Photo Cred: Austin Cline (http://fax.libs.uga.edu/wwpost/)
As of late, I have noticed a strange phenomenon growing in the political climate and it is one that concerns me because of its implications on American society and Christianity as a whole. That phenomenon is the Christian Right and its underlying belief by some within the movement in an ideology called Christian Reconstructionism. Before addressing the problem, let me properly define it and then get into why Christian Reconstructionism is a dangerous ideology that should not be upheld by Christians or those on any political platform.
Christian Reconstructionism is a theonomic movement that really began in the early twentieth century by a man named R. J. Rushdoony and flourished during the 1980s in American politics as it seeped into the Republican Party as a major driving force (1). They are similar to a political action committee (i.e. PAC or Super PAC), but instead of using primarily money to influence the political process they twist Scripture to push their ideology. Rushdoony’s philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism was largely influenced by the fact that his family were victims in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and his strong resistance to the New Deal proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s, which led him to creating this new form of Christian political involvement.
The basic philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism is the idea that any given nation must be run as a theocracy by Christians, for Christians. Just to be clear, let me define a few terms before moving forward. A theocracy is a form of government where a nation is ruled by the divine order of some type of deity. A theonomy is how a theocracy is run by any given governing institution in power. The difference between the two terms would be “what it is” versus a “how it is” in theory from what I could gather online. A couple examples of theocratic government include, the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and Islam in the Middle East. So, why is this scary? Why is this such a problem that people still have this mentality, albeit only a small minority? Well, let’s quickly look at those two examples for a refresher on the negative side effects to a theocratic government.
When it came to the Catholic Church, they essentially ruled Europe during the Medieval Ages and had complete control up until both the Reformation and later the Enlightenment that flipped the world upside down. As pbs.org put it, “the church reinforced the political authority of the states, and the states reinforced the authority of the church (2).” What this meant was that they worked together to enforce law. The government enforced the law of the land, while the Catholic Church enforced the law of the LORD. If one broke either law, then they broke both forms of law and thus would not only receive punishment in this life, but also in the life to come afterwards.
Because of this political snare, the common people were apart of the faith in fear of the tyranny that loomed above them. If they did not believe in the Catholic faith, then they were subjected to torture or even death like those that were implemented during the Spanish Inquisition. This fear drove the commoner to live in utter submission to whatever the government said. Likewise, the government lived in utter submission to whatever the Catholic Church said because in those days, spiritual concerns superseded material matters.
Regarding Islam in the Middle East, it is much more extreme when compared to the Catholic Church not only by the length of time, but also by the amount of death and torture inflicted onto non-believers throughout history. Nevertheless the same goal for both forms of these theocratic governments was to sustain control over the the region and in these two cases, through whatever means necessary. For the purposes of this blog-post, I’ll leave researching into both the abuses of the theocratic forms of the Catholic Church and Islam to you to look into further.
Going back to where we started, this is what a theocratic government would look like if the Christian Reconstructionist had their way and that is why it is a danger to the American way of life. Under theocratic rule, every American would have to be Christian or suffer the severe consequences for believing otherwise. Not only that, but a very specific type of Christian that upholds certain beliefs like rejecting antinomianism (the polar opposite of legalism), presuppositionalism (polar opposite of evidentialism), and postmillennialism to name a few.
The Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, would become the new rule of law and it would be barbaric to say the least in its application to 21st century civilization. Things such as interracial marriage, individual autonomy, and even modern women’s rights would be abolished. In other words, the philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism reapplying the Old Testament Law as the new law in American society is the equivalent of reapplying the use of horses instead of modern-day tractors for farming. They had their use and importance in history, but their need in today’s society is no longer applicable as the world has advanced beyond that phase of human civilization.
At the time, the Old Testament Law was amazing when compared to the horrific cultures that surrounded the region. Other nearby nations like the Hittites and the Canaanites were utterly wicked in the sight of the LORD, so God commanded the Israelites to live differently in almost every way than these other cultures lived. This is why the Old Testament Law existed in the first place: to fulfill the Hebrew’s part of the Old Covenant. If the Israelites obeyed God, then they would be blessed beyond belief under this covenant. If they didn’t keep the covenant, then they would receive the repercussions of their actions in full (3).
Fast-forward to the times of Christ when the Old Covenant is turned obsolete as Jesus introduces the New Covenant not just with the Hebrews, but with all of mankind (4). Hence, the Christian Reconstructionist’s major selling points on their particular philosophy are in direct conflict with crucial biblical truths in Scripture. The Old Covenant is no longer necessary and yet the Christian Reconstructionist advocates the reintroduction of the old way of relating to God.
As history can attest, when the political and the spiritual are unnaturally bent into a particular agenda we all lose. When it comes to Christian Reconstructionism, this just happens to be one of many attempts to do just that. Forcing someone to live a certain way in spite of their convictions in order to show them what you believe is a better way is not loving, but tyranny. In the name of freedom, there must be flexibility. In the specific case of Americans, what could be better than each and every one of us freely doing as we will to do, without infringing on the dignity inate in others. Sharing ideas rather than controlling them to fit within certain boundaries that favor one sect, while simultaneously oppressing another.
So what is the solution to a theonomous culture? Well, there are only two other options: a heteronomous culture (totalitarianism) and an autonomous culture (libertarianism). For the sake of brevity, America began as a theonomous culture with the mutual belief in the natural law of God giving us unalienable human rights, but has overtime become an autonomous culture where the rights of the individual matter more than the rights of the collective group. Act, believe, and think how you want, but without stepping on the toes of another person’s freedom to do the same.
As I clearly noted earlier, American politics and Christian Reconstructionism are simply not compatible. The movement would only cause more harm than help in the grand scheme of things. When choosing between compromise and extremism in the game of politics, compromise is always the better way out. Compromise is the reason that we as Americans can proudly say that we freely pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!
- Deuteronomy 30:15-20
- Luke 22:20