Ted Cruz: Dominionist

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi speak to the press aboard a plane en route to a campaign event in Piedmont

I have always shied away from interpretations of the Christian Right that place too heavy an emphasis on Christian Reconstructionism and dominion theology.  I am not sure why that is the case, but I think it has something to do with the way left-leaning journalists and pundits with an axe to grind against conservative Christianity have applied Reconstructionism to the Christian Right in a reductionist way.  I am not convinced that every person affiliated with the Christian Right is a disciple of R.J. Rushdoony.  Not every Christian who thinks Christianity might be a useful source for making us a better country is a Reconstructionist.

But some of them are.  I am not sure if Ted Cruz has ever heard of Rushdoony, but his political rhetoric, and the people he surrounds himself with, certainly place him in the Seven Mountain Dominionist camp.

Never heard of Seven Mountain Dominionism?  Then check out my recent piece being circulating today in newspapers around the country through Religion News Service.  Here is a taste:

According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it.  This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture:  family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Barton’s Christian nationalism is a product of this theological approach to culture.  Back in 2011, Barton said that if Christians were going to successfully “take the culture” they would need to control these seven areas. “If you can have those seven areas,” Barton told his listeners to his radio show, “you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”

Seven Mountains Dominionism is the spiritual fuel that motors Cruz’s campaign for president.

Read the entire piece here.

 

 

Ted Cruz: The Anointed One

I had never heard of Rafael Cruz before his son, Ted Cruz, became a United States Senator. If the media is correct (and I am not sure that they are), Rafael is a pretty big deal in certain sectors of Pentecostalism.

The video is obviously edited to make a political (and perhaps theological) point, so please keep that in mind. (View it critically).  But this pastor, Larry Huch of New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, does seem to imply that Ted Cruz will be one the “kings” who will somehow transfer wealth from the “wicked” to believing Christians.  The video of David Barton and others praying over Cruz and “anointing” him implies that the Texas Senator is receiving this anointing.  I’m not sure if that is really what is going on, or if it is just simply the members of Cruz’s circle praying for him.

If all this is true, then Barton is also involved with this kind of dominionism, which is also called “Seven Mountains Dominionism.”  Listen to Barton talk about this so-called Seven Mountains strategy.  He uses phrases like “take the culture,” “shape and control…nations and the world,” and “occupy” the culture.  His Christian nationalism goes beyond simply historical argument.

I have not paid a lot of attention to this kind of dominionism here at The Way of Improvement Leads Homebut this kind of Reconstructionism seems to explain Cruz and Barton’s support of Cruz.

Heck, this stuff makes Donald Trump look sane and electable.

If you want some context on this kind of dominionist theology see Michael McVicar’s Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism.  

David Barton: Christian Reconstructionist

Slate is running an excerpt from Julie Ingersoll’s forthcoming book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction.  Ingersoll teaches religious studies at the University of North Florida.  She portrays David Barton, the Christian activist who uses the American past to promote his conservative political agenda, as a follower of the teachings of Rousas John Rushdoony and his Christian Reconstructionist movement.  Here is a taste:

David Barton is also the popularizer of a revisionist history of race in America that has become part of the Tea Party narrative. Drawn in part from the writings of Christian Reconstructionists, that narrative recasts modern-day Republicans as the racially inclusive party, and modern-day Democrats as the racists supportive of slavery and postemancipation racist policies. Barton’s website has included a “Black History” section for some time. Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a Christian nation, the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his biggest promoter, Glenn Beck, manipulate those points, remove all historical context, and add patently false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda. Barton appeared regularly on Beck’s show to disseminate his alternative reading of African American history, carrying with him, as he does, what he claims are original documents and artifacts that he flashes around for credibility.

In June of 2010 I traveled to central Florida to attend a Tea Party event sponsored by the Florida chapter of Beck’s “9–12 Project” held at a Baptist church (with a Christian school that was established in the late 1970s). The church sanctuary was decked in patriotic trimmings, including eight big flags on the wall, bunting all over the altar area, and a collection of small flags on the altar itself. As I waited for the event to begin, I overheard people talking about homeschooling and David Barton’s work on “America’s Christian Heritage,” all while Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” played over the sound system. For those unconvinced of the religious dimensions of at the Tea Party movement, the strain of it exhibited here was indistinguishable from the church-based political organizing efforts of the religious right dating back at least to the 1980s. As each local candidate spoke, it was clear how profoundly conservative, Republican, and Christian (in the religious right sense of Christian) this gathering was.

The event was promoted as a response to charges of racism in the Tea Party movement. The banner at the entrance to the event read: “9–12 Project: not racist, not violent, just not silent anymore.” The pastor of the church introduced the meeting, the Tea Party–supported candidates for local office spoke, and all invoked “Christian American history” and the “religion of the founders.” The “9–12 Project” refers both to post-9/11 America (when “divisions didn’t matter”) and to the “nine principles and twelve values” of the group, initiated and promoted by Beck. The “principles” are a distillation of those in The Five Thousand Year Leap, a 1981 book by Cleon Skousen, which was referenced repeatedly by speakers at the event. The book has long been a favorite for Christian schools and homeschoolers and among Reconstructionists despite the fact that Skousen is a Mormon (perhaps because he is also a strong advocate of the free-market Austrian School of economics). I was surprised to learn that Skousen’s book was enjoying a resurgence in popularity as a result of Beck’s promotion and is available in a new edition with a preface by Beck. The fight over the degree to which America was “founded as a Christian nation” is important in that it is a fight over our mythic understanding of ourselves. That is, it is a fight over the narratives through which Americans construct a sense of what it means to be American and perpetuate that sense through the culture and in successive generations.

 

Intended to counter the charges of racism made against the Tea Party movement, the main speaker was an African American, Franz Kebreau, from the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of all Colors (NAACPC). The event was in a more rural part of Florida than where I live, and I passed a number of Confederate flags on my way there. I expected an all-white crowd making arguments about “reverse discrimination,” libertarian arguments against violations of state sovereignty (especially with the Civil Rights Act), and maybe even some of the “slavery wasn’t as bad as people say” arguments. What I found surprised me. Kebreau gave a detailed lecture on the history of slavery and racism in America: a profoundly revisionist history. In Kebreau’s narrative, racism is a legacy of slavery, but it was a socially constructed mechanism by which people in power divided, threatened, and manipulated both blacks and whites. Many of the pieces of historical data he marshals in favor of this thesis are not unfamiliar to those who have studied this aspect of American history, but they are probably not as well known among Americans in general: some slave owners were black, not all slaves were black, black Africans played a huge role in the slave trade, and very few Southerners actually owned slaves. While at least most of these points are undeniably true, they were presented with a specific subtext: with the goal of lending credence to the view that contemporary critics of racism make too much of America’s history of slavery. In this view, it is Democrats who are primarily responsible for fostering racism to solidify power. Southern Democrats opposed civil rights laws, voting rights, integration, and so on. Northern Democrats fanned racial tensions by promoting social programs that made African Americans dependent on government. Race-baiting demagogues like Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton perpetuate the divisions today.

The Author’s Corner with Michael J. McVicar

Michael McVicar is Assistant Professor of American Religious History at Florida State University. This interview is based on his new book, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (The University of North Carolina Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism?

MM: I started preliminary research for Christian Reconstruction in graduate school at the Ohio State University under the guidance of Hugh B. Urban. I entered the Department of Comparative Studies, a cultural studies program with a religious studies concentration, in 2002. Because of the proximity to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many of the seminars I participated in during the first few years of graduate study focused on the themes of religiously motivated violence, cultural exclusion, political extremism, and the problem of secularism/secularization. As I gravitated toward studying twentieth century U.S. religious history, I kept running across an obscure theological movement called “Christian Reconstruction” in many of the studies I read during this period. The brainchild of Calvinist theologian and Presbyterian churchman Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), Reconstructionism emphasizes postmillennial eschatology, the literal application of Biblical law on Christians and non-Christians alike, and calls for Christians to exercise “dominion” in all aspects of life.

Many of the histories of politically active evangelicals and fundamentalists produced in the last decade of the twentieth century and the first few of years of the twenty-first century mentioned the importance of R. J. Rushdoony and his theological project. Works as varied as Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God, the second edition of Mark Juergensmeyer’s, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, William C. Martin’s With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, and the second edition of George M. Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture pointed to the influence of Reconstructionism and acknowledged Rushdoony as an influential thinker with a contested reputation among theologically and socially conservative Protestants in the United States. In spite of this widespread recognition of Reconstructionism, I could find very little substantive historical research on the movement or on Rushdoony.
By the mid 2000s, a wave of journalistic material appeared that associated Rushdoony and his movement with stealth political activism and far-right social, theological, and political positions—ranging from Rushdoony’s controversial statements regarding the execution of homosexuals to his support for a specific form of Christian theocratic rule. This reporting convinced me that a study of Reconstructionism might be valuable. Much of this reporting—especially in the hyperbolic accounts of Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Mark Crispin Miller, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order, and Max Blumenthal, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party—treated the movement as a sui generis, singularly dangerous threat to American democracy. As I researched, I realized that the absence of historical nuance in the journalistic exposés of Reconstruction was directly related to deficiencies in the academic scholarship on the movement that lacked access to the typical archival sources utilized by professional historians. After several years of sleuthing and building trust with Rushdoony’s California-based think tank, the Chalcedon Foundation, I tracked down several overlooked public archival sources and eventually visited Rushdoony’s private library. Rushdoony’s personal archive allowed me to move beyond a project focused solely on Rushdoony’s published writings to examine the previously unexplored organizational history of Reconstructionism. As a result, I was able to situate the movement in the much richer historical context of the development of the post-World War II conservative intellectual movement and the coalescence of the neo-evangelical coalition of the 1960s.
As my research came together, the popular reporting on Reconstructionism’s relationship to conservative politicians peaked in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles. As the frequent and ever-shriller nature of journalistic reporting on the movement increased, I began to see Reconstructionism as an interesting test case for thinking through the ways in which ostensibly “extremist” positions are constituted through political, theological, legal, and journalistic discourses. Reconstructionism provided the opportunity to reflect on the broader themes of my graduate training by working through the complex relationship between religious institutions, political activism, and the construction of “dangerous,” “marginal,” or “fringe” religious movements.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Christian Reconstruction?
MM: Christian Reconstruction is an intellectual and organizational history of the rise and fall of the Christian Reconstruction movement and its pioneering leader, R. J. Rushdoony. The book argues that Rushdoony’s vision of Christian Reconstruction played a subtle but misunderstood role in three interconnected areas of the American conservative movement: the synthesis of libertarian economic theories and conservative Protestant theology; the development of the legal and theoretical impetus behind the Christian homeschooling movement; and, the politicization of a very specific strain of sectarian Calvinism.
JF: Why do we need to read Christian Reconstruction?
MM: Like a lot of recent work on the development of religious conservatism in the late twentieth century, Christian Reconstruction narrates the development of socially and theologically conservative Protestantism from the onset of the Great Depression to the emergence of the so-called Religious Right in the 1980s. Unlike a lot of the recent scholarship, however, the book uses the ministry of a man largely dismissed as a fringe or marginal figure to explore the organizational and intellectual networks of conservative Protestantism. With this broad point in mind, I’d say there are two contributions that make the book worth reading:
First, few figures are more polarizing than Rushdoony. Over the course of a ministry spanning nearly sixty years, Rushdoony interacted with a range of important religious figures and institutions. During the 1960s, he helped shape—and then destroy—the William Volker Charities Fund, one of the most important libertarian charitable organizations of the twentieth century. He attempted to strong-arm his way into the editorial process at Christianity Today through his connections with powerful oilman J. Howard Pew. By the 1970s, he was a well-known and divisive figure in organizations ranging from the John Birch Society to Westminster Theological Seminary. And, in the 1980s, most major Christian advocacy lawyers knew of Rushdoony as a vicious expert witness who could destroy prosecuting attorneys from the stand. Everyone from Pat Robertson to Francis A. Schaeffer cited his writings, but no one wanted to directly associate with his theological vision. As a result of these complex connections, Christian Reconstruction offers something of an alternative history of the rise of conservative evangelical activism. It focuses on the “extremes” to explore how a movement now widely regarded as marginal and extremist simultaneously shaped and was shaped by its interaction with mainstream elements of the American conservative intellectual movement and traditional strains of evangelical and fundamentalist theology.
Second, my narrative is based on exclusive access to Rushdoony’s private library and archive at the Chalcedon Foundation located in Vallecito, California. Rushdoony’s library is an utterly unique resource that captured correspondence and publications unavailable anywhere else. It is singularly important because it archives material related not only to the history of Reconstructionism, but it also houses more-or-less exclusive resources documenting the emergence of popular conservatism in California from the 1950s through the early 2000s. Likewise, it is an important repository documenting the development of the activist movement that made homeschooling legal in the United States. Christian Reconstruction uses these non-public resources in conjunction with a number of public archives and the publications of Reconstructionists to narrate the history of a movement that has either escaped the attention of scholars or that has been misunderstood because of the lack of publicly available archival materials.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
MM: I’m not sure that I ever quite decided to become an American historian. I started this project as a researcher in religious studies with an interest in critical cultural theory. I brought the questions and themes from these fields to twentieth century American religious history. It was only after I began serious archival research and started digging into the historiography of the emergence of the post-World War II American conservative movement and the Religious Right that I began to see the project as a historical narrative with all of the trappings of a conventional biography, clear periodization, and some of the conventions of microhistories. I now teach American religious history at Florida State University, partly as a consequence of this book. So, you might say that the research and the needs of the project pushed me toward American history in ways I couldn’t have anticipated when I started researching Christian Reconstruction.
JF: What is your next project?
MM: My next book-length project will consider the complex interaction between religion, domestic intelligence gathering, and the emergence of political conservatism in twentieth century U.S. culture. The project will specifically focus on the under-explored history of intelligence gathering operations organized by religiously affiliated non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during the course of the twentieth century. Although I have not fully narrowed the scope of the project, I plan to consider a network of organizations including the American Intelligence Agency, the Anti-Defamation League, the Christian Crusade Against Communism, the Church League of America, Group Research Associates, and the John Birch Society. By concentrating on the development of NGO intelligence gathering specifically motivated by religious convictions (or developed to resist certain religious groups), the project will explore the contested systems of bureaucracy, archiving, and the materiality of memory-making that developed in state, corporate, church, and private organizations during the Cold War. I hope to synthesize recent insights from material history and media history with religious studies to investigate key issues related to race, political ideology, gender, and the contestation of social boundary formation.
JF: Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Thanks Michael.
 
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner