On Aug. 6th, Texas Governor Rick Perry switched hats and officiated as Pastor Rick at a Houston spiritual conclave, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.”
At this gathering, Perry offered a four-star performance recalling Elmer Gantry, the lead character in Sinclair Lewis’ 1926 novel and immortalized by Burt Lancaster in Richard Brooks’ 1960 movie adaptation. “Father, our heart breaks for America,” Perry intoned during his 13-minute missive.
Perry’s performance on the 6th was a campaign pre-launch kickoff for his headline-grabbing formal announcement as a Republican candidate for president on the 13th, a strategically-timed countermove to upstage the Iowa straw poll; which, as expected, Rep. Michele Bachmann won. Mitt Romney seems to many to have a lock on the top slot on the 2012 Republican ticket. Perry’s run is a challenge Bachmann for the Number Two position. [see “Praying for Votes: The New Way to Buy an Election.” CounterPunch, July 8-10, 2011.]
As the fallout from the political debt-ceiling charade passes, it becomes increasingly clear that the Tea Party (backed by the Christian right) overplayed its hand. The sad truth of the Washington minuet is obvious: Finance capital won! The banks held the nation hostage (hiding behind politicians who, in turn, hid behind a false reading of the national debt) and got what they wanted, greater leverage over the nation.
For Wall Street and country club Republicans with real power, the supporters of Perry and Bachmann represent corporate capitalism’s most extreme tendency (e.g., the Koch brothers and their ilk). Big-money Republicans, along with their army of lobbyists, seem for now to be backing Romney. He’s a capitalist that corporate power can do business with.
But Mitt is a Mormon. Only with the inclusion of a staunch Evangelical candidate like Perry or Bachmann can the Republicans hold onto their hardcore religious base. The battle between Perry and Bachmann will be over who builds this base.
Of Republican candidates, Perry and Bachmann represent the most extremist tendency within the Christian right. They are stealth operatives for a small but influential tendency within the Christian right, Christian theocrats. These are the Reconstructionists who seek to impose “God’s Law” on America … by any means necessary.
Rumor are circulating that Perry is either a member of or in agreement with this fundamentalist tendency. Bachmann, according to Frank Schaeffer, was deeply influenced by his father, the evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer, a founding theologian of the Reconstructionist movement; she was further indoctrinated in Reconstructionist theology at Oral Roberts University where she received a “Christian” law degree, studying under John Eidsmore. (For a revealing portrait of Bachmann’s theology, see Ryan Lizza’s piece in the August 15 & 22, 2011 New Yorker, “Leap of Faith.”)
Equally sinister, both candidates have ties to the League of the South, a white supremacist, neo-confederate group; the League advocates for a second Christian secession that Perry promoted. Perry is also a member of the neo-confederate group, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
For rightwing Christians, Reconstruction does not refer to the period following the Civil War. Rather, it expresses a peculiar cocktail of fundamentalist Calvinist orthodoxy and extreme Bircher politics that derives from an idiosyncratic interpretation of Biblical text.
Today’s theocrats seek to transform America from an “ostensible” Judeo-Christian/European secular democracy to an “explicit” Old Testament Christian theocracy, in word and deed. For the last four-plus decades, the Christian right has been organizing to take state power and is getting closer with the 2012 presidential election.
Richard Nixon (led by his ideological ventriloquist, Pat Buchanan) launched the Southern Strategy to shift southern white Democratic Christian voters to the Republican party. In the face of the mounting Civil Rights movement, the Republicans played the race card, recruiting voters by defending their white skin privilege. It changed American politics. Since then, the white Christian right has grown increasingly more influential and militant. They came our for George W. Bush, promoted Sarah Palin’s 2008 campaign and are a key strand of the Tea Party movement (which some have dubbed the “Tea-vangelists”).
Now, as momentum for the 2012 election builds, watch out for the Republican candidates, particularly Perry and Buchmann, who preach the gospel of Christian theocracy. Like the Puritans, Know-Nothings and prohibitionists before them, today’s theocrats seek to impose their own version of militant Biblical law on America.
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Unbeknownst to most attendees at Perry’s event, “The Response,” the goal of many of those backing the event, including organizers and speakers, was to replace American democracy with Christian theocracy.
The Response drew speakers from the New Apostolic Reformation movement, reflecting the growing influence of charismatic and Pentecostal tendencies within the Christian right. It run by the International House of Prayer (IHOP), which has nothing to do with pancakes; it is a ministry based in Kansas City run by Mike Bickle that promotes 24/7 worship and prayer sessions. It was backed by American Family Association, a Mississippi-based nonprofit headed by Bryan Fisher that operates a network of 192 radio stations with 2 million followers and vehemently opposes homosexuality; the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a “hate group.”
These and other evangelicals adhere to what is broadly understood as
“Dominion” theology or “theonomy,” a belief that “God’s Law,” drawn from select passages from the Old and New Testaments, gives man predominance over the earth. They site Genesis: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'”
The Reconstructionists take this logic one step further, insisting that the Bible compels them to “rule over” not only the natural world, but all social institutions, including family and government. While ostensibly adhering to the Constitutional separation of church and state at the national level, they believe it does not apply at the state level; Gov. Perry adopted this outlook when he used his official website and letterhead to promote the Response event.
Reconstructionism embraces traditional patriarchal values, most evidently in their assessment of family relations. For them, the husband and father is the head of the family; “his” wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband and family must “submit” to Jesus and Old Testament religious law. This model extends to the rest of the society, including the hierarchical structure of the church and government, which exists to implement God’s laws.
The Reconstructionists date from the late-1940s and have operated through groups like the Latter Rain movement, Joel’s Army, the Manifest Sons of God and the Seven Mountain Mandate. Its “spiritual father” is Cornelius Van Til, a Princeton theologian, who never claimed allegiance to Reconstructionism.
Its leading ideologue is Rousas John Rushdoony who founded the evangelical homeschool movement and developed the concept of the Biblical “case law.” He once wrote: “The only true order is founded on Biblical Law.” He has been assailed for his support of Southern slavery, denial of the Holocaust and opposition to homosexuality and interracial marriage; which says something about his followers’ assessment of President Obama. His most telling, and oft repeated, thesis is: “Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.”
These fundamentalist Calvinists do not embrace Jesus’ example of turning the other cheek or redeeming the fallen. They are ideological and political religious militants. They call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including kidnapping, rape and murder as well as such long-forgotten “Biblical” crimes like adultery, apostasy (abandonment of the faith), astrology, blasphemy, heresy, incest, sodomy (i.e., homosexuality) and witchcraft. They also insist that the death penalty be imposed for incorrigible juvenile delinquency, striking a parent and, in the case of women, breaking “unchastity before marriage.”
Being Biblical purists, they invoke old-fashion methods of inflicting death, including burning at the stake, hanging, stoning and God’s “sword.” For lesser crimes, they call for whipping, indentured servitude and slavery.
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Those advocating for a Christian theocracy today draw on a long line of historical precedent. The nation’s founding brought to the New World many of the most compelling issues of England’s long Civil War, especially over the Enlightenment. Issues of Old World theology dominated much of pre-Revolutionary War America. The struggle to stop religious movements from attempting to control the U.S. government, whether local, state or federal, is the story of how America became a modern, secular nation.
Nevertheless, theocrats strongly believe that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and that this was the “original intent” of the founders. More so, they look to an obscure 1892 Supreme Court decision, Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S., which ruled that the U.S. was a “Christian nation.”
Since the Revolution, Christian theocrats have made two serious attempts to take state power, once in the 1830-1860 period with the Know-Nothing movement and again in the 1890-1930 period over temperance. The first effort was a failure; the second a disaster.
The Christian evangelical Know-Nothing movement grew out of the Second Great Awakening or the Great Revival of the 1830s. It got its name when members where asked their party’s positions and simply said, “I know nothing.”
The Know-Nothings drew together Protestants who felt threatened by the rapid increase in European immigrants and, most especially, Catholics, flooding the cities. They felt that Catholics, as followers of the Pope, were not loyal Americans and were going to take over the country. They had strong support in the North that witnessed large-scale Irish immigration after the 1848 Irish potato famine. Religious intolerance led to numerous anti-Catholics attacks, including the burning of churches, random beatings and killings in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Louisville where 22 people were killed.
Like Christian theocrats today, the Know-Nothings believed in political organizing. In the 1840s, they formed the American Republican Party in New York which spread nationally as the Native American Party and, finally in the mid-’50s, was renamed the American Party. It captured the Massachusetts legislature in 1854 and, in 1856, backed Millard Fillmore for president, who secured nearly 1 million votes, a quarter of all votes cast. The movement collapsed in the face of the Civil War.
A second campaign by militant theocrats arose in the 1880s and gained national traction in the struggle to impose temperance. The Women’s Christian Temperance League and the Anti-Saloon League spearheaded this effort. It culminated in the passage of the 18th Amendment and the 13 years of Prohibition; it collapsed in the face of the Depression, World War II and the post-War “American Century.”
Militant theocrats are back. Reconstructions are a scary, anti-democratic tendency among fundamentalist Christians. Invoking “Biblical law,” they call for the death penalty as well as individual slavery (although not racially based) and the introduction of personal restitution as a form of punishment.
Going further, they advocate a “Christian libertarian” economic philosophy characterized by an end to federal regulation of businesses, public education or welfare. You are on your own! In addition, they plan on reducing personal income taxes to no more than 10 percent of gross income and the end to inheritance and gift taxes. This, they believe will end or significantly reduce government debt. They also want to end the Federal Reserve and restore a gold- and silver-based monetary system. Under such a government, there will be an end to minimum-wage laws and Social Security will be replace by personal retirement plans or seniors will be cared for by adult children. They will restrict “usury” to loans (including home mortgages) to no longer than seven years.
They also advocate an aggressive Christian foreign policy with national defense serving to realize a world under “God’s law.”
Christian theocrats have, over the last four decades, moved aggressively to, first, influence and, second, attempt to seize state power. Between the presidencies of Nixon and Bush I, their role was as an increasingly more powerful influence. They were emboldened by the election of two Baptists from the south, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, sadly Democrats. The election of Bush II (who proclaimed the invasion of Iraq a “crusade,” a nod to his fundamentalist followers) and the campaign of Sarah Palin brought them closer to power. (Bush II is a born-again Methodist.)
According to Frank Schaffer, “This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” Which explains why the theocrats rail so vehemently against fundamentalist Islam: they are mirror-images of each other.
Watch the upcoming 2012 election carefully, very carefully.
David Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.