Reconstructionists are not about to take over America, the world, or even most American Evangelical institutions. But their influence has been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water. As reported in the Huffington Post, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 42 percent of tea party supporters said they agree with the religious right.
Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists' profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) Evangelical community. In turn, the Evangelicals shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the Religious Right, let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its edge. As a result people ask themselves; "Where on earth do people like Michele Bachmann get their wacky ideas from?"
I'll tell you.
The Americans inhabiting the wider (and more secular) culture see the results of Reconstructionism without understanding where those results have come from -- for instance, how the hell George W. Bush got elected and then reelected, or the Ralph Reed comeback. Without understanding the Reconstructionists a person would not understand this Washington Post story:
"What's likely to happen is what a lot of us have wanted to see happen for a long time -- a social conservative movement that speaks to a broader set of issues but which never strays from the foundational issues of life and family and marriage," said longtime political operative Ralph Reed, who as a baby-faced 33-year-old leading the Christian Coalition in 1995 was dubbed "The Right Hand of God" on the cover of Time magazine.
Reed suffered a fall from grace and a defeat in his 2006 bid for Georgia lieutenant governor, hurt by his association with the scandals surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But he is back again as head of a new organization called the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
But what is behind this?
As I explain in my book, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, if you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists have the answer in their version of biblical interpretation.
Ralph Reed is a follower of my late father Francis Schaeffer and as I know from conversations with him many years ago was highly influenced by the Reconstructionists.
Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible. In the Reconstructionists' best of all worlds, Eddie Izzard would have been long since executed for the "crimes" of inappropriate wardrobe, not to mention "blasphemy." If given the chance, they would burn people like my Evangelical leader mother (Edith Schaeffer) at the stake for her "heresy" of explaining away the nastier bits of the Bible or at least not living by its meaner rules.
Most Evangelicals are positively moderate by comparison to the Reconstructionists. But the Reconstructionist movement is a distilled essence of the more mainstream Evangelical version of an exclusionary theology that divides America into the "Real America" (as the Far Right claims only it is) and the rest of us "Sinners."
And it was those "Real Americans" who were Bush's base and are now trying to turn the 2012 election into a religious contest about "values." The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra-Calvinist but, like all Calvinism, has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives.
In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a twentieth-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was a Jesus Predator claiming God's special favor.
The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, and creator of the modern Evangelical homeschool movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher), and David Chilton (Calvinist pastor and author).
Writer Chris Hedges has called this the rise of "Christian Fascism," where "those that speak in the language of fact... are hated and feared."
Anyone who wants to understand American politics had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct "our fallen society" and/or in the words of Sarah Palin "take America back."
Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation (which has been classified as an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).
According to the Chalcedon Foundation website, the mission of the movement is to apply "the whole Word of God" to all aspects of human life: "It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own."
Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my religious leader parents parents) didn't try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States.
Even the most conservative Evangelicals said they were "New Testament Christians." In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the "New Covenant" of Jesus' "Law of Love."
By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings -- on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating -- were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers.
This theology was the American "Christian" version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
It's no coincidence that the rise of the Islamic Brotherhoods in Egypt and Syria and the rise of North American Reconstructionism took place in a twentieth-century time frame -- as science, and modern "permissiveness" collided with a frightened conservatism rooted in religion.
The writings of people such as Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and those of Rushdoony are virtually interchangeable when it comes to their goals of restoring God to His "rightful place" as He presides over law and morals. According to al-Banna, Islam enjoins man to strive for a segregation of male and female students, a separate curriculum for girls, a prohibition on dancing, and a campaign against "ostentation in dress and loose behavior." Islamic governments must eventually be unified in a theocratic Caliphate. Or as the late Reconstructionist/Calvinist theologian David Chilton (sounding startlingly al-Bannalike) explained:
The Great Commission to the Church does not end with simply witnessing to the nations. . . . The kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of Christ. . . . This means that every aspect of life throughout the world is to be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ: families, individuals, business, science, agriculture, the arts, law, education, economics, psychology, philosophy, and every other sphere of human activity. Nothing may be left out. Christ "must reign, until He has put all enemies under His feet" (1st Cor. 15:25). . . . Our goal is a Christian world, made up of explicitly Christian nations. How could a Christian desire anything else? . . . That is the only choice: pagan law or Christian law. God specifically forbids "pluralism." God is not the least bit interested in sharing world dominion with Satan. (Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion, 6th ed. Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1999, 271)
It was my old friend, the short, stocky, bearded, gnomelike, Armenian-American Rousas Rushdoony who in 1973 most thoroughly laid out the Far Right/Religious Right agenda in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony changed the definition of salvation from the accepted Evangelical idea that it applies to individuals to the claim that salvation is really about politics.
With this redefinition, Rushdoony contradicted the usual reading of Jesus' words by most Christians to mean that Jesus had not come to this earth to be a political leader: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
According to Rushdoony, all nations on earth should be obedient to the ancient Jewish/Christian version of "God's Law," so that the world will experience "God's blessings." Biblical salvation will then turn back the consequences of The Fall, and we'll be on our way to the New Eden. To achieve this "turning back," coercion must be used by the faithful to stop evildoers, who are, by definition, anyone not obeying all of God's Laws as defined by the Reconstructionist interpretation of the Bible.
How far would the Reconstructionists go? North, writes,
"The question eventually must be raised: Is it a criminal offence to take the name of the Lord in vain? When people curse their parents, it unquestionably is a capital crime (Exodus 21:17). The son or daughter is under the lawful jurisdiction of the family. The integrity of the family must be maintained by the threat of death. Clearly, cursing God (blasphemy) is a comparable crime, and is therefore a capital crime (Leviticus 24:16)." (The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), 59-60.)
Doctrinal leaders (notably Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen) call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder.
Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, "unchastity before marriage."
According to North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, "along with those who advised them to abort their children." Rushdoony concludes: "God's government prevails, and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them."
Here is how I imagine a Reconstructionist version of the Sermon on the Mount would read, inclusive of Reconstructionist "inside" theological/political code words like "Law-Word":
Blessed are those who exercise dominion over the earth: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who deport the immigrants: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who agree that the significance of Jesus Christ as the 'faithful and true witness' is that He not only witnesses against those who are at war against God, but He also executes them: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who subdue all things and all nations to Christ and His Law-Word: for they shall be filled. Blessed are those who say that those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God must be denied citizenship: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the Calvinist Christians who are the only lawful heirs to the Kingdom: for they shall see God. Blessed are those who know that turning the other cheek is a temporary bribe paid to evil secular rulers: for they shall be called sons of God if they bust their enemies in the chops. Blessed are those who have taken an eye for an eye: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye when ye know that the battle for My sake is between the Christian Reconstruction Movement and everyone else. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. For so we are to make Bible-obeying disciples of anybody who gets in our way, and kill those who resist.
The impact of Reconstructionism (often under other names) has grown even though Rushdoony has largely been forgotten even in Evangelical circles, let alone the wider world. He made the Evangelical world more susceptible to being politicized -- and manipulated by some very smart people.
The ultimate irony is this: members of the Religious Right say they fear Muslims imposing Shariah Law on America. This isn't about to happen. But what is taking place is a home grown movement -- led by fundamentalist Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics -- to turn America into their version of a modern day theocracy -- say, Iran.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. his latest book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.