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Austin Cline

Christian Reconstructionism and the Real Meaning of a Christian America

By January 7, 2006

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One of the most important driving forces of the Christian Right, both in terms of financing and ideology, is the doctrine of Christian Reconstructionism. Also called Dominion Theology, it has generally avoided much attention from the media because it is far too radical for most Americans to accept consciously. It's influence, though, is making the Christian Right fare more radical.

John Sugg writes:

Reconstruction is the spark plug behind much of the battle over religion in politics today. The movement’s founder, theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, claimed 20 million followers—a number that includes many who embrace the Reconstruction tenets without having joined any organization. Card-carrying Reconstructionists are few, but their influence is magnified by their leadership in Christian right crusades, from abortion to homeschooling.

Reconstructionists also exert significant clout through front organizations and coalitions with other religious fundamentalists; Baptists, Anglicans, and others have deep theological differences with the movement, but they have made common cause with its leaders in groups such as the National Coalition for Revival. Reconstruction has slowly absorbed, congregation by congregation, the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (not to be confused with the progressive Presbyterian Church [USA]) and has heavily influenced others, notably the Southern Baptists.

George W. Bush has called Reconstruction-influenced theoretician Marvin Olasky “compassionate conservatism’s leading thinker,” and Olasky served as one of the president’s key advisers on the creation of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Bush also invited Reconstructionist Jack Hayford, a key figure in the Promise Keepers men’s group, to give the benediction at his first inaugural.

Deposed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, though his office won’t comment on his religious views, governs with what he calls a “biblical worldview”—one of Reconstruction’s signature phrases. And, for conspiracy buffs, two heavy contributors to the Chalcedon Foundation—Reconstruction’s main think tank—are Howard Ahmanson and Nelson Bunker Hunt, both of whose families played key roles in financing electronic voting machine manufacturer Election Systems & Software. Ahmanson is also a major sponsor of ultraconservative politicians, including California state legislator and 2003 gubernatorial candidate Tom McClintock.

Most Christians aren’t overt Reconstructionists. Among those who share Reconstructionism’s basic beliefs, most probably don’t consciously identify themselves as Reconstructionists. This does not, however, signal that Reconstruction is weak or ineffective. Reconstructionists are proud of their beliefs, but they are careful about how they promote them because they realize that their radicalism, if given full expression, would shock many.

Instead, they slowly and gradually introduce their beliefs through front groups:

Reconstructionists aren’t shy about what exactly it is they are pursuing: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise,” Gary North, a top Reconstruction theorist, wrote in his 1989 book, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. “Those who refuse to submit publicly…must be denied citizenship.” [...]

The old left—the Communist Party and its many splinters—used organizing tactics called popular fronts, in which people were recruited through specific causes into a movement tacitly guided by the Party. Reconstruction has married those Leninist tactics to the causes of the right—abortion, evolution, gay marriage, school prayer.

In this manner, people are slowly acclimated to Reconstructionist ideas and acquire Reconstructionist beliefs without ever being conscious of converting to a Reconstructionist worldview. Once they have accepted most of the basics of Reconstructionism, it can be easier to get them to accept the rest as a logical consequence of what they have built their lives around.

Gary North wrote in 1982, in an effort to reach Baptists,“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…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 constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Consider how often you hear people on the Christian Right insist that there is no such thing as government neutrality in religion and attempted government neutrality merely promotes atheism and humanism. When you hear this, you are hearing one of the most basic Reconstructionist principles — a principle from which almost every other aspect of their political program flows. If they can convince people that religious neutrality is impossible, and that only their religion is legitimate, then it follows that only their religion should be supported by the state. With this, the end of religious liberty in America will basically be over.


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