Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Readin' & Writin' 'bout Theocracy

Christian Reconstructionism is "arguably the driving ideology of the Christian Right today."

Thats what I wrote in my 1997 book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Its not that I thought then -- or now -- that everyone on the Christian Right is a Reconstructionist. Far from it. Rather, I think that the explicitly theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement has played a catalytic role in moving large sectors evangelical Christianity from apolitical stances, to active political participation, brought distinctively theocratic ideas into mainstream discourse. And this has happened in just one generation.

"For much of Reconstructionism's short history." I wrote in Eternal Hostility, "it has been and ideology in search of a constituency. But in recent years, its influence has grown far beyond the founders' expectations. As Reconstructionist writer Gary North observes. 'We once were shepherds without sheep. No longer.'"

I was surprised when Terry Gross asked me about Christian Reconstructionism in our interview on Fresh Air recently. I have been surprised every time it has come up for the past year or so, because for so long the idea that there are active modern theocratic thinkers whose views inform the contemporary Christian Right, has been difficult for a lot of people to take in.

For those unfamiliar with the term here is how I defined it in my 1994 study of Reconstructionism in The Public Eye, the scholarly publication of the Somerville, MA-based Political Research Associates.

"Reconstructionism is a theology that arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), which proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or "Biblical Law," is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth."

"Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life--such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely "social" or "moral" issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion. Reconstructionists have formulated a "Biblical world view" and "Biblical principles" by which to examine contemporary matters. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly describes this view: 'The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law.'"

That was pretty arcane stuff in 1994 and 1997 -- but no more. The name of the Christian Reconstructionist movement's seminal thinker R.J. Rushdoony, is even starting to become more widely known. It was also not long ago that the word "theocracy" was not uttered in mainstream political discourse in relation to the Christian Right. Now even mainstream newspapers and mainstream polititians of both major parties are using the term -- not as a term of disparagement, but as a fair descriptor of the political views and actions of some Christian Right leaders.

Of course there is still a lot of adjusting going on. There are those of all political stripes who would rather we not use the term "theocracy" at all. Some, quite understandably, are afraid the term will tar their movement. Others think it is not an effective term for tarring the movement -- as if that were the only legitimate use of the word. Some object to misapplications of the term. Others just have thier heads in the sand and don't want to see that there is, in fact, an active Christian theocratic movement in the United States.

Whatever people may think of the word theocracy, the fact remains that this movement is not new. It is not going away. And it is gaining power. Because this is so, many of us are going to continue to not only use the term, but growing numbers of people will be thinking and writing about it.

There is currently a well done series of articles published on the progressive news and opinion site Truthout that is making the rounds of the blogosphere. The series includes helpful discussions of Christian nationalism and Christian Reconstructionism. Check it out.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]

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