Reconstruction is a Calvinist, thenonomic/theocratic trend in theology that teaches that god’s law (i.e. Biblical Law) is to be the law of the land. Theologian R.J. Rushdoony, who published a massive set of volumes called ‘The Institutes of Biblical Law,” is widely considered to be the father of the Reconstruction movement, as well as the Christian homeschooling movement.
Rushdoony was very influential in the religious right of the 1970s and 1980s and worked closely with some of the central figures in that time period, including Gary North, Francis Sheaffer, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others. Rushdoony and his doctrines were also heavily influential in both the Southern and Southwestern Baptist Seminaries. More recent adherents who have espoused his ideas (though not always by name) include Matt Barber and Kevin Swanson, both also known for their extreme anti-gay views and dominionist stance.
Rushdoony’s work is also carried on by the institute he founded, the Chalcedon Foundation (CF), which was subsequently run by his son-in-law, Gary North. The Chalcedon Foundation is a well-funded theological and cultural think-tank whose name refers to the Council of Chalcedon, which in 451 A.D. proclaimed the state’s subservience to God. In addition to founding CF, Rushdoony was also a founding member of the Council for National Policy (CFP), a right-wing policy think-tank whose current members include Betsy Devos, Stephen Bannon, KellyAnne Conway, and a host of other right-wing politicians and public figures.
Reconstruction refers to the restoration of a Biblical kingdom, formed under Biblical principles, with the law of Torah as its sole form of law. According to Rushdoony, all forms or systems of law, which he calls ‘law orders,’ are essentially religious, even secular law. Therefore, “the only true order is founded on Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion.” In other words, whoever makes the law is the ‘god’ of society, so if a law code is not purely and only Biblical law, as it was written by god, it’s essentially the worship of a false god, and is a false, anti-Christian religion.
Not surprisingly, he sees such non-Christian forms of law to be antagonistic to Christianity. By their very existence, they are in fact ‘at war’ with Christianity: “every law-order is in a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare.” In other words, secular law is in a state of war with Christianity.
Rushdoony’s overall political view might be described as an extreme cousin of libertarianism, as he claims that the sole role of the federal government is national defense. All other functions are to be carried out at the lowest possible level of governance, preferably county government. Reconstruction also holds that government has no role in providing a social safety net; all such concerns are to be handled by churches or individuals moved to charity by God.
So what does this mean in real-world terms? Well, it depends on who you ask.
Chief among the practical implications Rushdoony or his followers have advocated is the real and stated intent to convert the laws of the United States so that they match those in the Hebrew Scriptures, including the imposition of capital punishment by stoning for an array of biblical crimes. They intend to achieve this by using the freedom of religion in the US to train a generation of children in private Christian religious schools. This objective was stated a couple of decades ago, but this is where current Charter School movements come in. For example, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said she believes schools should ‘advance the kingdom of god,’ language that is both reconstructionist and dominionist in nature.
It is hoped those children, when they grow up, will create a new Bible-based political, religious and social order, at which point, religious freedom as a basic human right is to be eliminated. Rushdoony’s son-in-law and CEO of the CF, Gary North said it in exactly so many words:
“…so let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”-Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right,” Christianity and Civilization; The Failure of the American Baptist Culture. (Spring, 1982)
Note that while this quote is from 1982, the entities who believe, and more importantly, act on these ideas have not stopped working to bring them to fruition. One can see this effort still underway in any number of ‘religious freedom’ bills or other bills related to education. Another avenue that has been influenced, even driven by Reconstruction was Bush’s ‘faith-based initiatives,’ which took a vital step in removing state-run social services, and replacing them with those run solely by churches. These include federal funding for faith groups, even when their activities are unconstitutional (e.g. Catholic Adoption agencies refusing LGBT parents, Salvation Army discriminating against gays, etc.).
A similar influence can be seen in the recent proliferation of ‘Religious Freedom’ legislation, and moves to remove or weaken civil rights protections. Similarly, Reconstruction theology holds that corporations should not be burdened with regulations including laws to protect the environment and workers. Such protection, like the social safety net provisions, should be left in the hands of God, and up to the “Christian Charity” of corporate boards of directors and investors.
Public schools, all Federal education standards, and the Dep’t of Education would be abolished, making parents solely responsible for educating their children in whatever way they see fit, with little to no oversight. In addition the detrimental effect this would have on the US’s already lagging literacy and competency in core areas like critical thinking and STEM fields, women would be relegated primarily to the home and home schools, and would be banned from government. In fact, those qualified to vote or hold office would be limited to males from Biblically correct churches.
Government functions, including taxes, would be primarily at the county level, and payable in gold or silver. Society would return to the gold or silver standard or abolish paper money altogether, along with the Federal Reserve, and any and all Federal regulations or insurance on investments (such as the FDIC). Legislators in Utah, Georgia, and a few other states have already tried to institute requirements that taxes be paid in gold or silver.
Reconstruction, again following from both biblical law and the abolition of the majority of government functions, advocates for closing prisons and reinstituting slavery as a form of punishment. In accordance with Biblical law, capital punishment should be required for all of ancient Israel’s capital offenses, including apostasy, blasphemy, incorrigibility in children, murder, rape, Sabbath-breaking, sodomy, and witchcraft. Yes, they are serious about this. Rushdoony defended his insistence on these measures in an interview with Bill Moyers. He also made it clear that he expects that force will be necessary to impose such order, though he makes the odd claim that he does not advocate ‘top-down imposition” of Christianity, but only that Christians take every area of life “into captivity to Christ.”
Lastly, along with these extreme views, Reconstruction has a distinctly racist slant, and mirrors some elements of Christian Identity’s beliefs on issues like interracial marriage, and has made a long list of rather horrible statements about African peoples.
Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation are very influential, and have become deeply embedded into mainstream American Christianity, and even more so into mainstream political arenas. Both the Republican party and the Libertarian/Tea Party movement are thoroughly infused with this ideology. You won’t hear Palin, Rand Paul, or Mike Huckabee explicitly naming or quoting Rushdoony; they are too smart for that. But if you look at what they do say, and you look at who they associate with, at who they are influenced by, you will see the unmistakable stamp of Reconstruction, and its newer offspring, Dominionism.