Christian Reconstruction: the Left’s new bogeyman

A reader recently sent me a link to the following article that appeared in t r u t h o u t, an on-line publication its editors describe as “devoted to equality, democracy, human rights, accountability and social justice” — in other words, devoted to promoting a secular, leftist political agenda.

The article was about a member of t r u t h o u t ‘s board of advisers, a former Air Force lawyer named Mikey Weinstein, who had founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). MRFF recently received a lot of attention after forcing the Defense Department to rescind its invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham (son of Rev. Billy Graham) to speak at the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer event in May.

According to the article, that and other recent victories MRFF has won “have earned Weinstein the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable”. When I got to that line, I almost stopped reading. Any alleged journalist who airily dismisses anyone who disagrees with his one-sided view as “mentally unstable” has, in my opinion, taken himself out of the debate and is worthy of no further attention. However, I read on.

Weinstein, who likens Christians to “vampires” and is fond of using violent metaphors to describe what he’s going to do to his opponents (“Wherever I see unconstitutional religious predators in the U.S. military, of any stripe, I don’t care if I live or die. Someone’s gonna get a beating and we’re going to do it.”), began the organization after suing the Air Force Academy over alleged anti-semitic harassment experienced by his son and other Jewish cadets.

These alleged “incidents” had a familiar ring to them. Yes, they sounded a lot like the harassment the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair claimed her son, William, had endured in his Baltimore high school back in the 1960s. Years later, after William had converted to Christianity, he told a television interviewer the alleged incidents of harassment never happened. It was all about fund-raising. (Murray is today chairman of the ironically similarly named Religious Freedom Coalition.)

As for Weinstein’s allegations, a Federal court dismissed his suit after finding that

not a single Plaintiff has alleged any personal factual situation that has allegedly impinged on that Plaintiff’s constitutional rights since the Plaintiff left the Academy. No Plaintiff claims to have personally experienced any of the things described under “Factual Allegations”…while at the Academy or after leaving the Academy. Plaintiffs describe no specific incidents demonstrating support for the proposition that there is an “unwritten policy of many evangelical chaplains to continue proselytizing and evangelizing …members of the Air Force at large”

It appears these “incidents” were about as real as those experienced by the young William Murray. And I suspect that just as bogus are the acts of vandalism and the death threats Weinstein says he and his family have endured since he began his campaign. In this 2007 video, he describes these threats in a fund-raising pitch in Beverly Hills:

I could go on about Weinstein and MRFF for, oh, a few hundred more paragraphs, but here I want to call attention to something he said in this video, starting at about 00:52. Weinstein (using his war metaphors) says he is up against “a very dark and evil enemy” which he characterizes as “premillennial dispensational Reconstructionist dominionist fundamentalist evangelical Christianity”. Whew! That was a mouthful. And how large is this “enemy”? At 03:36 he tells us: “Roughly 12.6 percent of the American public or 38 million people.”

Weinstein here is either lying or ignorant — or is utterly paranoid. Perhaps all three. He is certainly playing on his listeners’ paranoia. In an effort to scare his no doubt affluent secular liberal audience into opening their checkbooks, he has jumbled together just about every scary-sounding strain of evangelical thought they never heard of into one frightening, gelatinous mass that is as terrifying and about as real as The Blob in the 1950s horror movie of that name. In doing so, he is doing what has lately become the modus operandi of the secular Left — accuse any evangelical Christian who either seeks a political office or takes a position on an issue that “progressives” don’t like of being a Reconstructionist. For example, Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle has been accused of being both a Christian Reconstructionist and a Scientologist — which someone who is familiar with either will tell you is an impossibility.

As it happens, I know a little about Christian Reconstruction, having clashed with some Reconstructionist sympathizers in the mid-1990s. And, yes, Reconstructionism can be pretty scary — which is why the Left likes to slap the label indiscriminately on just about every conservative Christian.

Christian Reconstruction, which is sometimes called dominion theology or dominionism, was developed by the late Rousas John Rushdoony as an extension of Calvinist theologian Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositionalism is simply arguing from the assumption that the Bible is true, rather than from a neutral position. (Apologetics is the study of the rational basis for Christianity.) For example, we assume that the historical writings of ancients like Herodotus, Julius Caesar or Josephus are true. Why should we assume the Scriptures are not?

Presuppositionalism is only one of the roots of Rushdoony’s theology. The other is postmillennial covenant theology, another Calvinist derivative (although it has nothing to do with predestination except in the broad sense that all of future history was known by God at the beginning of time.) Postmillennialism holds that Christ will physically reappear after Christians have created a golden “Millennium” of Christ’s rule here on Earth. Premillennialism is the belief that Christ will return before the Millennium and establish His rule Himself. The difference is based on conflicting interpretations of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation.

Postmillennialists usually believe in covenant theology, which is the idea that God has dealt with the human race, initially through a covenant of works and lately through a covenant of grace, with both under an overarching covenant of redemption. Premillennialists usually subscribe to dispensational theology, which holds that God has dealt with the human race at different times in different ways (dispensations). Covenantalism and dispensationalism are not really different theologies so much as different frameworks for studying Scripture.

The large majority of American evangelicals are premillennial dispensationalists — probably without even being aware of it — but on most issues of public policy (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) they are on the same side as postmillennial covenantalists. The main area of disagreement has to do with the Jews and the State of Israel. Premillennialists are usually Christian Zionists who believe Israel represents the restoration of David’s kingdom foretold by the prophets. They believe God will keep the promises he made to Abraham and that the Jews remain His chosen people. In contrast, postmillennialists are largely indifferent to Israel. They believe God is finished with the Jewish people, not because He hates them or anything like that, but because they have fulfilled their historic role (receiving the Torah and producing the Messiah), and the Church is, in effect, the “new” Israel, heir to the old covenant as well as the new promises made by Christ. This is sometimes called “replacement theology”.

As I noted above, Christian Reconstruction derives from postmillennial covenant theology. Reconstructionist theonomy — the extension of Divine Law into the human realm — is based roughly on the following chain of reasoning:

  1. The Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, is the inerrant Word of God and is absolutely true.
  2. Any commandment given in the Old Testament to the Nation of Israel is binding on the Church (i.e., all Christians) unless it was specifically rescinded in the New Testament. An example of a commandment that is no longer binding would be male circumcision.
  3. These commandments include both the moral law and the civil law. (The ceremonial law has largely been set aside.)
  4. Where Scripture is silent, we are free to act as we choose.

What makes this kind of scary — and what led to my own disagreements with Reconstructionists back in the ’90s — is their support for the death penalty for, well, just about everything. Among those actions for which the Torah (and Reconstructionists) require the death penalty are murder, adultery, premarital sex by a girl still living with her parents, homosexuality, worshiping idols, breaking the Sabbath, practicing magic, apostasy, being a false prophet, cursing your parents, being an incorrigible child and about a dozen other offenses.

And this isn’t just an exaggeration spread by their enemies. The late Greg Bahnsen, one of Rushdoony’s disciples, wrote,

Those who are punished with death in God’s holy law are executed only because they are “guilty of a capital offense”. It is moral principle that requires the penalties to be what our holy God has prescribed them to be — not just in the case of murder, but in all the cases (my emphasis).

Bahnsen, et. al., The Law, the Gospel and the Modern Christian, p. 135

Yes, this is all kind of scary. And a little bit crazy. While Reconstructionists come across as theocrats, they are actually quite libertarian when it comes to the economy and education (recall Item 4, above). Gary North, Rushdoony’s son-in-law and a leading Christian Reconstruction theorist, is a regular contributor to the website run by the libertarian Lew Rockwell and was awarded the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

Weinstein is probably ignorant of all this, but I also think he knows he is ignorant but spreads his paranoid fantasies anyway. Which makes him just as dishonest as if he were flat-out lying. I imagine he heard some of his fellow secularists throwing around words like “Christian Reconstruction” and “dominion” and thought they sounded scary, so he started including them in his fund-raising pitches.

And his claim that “12.6 percent” of the population — “38 million people” — are members of this movement? Give me a break. If there were that many Christian Reconstructionists in the United States we already would be living in a theocracy and Weinstein would have been stoned (and I don’t mean on pot) for blasphemy a long time ago.  In the strictest sense, the “dark, evil enemy” Weinstein fears doesn’t even exist because, as we have seen, a “premillennial dispensational Reconstructionist” is a contradiction in terms.

Christian Reconstruction has become the favorite bogeyman of the secular Left, which has attempted to associate just about any conservative Christian with the doctrine. Sometimes secular leftists will use the term “dominionist” rather than “Reconstructionist” because it sounds more inclusive, but they really mean the same thing.

The late theologian Francis Schaeffer, who categorically rejected “some kind, or any kind of a theocracy” and warned fellow Christians not to “wrap Christianity in our national flag” has been accused of being a dominionist because he urged Christians to become more militant in opposing government actions that do violence to morality.

John W. Whitehead, a civil liberties attorney who is a leader in the movement to end the death penalty, has been called a dominionist and Reconstructionist because his Rutherford Institute takes up the cause of Christians who don’t believe they should be forced to leave their religious beliefs at home when they enter the public square.

The late Rev. D. James Kennedy, who sharply criticized Christian Reconstruction, has been accused of being a Reconstructionist because he hosted Rushdoony and North on his radio program. Likewise, the premillennial dispensationalist Pat Robertson, who had Rushdoony on The 700 Club, and the late Jerry Falwell, (another premillennial dispensationalist), who supposedly had recommended books written by dominionists — although, I suspect the “dominionist” whose books he recommended was Francis Schaeffer.

Political figures also have been tarred with the Reconstructionist brush. Both former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have been accused. Also, Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul and, as I mentioned earlier, Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle. And yes, even former President George W. Bush has been alleged to have Reconstructionist sympathies.

And, according to Mother Jones, an entire Protestant denomination — the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the nation’s second largest Presbyterian denomination — is “Reconstruction-dominated”.  (The MJ article is full of inaccuracies and omissions.  A particularly glaring omission is the fact that Paul Hill, a former PCA minister who was executed for murdering a Florida abortionist, was, in fact, excommunicated from the denomination the year before the murder.  Yet, MJ tries to associate the denomination with Hill.)

If all this is true, then I suppose there might be some substance to Mikey Weinstein’s claim that the Armed Forces are riddled through and through with Christian Reconstructionists.  Except all this isn’t true.  Probably less than one in twenty evangelicals can even tell you what a Christian Reconstructionist is. Heck, most of them can’t tell the difference between covenant theology and dispensationalism and probably wouldn’t know what millennialism, pre- or post-, is.  Even among postmillennial covenantalists, Reconstructionists are a tiny minority within a minority.  I belonged to the supposedly “Reconstruction-dominated” PCA for nine years and during that entire time met only two people who were sympathetic to Reconstructionism.  The number of Christian Reconstructionists in the United States is nowhere near the 38 million Weinstein says there are.  I frankly doubt there are even 10,000 in the entire world.

That said, I will acknowledge that Weinstein might be onto a problem. I don’t think dominionists are secretly controlling the Armed Forces or are on the verge of doing so, but I suspect there may be some unwelcome proselytizing going on. Being proselytized by one’s superior is a bit like being sexually harassed. This person is going to write up your efficiency report and can advance your career or kill it, so you have to be very careful about what you say.

And you’re probably going to resent him for it, too, which may cause you to reject the message along with the messenger. I remember many years ago listening in horror as a member of my Sunday school class who had just started a new job described how he took his secretary — a single mother who was struggling to make ends meet — to lunch to “share the Gospel with her”. He said she told him she was already a believer.  I bet.  She may have been a believer, but I suspect she didn’t want to lose her job and she didn’t want to listen to him, either.

Christian organizations that are in the business of sharing Christ with members of the Armed Forces ought to know that having superiors proselytize their subordinates is bound to be ineffective, is likely to reap a harvest of resentment, and is most likely illegal, as well.

But Weinstein isn’t the answer, either. He whines that President Obama won’t see him and that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League won’t support him. His blatant self-promotion, his profanity-laced, hate-filled rants full of metaphors of violence and warfare, and his strident anti-Christian bigotry win him few friends. Even some Jewish members of the Armed Forces would prefer that he butt out.