I have spent little time reading about reconstructionists, except to understand that they're a bit on the loony side. Just how nuts, I was not aware. Of especial interest is the commentary on North's affinity for stoning as punishment for crimes. Talk about fostering a sense of community, I guess that could be an advantage of stoning. So without further ado, thanks to Ed, for making clear he wouldn't sue me for copyright infringment, for the repost.
Ed Brayton is a freelance writer and speaker. He is the co-founder of Michigan Citizens for Science and The Panda's Thumb. He has written for such publications as The Bard, Skeptic and Reports of the National Center for Science Education, spoken in front of many organizations and conferences, and appeared on nationally syndicated radio shows and on C-SPAN. (static)
I was having a discussion with the pastor of a relatively liberal (in both the theological and political sense) Christian church in Lansing recently and I asked him if he was familiar with the Okemos Christian Center. He replied that he was not. I was a bit surprised that he was unaware of this fast growing congregation, also known as the Living Water Church of God, that had made the local newspapers as a result of its lawsuit against Meridian Township for denying a permit to build a new 35,000 square foot facility that would house a Christian school for nearly 300 students. I was not surprised, however, at his reaction when I mentioned that I had brought them up because they are a reconstructionist church; his eyes got big and he was clearly a bit taken aback by this news as he simply muttered, "Wow...."
In order to understand the pastor's reaction, we must first ask the obvious question: what is reconstructionism? This term is often used interchangeably with other terms like dominionism, theonomy and theocracy. Let me offer two definitions at two different levels of analysis.
Longer, more detailed definition: Reconstructionism is a particular type of reformed, or Calvinistic, theology that is based primarily on the work or RJ Rushdoony, who drew on the work of Cornelius Van Til. Theologically, it is defined as presuppositionalist (meaning they argue from the position that no argument can be coherent without being based in Christian epistemology), post-millenialist (meaning they believe that Christ will only return after the establishment of genuinely Christian societies on Earth through massive conversion of the population, and theonomist, meaning that they believe in establishing God's rule as a matter of law.
Shorter, simpler definition: Reconstructionism is the belief that the Bible should determine the civil and criminal law of the nation.
It's also important, I think, to spell out what reconstructionsts are not, or perhaps more accurately, to distinguish between what we might call the mainstream religious right and the Christian reconstructionists. Your average religious right follower of, say, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, are likely not reconstructionists. They may refer to the Bible in order to support their political views on gay rights, for example, but that alone does not make them reconstructionists for two reasons.
First, because most of the religious right is premillenialist, not postmillenialist; that is, they believe that Christians will be raptured (taken up to heaven) before the terrible end time events happen; reconstructionists, as mentioned above, are postmillenialist and believe that they must work to establish Christian rule on Earth before the end times can begin. Second, because even most of the rank and file followers of religious right ministers like Falwell and Robertson would not accept the establishment of the entire Mosaic law in this country. They may look to the Bible to support their views on some legal issues, but they won't go as far as to institute the death penalty for the vast array of things the Old Testament commands.
It should also be noted that reconstructionists do not advocate any sort of coup or violent overthrow of society. They take a very long term view of how society is to be reconstructed and they view evangelization as the primary means of achieving their goals. Their goal is to convince enough people to believe as they do that they will eventually be in the majority and in a position to pass laws that will create a Biblical theocracy in the United States. As the Okemos Christian Center website says:
The Christian 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. We therefore believe fervently in Christian civilization. We firmly believe in the separation of church and state, but not the separation of the state-or anything else-from God. We are not revolutionary; We do not believe in the militant, forced overthrow of human government. We have infinitely more powerful weapons than guns and bombs-We have the invincible spirit of God, the infallible word of God, and the incomparable gospel of God, none of which can fail.
Let us not, however, make too much of this. That is simply a matter of means, not ends; and it is the ends they seek that should be feared by anyone who values freedom. Theocracy is the polar opposite of a liberal democratic society that values individual rights and the reconstructionists don't hide their intention to use the means of democracy to acheive their goal of destroying the very idea of a pluralistic and free society. Gary North, one of the most influential Christian reconstructionist leaders, minced no words in a 1982 article:
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.
The notion that there is no neutrality, no pluralism, is a key idea in reconstructionism. From their perspective, a society is either Godly or anti-God, period. If a nation does not follow the Biblical law, they are condemned by God. Imagine for a moment the sort of society we would become should they succeed. Homosexuals would be stoned to death (Leviticus 18:22). So would women who are not virgins on their wedding day, blasphemers, heretics, witches and a whole host of others.
Indeed, stoning is advocated with disturbing glee by North, who wrote an article listing enough reasons why we should start stoning criminals again to make the Taliban beam with pride. First, he noted, "the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost." Well that's fiscally conservative, I suppose, but more importantly he liked how it brought communities together, noting that "executions are community projects--not with spectators who watch a professional executioner do `his' duty, but rather with actual participants." But he's just warming up. Finally, he says, "by far the most important reason is that stoning is literally a means of crushing the murderer's head by means of a rock, which is symbolic of God. This is analogous to the crushing of the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. This symbolism testifies to the final victory of God over all the hosts of Satan."
The Okemos Christian Center has close ties to North and to Rushdoony, the founder of the reconstructionist movement. Pastor Craig Dumont has written articles for the Chalcedon Foundation, the most influential reconstructionist organization in the country. He was a senior fellow with the Center for Cultural Leadership, run by reconstructionist pastor Andrew Sandlin. The Center frequently brings in reconstructionists, including Gary DeMar, Sandlin and many others, to speak.
Perhaps most disturbing is that Rep. Mike Rogers sent a letter last year (see it reproduced here) praising the Okemos Christian Center on its 15th anniversary. In that letter he praised them as a "bright light of hope and faith" and a "shining example of caring for others." He further praised them for their "fiften years of ministry and promoting God's word and for being "an example to people everywhere that that a commitment to God and ministry can overcome the perils of the world."
Pastor Craig DuMont of the Okemos Christian Center was invited several times to respond to questions and to state his beliefs in his own words. He agreed to an email interview and was sent a list of questions. Three times over the course of several weeks he promised to answer them, but apparently decided not to do so. Calls to Rep. Rogers' office went unreturned as well.Of further interest, was this article in Reason linked by a commenter on the original posting. I also recommend clicking over to the comments there.