Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Brief Taxonomy of Christian Reconstructionism

I've had a number of people referring to Doug Wilson as "not a Reconstructionist," not least among them his own daughter-in-law, Heather. This needs to be taken into consideration. So, I'm going to take some time clearing up the terminology I'm using and why. To a certain extent, this will be a history of a movement you don't care about, but should. Bear with me.

First came Cornelius Van Til, an otherwise obscure Dutch theologian. Though he rejected the political claims of the Reconstructionsits, he formed the basis of Reconstructionist apologetics, which are, esesntially: "We must assume that the Christian God exists, becaus the existence o the Christian God is a precondition of reason." We'll call this "presuppositionalism."

Then came Rousas Rushdoony, an Armenian immigrant who thought democracy was heresy, homosexuality was a capital crime, and the Holocaust was a lie. Though not particularly effective in implementing his ideas, he did influence people, like Marvin Olasky, who did have an influence -- some time later -- on American policy. You may remember "compassionate conservatism." That was Marivn.

"Christian Reconstructionist" is an inside term, used to describe a living movement as well as a theology. Fortunately, it's not a large living movement, and any discussion of it needs to keep in mind that its founder, Rousas Rushdoony, was a crank and compulsive schizmatic. For most of his life, "Christian Reconstructionism" was largely synonymous with his think tank, the Chalcedon Foundation. Andrew Sandlin, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen all, at various times, worked for the Chalcedon foundation, and all, at various times, had fallings-out with Rousas Rushdoony.

All of this is going on within the context of the most hardcore of the hardcore Calvinists in America -- the parts of the Presbyterian church that broke off from the national church during the Civil War. Many "Orthodox" Presbyterians still feel the old wounds of the Civil War, and endorse the medieval structure of landowners/tenants/slaves. Though the League of the South didn't initially arise out of this milieu, the racists over at Badlands and Steve Wilkins most certainly did. Later, the LotS would be co-opted by racists and theoconfederates, but that's a different story.

How does this have to do with Christ Church? Peter Leithart, faculty at New Saint Andrews College, wrote the Weekly Standard's glowing obituary of Rousas Rushdoony. Doug Jones, of Credenda/Agenda, wrote an equally glowing obituary of Greg Bahnsen. Andrew Sandlin is currently in a dispute with Doug Wilson over Auburn theology. Marvin Olasky gets in slap-fights with Doug on the blog of his newsmagazine, World. Wilkins appears with Wilson at conferences where Wilson decides on the participants.

Christ Church's attorney endorses making the most shocking parts of Old Testament Law the law of the United States. Doug supports restricting the franchise to male heads of household. Doug defends slavery as a necessity. I have made it quite clear why I find all of these things unacceptable. Insofar as he differs with other Reconstructionists, he differs from them on pedobaptism and "Federal Vision" theoogy. These are doctrinal trivialities.

I'm at no risk from the policies that Reconstructionists recommend, unless they suddenly become advocates of enforcing Biblical restrictions against conversion and blasphemy as strictly as they intend to enforce those against homosexuality. I have cordial relations with many of them. I don't necessarily believe that all are evil: many of them, I think, are engaged in a game of moral "chicken" -- a competition to see who can be the most faithful to the most inhumane ideals -- and would flee from them rather than see them actually implemented.

But it's not myself that I'm worried about, and it's not the personal conduct of the Kirkers. There are people that have been explictly threatened. And though I have received enough trite reassurances that Christ Church has retreated from the politics of power to the politics of the Trinity, I am not reassured by the fact that their policies would only be implemented if they held a majority: there is a reason that our system protects minorities, and this is it.

Until they take genocide and disenfranchisement off the table as options, it's my responsibility not to speak to them, but about them; to see them, insofar as I can, excluded from the spectrum of reasonable debate. It is ridiculous, in the 21st century, that I would have to say this, but banishment is not an equitable compromise between stoning and not stoning, and democracies should not be run by individuals whose goal is the abolition of democracy.
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