Monday, April 25, 2016

Reluctantly Remembering Rushdoony

It was 100 years ago that Seinan Gakuin was founded as a small school for junior high boys in Fukuoka City, Japan. June and I have just arrived in Japan to see old friends and to participate in the centennial activities of Seinan Gakuin. I will share ightmore about those events next month.
It was also 100 years ago, on April 25, 1916, that a baby was born in New York City and given the name Rousas John Rushdoony. His parents were recently arrived Armenian immigrants, having fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915. His ancestors had lived for generations in a remote area near Mount Ararat.
R.J. Rushdoony followed his father and many of his ancestors into the ministry. He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1944 and later transitioned to the more conservative Orthodox Presbyterian denomination.
In the early 1950s, Rushdoony became a reader of, and then a contributor to, the Christian libertarian magazine Faith and Freedom, which advocated an “anti-tax, non-interventionist, anti-statist economic model” in opposition to FDR’s New Deal.
Rushdoony moved to Los Angeles in 1965 and founded the Chalcedon Foundation. The monthly Chalcedon Report, which Rushdoony edited, began appearing in October of that year. In the early 1970s his daughter Sharon married Gary North (b. 1942), an economic historian. Rushdoony and his son-in-law worked together, and later separately, on what is known as Christian Reconstructionism.

Rushdoony’s major work, and the foundational book for Reconstructionism, is his 890-page book The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973). His key ideas of theocracy (“government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided,” according to Merriam-Webster) and theonomy (rule by God’s law) are found in that book.
Rushdoony’s ideas are also known as Dominionism, the belief that Christians following God’s law should have dominion over civil affairs. As puts it “Dominionists are, for all intents and purposes, the literal Christian equivalent of Islamists demanding Sharia law.”
“Dominion Theology” is succinctly explained in Sara Diamond’s authoritative book Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (1995). (See especially pages 246-9.)
A recent and also notable book on the subject is Michael J. McVicar’s Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (2015). In it also there is a brief section titled “Dominion Theology” (pp. 197-201).
As noted in these two books, Rushdoony’s greatest influence was in the late 1970s and 1980s. I briefly wrote about him and his influence in my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (see pp. 48-51). That influence was seen in his contact with Pat Robertson (and his appearances on Robertson’s “700 Club”), with Jerry Falwell, and with Francis Schaeffer, who, to his credit, later repudiated the Reconstructionist movement.
While his influence may not be as great now as it was 30 years ago, neither is it negligible. Among current right-wing politicians, perhaps Sen. Ted Cruz has, partly through his father, been most influenced by Rushdoony’s view of Christianity.
In Christian Nation, the dystopian novel that I wrote about on Feb. 14 (see here), Rushdoony is mentioned repeatedly.
So, because of his historical significance as a “mover and shaker” of the Christian Right, R.J. Rushdoony is someone who needs to be remembered on this 100th anniversary of his birth. But I remember him reluctantly because of the justifiably negative reactions toward the kind of Christianity he espoused and for his failure to have a more enlightened view of God, the Bible, and the responsibility of Christians in the world.


  1. I have met the type. Whether left or right or other, they are scary. Politics and religion do not mix well. But neither does the anti-religious cult of secularism.

    But I am grateful for those in politics who humbly seek God.

    1. Yes, there are "fundamentalists" on both the left and the right. But I don't know of there being any except on the right, such as Rushdoony, who advocate stoning people to death. And it seems that he did not want to just mix politics and religion. Rather, he wanted his religious views to control politics.

    2. Judging by the statements of former friends who have gone extreme left, I don't think we are that far away from that. We have seen this with the disciples of left-wing "Christians" in other countries, both facsist and anarchist, starting peaceful and turning violent. The right-wing is just as scary, starting tolerant but becoming violent. It's not just the history of Christianity, but of religion and politics in general. Just the other day I was listening on EWTN Radio to the recounting of the intentionally violent ways of the Jesuits in the last century - personal family history and that of friends with the Society of "Jesus" is a prime reason I would never become Roman Catholic. Most people have good points, but sadly there is also an evil streak in most. Organized groups are the same way - and enjoy finding ways to justify their evil, even in the name of "Christ".

      Just give me the average people working and struggling to get by in life, who appreciate the friendship of those who are friendly.

      (PS - My current spiritual mentor, a Catholic priest, says that one should not throw the baby out with the bath water, even if it is horribly vile. He is right, but it is certainly easy to choke on that water.)

      Cynical by experience and observation. Grateful that it is not most.

    3. God, please change them and us, into followers of the four great love commandments of Christ.

  2. Leroy, Thanks for this important theological history lesson. We academicians often ignore those on the right who have had far more influence than our heroes and heroines. Blessings to you and June in your trip to Japan.

    1. Thanks, Michael, for your good wishes.

      Yes, it is hard to see the whole picture of everything. And I think you are right: what we study and teach in colleges and seminaries are not necessarily the same things that a lot of people in the conservative/evangelical churches are sometimes greatly influenced by.

  3. I would like to think that Rushdoony's influence in conservative evangelical life, and politics, is on the wane, but am not so sure. But for now, I hope you and June have a wonderful visit in Japan.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Bruce. And I appreciate your good wishes also.

      While I tend to agree that Rushdoony's influence has been weakening over the last two or three decades, it is hard to tell. And as I indicated in the article, if Sen. Cruz becomes the Rep. presidential candidate, we may see Rushdoony's influence increasing later this year.

  4. Thanks for your sharing of the knowledge. We have many friends in Fukuoka, but too many to ask you say hello. In Kumamoto, earthquake hit the city and the people. I called Korean Church there and talked to the pastor. He said, no one in the church was hurt. But the damages are great. I promised our prayers for them.

    1. Thanks for writing, Ed. We will likely see people in Fukuoka that you know, but we may not know that they know you. -- Glad no one in the Korean church in Kumamoto was injured, but many probably have suffered property damage. We join you in praying for them.

  5. Here are significant comments by local Thinking Friend, and good persona friend, Charlie Broomfield:

    "Thanks for bringing to the attention of your readers yet another very dangerous Right-Wing Religionist, Mr. Rousas John Rushdoony.

    "While Rushdoony has passed his time on this earth, his ideas and cultish theology remains, and, a bit contrary to your statement that “his influence may not be as great now as it was 30 years ago,” I would argue quite the opposite. His radical theology may be today, one of the strongest religious right influences in the country and the followers of that radical theology are far greater, and more powerful than most Americans, even Christians, realize.

    "Additionally, it appears that numerous local and national Right-Wing politicians adhere to Rushdoony’s teachings. Those include former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, current Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and many others. I am positive that a thorough review of the 40 or 50 Tea Party Congressional people would indicate that many of them embrace Rushdoony’s teachings, not to mention thousands of state legislators across the country.

    "Although things are not going so well for Ted Cruz at this moment, he still appears to be the top choice of most mainline Republicans and should he get the nomination, he and many of his 'value' voters support the Rushdoony philosophy. Furthermore, they have a political machine vastly superior to any other political machine in the country, and if he is not a Rushdoonian, he certainly fits the mold.

    "I speak here of the approximately 117,000 evangelical/fundamentalist and Catholic churches across America. Knowledgeable sources estimate that there may be as many as 100 million such 'believers.' You might remember that we have spoken about these numbers and this subject before. The 117,000 church number comes from Faith and Freedom Coalition leader Ralph Reed.

    "Indeed, as you suggest, ”Rushdoony is someone who needs to be remembered on this 100th anniversary of his birth,” but I would urge even more, that he be remembered for what his radical fundamentalist Christian philosophy has done to American politics and religion.

    "Finally, permit me to add an additional insight to your valuable blog bringing Rushdoony to our attention.

    "It is a fact that Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer seem to have had a mutual admiration for each other, at least for a while, and eventually they parted ways. However after they parted ways, Schaeffer apparently became even more radical than Rushdoony. He even began to suggest that Christians consider overthrowing the federal government.

    "In fact, he states on page 106 of A CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO the following: 'When discussing force it is important to keep an axiom in mind: always before protest or force is used, we mush work for reconstruction. In other words, we should attempt to correct and rebuild society before we advocate tearing it down or disrupting it.'

    "Don’t know about you, but this kind of language sounds pretty close to sedition and/or treason to me. As a matter of fact, I think Frank Schaeffer, Francis’s son, recently made reference to such terms regarding his father.

    "By the way, may I suggest another religious order that you might consider telling your readers about. Vast numbers of Americans, both religious and non-religious are ignorant of our local chapter of the International House of Prayer. Strong evidence can be found to indicate that this group too, harbors strong beliefs closely related to Rushdoony’s ideas of RECONSTRUCTIONISM and DOMINIONISM."

    1. Thanks, Charlie, for your significant comments about R.J. Rushdoony and related matters.

      I take seriously what you say about Rushdoony's influence, but I stand by what I wrote. Trump has received far more votes than Cruz, but Trump certainly doesn't seem to show direct influence from Rushdoony, and surely most who have been influenced by Rushdoony would not vote for Trump.

      As I indicated, if Cruz becomes the Rep. candidate, we will see and hear more about Rushdoony's influence. I will certainly write more about Rushdoony's ideas and influence if Cruz does become the candidate, but that is looking more and more unlikely.

  6. Charles Kiker here: Regardless of what happens to Cruz, I think Charlie Broomfield's comments are appropriate. Certainly Gov. Brownback is in the Rushdoonian camp. And "religious liberty" legislation in various states allowing discrimination for personal religious convictions. We have not heard the last of Cruz. If Trump is nominated as seems more and more likely, and is soundly defeated, as also seems likely, Cruz will likely be a serious contender in 2020. I think there is much to fear from Rushdoonianism in its various manifestations.

  7. Writing the day after Cruz dropped out of the race, my friend David Gushee has written an article saying that this is evidence that the influence of the Religious Right has decreased. The link is here: