in the U.S. It is directly responsible for the religious homeschool movement which other Christian groups have picked up on. The rise of the Christian Right as we know it today in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s is directly attributable to Reconstructionist theological and political influence. Some writers attribute Reagan’s re-election to the Recons. Reconstructionists have been guests on Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club and other high profile Christian media. To be sure, they have been highly influential across the spectrum of conservative, right-wing Christianity and politics.

If the New Apostolic Reformation (see part 3, coming soon) is the charismatic, loud, gaudy and out in the open new kid on the block; Christian Reconstructionists are their subdued, serious, dour older siblings. And that older sibling doesn’t like little brother.

The goal of Christian Reconstruction, as the name implies, is to reconstruct the United States, and eventually the world, into a theocracy based on the Old Testament laws from the Pentateuch and added laws in the New Testament. In order to accomplish this they need to infiltrate and take over the government or to eliminate the institutions of secular government altogether. As highly influential Recon theologian Gary North wrote in his book Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly…must be denied citizenship.” Gary North via Mother Jones (2005)

Christian Reconstructionism began with Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony. In 1973 he published Institutes of Biblical Law which is 800 pages of analysis and commentary on the Ten Commandments and the Biblical “case law.” Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists, are believers that everything is based on God’s Laws as put forth in the Bible, have no love for democratic, secular, civil law.

“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.”

”Every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare.”

 – R.J. Rushdoony

Theological Basis of a Reconstructed World

Reconstructionists, like other Dominionist brethren, base the concept of Dominion on various Biblical passages. Of course, the infamous passage of the Bible we have already discussed is the basis for much of this thought:

And God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have Dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” —Genesis 1:28 (KJV)   

Additionally, Reconstructionists state that the following verse is Jesus’ command to take dominion as a restatement of the Genesis command from God to Adam.  

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “All power been given unto me in heaven and in earth.”  —Matthew 28:18 (KJV)

As discussed in Part 1 A Primer on Dominionism and Dominion Theology, theonomy is the Christian recognition that God’s Laws are the basis of all ethics. Theonomy, as a concept, is the basis of all Reconstructionist logic. To them, any rejection of these laws and ethics is sinful, Satanic and evil. Once theonomy is the basis for all thought, it is not a far leap to subscribe to “presuppositionalism.” This is an Christian apologetic stance which states that since the universe was created by God, everything is religious in nature and man is unable to determine truth on his own. Rev. Mark Rushdoony (R.J. Rushdoony’s son) explains: “Rationalism says man’s mind, his reason, can determine and know truth. Presuppositionalism says man’s reason is so dependent on his creator that knowledge must begin with God’s revelation of Himself.” By extending that logic; reason, intellectualism and seeking evidence is to actively work against God. This is why a literal reading of the Bible is crucial and any rejection of this concept is to reject God. Since all issues and all truths are religious, Man must submit to Biblical law. There is no choice. Even the concept of “faith” is seen as weak. You simply must believe and you must submit. It is a damn fine mechanism for thought control and the preservation of the religious meme.

Another important feature of Reconstructionism, which breaks from the majority of Fundamentalist Christians who believe in premillennial (Rapture) End Times, is a belief in postmillennial eschatology which states that Jesus will return after the 1,000 year “millennium.” This is a non-Rapture belief and it describes a lot about their dominionist theology. Recons, and some other movements, believe that in order for this “golden millennium” to occur, the Church has to work towards building a Kingdom of God on Earth in order for Jesus to return. This is a major influence on how and why dominionist thought manifests itself. They are mandated by God to create His Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Failure to do so is to let Satan continue to rule and therefore Jesus cannot or will not return.

“World conquest. It is dominion we are after. Not just a voice… not just influence…not just equal time. It is dominion we are after.” – George Grant

A Decentralized Theocratic Movement

Reconstructionists adhere to three forms of government after the “self” based on their interpretation of the Bible.

“…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.” —Frederick Clarkson Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence

Education is the responsibility of families and the Church. Public schools would disappear and only Christian schools and homeschooling would occur. In fact, Christian Reconstructionists were integral in starting the American homeschool movement. They have written, published and distributed thousands of texts for home school education. They are the ones you can thank for those squirrely kids that think evolution is from the devil.

What would the state or civil government actually do in a reconstructed society? The Church would be the more powerful government at local levels and would be tasked with all the things they do not want the civil government responsible for. Any civil government would not be involved in social welfare programs, unemployment insurance, environmental regulations, business regulations, and public school as mentioned above. Reconstructionism advocates for a laissez-faire capitalist economy that is only hindered or regulated by principles in the Bible. Obviously, unions would gone. Not only do they hinder unfettered capitalism, but they are perceived as closely associated with communism. They hate that (Christian Reconstructionists have close ties to the John Birch Society). They believe civil government should be relegated to some dispute settlement, infrastructure maintenance and national standards in weights and measures (gold and silver money, of course). Also, non-local law enforcement. Gary DeMar in Liberty at Risk states that the state or civil government is “God’s minister, taking vengeance out on those who do evil.”

The military is to be used for defense and when necessary, spreading the Word of Christ. Recon theologian David Chilton has stated that the Christians are to devote themselves to the “universal development of Biblical theocratic republics.”

“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.” —David Chilton

Capital punishment would be widely used as a deterrent to any number of Biblically-based crimes including blasphemy, heresy, apostasy (only Christians), witchcraft, assaulting ones parent(s), females (only females) guilty of premarital sex, repeat juvenile delinquency, adultery, incest, sodomy, homosexuality, astrology, blogging (not really), and of course kidnapping, rape, and murder. Let me know in the comments if I forgot anything.

R. J. Rushdoony was not a big fan of pluralism. As he stated, “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.” I get the feeling he wouldn’t like me much. According to Reconstructionist theologian Greg Bahnsen, other religions could be practiced “in the privacy of your own home….But you would not be allowed to proselytize and undermine the order of the state….every civil order protects its foundations.”

“4. At this moment of history, all humans on earth, whether Jew or Gentile, believer or unbeliever, private person or public official, are OBLIGATED TO BOW THEIR KNEES to THIS King Jesus, confess Him as Lord of the universe with their tongues, and submit to His lordship over every aspect of their lives in thought, word and deed.

“5. Biblical evangelism according to the Great Commission of Matt. 28:18-20 is not truly accomplished unless that message of Christ’s lordship from point #4 above is given to the person being evangelized SO THAT THEY KNOW that an attempt at PERSONAL NEUTRALITY BEFORE KING JESUS IS SIN and TREASON in this universe…”  —Jay Grimstead

The Christian Right, which includes the Tea Party movement, is highly influenced by Reconstructionism, but they distance themselves from being labeled “Reconstructionist” due to the many extremist beliefs that even they can’t (publicly) associate with. For example, in Rushdoony’s Institutes, he denied the Holocaust occurred or that it was inflated. He also defended segregationist views and the concept of slavery. As William Martin stated in his book With God On Our Side:

It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, “Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.”

In order to accomplish the task of subtly influencing politics the Reconstructionist use two main methods: Revisionist history and a healthy dose of anti-statist Libertarianism. Starting decades ago, Rushdoony and his successors began the process of rewriting American history to suit their ends. They have misquoted, misrepresented and outright lied about major concepts in the founding documents of the United States of America to set up this alternate history that would seem to favor their theocratic vision. The oft repeated claims that we all know and hear from the religious and political right and their propaganda machines include, but in no way are limited to: the myth of the separation of Church and State, the myth that America is NOT a Christian Nation founded by Christians for Christians, all the Founding Fathers were Christian (and when some enterprising historian points out this fallacy they basically erase them from history books), so on and so forth. Two major revisionists that come out of Christian Reconstructionism or are influenced by Reconstructionism are Gary DeMar and David Barton (*shakes fist*), respectively.

“The State cannot be neutral towards the Christian faith. Any obstacle that would jeopardize the preaching of the Word of God…must be opposed by civil government.”  —Gary DeMar

The other method that the Reconstructionists have used is to advocate for small government, Libertarianism. They have generally taken an anti-statist view as can be seen in their three-part government of family, church and civil; when the civil is the smallest and weakest. The Reconstructionists frequently use the cover of democracy and Libertarianism to further their goals, but they will quickly shed both when the time is right to further their theocratic goals.

We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. —Gary North

I’m not going to discuss this relationship between Dominionism and Libertarianism in detail here since I foresee this topic as a future, separate post. The next post in this series will discuss the quickly growing in numbers and prominence movement of the New Apostolic Reformation in Part 3 Kingdom Now Theology & The New Apostolic Reformation.

*Anyone wanting to know more about Christian Reconstructionism should start by reading Frederick Clarkson’s Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence which I cited a lot in this piece.

2018 Hindsight Commentary

Well, in the light of recent events revisiting these pieces has become really interesting. As we’re just now starting to see with the arrest of Maria Butina, Christian Nationalists have not just been working with each other to foment dissent within the United States, but actively working with foreign operatives when their objectives align. In this case, the objective was to destabilize secular/pluralist society in the West to the benefit of theocrats and oligarchs.

In retrospect the warning signs have been glaringly obvious. Just today Kathrine Stewart at the New York Times, in reporting on the Butina arrest, pointed out that:

“The bond between America’s Christian nationalists and the Russian government goes back a long way, long before anyone conceived of the possibility of a Trump administration.

Paul Weyrich belongs on any shortlist of the individuals who created the religious right as we know it today. He was a central figure in the founding of numerous conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the Moral Majority and the Council for National Policy. In the 1970s, Mr. Weyrich was one of the strategists who first conceived of outreach to evangelical churches in order to recruit activists to socially conservative causes. He was also among the first to grasp the potential for an alliance with religious conservatives in Russia and Eastern Europe.

“After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Weyrich made dozens of trips to Russia, eventually becoming a strong supporter of closer relations. By the time of his death in 2008, Mr. Weyrich was writing and speaking frequently in defense of Russia and facilitating visits between American conservatives and Russian political leaders.” (source)

The praise for Russian oligarchy didn’t end with Weyrich though, as Stewart also went on to point out:

In 2013, Bryan Fischer, then a spokesman for the American Family Association, called Mr. Putin a “lion of Christianity.” In 2014, Franklin Graham — the politically influential evangelist and vocal Trump supporter — defended Mr. Putin for his efforts “to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda,” even as he lamented that Americans have “abdicated our moral leadership.”

It’s Not Christian Nationalism, It’s Christian Globalism

In addition to that it’s hard to forget that during his stump speeches on the campaign trail now vice-president Mike Pence famously repeated the phrase “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” ad nauseam. His audiences loved it as an applause line. Looking back someone really should’ve asked him where being American falls on that list of loyalties.

What has become abundantly clear is that theocrats are, in reality, their own form of the ‘globalists’ that right wing pundits claim to rail against. Just instead of one world government they want one world church that acts as a government. Christian Recinstructionists and Domininonists have been all too happy to support autocrats like Vladimir Putin because of his harsh stances against LGBT+ rights and other “moral” issues. Recall the arrests of LGBT+ activists during the Sochi olympic games in 2014. The 4 were arrested for protesting with an anti-discrimination banner because Russian law bans “gay propaganda” and unsanctioned protests. While most of us who enjoy 1st amendment rights find those ideas laughable, it can’t be denied that such laws are applauded as consistent with ‘god’s law’ by right-wing elements within Christianity.

The Butina arrest also shines more light on the organization called the Fellowship Foundation, colloquially known as ‘The Family”. They are a driving force behind the National Prayer Breakfast, which is ostensibly informal but acts as a way for religious fundamentalists in government to connect with foreign elements and lobbyists without having to deal with those pesky State Department rules.

You Have to Admire How Well-Orchestrated Theocrats Have Been

Think about it, the Johnson Amendment made churches unable to endorse candidates, but deregulation of Political Action Committee funding with dark money made it impossible to track where donations going into those organizations were coming from. So a funding structure was set up that piped money right from congregations pockets to Super PACs. Wealthy financial backers, irrespective of nationality, could just donate to a candidate’s ministry. Then the candidate could pay themselves a salary, and use that now private money to fund their campaign out of pocket while courting non-religious right wing donors by supporting incidental right-wing groups like the NRA.

The resultant feedback loop drove the narrative that moved the Republican Party further right as time went on. The elected officials pushed through conservative legislation, which garnered additional support from fiscal conservatives who were entirely unconcerned with their social agenda as long as they promised favorable tax policies. But those fiscal backers then became dependent on the moral crusaders as their client base. Hobby Lobby wasn’t just taking a moral stance, they were advertising it to the crafty Christian homemakers that patronize their stores and are told by their preachers that reproductive choice is the new holocaust. By donating to anti-LGBT+ rights groups, Chick-Fil-A was essentially advertising to homophobic diners that ‘gay people don’t eat here’.

This was all by design. Now, they stand poised to reach a major milestone with the appointment of Kavenaugh to the Supreme Court, which will lock the high court into a conservative slant for decades. Even there the demographics are interesting. Five of the nine supreme court justices are Catholic which, despite their differences, Christian Nationalists are fine because of church teachings about reproductive freedoms (that teaching of course is that women shouldn’t have them). Meanwhile the funding machine keeps getting more shadowy. Maria Butina gets caught and within days the Treasury Department announces that 501(c)4 organizations no longer need to submit their donor lists to the IRS, closing the loophole that tipped off the Justice Department to their chicanery.

The only real option is for anti-theocrats of all faith perspectives to mobilize and vote as a block and only time will tell whether even that will be enough to undo the damage these groups have done to liberty and freedom.

Part III coming soon.

About Jack Matirko
Jack Matirko is an activist, blogger, and podcaster focussing on issues of church and state separation. He runs Patheos' Satanic Blog For Infernal Use Only (patheos.com/blogs/infernal), co-hosts the Naked Diner Podcast (patreon.com/nakeddiner), and is a member of The Satanic Temple-Arizona Chapter. His opinions are his own. To contribute to his work please consider becoming a patron of his podcast. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Clifford Ishii

    Aren’t we just a tad bit paranoid?

  • Back in the 1980s I remember my sweet evangelical grandma boycotting General Foods because the Moral Majority or Focus on the familysaid so. Who would have thought the movement would have become so insidious.

  • “Time for Americans to become Biblical Christians.” – You, last week. “As Biblical Christians our loyalty is to God(Jesus) not to gov’t, men, or country.”-You, 3 weeks ago … Have you met your side? You don’t want me to be a part of this country. Well, too bad for you.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Judging by their actions and continued support of the depraved, immoral, lying, stealing, swindling, sexual predator, I call little donny dicktator; I really doubt that the bible or god has anything to do with their plans. It is simply all about POWER. Raw unfiltered power to be bigots. If they had any respect for ‘bible laws’ or the ‘commands of jesus’ or ‘respect for god’ they would be demanding that the diaper dumper be kicked out of the White House asap. The fact that these asshats still march behind him show that they are willing to eat any shit as long as it gives them POWER.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Considering that your side makes claims like ‘atheists are going to start the new civil war on July 4th’ ‘Rachel Maddow is going to behead Trump’ ‘Gays are poisoning our food’ ‘School shooting “XYZ” was a false flag’ ‘GMOs are a satanic food from hell’ ‘Vaccines make you gay’ etc etc etc.

    “Paging Mr Kettle… Mr. Mr Kettle, please pick up the black courtesy phone for a call from Mr. Pot… Paging Mr. Kettle’

  • ORigel

    I don’t believe this theocracy is coming. I think that Christians will decline and the Republicans will stop pandering to them. In the time between now and the time theocrats become politically irrelevant, the theocrats will try to put their privilege into law as fast as they can.

  • I agree, assuming the theocrats lose. And they only lose if everyone knows what they’re trying to do.

  • Randy Attwood

    Reviewer: “Not since Gedorge Orwell’s 1984 have we had such a chilling look at what the future could be.” Rabbletown: Life in These United Christian States of Holy America.” http://amzn.to/2lpmeLu

  • Wile F. Coyote

    I don’t assume that the theocrats are losing now. Sure, the percentage of Christian church attendees dropped drastically in Europe some decades ago and remains low, and there is a recent US decline. But the same polling that reveals this information also reveals that only a tiny percentage of those who presently behave differently than mid twentieth century norms is a group which rejects superstitious/woo “thinking”. Recently low levels of church attendance and Christian denominational identification does not translate to reality based critical thinking conclusions about anything.

    I look at how readily significant percentages of national populations world-wide have veered rightward to nationalistic xenophobic authoritarianism, after a couple of decades of inlux of refugees from war-climate peril regions. Then I project the increase in fear and the hatred it so often engenders in each coming decade as the number of migrating refugees exponentially increases (the most benign estimates I have seen project numbers in the hundreds of millions over the next two centuries; the most dire goes as high as 3 billion).

    There is an existing authoritarian system, which has been present since the historical record and some tens of thousands of years prior, which frightened humans readily flock to. And the leaders of the Christian movement this article discusses must be salivating at the enormous opportunity they see awaiting on a very brief timeline, using one portion of their brain, even as another spot in that dank fetid mass cleaves to dogmatic belief that anthropogenic climate catastrophe is not only not imminent, it is impossible because of “God”s” love blah blah blah.

    Just as it was not Trump who frightened me in 2016 but instead the masses who voted for him, because worldwide and historically so many humans invest devotion in Trumps/Putins/Erdogans/Dutertes/Hitlers/etc, it is that same human devoted-obedient-worshipful-follower mindset that inclines me to believe authoritarian enslavement is likely to be the fate of humanity on the planet for at least the next couple of centuries.

    And in the US, at least, I expect a totalitarianism that will be some form of Christian dominionism. The leaders operate from a position imbued with centuries of trusted reputation and an existing organization structured specifically to administer absolute authoritarian control. I certainly hope to fuck I am way off on this. And if/when it finally occurs, I fervently hope it will not be within the next 20 years I am likely to live (barring some untimely non-old-age demise).

  • Steve Barry

    I think we have plenty of examples where a smaller group can consolidate enough power to offset numbers and dominate others. Regardless, Christianity of any persuasion has enough “plot armor” in the United States since their fellow Christians will stop short of outright opposition.

  • WallofSleep

    Political xtianity in America is more that just a tad bit paranoid; it’s stark raving mad. Just look at all the batshit crazy conspiracy theories they buy into.

  • WallofSleep

    Similar story here. My grandma signed a pledge card to boycott Burger King (just before we headed out to lunch at a local BK, I kid you not) for advertising on the dreaded Married:With Children tv show. Irony of ironies, it was the boycott that drew enough attention to the show to save it from being canceled in the first season.

  • Silverwolf13

    Agreed, IF we have fair elections and IF we vote out Trump and his ilk and IF they then leave or can be removed.

  • ORigel

    I don’t believe the GOP is composed of true believers. When Christians become politically irrelevant, the GOP will turn on them. And possibly get rid of some of the pandering moves they’ve made.

    Whether or not the GOP is defeated.

  • wondering

    F*ck. I’m terrified and I’m Canadian. Which should make me safe, right? (she asks, hugging her blankie and cowering under the bed)

  • DingoJack
  • Keith Taylor

    That’s exactly what Robert A. Heinlein warned against in his 1940s short novel, ” — IF THIS GOES ON — ” which proved an apt title if ever there was one. It described a revolution against a corrupt fundamentalist despotism in a future U.S.A. The rulers were a succession of “Prophets Incarnate” and the elite West Point military unit that served them personally was known as the “Angels of the Lord.” The Cabal planning revolution against their regime was, of course, described in the Prophet’s propaganda as worshipping Satan.
    Heinlein wrote decades later, in an article, that there had been scathing criticism of other novels he wrote, such as STARSHIP TROOPERS, but in all the letters he received about ” — IF THIS GOES ON — “, not one attacked as ridiculous “the premise that my fellow Americans were capable of throwing away their dearly bought freedoms in order to submit to a crude and ridiculous religious dictatorship. I infer that I am not alone in believing it.”

  • Well, there’s two things about this that jumps out at me. It looks like it’s based on potential and not ‘likely’ voters, so that’s one thing. The other part of it is that even though their numbers are shrinking, they still attract votes because they attract fiscally conservative voters who don’t really care what laws they push through as long as they also champion the ‘small government’ tax and fiscal policies. And then there’s the whole gerrymandering thing. Basically even though they’re a minority, they’re still the largest block of ‘likely voters’ and they can exert undue influence thanks to having lots of money and a built in organizational network