Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction
Julie J. Ingersoll
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
ISBN 9780199913787; hbk; 320 pp; £19.99
This year has seen two major works from University Presses on Rushdooy and Reconstructionism: McVicar’s and Ingersoll.
Comparisons have to be made with McVicar’s Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015). For McVicar Rushdoony is the main focus, for Ingersoll he is the background and starting point. Ingersoll was once an insider — she was married (now divorced) to a key Reconstructionist — she is now the Associate Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Florida. She focuses at least initially on the more radical Tyler, Texas branch of Reconstructionism and is more critical than McVicar. She concentrates more on the legacy of Rushdoony as seen in Christian education, creationism, biblical economics, the religious right and the revision of Christian American history. She is also more empirically based than McVicar. Ingersoll writes as a sociologist and takes a topical approach, McVicar as a historian and has a more chronological perspective.
Ingersoll’s aim is to ‘trace the Reconstructionist influence on the larger conservative Christian subculture, most especially in the ways in which Reconstructionist language and thinking have made their way into the public discourse and shaped that discourse’. She does this in a balanced way, she recognises that objectivity is ‘ultimately impossible to attain’:
‘There is a difference between trying to understand a worldview and trying to build a case against it (which is, methodologically speaking, the same as trying to build a case for it). I’m not necessarily opposed to case-building, but I think case-building and understanding are different tasks and, frankly, effective case-building starts with real understanding. Thus I reject the idea that people I don’t understand must be “crazy” or “brainwashed,” and I try to avoid “warfare” language and even the tendency to assume that someone I don’t yet understand is being deceptive (that’s not to say I preclude that possibility). So, while I attempt to tone down the rhetoric about Christian Reconstruction, the religious right, and religious nationalism, I don’t dismiss their detractors as conspiracy theorists’ (p 241).
Her approach is one of attempting to understand Reconstructionism and allows the events and writings of Reconstructionists speak for themselves.
She writes of her experience of several conferences including Vision Forum’s Reformation 500 Celebration - where she was asked to leave (one wonders what they were trying to hide). Vision Forum takes the patriarchy theme to its extreme The description of the catalogue split into boys and girls toys would be laughable if it were not so worrying. Vision Forum now no longer exists as its leader Doug Phillips (the son of the US Constitution Party leader) was involved in indiscretions with his children’s nanny.
Another organisation that uses the term vision and has close connections to Rushdoony is American Vision, where Gary DeMar is the president and Joel McDurmon, the cigar smoking, beer drinking, tattooed, research assistant (Chapter 8). The controversial historian David Barton and the Tea Party America’s exceptionalism also come under scrutiny (Chapter 9).
The book doesn’t put to rest the commonly held notion that Reconstructionism is the ‘think tank of the religious right’ but it does show that they are not ‘a dangerous secret society intent on turning the United States into a theocracy’. There’s certainly nothing secret in their approach — many of their older materials are available free on the Internet on Gary North’s website . Including all of the Biblical Blueprint Series which Ingersoll discusses in Chapter 3. (www.garynorth.com/freebooks/)
As Ingersoll’s shows Rushdoony’s views were pushed to extremes, extremes that for some included some extreme forms of violence both mentally and physically, including the execution of abortionists (Chapter 10). She points out ‘In Reconstructionist terms, the religious right is philosophically schizophrenic, so its efforts to return America to its Christian moorings are doomed’ (p2). It does make me wonder how much of his legacy in the religious right Rushdoony would have approved of — and yet as Howard Phillips, of the Constitution party, says: ‘the whole Christian conservative political movement had its genesis in Rush’ (p2).
Ingersoll provides a helpful guide through the Mirkwood of the religious right. For the most part she allows the evidence to speak for it self; she has provided a useful introduction to Rushdoony’s legacy, even if at times he wouldn’t necessarily have agreed with it. She carefully avoids the guilt-by-association approach; as she points out:
‘Little slivers of Rushdoony’s work seem to be everywhere. The Tea Party is not Reconstructionist, nor is it entirely religious, but there are clusters within the Tea Party whose concerns are shaped by the work Rushdoony was doing as early as the 1960s.’
1. Christian Reconstructionist Theology
2. Jurisdictional Authority and Sphere Sovereignty
3. Building a Reconstructed Society: Gary North’s Biblical Blueprint Series
4. Raising a Godly Generation: Christian Schooling
5. Homeschooling for Dominion
6. Creationism, Mythmaking, Ritual, and Social Formation
7. Building a Family Dynasty: Doug Phillips and Vision Forum
8. American Vision and the Repackaging of Rushdoony
9. David Barton, Rushdoony, and the Tea party
10. Christian Recomstruction and Violence