|The following article is one of the best descriptions of
Christian Reconstructionism that we have seen. Therefore we are quoting a good
portion of the first part in order to prepare the reader for our conclusions. To
obtain the rest of the article go to
1: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence
2: A Generation of Reconstructionists
Part 3: No Longer Without Sheep
Part 4: A Covert Kingdom
Frederick Clarkson is an author and lecturer who has written
extensively on right-wing religious groups from the Christian Coalition to the Unification
Church. He is co-author of Challenging the Christian Right: The Activist's Handbook,
(Institute for First Amendment Studies, 1992), and is writing a new book titled Eternal
Hostility: The Struggle Between Democracy and Theocracy in the United States, (Common
Courage Press, 1996). This article originally appeared in the March and June 1994 issues
of The Public Eye.
Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence
by Frederick Clarkson
Overview and Roots
The Christian Right has shown impressive resilience and has rebounded dramatically after a
series of embarrassing televangelist scandals of the late 1980s, the collapse of Jerry
Falwell's Moral Majority, and the failed presidential bid of Pat Robertson. (But) In
the 1990s, Christian Right organizing went to the grassroots and exerted wide influence in
American politics across the country.
There is no doubt that Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition gets much of the credit for
this successful strategic shift to the local level. But another largely overlooked reason
for the persistent success of the Christian Right is a theological shift since the 1960s.
The catalyst for the shift is Christian Reconstructionism--arguably the driving
ideology of the Christian Right in the 1990s.
The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of
its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware
that they hold Reconstructionist ideas. Because as a theology it is controversial, even
among evangelicals, many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This
furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself.
Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would
govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism
would eliminate not only
democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and
public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently
Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy
that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder
to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
Reconstructionism has expanded from the works of a small group of scholars to inform a
wide swath of conservative Christian thought and action. While many Reconstructionist
political positions are commonly held conservative views, what is significant is that
Reconstructionists have created a comprehensive program, with Biblical justifications for
far right political policies. Many post-World War II conservative, anticommunist
activists were also, if secondarily, conservative Christians. However, the
Reconstructionist movement calls on conservatives to be Christians first, and to build a
church-based political movement from
For much of Reconstructionism's short history it has been an ideology in search of a
constituency. But its influence has grown far beyond the founders' expectations. As
Reconstructionist author Gary North observes, "We once were shepherds without sheep.
What is Reconstructionism?
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."
More broadly, Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance:
family government, church government, and civil government. Under God's covenant, the
nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and
children are "in submission" to him. In turn, the husband "submits" to
Jesus and to God's laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own
ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God's laws.
All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called
The Origin of Reconstructionism
The original and defining text of Reconstructionism is Institutes of Biblical Law,
published in 1973 by Rousas John Rushdoony--an 800-page explanation of the Ten
Commandments, the Biblical "case law" that derives from them, and their
application today. "The only true order," writes Rushdoony, "is founded on
All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an
anti-Christian religion." In brief, he continues, "Every law-order is a state of
war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare."
Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law, wrote an appendix to Institutes on the subject of
"Christian economics." It is a polemic which serves as a model for the
application of "Biblical Principles."
Rushdoony and a younger theologian, Rev. Greg Bahnsen, were both students of Cornelius Van
Til, a Princeton University theologian. Although Van Til himself never became a
Reconstructionist, Reconstructionists claim him as the father of their movement. According
to Gary North, Van Til argued that "There is no philosophical strategy that has ever
worked, except this one; to challenge the lost in terms of the revelation of God in His
Bible. . .by what standard can man know anything truly? By the Bible, and only by the
Bible." This idea that the correct and only way to view reality is through the lens
of a Biblical world view is
known as presuppositionalism. According to Gary North, Van Til stopped short of proposing
what a Biblical society might look like or how to get there. That is where
Reconstructionism begins. While Van Til states that man is not autonomous and that all
rationality is inseparable from faith in God and the Bible, the Reconstructionists go
further and set a course of world conquest or "dominion," claiming a Biblically
prophesied "inevitable victory."
Reconstructionists also believe that "the Christians" are the "new chosen
people of God," commanded to do what "Adam in Eden and Israel in Canaan failed
to do. . .create the society that God requires." Further, Jews, once the "chosen
people," failed to live up to God's covenant and therefore are no longer God's
chosen. Christians, of the correct sort, now are.
Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law consciously echoes a major work of the Protestant
Reformation, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. In fact,
Reconstructionists see themselves as the theological and political heirs of Calvin. The
theocracy Calvin created in Geneva, Switzerland in the 1500s is one of the political
models Reconstructionists look to, along with Old Testament Israel and the Calvinist
Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Epitomizing the Reconstructionist idea of Biblical "warfare" is the centrality
of capital punishment under Biblical Law. 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 Gary 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
His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Reconstructionists insist
that "the death penalty is the maximum, not necessarily the mandatory penalty."
However, such judgments may depend less on Biblical Principles than on which faction gains
power in the theocratic republic. The potential for bloodthirsty episodes on the order of
the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition is inadvertently revealed by
Reconstructionist theologian Rev. Ray Sutton, who claims that the Reconstructed Biblical
theocracies would be "happy" places, to which people would flock because
"capital punishment is one of the best evangelistic tools of a society."
The Biblically approved methods of execution include burning (at the stake for example),
stoning, hanging, and "the sword." Gary North, the self-described economist of
Reconstructionism, prefers stoning because, among other things, stones are cheap,
and convenient. Punishments for non-capital crimes generally involve whipping, restitution
in the form of indentured servitude, or slavery. Prisons would likely be only temporary
holding tanks, prior to imposition of the actual sentence.
People who sympathize with Reconstructionism often flee the label because of the severe
and unpopular nature of such views. Even those who feel it appropriate that they
would be the governors of God's theocracy often waffle on the particulars, like capital
punishment for sinners and nonbelievers. Unflinching advocates, however, insist upon
consistency. Rev. Greg Bahnsen, in his book By This Standard, writes: "We. . .endorse
the justice of God's penal code, if the Bible is to be the foundation of our Christian
Reconstructionism has adopted "covenantalism," the theological doctrine that
Biblical "covenants" exist between God and man, God and nations, God and
families, and that they make up the binding, incorporating doctrine that makes sense of
everything. Specifically, there is a series of covenant "structures"
that make up a Biblical blueprint for society's institutions. Reconstructionists believe
that God "judges" a whole society according to how it keeps these covenantal
laws, and provides signs of that judgment. This belief can be seen, for example, in
the claim that AIDS is a "sign of God's judgment."
Reconstructionist Rev. Ray Sutton writes that "there is no such thing as a natural
disaster. Nature is not neutral. Nothing takes place in nature by chance. . .Although we
may not know the exact sin being judged," Sutton declares, "what occurs results
Christian Historical Revisionism
Part of the Reconstructionist world view is a revisionist view of history called
"Christian history," which holds that history is predestined from
"creation" until the inevitable arrival of the Kingdom of God. Christian history
is written by means of retroactively discerning "God's providence."
Most Reconstructionists, for example, argue that the United States is a "Christian
Nation" and that they are the champions and heirs of the "original intentions of
the Founding Fathers." This dual justification for their views, one religious, the
constitutional, is the result of a form of historical revisionism that Rushdoony frankly
calls "Christian revisionism."
Christian revisionism is important in understanding the Christian Right's approach to
politics and public policy. If one's political righteousness and sense of historical
continuity are articles of faith, what appear as facts to everyone else fall before the
compelling evidence of faith. Whatever does not fit neatly into a "Biblical world
view" becomes problematic, perhaps a delusion sent by Satan.
The invocations of the Bible and the Founding Fathers are powerful ingredients for good
religious-nationalist demagoguery. However, among the stark flaws of
Reconstructionist history is the way Christian revisionism distorts historical fact.
For example, by interpreting the framing of the Constitution as if it were a document
inspired by and adhering to a Reconstructionist version of Biblical Christianity,
Reconstructionists make a claim that denies the existence of Article VI of the
Constitution. Most historians agree that Article VI, which states that public officials
shall be "bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious
test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the
United States," was a move toward disestablishment of churches as official power
brokers and the establishment of the principles of religious pluralism and separation of
church and state.
R. J. Rushdoony, in his influential 1963 book, The Nature of the American System, claims
that "The Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order," then asks
rhetorically: "Why then is there, in the main, an absence of any reference to
the Constitution?" He argues that the purpose was to protect religion from the
federal government and to preserve "states' rights."
Once again, however, such a view requires ignoring Article VI. Before 1787, most of the
colonies and early states had required pledges of allegiance to Christianity and that one
be a Christian of the correct sect to hold office. Part of the struggle toward democracy
at the time was the disestablishment of the state churches--the power structures of the
local colonial theocracies. Thus the "religious test" was a significant
philosophical matter. There was little debate over Article VI, which passed unanimously at
the Constitutional Convention.
Most of the states soon followed the federal lead in conforming to it. Reconstructionist
author Gary DeMar, in his 1993 book America's Christian History: The Untold Story, also
trips over Article VI. He quotes from colonial and state constitutions to prove
they were "Christian" states. And, of course, they generally were, until the
framers of the Constitution set disestablishment irrevocably in motion. Yet DeMar tries to
explain this away, claiming that Article VI merely banned "government mandated
religious tests"--as if there were any other kind at issue. He later asserts that
Article VI was a "mistake" on the part of the framers, implying that they did
not intend disestablishment.
By contrast, mainstream historian Garry Wills sees no mistake. In his book Under God:
Religion and American Politics, he concludes that the framers stitched together ideas from
"constitutional monarchies, ancient republics, and modern leagues. . . .but we [the
US] invented nothing, except disestablishment. . . . No other government in the history of
the world had launched itself without the help of officially recognized gods and their
state connected ministers." Disestablishment was the clear and unambiguous choice of
the framers of the Constitution, most of whom were also serious Christians.
Even Gary North (who holds a Ph.D. in History) sees the connection between Article VI and
disestablishment and attacks Rushdoony's version of the "Christian"
Constitution. North writes that "In his desire to make the case for Christian
America, he [Rushdoony] closed his eyes to the judicial break from Christian America: the
ratification of the Constitution." North says Rushdoony "pretends" that
Article VI "does not say what it says, and it does not mean what it has always meant:
a legal barrier to Christian theocracy," leading "directly to the rise of
North's views are the exception on the Christian Right. The falsely nostalgic view of a
Christian Constitution, somehow subverted by modernism and the Supreme Court, generally
holds sway. Christian historical revisionism is the premise of much Christian Right
political and historical literature and is being widely taught and accepted in Christian
schools and home schools. It informs the political understanding of the broader Christian
Right. The popularization of this perspective is a dangerously polarizing factor in
A Movement of Ideas
As a movement primarily of ideas, Reconstructionism has no single denominational or
institutional home. Nor is it totally defined by a single charismatic leader, nor even a
single text. Rather, it is defined by a small group of scholars who are identified with
Reformed or Orthodox Presbyterianism. The movement networks primarily through magazines,
conferences, publishing houses, think tanks, and bookstores. As a matter of strategy, it
is a self-consciously decentralized and publicity-shy movement.
Reconstructionist leaders seem to have two consistent characteristics: a background in
conservative Presbyterianism, and connections to the John Birch Society (JBS).
In 1973, R. J. Rushdoony compared the structure of the JBS to the "early
church." He wrote in Institutes: "The key to the John Birch Society's
effectiveness has been a plan of operation which has a strong resemblance to the early
church; have meetings, local `lay' leaders, area supervisors or `bishops.'"
The JBS connection does not stop there. Most leading Reconstructionists have either been
JBS members or have close ties to the organization. Reconstructionist literature can be
found in JBS-affiliated American Opinion bookstores.
Indeed, the conspiracist views of Reconstructionist writers (focusing on the United
Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations, among others) are consistent with those of
the John Birch Society. A classic statement of the JBS world view, Call It Conspiracy by
Larry Abraham, features a prologue and an epilogue by Reconstructionist Gary North. In
fact, former JBS chairman Larry McDonald may himself have been a Reconstructionist. Joseph
Morecraft has written that "Larry [McDonald] understood that when the authors of the
US Constitution spoke of law, they meant the law of God as revealed in the Bible. I have
heard him say many times that we must refute humanistic, relativistic law with Biblical
As opposed to JBS beliefs, however, Reconstructionists emphasize the primacy of
Christianity over politics. Gary North, for example, insists that it is the institution of
the Church itself to which loyalty and energy are owed, before any other arena of life.
Christians are called to Christianity first and foremost, and Christianization should
extend to all areas of life. This emphasis on Christianity has political implications
because, in the 1990s, it is likely that the JBS world view is persuasive to more people
when packaged as a Biblical world view.
We will let a Christian Constructionist himself tell you
what they believe:
"The only form of Christianity which offers a
full-fledged, comprehensive historic orthodoxy equipped with the interpretive views
capable of applying the whole of the Bible to the whole of life and the sound expectation
of earthly ideological and institutional triumph is the Reformed Faith, and the most
consistent expression of the Reformed Faith is Christian reconstructionism-of which Rousas
John Rushdoony, the theme of this book, is the ideational father. It represents a return
to classical Calvinism-not just confessional Calvinism, as crucial as that is, but applied
Calvinism-and purges the lingering elements of autonomous thought in sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy. It thereby constitutes the purest form of
Christianity, a comprehensive Faith and worldview capable of meeting and defeating the
forces of secularism and other rival religions (notably Islam). This success no other form
of orthodox Christianity can hope to accomplish. Its very reductionism militates against
its success. Not so with Reformed reconstructionism. It wages the battle uncompromisingly
on all fronts-familial, ecclesiastical, social, political, educational, economic,
artistic, technological, indeed, everywhere.
"Reconstructionists know that only comprehensive worldviews can compete with other
comprehensive worldviews. You won't beat secularism with three sermonic points and a poem.
You won't beat humanism with three tearful verses of "Amazing Grace" and an
Arminian altar-call. You won't beat Islam with a vacation Bible school and AWANA program.
You will beat all these and other rival faiths with full-orbed, virile, Spirit-empowered,
intelligent, applied Reformed Christianity. This is what Christian reconstructionism is.
"The humanists consider us dangerous. Of course, we are dangerous-to humanists. They
know-even if pietistic evangelicals do not-what Christian reconstructionism embodies: a
rival Faith qualified to replace the regnant secular system in toto. We are not merely a
"shadow government"; we are a shadow society, pressing the Crown Rights of the
Lord Jesus Christ and his infallible law-word in all spheres of life, expecting eventual
triumph. The great Cambridge Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in 1630, "This very belief,
that faith [in the advancement of the kingdom of God] shall be victorious, is a means to
make it so indeed." Humanists are not troubled greatly by a whimpering, pietistic
church engaged in internecine navel-contemplation. But they sit up and take notice when
Christians begin to reconstruct areas of modern life by means of the infallible word of
God. They realize that Christians who jettison the idea that the world is Satan's province
by right and adopt in its place the Reformed view that the world belongs to the King and
those to whom he assigns its use, are in fact dangerous to the humanist ideology. They
possess the worldview and implements to subvert socialism. This frightens humanists. It
should frighten them.
"We reconstructionists are sometimes accused of "triumphalism" in our
dedication to the postmillennial notion that the kingdom of God will advance inexorably
and visibly in time and history by means of the faithful preaching and application of the
Bible, the infusion of the power of the Holy Spirit, and the obedience of the covenant
people of God. If by "triumphalism" is meant an attitude of eschatological
smugness, the charge is, one hopes at least, incorrect. If, however, by
"triumphalism" one means belief that God will employ his Spirit to energize his
covenant body to advance the kingdom of God in time and history in all spheres, we
reconstructionists plead guilty. This is not smugness, but faith.
"Satan's kingdom and hosts, in alliance with humanism and other false faiths, is ripe
for destruction. No human kingdom or ideology can withstand the kingdom of the Lord Jesus
Christ, the stone cut without hands that becomes "a great mountain, and fill[s] the
whole earth" (Dan. 2:35). Of this kingdom Daniel predicts, "the saints of the
most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and
ever" (7:18). Christian reconstructionists advance this kingdom by the preaching of
the gospel in its purity and law in its cogency, and by applying the Biblical Faith in
every sphere of life and society. We present a Biblical, Spirit-empowered comprehensive
alternative to all rival faiths. Our Faith cannot but triumph. We can meet all rival
faiths, point by point, issue by issue, law by law, practice by practice, and, by the
grace of God, defeat each. We demand of all rival faiths unconditional surrender in every
dimension of existence to the King of kings and Lord of lords."
Got an inkling of what we are in for if they ever get
control of this country? Because after all that is what they said above: "It
(Christian Reconstructionism) wages the battle uncompromisingly on all fronts-familial,
ecclesiastical, social, political, educational, economic, artistic, technological, indeed,
Here is their philosophy. Read it carefully:
"A Christian Reconstructionist is a Calvinist. He
holds to historic, orthodox, catholic Christianity and the great Reformed confessions. He
believes God, not man, is the center of the universe and beyond; God, not man, controls
whatever comes to pass; God, not man, must be pleased and obeyed. He believes God saves
sinners. He does not help them save themselves. A Christian Reconstructionist believes the
Faith should apply to all of life, not just the "spiritual" side. It applies to
art, education, technology, and politics no less than to church, prayer, evangelism, and
"A Christian Reconstructionist is a Theonomist. Theonomy means "God's law."
A Christian Reconstructionist believes God's law is found in the Bible. It has not been
abolished as a standard of righteousness. It no longer accuses the Christian, since Christ
bore its penalty on the cross for him. But the law is a description of God's righteous
character. It cannot change any more than God can change. God's law is used for three main
purposes: First, to drive the sinner to trust in Christ alone, the only perfect
law-keeper. Second, to provide a standard of obedience for the Christian, by which
he may judge his progress in sanctification. And third, to maintain order in society,
restraining and arresting civil evil."
"A Christian Reconstructionist is a Presuppositionalist. He does not try to
"prove" that God exists or that the Bible is true. He holds to the Faith because
the Bible says so, not because he can "prove" it. He does not try to convince
the unconverted that the gospel is true. They already know it is true when they hear it.
They need repentance, not evidence. Of course, the Christian Reconstructionist believes
there is evidence for the Faith, in fact, there is nothing but evidence for the Faith. The
problem for the unconverted, though, is not a lack of evidence, but a lack of submission.
The Christian Reconstructionist begins and ends with the Bible. He does not defend
"natural theology," and other inventions designed to find some agreement with
covenant-breaking apostate mankind."
"A Christian Reconstructionist is a Postmillennialist. He believes Christ will return
to earth only after the Holy Spirit has empowered the church to advance Christ's kingdom
in time and history. He has faith that God's purposes to bring all nations, though not
every individual, in subjection to Christ cannot fail. The Christian Reconstructionist is
not utopian. He does not believe the kingdom will advance quickly or painlessly. He knows
that we enter the kingdom through much tribulation. He knows Christians are in the fight
for the "long haul." He believes the church may yet be in her infancy. But he
believes the Faith will triumph. Under the power of the Spirit of God, it cannot but
"A Christian Reconstructionist is a Dominionist. He takes seriously the Bible's
commands to the godly to take dominion in the earth. This is the goal of the gospel and
the Great Commission. The Christian Reconstructionist believes the earth and all its
fullness is the Lord's: that every area dominated by sin must be "reconstructed"
in terms of the Bible. This includes, first, the individual; second, the family; third,
the church; and fourth, the wider society, including the state. The Christian
Reconstructionist therefore believes fervently in Christian civilization. He firmly
believes in the separation of church and state, but not the separation of the state or
anything else from God. He is not a revolutionary; he does not believe in the militant,
forced overthrow of human government. He has infinitely more powerful weapons than guns
and bombs, he has the invincible Spirit of God, the infallible word of God, and the
incomparable gospel of God, none of which can fail."
"He presses the crown rights of the Lord Jesus Christ in every sphere, expecting
eventual triumph."....Adrew Sandlin
Yes, if they take over, the government of
the United States would be run by biblical law and not Judicial Laws. It would be
similar to living in Iran under the Iatollah. They plan to take over by using the
ballot box to elect Christian Reconstructionists who will not necessarily tell the REAL
Are they bad or evil people? No, they
are no more evil than a Witch or a Druid or Native American Shaman or a Christian Baptist.
But their religious philosophy does not allow any other religion but thiers, to be
"in control." In their perfect world, you would be a Christian or you
would be an outcast or in jail. And since Witches and Homosexuals are mentioned in
the Bible as people who should be killed, I'm afraid Witches and Homosexuals would have to
leave the country. As well as spiritualist, astrologers, gamblers, non-christians,
etc. Wouldn't be many people left, would there?
The members aren't necessarily dangerous,
but the movement is Very Disturbing in it's ideology. And if it ever came to
political power, it would be disasterous for this civilization. Freedom under a
Christian Reconstructionist government would be similar to that of Stalan or Hitler.
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