Christian Reconstructionism

From: Charles Sumner

Excerpt from an article on Christian Reconstructionism which recently appeared on the PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU mailing list.

Christian Reconstructionism
Religious Right Extremism Gains Influence

by Frederick Clarkson

Christian Historical Revisionism

Part of the Reconstructionist worldview 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 U.S. 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 other somehow 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 is an article of faith, what appear as facts to everyone else fall before the compelling evidence of faith. Whatever does not fit neatly into a "Biblical worldview" becomes problematic, perhaps a delusion sent by Satan.

The invocation 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 disetablishment of churches as official power brokers, and the establishment of the principle 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 Christianity in 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 U.S.) 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 religious pluralism."

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 contemporary politics.