The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism [part 1]

Anyone following the current government shutdown can’t help but hear the religious catchphrases being tossed around lately. Speaking to the theology behind the government shutdown, Morgan Guyton recently re-introduced the blogosphere to the Christian Dominionism of Sen. Ted Cruz’s father–an insidious ideological philosophy that is as Christlike as it is peaceful (sarcasm). Chris Skinnner just published a post outlining the mythical Jesus of Suburbia presented in Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book, Killing Jesus. (Spoiler alert: Jesus is killed, in part, because he hates taxes) And just today, Anthony Le Donne touched on “The Teaching of Jesus and Fiscal Conservatism,” where he highlights the ways Christians in the US typically gravitate towards political platitudes like “smaller government” and “lower taxes” as if it’s Gospel.

"The Apotheosis of Washington" is a mural in the Capitol dome rotunda. It depicts George Washington sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner as a god.

“The Apotheosis of Washington” is a mural in the Capitol dome rotunda. It depicts George Washington sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner as a god.

Such attitudes are all too familiar for me, having been raised in a conservative Southern Baptist church in the buckle of the Bible belt. My real introduction to ‘taking back America for God’ began as an elementary student at a conservative fundamentalist Christian School, whose mission was to “restore the American Republic [read, 'not-democracy'] back to its historic, Biblical foundations…” As my sisters and I transitioned through to junior high and highs chool, we were continually indoctrinated by our school’s “American Christian Philosophy” of education. But as I came to understand Jesus more and more, the less and less I found His Kingdom to be compatible with the rhetoric shouted out from the politicians and pundits. I needed some context: where did this begin? who co opted the Gospel? what is the historical basis for Christian exceptionalism in America?

In order to answer those questions I have been lead to do more research on the so called “American Christian Philosophy” and its founders. If America has been uniquely called out of so many other nations to fulfill God Commandments than surely there is enough evidence in both word and action. First I needed to know where this philosophy started. For several years I have been troubled by many of the teachings of the “Christian Dominion Theology” and the “Christian Reconstructionism” [1] movements. Frederick Clarkson has found three consistent characteristics of this movement:

“1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.

2. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.

3. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.”[2]

Founding Fathers and Mothers of American Christian Exceptionalism

“Red Book” authors Rosalie J. Slater and Verna M. Hall founded “The Foundation for American Christian Education” which produced the “Principle Approach” method of education used by my school and others. Although her book, Christian History of the Constitution is a compilation of primary source documents, it has a crucial defect: it never does reach the time of the Constitutional Convention (or the years following). Hall never records any of the early founding father’s letters and documents reflecting on the subject of the Constitution and rejects evidence that the Constitution ever founded an explicitly Christian nation. (more on that later in the series)

Fellow “American Christian Philosophy” leader R.J. Rushdoony was the Director of the Rutherford Institute and founder, president and chairman of the Chalcedon Foundation which produces the magazine the Chalcedon Report. Rushdoony had hosted Verna Hall and Rosalie J. Slater on several occasions at his conferences and helped coin the libertarian concept of “Christian Self-Government”. He was instrumental in helping to establish the American Christian homeschooling movement, even testifying as an expert witness in several landmark cases. Together Hall and Rushdoony have been quoted in such books as America’s Christian History by Gary DeMar, and The Ten Commandments & Their Influence on American Law by William J. Federer among many others. Rosalie J. Slater and R.J. Rushdoony names appear together on the petition for “ending government involvement in education” from the Alliance for Separation of School and State. In fact Rushdoony hosted Verna Hall as a speaker at the now extinct Center for American Studies in Burlingame, California for which he was Director– an extension of the William Volker Fund.

It is important to understand that the William Volker Fund was a charitable foundation and a “free market” think tank active from 1932 to 1965, founded in response to the “New Deal.” According to the “History of FACE” website, Verna M. Hall clearly states that while she was working in President Roosevelt’s WPA distributing benefits in San Francisco “she witnessed the effect that these programs had on those who received them. The longer an individual received government assistance, the more he adopted a subservient, helpless mindset.” It was this common reaction to the “New Deal” she shared with the founders of the William Volker Fund that also propelled her to study America’s ‘Christian’ History.

Christian exceptionalist ideology has been heavily influenced by R.J. Rushdoony, and his sway continues even to many of today’s apologeticists, politicians, and activists. During a 2001 interview with Rushdoony, activist Joseph McAuliffe wrote, “Led by Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, James Jordan, and Gary DeMar, theonomic authors have expounded the Mosaic law with a fullness of application to modern society never before seen in Church history.”

It is also evident that the Dominionist movement started by Rushdoony has trickled down even to Senator Ted Cruz’s father, who serves as a charismatic Christian Reconstructionist preacher in Texas. Morgan Guyton’s recent article “The Theology of the Government Shutdown,” highlights Cruz’s philosophy in summation:

rafael-cruz…God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian “kings” who will accomplish the “end time transfer of wealth.” Then “God’s bankers” will usher in the “coming of the messiah.” The government is being shut down so that God’s bankers can bring Jesus back.

What its Really About

At first glance Rushdoony seems a radical but extremely intelligent thinker; however, there are some alarming ideologies also espoused by him. He is considered one of the founders of the Christian Reconstructionist movement– a group of Conservative Christians who believe it is the duty of Christians to “press the crown rights of Jesus Christ in all spheres of life.” [3]

The Chalcedon Foundation’s website states, “We believe that the whole Word of God must be applied to all of 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.”

In Rushdoony’s magnum opus, the two volumed 1600 paged The Institutes of Biblical Law, he proposes that the Old Testament law should be applied to modern society, specifically the penal sanctions. Rushdoony also states that interracial marriages should be considered as “unequal yoking” and in similar fashion to the rhetoric of Senator Rand Paul, he opposes “forced integration” stating that “…all men are NOT created equal before God… . Moreover, an employer has a property right to prefer whom he will in terms of ‘color,’ creed, race or national origin.” [4] Some additional comments by Rushdoony are just too troubling and despicable to fathom. [5]

While Rushdoony’s racist rhetoric seems on the fringe, its eerily similar to the stances shared by fellow Christian conservative hotbeds like Bob Jones University, which has been called “bastion of the most conservative brand of evangelical Christianity.” According to Bob Jones University v. The United States. 461 U.S. 574 (1983) “The District Court found, on the basis of a full evidentiary record, that the challenged practices of petitioner Bob Jones University were based on a genuine belief that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage.”

BJU denied applicants who were coupled in an interracial marriage, and forbade students to date others outside of their own race upon the threat of expulsion. The case explains that “the sponsors of the University genuinely believe that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage. To effectuate these views, Negroes were completely excluded until 1971.” BJU eventually lost its non-profit status and has never reapplied since this court case. According to the court documents, only after the US Supreme court ruled in another similar case did BJU change its admission policy and started admitting Negroes. BJU abruptly dropped its ban on interracial dating in 2000 after national press coverage of candidate George W. Bush’s visit. BJU publicly apologized for “racially hurtful” policies in 2008.

The Series Continues

In part 2 of the series, I’ll shed light on the evolution of American Christian exceptionalism as its philosophies infiltrated American Christian revisionist history books.

Related articles

[1] “Dominionists” and “Reconstructionists” are technically different in an academic sense, however they both seek to influence or control secular government through political action or through the passage of laws relating to the conservative Christian understanding of Biblical law. This is why such diverse characters as Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, Timothy LaHaye and Gary DeMar can put aside differences of theology in order to promote the same political agenda.

[2] Frederick Clarkson, “The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation”, Public Eye Magazine, 2005

[3] see Chalcedon Foundation website, http://www.chalcedon.edu

[4] see “A Mighty Army”, Alliance Defense Fund, 2005

[5] other quotations of importance from “Institutes of Biblical Law” include: ““The move from Africa to America was a vast increase of freedom for the Negro, materially and spiritually.” Lazy slaves were “an albatross that hung the South, that bled it.”“The University of Timbuktu never existed. The only thing that existed in Timbuktu was a small mud hut.”“Some people are by nature slaves and will always be so.”“The urge to dominion is God-given and is basic to the nature of man. An aspect of this dominion is property.”“The false witness borne during World War II with respect to Germany (i.e., the death camps) is especially notable and revealing…. the number of Jews who died after deportation is approximately 1,200,000 … very many of these people died of epidemics.”“The matriarchal society is thus decadent and broken… matriarchal character of Negro life is due to the moral failure of Negro men, their failure …to provide authority. The same is true of American Indian tribes which are also matriarchal.” — and in “Foundations of the Social Order” Rushdoony says “Selective breeding in Christian countries has led to … the progressive elimination of defective persons.”“A ‘Litany’ popular in these circles identifies ‘God’ with the city, with the ’spick, black nigger, bastard, Buddhahead, and kike,’ with ‘all men,this concept runs deeply through the so- called Civil Rights Revolution… But …no society has ever existed without class and caste lines.”

8 thoughts on “The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism [part 1]

  1. Pingback: The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism [part 1] | Theology & the City

  2. Call “dominionism” what it is…a desire for control, power, and economic exploitation by white men. We’ve seen it before in history. We need to play “whack-a-mole” today and beat it back one more time.

  3. Pingback: the Jesus Event | The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism [part 2]

  4. Pingback: the Jesus Event | The Roots of American Christian Exceptionalism [part 3]

  5. Pingback: the Jesus Event | Evidence Against a Christian America: Supplement to Series on American Christian Exceptionalism

  6. Pingback: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? | OK Peregrino

  7. Pingback: New World Order, Dominion Theology: Both Want to Control the Planet | End Times Prophecy Report

  8. Pingback: the Jesus Event | 2013 Roundup: most popular posts from 2013

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