Analysts largely agree: Christian Reconstructionism has been growing on the religious right. The older model of the Moral Majority (Christian “influence” in society) has largely given way to the new reconstruction ideas (Christian “dominion” over society). Similarly, the religious right has increasingly identified its interests with the Republican Party, while the GOP has increasingly identified its future with the religious right. It is time to raise two questions: Is there sign of Christian Reconstructionist influence on the upcoming election; and, what should be the response of the ecumenical Christian church? We are not looking for exact wording; we are looking for political echoes of the underlying religious ideas.
Recall, Christian Reconstructionism can be defined by four interconnected ideas:
- Christians have a complete system of right knowledge about the universe (or “worldview”), which cultivates epistemological dualism, “us” vs. “them.”
- Christians have the right and the role of legislating morality for all people everywhere.
- Christianity and western culture are two sides of the same coin.
- The ultimate calling of Christians is to dominate the earth.
Let us take each point in turn.
1. Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has recently accused President Obama of introducing a partisan atmosphere into the body politic. Yet surely that is a classic reversal of cause and effect: First you stonewall all legislative progress; then you blame your opponent for the outcome. You cause the problem; yet you shamelessly blame your opponent for the predictable result. The tactic is based on a mindset that no neutral ground is possible between two competing worldviews. How should the church respond?
To be sure, according to the canonical shape of Scripture, there are many issues upon which Christians are ready to take a stand, yes or no. But the very same Scriptures make it crystal clear that on numerous issues the wise course is flexibility, cooperation, compromise, openness, common ground. In my judgment, the Christian church must reject intransigence as the way of the fool. A new politics of wisdom is surely the biblical alternative.
2. It is clear that the GOP Party Platform will have a provision calling for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. The rationale is based on “traditional values,” “cultural norms,” or the “foundations of society,” and so forth. Again, how is the church to respond?
According to Scripture, the role of the gospel is precisely not to underwrite “traditional values” or “cultural norms.” The gospel of Jesus Christ overturns all traditional and cultural norms, placing every individual and society in face-to-face encounter with the sovereign command of God. In my judgment, the time has come for the Christian church to confess and affirm the full civil rights of homosexuals without restraint. This is not an issue of conservative vs. liberal theology. By the Christian church here I mean the orthodox, confessing, ecumenical church (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant). The issue at stake is simple: does love for God and neighbor demand denying equal rights for all people, or affirming them? The answer is straightforward.
3. A Romney aide reportedly referred to the special “Anglo-Saxon heritage” shared by the United States and Great Britain, a heritage supposedly lost on President Obama. Romney of course went out of his way to deny the attribution; but his denial focused exclusively upon the issue of Obama’s awareness, not on the underlying issue of an “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” It is important here to remember that Christian Reconstructionism too embraces that “Anglo-Saxon heritage” as the basis for a Christian America; and they likewise blame immigration for undercutting the force of that Christian “Anglo-Saxon” consensus. I highly suspect the GOP platform will contain some sort of “get tough on immigration” policy. How is the church to respond?
As Christians, we are reminded by the Scriptures that we are all immigrants in God’s world; and that special care for the outsider and the immigrant is an essential dimension of our faith: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Lev. 19: 33-34). How anti-immigration policy ever came to be identified with the Christian gospel is astounding.
4. It is quite clear that Romney will conduct a campaign of “American Exceptionalism;” how should the church respond?
The advent of a truly global Christianity is a miracle of our time. There are now more Asian Christians than American Christians. There are almost as many Christians in Latin America as there are in Europe and America combined. From a Christian perspective, to speak of love for one’s country, of patriotism, is a profound theme of Christian commitment. However to speak of nationalism, especially in the modern global world inhabited by a global church, is a direct contradiction of the gospel. If America is exceptional—and there is no reason it should not be—it must be in affirming the equal share of the goods of the earth among all nations and peoples.
So, in going into the election season and especially on voting day, I try to remember three things. I try to remember that Jesus did not say: “Whatsoever you do for the middle class, you do unto me.” Of course what he really spoke about was his hidden identity with the least in society. Whose policies will make the most difference for people who cannot speak for themselves? Then I try to remember that God sees people differently than we do. We look at external factors that really don’t matter much in the end, while God looks at the heart. Who shows the most character? And third, I say a very familiar prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, which still has a lot of wisdom: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Paul McGlasson is the author of No! A Theological Response to Christian Reconstructionism and is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sullivan, Indiana. He received his MDiv from Yale Divinity School, and his PhD from Yale University in Systematic Theology. He is the author of several books, including God the Redeemer, Canon and Proclamation, and Invitation to Dogmatic Theology. Before entering the parish ministry, McGlasson taught theology for several years in college and seminary.