As presidential candidate Michele Bachmann chews up scenery in the GOP primaries, the mainstream media is finally digging into her extremist beliefs in a serious way. In a profile published earlier this week, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza talked about Bachmann’s radical right-wing influences, which include the most extremist figures in the history of the religious right movement.
One of these was my evangelical leader father, Francis Schaeffer. Bachmann says in the New Yorker article that she got into politics because she watched a film series I directed called “How Should We Then Live,” written by and featuring my dad.
What the New Yorker article doesn’t do is explain why people like Bachmann, Sarah Palin, et al. turned to the hard reactionary anti-government right. I explain this in my book Sex, Mom and God. I think it’s important to understand this. So let me add what the New Yorker left out.
The Back Story
In 1983 I was the leader of a group of protesters who screamed abuse at Justice Harry Blackmun and made him beat a hasty retreat back into a college building at the University of Nebraska after he’d just been awarded an honorary degree. In the early 1980s my daughter Jessica and I—she was 12—drove into Boston several times to picket abortion clinics, including one where a few years later (in 1994) two people were shot dead and five were seriously wounded by “pro-life” activist John Salvi.
Dad agreed to lead several antiabortion demonstrations, too. He said, “We’re telling everyone else to get out there and picket, and some of our people are getting arrested, so we can’t say no to doing what we’re telling others to do.”
That was then. Today I’m on the “other side.”
America has a problem: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. America has a blessing: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously. How does this blessing coexist with the curse derived from the same source: the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is a curse or a blessing depending on who is doing the interpreting. Sometimes belief in the Bible leads to building a hospital. Sometimes it leads to justifying perpetual war and empire building. Same book—different interpretation.
If the history of Christianity proves one thing, it’s that you can make the Bible “say” anything. When you hear words like “We want to take back America for God!” the 21st-century expression of such theocratic ideas can be traced back to some of my old friends: the Reconstructionists.
Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) evangelical community.
Take Michele Bachmann. She is a Reconstructionist schooled – literally – by some of that obscure movement’s leading thinkers, including my father.
The evangelicals have shaped the politics of a secular culture that barely understood the religious right, let alone the forces within that movement that gave it its edge. The Americans inhabiting the wider (and more secular) culture just saw the results of Reconstructionism without understanding where those results had come from—for instance, how the hell George W. Bush got elected and then reelected or why Michele Bachmann was into home schooling long before she was into trying to become president in order to turn America into a homophobic theocracy.
If you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists have the answer in their version of biblical interpretation. Reconstructionists want to replace the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with their interpretation of the Bible.
The Reconstructionist worldview is ultra-Calvinist but, like all Calvinism has its origins in ancient Israel/Palestine, when vengeful and ignorant tribal lore was written down by frightened men (the nastier authors of the Bible) trying to defend their prerogatives to bully women, murder rival tribes, and steal land. (These justifications may have reflected later thinking: origin myths used as propaganda to justify political and military actions after the fact, such as the brutality the Hebrews said God made them inflict on others and/or their position as the Chosen People.)
In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a 20th-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people like my father and others I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was both a Jesus Victim and a Jesus Predator claiming God’s special favor.
The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony (Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, haters of the US Government and creator of the modern evangelical home school movement), his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher), and David Chilton (Calvinist pastor and author).
No, the Reconstructionists are not about to take over America, the world, or even most American evangelical institutions. Bachmann – for instance – will likely never be president. But their influence has not abated, however a la Tea Party.
The Reconstructionists have been like a drop of radicalizing flavoring added to a bottle of water: They’ve subtly changed the water’s flavor. And even though most evangelicals, let alone the general public, don’t know the names of the leading Reconstructionist thinkers, the world we live in—where a radicalized, angry government-hating religious right has changed the face of American politics and spun off into movements such as the Tea Party—is a direct result of that “flavoring.”
Anyone who wants to understand American politics, not to mention North American religion, had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. For instance these folks just held America hostage in the debt crisis, an attempt to – literally – destroy the government’s ability to function at all a manufactured “crisis” in which Bachmann was a leading proponent of scorched-earth, destroy the system “politics.”
Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct “our fallen society.” Its worldview is best represented by the publications of the Chalcedon Foundation (which has been classified as an antigay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).
Kill the Gays
According to the Chalcedon Foundation Web site, the mission of the movement is to apply “the whole Word of God” to all aspects of human life: “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.”
Until Rushdoony, founder and late president of the Chalcedon Foundation, began writing in the 1960s, most American fundamentalists (including my parents) didn’t try to apply biblical laws about capital punishment for homosexuality to the United States. Even the most conservative evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”
By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
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