Saturday, November 25, 2023

What you need to know about Speaker Mike Johnson: He's a Christian Reconstructionist

Now that the media has had some time to dig into Speaker Mike Johnson's past, most of the coverage has focused on his involvement with the so-called "culture wars," like his position on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and what Christian nationalists refer to as "religious freedom" (ie, freedom for me, but not for thee).

While those are important, it is wrong to suggest that the Speaker's extremist views are limited to those issues.  In order to fully understand Johnson, we must recognize the theological tradition with which he is most closely aligned: Christian Reconstructionism.

It developed primarily under the direction of Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North and has had an important influence on the Christian right in the United States. Its central theme is that society should be reconstructed under the lordship of Jesus in all aspects of life. 

Way back in 1987, Bill Moyers introduced us to the Christian reconstructionist movement in a series titled "On Earth as it is in Heaven."

Christian Reconstruction and God's Law from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

When Johnson says that we can read the Bible to understand his position on ANY issue, he's aligning his politics with Christian reconstructionism. That shouldn't come as a surprise since the organization he worked for prior to his political career - the Alliance Defending Freedom - has always maintained ties to Christian Reconstructionism.

As Moyers pointed out, the founder of this movement was Rousas Rushdoony. John Sugg summarized his views succinctly.
Rushdoony, who died in 2001, articulated a doctrine called “presuppositionalism.” All issues are religious in nature, he posited, and people don’t have the right or the ability to define for themselves what’s true; for that they must turn to a literal reading of the Bible...

At the heart of Rushdoony’s argument were two biblical passages. Genesis 1:28 commands men to have “dominion” over “every living thing.” And in Matthew 28:18-20, the “Great Commission,” Jesus commands his followers to proselytize to the world. Thus was born dominion theology...Adam and Eve broke their covenant with God, and Satan seized dominion. Christian Reconstruction claims it has a reconstituted covenant with God and the right to a new dominion in his name.

In this worldview, the mandate for Christians is not just to live right or to help their neighbors: They are called upon to take over or eliminate the [Satanic] institutions of secular government.

That is why, for reconstructionists, "there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government." All institutions are either "biblically based" or satantic. 

Katherine Stewart wrote that "Rushdoony drew on two traditions that would prove essential in understanding the genesis of today’s Christian nationalist movement. The first was the proslavery theology of America’s antebellum preachers. The second was the economic libertarianism that took root in reaction to the New Deal."

Rushdooney was particularly influenced by the pro-slavery theology of Robert Lewis Dabny who argued that opposing slavery was “tantamount to rejecting Christianity.” After the Civil War, Dabney, who referred to democracy as “mobocracy,” took up the cause of his “oppressed white brethren of Virginia and neighboring states to the south.”

Their oppression consisted in, among other things, having to pay taxes to support a “pretended education to the brats of black paupers.” These unjustly persecuted white people, as Dabney saw it, were also forced to contend with “the atheistic and infidel theories of physical science.”

Christian reconstructionists like Johnson have never embraced democracy and have traditionally rejected the idea of paying taxes to support the education of "those people."

Any of that sounding familiar?

Julie Ingersoll's book, "Building God's Kingdom," is an account of the history and goals of the Christian reconstructionist movement. She provides an important key to understanding them:

Christian Reconstructionists argue that the Bible must govern every aspect of life. In their framework, known as “jurisdictional authority” or “sphere sovereignty,” God delegates biblical authority to three distinct, and severely limited, spheres of “government.” There is family government, ecclesiastical (church) government, and civil government, each with its own authority and sphere of legitimate influence.

So, for example, in this view, education is entirely within the purview of the family government, not civil government. Reconstructionists believe public education and even regulation of private education by the civil government violates biblical law.

Similarly, because Reconstructionists believe that economic activity is a function of the family’s call to dominion, economic regulation by the government is considered unbiblical—a fundamental tenet of what is known as biblical economics.

We've seen how those views are being embraced by the movement to defund pubic education - primarily in red states. But reconstructionists also have very detailed views about taxes and government spending. Here is what Gary North - Rushdooney's son-in-law - wrote about that.

There is no discussion in the Bible of the proper limits of taxation. Taxation should therefore be discussed in terms of achieving other biblical goals and enforcing other biblical principles.

The supreme biblical goal of taxation is to finance a civil government that is incapable of doing more than the Bible says it should...The state should be limited in a way analogous to the limits placed on the king in Deuteronomy 17. So, the biblical goal of modern politics is to shrink the state -- all branches -- to levels consistent with the biblical concept of civil government: negative sanctions only. The welfare state must be de-funded.

Taxation therefore should be discussed, above all, in terms of limiting the expansion of the state, especially the central government.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that one of the first things Johnson did as Speaker was to tie Israeli military aid to defunding the ability of the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats. We haven't even begun to see how bullish he's going to be on defunding the entire social safety net.

There is no area of modern life that isn't covered by the "biblical worldview" of Christian reconstructionists. At the Coalition on Revival, they have documented the "Christian worldview" on government, law, family, economics, education, charity, social action, business, art, science, medicine, and psychology. If you want to know what kind of policies we're likely to see from the Republican Speaker of the House, feel free to skip the Bible and go directly to the source.

3 comments:

  1. People who believe like that, going through life with their mind's eye tightly shut and ears closed to any possible words/information that might differ from or challenge their set-in-stone indoctrination, err, "beliefs" while doing the utmost possible to impose their beliefs on all others are truly despicable and pitiable examples of the worst tendencies of humanity. A doctrine such as "Christian Reconstructionism" is completely anathema to my own worldview.

    That someone such as Mike Johnson is in such a position of power and influence shows many ways our style of government needs to be improved to safeguard against this sort of thing. Unfortunately, permanent changes are very difficult to make. Our Founders never anticipated our nation to grow this large, so for the design of our government to evolve (like our population has) while the wealthy and powerful oppose that is incredibly difficult.

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  2. One thing I have noted about every Christian Nationalist I have ever seen - they are very guarded in their speech, so you would never know they are Christian Nationalists at first. They are trained that you say one thing (very generally acceptable speech) in public, but when you are among peers, your hood (as it were) comes flying off. Having been an ADF lawyer, he is very trained in this, so I doubt he will easily let his guard down.

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  3. Thank you for this post Nancy! Christian Reconstructionism, aka Christian Dominionism, is one of the scariest things the Republican Party has foisted upon the USA. It literally is the real-life embodiment of the Handmaid's Tale and is also #8 (Religion & Ruling Elite Are Linked) on the list of Fascist Characteristics. To make matters worse, as BK Johnson has noted, one does not know who these people are until it is too late because they are well trained in deception. I can only hope that people start to wake up and realize that a Christian theocracy of the worst type is on its way if Republicans can gain just one more part of the American government.

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