- It could have been nothing more than a half-hour rebel yell -- except that Moore is more than the latest prophet of the religious right. He stands a good chance of being the next governor of Alabama; he’s also arguably the single most significant politician to owe his ascendancy to Christian Reconstruction—an obscure but increasingly potent theology whose top exponents hold that Christian crusaders must conquer and convert the world, by the sword if necessary, before Jesus will return.
Moore has never declared himself a Reconstructionist. But he is a frequent orator at gatherings whose organizers are part of the movement. The primary theologians, activists, and websites of Reconstruction laud him as a hero. Moore’s lawyer in the Ten Commandments fight, Herb Titus, is a Reconstructionist, as are many of his most vocal supporters, including Gary DeMar, the organizer of the Restore America rally and the head of American Vision, one of the most prolific publishers of the movement.
Reconstruction is the spark plug behind much of the battle over religion in politics today. The movement's founder, theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, claimed 20 million followers -- a number that includes many who embrace the Reconstruction tenets without having joined any organization. Card-carrying Reconstructionists are few, but their influence is magnified by their leadership in Christian right crusades, from abortion to homeschooling.
Reconstructionists also exert significant clout through front organizations and coalitions with other religious fundamentalists; Baptists, Anglicans, and others have deep theological differences with the movement, but they have made common cause with its leaders in groups such as the National Coalition for Revival. Reconstruction has slowly absorbed, congregation by congregation, the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (not to be confused with the progressive Presbyterian Church [USA]) and has heavily influenced others, notably the Southern Baptists.
[For more on Roy Moore's connections to the extremist right, see here and here. Note that Moore has recently added immigration to the issues his campaign intends to revolve around. Moore also recently attracted support from the neo-Confederate separatist group Christian Exodus, while one of his leading supporters recently renounced his longstanding ties to the neo-Confederate hate group called the Council of Conservative Citizens.]
The Mother Jones piece goes on to explain how Reconstructionists intend to win:
- Reconstructionists aren't shy about what exactly it is they are pursuing: "The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise," Gary North, a top Reconstruction theorist, wrote in his 1989 book, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. "Those who refuse to submit publicly…must be denied citizenship."
We also get a look at what life would be like under Reconstructionist rule:
- Besides facilitating evangelism, Reconstructionists believe, government should largely be limited to building and maintaining roads, enforcing land-use contracts, and ensuring just weights and measures. Unions would not exist, and neither would unemployment benefits, Social Security, and environmental protection laws. Public schools would disappear; one of the movement's great successes has been promoting homeschooling programs and publishing texts used by tens of thousands of homeschooling families. And, perhaps most importantly, the state is "God's minister," as DeMar puts it in Liberty at Risk, "taking vengeance out on those who do evil." A major task for the government key Reconstructionists envision is fielding armies for conquest in the name of Jesus.
Reconstruction's premises may fly in the face of mainstream Christianity, and some of its leaders' beliefs would probably surprise even the movement's own foot soldiers. But what has made the theology such an explosive addition to public life is not its dogma on individual issues so much as its trumpet call to action. This is a faith in which religion is not an influence on politics; it is politics.
The piece also offers an accurate theological assessment of the Reconstructionists, which is important to understanding their role in the larger religious right, and why many traditional fundamentalists continue to resist them, albeit mutedly:
- Traditionally, groups like Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority were "premillennial": They believed that humanity was inevitably headed for Armageddon, which would most likely arrive with a nuclear blast, whereupon Christ would appear in the Second Coming and set things right. "The debate was over whether Brezhnev was the Antichrist," says the University of Georgia's Larson.
Reconstruction's alternative was "postmillennialism": Christ would not return until the church had claimed dominion over government, and most of the world's population had accepted the Reconstruction brand of Christianity. The postmillennial twist offered hope to the pious that they could change things -- as long as they got organized. (Reconstructionists angrily denounce end-times visions like those of Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series: If these are the Last Days, American Vision's website points out, "then why bother trying to fix a broken world that is about to be thrown on the ash heap of history? Why concern ourselves with education, healthcare, the economy, or peace in the Mideast? Why polish brass on a sinking ship?")
For premillennialists, Reconstruction's revolutionary philosophy offered an opportunity to turbocharge the religious right. Most conservative churches opposed abortion, for example, but Reconstruction-influenced groups such as Randall Terry's Operation Rescue were willing to field soldiers and take the fight to the enemy. This not only emboldened activists, it gave Reconstructionists a chance to spread their organizing message: If you want to do God's work, this needs to be God's nation.
Similarly, Baptist morality focused on personal choices, such as avoiding drinking. But Reconstructionists didn't tell believers to shun sin. They said to conquer it, even if the price was jail or martyrdom. Paul Hill, the antiabortion activist executed two years ago for the 1994 murders of abortion clinic workers in Pensacola, Florida, had been a minister in the Reconstruction-dominated Presbyterian Church in America.
And it concludes with a sobering reminder from the leaders of the movement that they do not intend to relent:
- When I last saw Gary DeMar, he was shepherding Roy Moore through a crowd of true believers at the Restore America rally. As they walked by, I asked Moore, "Do you favor a theocracy?" The judge turned and looked at me, shook his head, frowned, and walked away. But DeMar, in our interview, had already answered the question.
"All governments are theocracies," he said. "We now live in a secular humanist theocracy. I want to change that to a government with God at its head."
If you want a marker on just how deeply embedded in the halls of mainstream Republican power Reconstructionists have become, just recall the role Randall Terry and his followers played in the Terri Schiavo controversy.