And then Again…Clarifications about “Christian Reconstructionism” and the “Prosperity Gospel”
This is a footnote or addendum to yesterday’s post entitled “A Call for American Evangelical Leaders to Confront Evangelicalism’s Lunatic Fringe” (December 3, 2015).
Whenever I mention a movement or type critically someone responds—either by direct, personal e-mail or here, in a posted comment,—accusing me of being “uncharitable.” Often they mean—to them or their organization. Sometimes they just think being critical is uncharitable.
Yesterday, after that critical call for evangelical leaders to denounce religious extremists who call themselves “evangelicals,” I received an e-mail from the director of an organization. He accused me of having my facts wrong and of being uncharitable. So I asked him (by return e-mail) why he thought I was talking about him or his organization. I didn’t mention any by name. So I examined his organization’s web site. I found nothing there about either Christian Reconstructionism or the Prosperity Gospel. He did not say in his e-mail what specific facts I had wrong or in what way I was being uncharitable—to the ideologies I specifically described.
My suspicion is that there are people “out there” (among the nearly 300 million Americans) who, for whatever reason, identify themselves with “Christian Reconstructionism” who do not fit the profile I described. I made quite clear in that post what I mean by “Christian Reconstructionism”—the goal of establishing “biblical law” as the law of the United States, the goal of using political muscle, power, to establish a kind of Christian theocracy in America. Are there individuals and groups that consider themselves “Christian Reconstructionists” who do not have those goals? Perhaps. But that’s why I made very clear who I was talking about without naming names—not everyone who thinks they are “Christian Reconstructionists” but those who fit the profile I outlined and described.
The same happens when I criticize almost any ideology or theology. For example, if I declare “The Gospel of Health and Wealth” heresy and even describe what I mean by that—belief and teaching that financial prosperity and perfect physical health are God’s will for everyone and that “positive faith” practiced “the right way” (viz., “claiming them”) causes God to bestow those “blessings” in a kind of mechanical way (“magic” as opposed to true prayer)—inevitably someone who thinks they adhere to a “gospel of health and wealth” accuses me of being uncharitable and having my facts wrong. No, the problem is that they only think they adhere to “The Gospel of Health and Wealth,” so-called “Word-Faith Theology.” For whatever reason they’ve attached themselves to those labels (or attached those labels to themselves) when, in fact, they do not believe or teach what I described.
Given the fact that these ideologies, theologies, movements, have no headquarters or popes, there is some inevitable diversity among people who subscribe to them (or think they do). That’s why I specifically said in yesterday’s post that “Christian Reconstructionism,” like the “Prosperity Gospel,” comes in degrees. I was clearly talking about the most fanatical advocates of “taking America back for God”—those who wish, for example, to see homosexuals executed just for being homosexual—a clear indication of wanting to establish the harshest aspects of Old Testament law, meant for ancient Israel, as American law.
Now, if there are people who call themselves “Christian Reconstructionists” who have no such vision for America, but only want to influence American culture through persuasion toward a greater voluntary acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ and truly Christian (New Testament-based) ethics without criminalizing distinctively Christian norms and mores, I don’t call that “Christian Reconstructionism” even if they do. Also, if there are people who call their theology “Prosperity Gospel,” and/or “Gospel of Health and Wealth,” but only believe God wants everyone to have sufficient shelter, food and clothes to live decent human lives and that God wants to heal people of physical illnesses in response to prayer (not “claiming” those things expecting that God must bestow them if they are “claimed” without strong enough faith), I don’t call that “Prosperity Gospel” or “Gospel of Health and Wealth.” Whenever I have criticized that teaching I have made clear what I mean by clearly describing beliefs and practices. Yes, I know there are people who think they adhere to a “gospel of health and wealth” and maybe even teach something they consider that, but we may be talking about entirely different things.
People need to pay attention not just to labels but to descriptions.
My response to people I have not named (and not named someone they follow) who criticize me for my criticisms of certain ideologies, theologies or movements is this: If the shoe fits, wear it; if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t.
I have read enough literature by some Christian Reconstructionist leaders, authors, ideological teachers, to know many of them, probably most of them, do indeed envision a “taking back of America for God” by coercion, political power, even criminalizing certain behaviors, if not beliefs only because those behaviors are condemned in the Bible.
I have read enough literature by some advocates, leaders, authors, teachers of the Gospel of Health and Wealth, the “Prosperity Gospel,” to know many of them, probably most of them, do indeed believe that God must bestow physical health and financial prosperity, even “abundance,” in response to “positive faith” expressed as “claiming” them.
Having said all that, which I hope clarifies things, I must go on to say that I think any talk of “taking America back for God” is pernicious unless it is explained as meaning evangelism and apologetic persuasion without any degree of coercion by means of political power. Here’s one reason why (that I think any reasonable person ought to agree with): If we American Christians persecute or even marginalize other Americans just because they aren’t “us,” we cannot reasonably object when other religious groups in other countries attempt to do the same to Christians in their countries. If American Christians, for example, think it is wrong for “Sharia law” to be imposed on Christians in certain African countries, then it is hypocritical and even dangerous for American Christians to want specifically Christian beliefs about what is sin to be imposed by law on non-Christians in America. None of that rules out discourse about “natural law” in legal settings.
If someone considers himself or herself a “Christian Reconstructionist” but does not believe in “taking America back for God” using any degree of coercion to erase pluralism and religious freedom I do not consider him or her a Christian Reconstructionist in my sense of the term. But knowing there are people who call themselves “Christian Reconstructionists” who do not fit my definition led me to be very clear and specific about what I mean by it—giving examples. If someone believes in “taking America back for God” only through persuasion and not at all by coercion, then I do not know why they need any label other than “evangelical.”