Beginning in the early 1960s, a Calvinist scholar named Rousas John Rushdoony started a movement called “Christian Reconstruction.” Rushdoony sought to develop a “biblical worldview” in which every aspect of life is governed by biblical law from the Old and New Testaments. The movement has been influential in some very conservative corners of American Christianity, especially the religious right. When journalists and scholars write about Christian Reconstruction, they often focus on extremely controversial views, such as the widespread invocation of the death penalty and a biblical defense of slavery. But the movement’s influence has been obscured by this focus on its most extreme views over many other positions that have become rather mainstream in parts of American Conservatism.
Most homeschoolers are not Christian Reconstructionists. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, Rushdoony argued that education was entirely a family’s responsibility and that any involvement of the civil government was unbiblical. As an expert witness in court, Rushdoony helped develop the legal structure that, today, makes homeschooling parents largely autonomous and unregulated, as a matter of religious freedom.
The Constitution Party
When Tea Partiers threaten to leave the Republican Party, their second choice is often the Constitution Party, which was founded by Reagan-era Christian Right activist (and Rushdoony follower) Howard Phillips and is closely tied to both Ron Paul and Rand Paul. The party’s goals include the “re-establishment” of biblical law as the basis for the American legal system.
Rushdoony argued that all knowledge starts with assumptions that cannot be proven — evolution and creationism are just competing truth claims, and apart from God, they are both equally valid. A recent viral video of a homeschooling mom visiting a Creation museum illustrates the point. She begins claiming that the story presented by the Creation museum is just as believable as evolution. Some transcripts of the video indicate she says “it’s all fake” but what she says is “it’s all faith.” In other words, no one knows any more than anyone else… it’s just a matter of faith.
So-called Christian American history
When David Barton holds seminars (for presidential candidates and members of congress) or works to theologically shape public school textbooks, as he has, he is building on a view of history that Rushdoony advocated in the 1960. In this view, history as social science is fundamentally unbiblical in that it seeks to understand the past in human terms instead of in the context of God’s revelation. It is, in the language of both Rushdoony and Barton, “humanistic.”
The uncompromising character of contemporary political life
There really is a difference in our cultural climate from the days when Ronald Regain and Tip O’Neal managed a collegial friendship despite their differences. Some of that comes from the all-or-nothing character of the conservative wing of the Republican party, which can be traced to the “biblical worldview” promoted by Reconstructionists and rooted in Rushdoony. This worldview holds that neutrality is nothing but a “myth” — that every perspective not rooted in the Bible, as they understand it, is humanistic, anti-biblical, and anti-God. Their “biblical worldview” and all other views are mutually exclusive.
Featured image: “Homeschool table” by Jimmie. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.