This investigation sheds new light on the confrontational stance the religious right has taken toward contemporary America by examining the nature and origins of its highly charged ideas. It traces its belief system, commonly called the "Christian Worldview," to four Christian thinkers (Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Rousas John Rushdoony, and Francis Schaeffer) known for their anti-modernist, authoritarian, and in some cases, openly theocratic ideas. Although virtually unknown to most Americans, these men have been treated like patron saints by the religious right. Their ideas, seriously discussed within the movement and codified in Christian Worldview documents during the 1980s, have been widely disseminated to followers through textbooks and seminars, evolving over time into standard talking points. The book then examines how the ideology buttresses the movement's controversial, right-wing agenda. It explores how the Christian Worldview advances a concept of “total truth” that is unique to biblical Christians and enables them to redefine freedom, law, government, and even history and science, in their own infallible terms. A vision for the future and plan of action are formed on the basis of these certainties. The book concludes by discussing the danger the ideology poses to pluralist society and offers intelligent ways of confronting it.
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About the Author
James C. Sanford is a historian, professor, bookseller, editor, blogger, and political commentator with a focus on the thinking and influence of the Christian Right. He is the author of Great Freethinkers. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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Blueprint for Theocracy
The Christian Right's Vision for America
By James C. Sanford
Metacomet BooksCopyright © 2014 James C. Sanford
All rights reserved.
MOVEMENT ON A MISSION
A Sleeping Giant Awakes
In May 1979, Robert Billings, a Washington-based lobbyist for Christian causes, arranged a meeting between several Republican political operatives and an up-and-coming Baptist televangelist by the name of Jerry Falwell. The strategy session was to take place in Falwell's hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell had made "The Old Time Gospel Hour" something of a brand name on TV stations around the country, and his emphasis on pro-family issues had made him a moral beacon for conservative evangelicals. The political trio that came to meet with him — Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, and Richard Viguerie — were three of the biggest "movers and shakers" of the New Right. What they had in mind was a way of getting Christian evangelicals involved in the political process and bringing them under the GOP tent. Up to that time, the right wing of the Republican Party mostly consisted of Goldwater conservatives whose bread-and-butter issues were fighting communism and defending free market capitalism. Christian Protestant evangelicals represented a large demographic group that was still politically inexperienced and uncommitted (a large number of evangelicals actually voted for Jimmy Carter, the Democratic presidential candidate, in 1976). If the GOP could respond to some of their concerns, they seemed a winnable constituency for the Republican cause.
When the three men, who were joined by conservative activist Ed McAteer, gathered in Lynchburg to talk to Jerry Falwell, they were armed with ideas. Convinced that Christian moral and cultural issues should be addressed in the coming election, they suggested the creation of a new organization to make the case to the Republican Party and the American electorate. Paul Weyrich came up with the phrase "moral majority," soon to become the group's official title. Falwell was to be the public face of the organization, while Robert Billings, a close associate of Weyrich, was to serve as its executive director. Thus was born the organization most closely associated with the rise of the Religious Right in modern-day America. Falwell established Moral Majority Inc. on June 6, 1979, and soon turned it into a household word. After setting up 50 state chapters within months, he took to the airwaves with four priorities: to be pro-life, pro-family, pro-morality, and pro-America. When Ronald Reagan's presidential candidacy was assured in the spring of 1980, Falwell went to battle for the Republican ticket. He traveled back and forth across the country pitching his message to fellow ministers, urging them to get their pastoral flocks to the voting booths. As it turned out, his Moral Majority, by mobilizing the evangelical community, contributed substantially to Reagan's lopsided victory.
The major role played by the new Christian voting block caught many political observers off guard. The Moral Majority's organizational prowess together with its brash, confrontational style spelled the emergence of a new kind of force on the American scene. Politics in the United States would never be quite the same again. The public impact of the Christian Right in the coming years would qualify it as "one of the most successful political and social movements of modern times, arguably in American history," according to veteran journalist Frederick Clarkson. The conditions behind the movement's emergence were not accidental. Although Jerry Falwell and some GOP operatives initially lit the fuse, there was flammable material in ready supply. At the center of the combustible pile was a constituency not normally prominent in national politics — Protestant evangelicals — with a long list of grievances and priorities.
Who were these evangelicals and what is remarkable, if at all, about their entry into politics? Evangelicals, by one useful definition, are those who believe in the unique authority of the Bible and the importance of a "life-transforming" faith in Jesus Christ as a way toward personal salvation. They attend church faithfully, emphasize spiritual renewal, and generally hold traditional values on social issues. Within these general parameters, however, evangelicals are actually quite diverse both religiously and otherwise. Included among their ranks are traditional fundamentalists, neo-evangelicals, Reformed Christians, Pentecostals, and charismatics, to name just a few groups. While all of them are faithful to the Bible, their interpretation of Scripture and general orientation can differ significantly. As in any population group, attitudes vary widely according to factors like class, education, and geography. On the other hand, there is no denying that respect for tradition and authority tends to find expression in conservative opinions. Many evangelical Christians, moreover, come from rural and small-town backgrounds and hold negative views about modern, urban life. It is thus not too remarkable that so many evangelicals identify with the traditional, moralistic message of the Religious Right and vote Republican.
While most evangelicals lean toward political conservatism, history shows that this predilection does not inevitably translate into political involvement. Until recently, in fact, evangelicals tended to be less involved in public issues than most other groups. Nineteenth century revivalism, the ancestor of today's evangelicalism, gave rise to a very personal sort of religion in which saving souls took priority over reforming the earthly kingdom. After the Civil War, premillennialism — the belief that Christ would soon return to usher in a new millennium — became popular with many believers, predisposing them to wait for the Second Coming rather than get involved in worldly affairs. These religious attitudes persevered with some vigor through the twentieth century. Evangelicals' lack of interest in taking on current issues was reinforced by their hostility towards liberal mainline Protestants, whom they condemned for making peace with the modern world. Liberal Protestants' social activism, a form of mission to the world often called the "social gospel," met with general suspicion from traditional evangelicals.
The one modern instance when many evangelicals clearly shed their reluctance to engage in national politics was the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s. World War I and its aftermath brought many cultural issues to a head and led to an anti-modernist, anti-evolutionist crusade. That movement reached a climax with the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925, when a Tennessee teacher was tried and fined for teaching evolution in a public school. The trial captured the attention of the national media and brought unfavorable publicity and ridicule to the fundamentalist cause. The repeal in 1933 of Prohibition, a cause in which they had invested much energy, was another blow to evangelicals, leading to further disillusionment with public involvement. Accordingly, many evangelicals voluntarily withdrew from electoral politics to tend to private and spiritual concerns. Not until Communism became perceived as a threat to American society in the post-World War II era did evangelicals gradually begin to show a renewed interest in political life.
What increasingly affected evangelicals' public consciousness during the Cold War period, however, was not so much the emergence of an international enemy as the intrusion of national events into their daily lives. Nothing, for instance, made them more aware of political realities than federal policies on education. The local school was a central focus for evangelicals because they saw it as an extension of the home in inculcating moral and social values. It also stood as the guardian of a stable social order, which, at least in the South, preserved racial separation. The Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision outlawing school segregation shook traditional white communities like an earthquake, inaugurating a long struggle between local and federal authorities on school policy. Moreover, by the early 1960s, values issues were combining with racial issues to create further grounds for discontent. Supreme Court rulings prohibiting government-sponsored prayers and devotional Bible reading in public schools angered religious traditionalists wishing to preserve the vestiges of a Protestant Christian moral order. Such rulings often led to efforts to circumvent the public schools, notably the establishment of a large number of private Christian academies. The long-term political consequences of these educational flashpoints cannot be overestimated, especially since resentments could be ignited at any time. Paul Weyrich maintains, with some justification, that the Carter administration was responsible for "launching the Christian Right" in 1978 by moving to revoke the tax-exempt status of Christian private schools that had not shown sufficient evidence of racial integration. Evangelicals took the IRS stance as equivalent to an attack on their way of life.
Social grievances about education were augmented by a more general discontent over the state of American society. During the 1960s, American TV watchers witnessed movements of mass protest, challenges to traditional authority, and the embrace of unconventional life styles. Two political assassinations in the late 1960s were followed by the last throes of the Nixon administration, the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and American defeat in Vietnam. Newly conscious segments of the populace seeking a voice, notably women and minority groups, alarmed traditionalists who felt threatened by changes in roles and relationships. The old Protestant establishment itself seemed to be on shaky ground. Americans were becoming more religiously diverse because of a decline in overall Christian affiliation. Popular skepticism, unfamiliar religions, and New Age beliefs were on the upswing. All of these tendencies distressed many who stood for the old Christian moral principles.
Political issues relating to gender and family also provided fuel for conservative dissatisfaction. Significantly, evangelical Protestants followed the cue of conservative Catholics on many issues. Key among them was the Equal Rights Amendment, intended to end discrimination against women, which was passed by the U.S. Senate in 1972 and sent to the state legislatures for ratification. Opponents took to the offensive, portraying the Amendment as a feminist attempt to subvert the traditional American family. Phyllis Schlafly, the Catholic head of the rightist Eagle Forum, led the campaign opposing the Amendment throughout the 1970s, shrewdly reaching out to Protestants across the country and assembling a broad coalition. It was one of the first times that conservative Catholics and Protestants were able to cooperate on an issue of national magnitude and overcome their traditional animosity.
A similar pattern of Catholic initiative and Catholic-Protestant cooperation occurred on what was to become a defining issue for the Religious Right: abortion. The Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973), allowing abortion under certain circumstances, brought early conservative Catholic opposition. Protestant evangelicals at first were largely indifferent to the issue. Jerry Falwell, for example, never emphasized abortion in his sermons until as late as 1978. There is evidence to suggest that the initial lack of interest sprang from anti-Catholic bias. At any rate, several influential evangelicals who came to see abortion in expressly biblical terms began promoting the pro-life position in editorials and at conferences. Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical preacher, and C. Everett Koop, a prominent pediatrician, contributed significantly to bringing the issue to the fore. The two collaborated on the anti-abortion book and film, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979), which saw widespread circulation in the evangelical community. By the time of the formation of Moral Majority, abortion had become an issue that could energize evangelicals.
Throughout this period, evangelicals were clearly becoming concerned with the direction of the country. The question was whether their concern could be converted into active worldly engagement. What they still seemed to lack was the self-confidence and awareness necessary for firm political commitment. A religion-based political movement required a theology that defined dramatically what one was fighting for and against in the secular realm. To achieve cohesion and purpose, a more robust form of Christianity was needed. It just so happened that such a strain began to emerge in the late 1970s at the very time that political tensions were mounting. The agent responsible for introducing it to the evangelical world was the same pastor who helped to publicize the abortion issue: Francis Schaeffer.
Francis Schaeffer was a preacher steeped in orthodoxy, yet with a surprising maverick streak. On the one hand, his doctrinaire seminary training and fidelity to Scripture seemed to fit him for a typical fundamentalist ministry. But Schaeffer was more adventuresome than most. In the mid-1950s, he left the United States to established a Christian study center in the heart of apostate Europe at l'Abri, Switzerland, opening his doors to any wandering souls who would listen to his message. Known for his goatee and knickers, Schaeffer seemed to savor his unusual perch outside the mainstream. He made a career of listening to the young and guiding them through their spiritual troubles, bringing God's word to a generation of world-traveling American baby boomers. He saw his role as introducing Christians, many of them lapsed or doctrinally naïve, to a biblical framework for interpreting the prevailing culture.
Schaeffer offered a disturbing diagnosis. American society was on a downward curve, he warned, infected by such human plagues as abortion, sexual promiscuity, drugs, relativism, secular education, judicial activism, genetic engineering, and government overreach. The great enemy was humanism, the man-oriented philosophy responsible for all that was wrong with American society. For Schaeffer, nothing short of a national campaign against humanism was needed to halt America's inexorable drift toward Gomorrah. America needed to return to what he believed were its religious foundations, embodied in the values of orthodox, Protestant Christianity. Such a drastic turnaround required a strong commitment by Christians to change the culture and instill a biblical point of view.
Schaeffer did not underestimate the obstacles faced in reaching such goals. To combat secular forces, he realized that biblical Christians needed a comprehensive approach that was doctrinally consistent and uncompromising, and that could answer the enemy on every front. It needed to provide a proper basis for thought and action including a vision of what a revived Christian society should look like. It was in this context that he advanced a Christian Worldview as the answer to the so-called worldview of humanism.
Schaeffer's talk of opposing worldviews and spiritual conflict caught the attention of conservative evangelicals at a time when they were in need of a unifying theme. His message came across as combative, yet authoritative, while his willingness to discuss broader intellectual issues enhanced his reputation as a thinker with gravitas. Under his influence, a large number of apolitical evangelicals, realizing their renunciation of public involvement was getting them nowhere, began to evolve into Christian activists. By the late 1970s and early '80s, Schaeffer had become a traveling celebrity in evangelical circles, appearing frequently on Pat Robertson's 700 Club TV program and at Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, among other venues. His videos on abortion and cultural crisis were widely circulated, and his book A Christian Manifesto(1981) was hailed by Falwell as "probably the most important piece of literature in America today." Schaeffer's writings in turn inspired some of the best selling publications on the Religious Right, including Tim LaHaye's alarmist tract, The Battle for the Mind (1980) and John Whitehead's equally controversial The Second American Revolution (1982). In just a few years the groundwork had been laid for a new kind of political rhetoric and activism. A sense of mission was coming into focus for the Religious Right: a mission to transform America.
Politics of the Righteous
Ronald Reagan's triumph in 1980 provided just the sort of encouragement Schaeffer's Christian soldiers needed: it offered them the promise of political change and a central role to play. With a president who seemed to be openly sympathetic to their values, biblical Christians had real hopes of curbing so-called humanistic excesses. They now believed Schaeffer's call to "roll back" the enemy's worldview to be a realizable goal. Rather than being a simple vehicle of protest, they had hopes of serving as an agent of transformation.
The realities of national politics, of course, required some getting used to. If Christian activists entered the political arena believing they could win a quick battle of worldviews, they were in for some disappointment. The terrain in Washington was more complex than the pulpit politics they were familiar with, and they now had to reckon with events and forces beyond their control. Before long, their image of their own power had to be roughly revised. It came as a rude surprise to find themselves in the role of supplicants rather than doers or facilitators. Nonetheless, the movement's leaders were motivated and willing to learn. If their experience during and after the Reagan administration turned out to be less fulfilling than frustrating, they were still able to convert their disappointments into practical knowledge. Strategic disagreements among themselves and the frictions attending them were part of that learning process. Their time in Washington is thus a tale of their gradual mastery of the system. When the winds blew strongly in their favor during the George W. Bush years, they were prepared to cash in on their years of experience.
Excerpted from Blueprint for Theocracy by James C. Sanford. Copyright © 2014 James C. Sanford. Excerpted by permission of Metacomet Books.
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Table of Contents
Part I Militant Christianity
1 Movement on a Mission 13
A Sleeping Giant Awakes 13
Politics of the Righteous 20
Abortion and the Duty to Disobey 31
Reforming the Culture 37
Cosmic Dimensions 47
Part II Christian Worldview in the Making
2 The Answer to Modernism 53
3 Credo: Every Square Inch for God 59
John Calvin: Will over Reason 59
Abraham Kuyper: Antithesis 68
Cornelius Van Til: The Circular Defense 76
4 Blueprint: God's Law 83
Christian Reconstructionism 83
R. J. Rushdoony & Co.: Apostles of a New Paradigm 87
The Enemy: Human Autonomy 97
The Antidote: Biblical Law 105
Reconstructing Society 109
Legacy of a Movement 116
5 Mission: Reclaiming America 121
Francis Schaeffer: A Call to Action 121
The Dominionist Urge 124
The Battle for Hearts and Minds 131
Part III Christian Worldview in Action
6 Christian Jihad 141
Targeting the Enemy 141
Framing Culture War 150
7 Total Truth 157
Theistic Facts 157
Theistic Realism vs. Science 161
Providential History vs. History 173
8 The Coming Kingdom 185
Christian Libertarianism and the War on Babel 185
Biblical Economics and Biblical Responsibility 191
Law and Theocracy 201
9 A Proper Diagnosis 211