So I figured since today is Election Day I will blog about something scary and political, but I am not interested in debating the merits or drawbacks of either presidential candidate. That’s already been done in full and I imagine most people made up their minds about who they are voting for and not voting for a while ago. So what I wanted to bring up was the issue of reconstructionism, the idea that certain Americans are against the concept of democracy because they believe it is not biblical.
I had never heard of the terms dominionism or reconstructionism until last year, but I knew what they actually were. It was the political perspective I grew up with. It’s what I was told as a little girl, an explanation of why my parents didn’t vote and were disillusioned with the political process in the United States. I was taught by others that the usual name for nonparticipation is “voter apathy,” lazy citizenship. That’s what it apparently is for most Americans who don’t vote. It wasn’t for my parents though. It was more than that.
My parents believed democracy was not biblical, not “God’s law.” They thought what our country needed was government ran more like how churches were. They envisioned a perfect society where the body of the church picked people who were right with God to lead them and those people did, bringing in others with a similar vision to help. Godly men could recruit other Godly men, making government something different and more hierarchical, more in line with true leadership, what they believed the bible called for. “Democracy,” my father explained, “is not God’s plan, not what he intended. It allows electing people who are not Christian as leaders and they are sinning, allowing the devil’s influence, not following God’s way, his instructions for how the church should be run. Government should be run like how it is in the bible. But it isn’t. So that’s why your mother and I don’t vote. We don’t participate in this ungodly process. We also don’t pledge allegiance to the flag. The flag is a graven image.” So there was a philosophy, a belief behind the uninvolvment, loyalty to the idea of a religion-based government and no loyalty at all to democratic ideals or the symbols of our nation.
Generally in mainstream America “theocracy” is used as an insult or epithet, an academic-sounding label, the governmental version of calling someone a “psychopath,” to refer to those highly dysfunctional and freedom-killing countries like Iran, places run by ayatollahs and hardline Islamist fanatics, so we don’t imagine it to also be homegrown or Christian-based, existing in our own country. But it does and I was raised in it so I know it’s real.
So here’s where I mention Rousas John Rushdooney, the most
infamous of American reconstructionists. Most people would hear this old dead guy’s name and go “huh?” Others who are lucky enough to be familiar with his particular brand of hardliner foolishness, including slavery apologism, will roll their eyes, and a few will get as excited as a cheerleader rooting for a losing team that just saw their guys score a touchdown. Fundamentalist homeschoolers in the know are often in that last category. They love him. Straight up looooove him. He was one of them. A granddaddy of the Quiverfull movement.
Yeah, Rushdooney. I didn’t know anything about him growing up, but I do now. I imagine I might write more about him another time, but for now, suffice it to say that even mentioning him makes me feel a little insane, that it’s a little crazy-making just to be writing his name and considering the stuff he did, the destructive fundamentalist counter-cultural movement he helped spawn. To use an analogy Quiverfull people would find totally inappropriate, it’s sorta like how people in Harry Potter might feel saying “Voldemort.”
Anyway, most people figure this reconstructionism stuff is only the domain of wing-nuts and not common in America because everyone else knows it would be ridiculous not to love democracy, especially our democracy. I agree on the first thing but not on the second. Plenty people get sold on the idea that a government according to God would be better than one according to man and they develop very different conceptions of how that might happen or how it might go awry.
So I realize that a lot of modern evangelical Christians who say “America is a Christian nation” are very much attached to the idea of democracy, but just personally feel convicted to vote for someone who represents their Christian faith. However, a more sizable minority than I’m comfortable with believe in some sort of theocratic structure. In fact, I accidentally had a conversation with a guy who believes this yesterday. He’s a homeschooling Jehovah’s Witness and father of six who was painting my mother’s house with three of his 20-something sons (who all still live at home and are the most disturbingly “well-behaved” painters I’ve ever seen) while I was visiting. His company was recommended by people who had no idea of his leanings and my Mom was pleasantly surprised to meet someone who largely agreed with her. Obviously I was not, so at the end of a polite conversation rife with disagreements, I ended up being handed a tract. Should have seen that one coming, shouldn’t I?
Still, this conversation yesterday reminded me of one I had with my Dad as a little girl. He was talking to me very seriously after I had asked him some questions about voting, a new thing I had just learned about. My Grandma had taken me to the voting booth with her the day before, coaching me before we went behind the curtain that these buttons are not to play with. What she was about to do was very important, a civic duty, a big part of being an American that I also should do when I grew up. I remember the swoosh of the curtain, the prominent metal-handled lever of the old-fashioned voting machine, and her carefully choosing a few options, checking it against a handwritten list in her purse, then making her final choice. She let me push one of the buttons and help push the heavy lever at the end. Before she opened the curtain she told me not to tell people outside the booth which buttons she pushed, who she had voted for. She explained that we live in a free country, a country where you have choices on who to elect, and you don’t have to tell anybody who you voted for, that it’s a fundamental right people have fought and died for, and it should be respected. That’s why the curtain existed and those buttons were there to be pushed. I respected her perspective and later found that although I don’t generally vote for the same candidates as my Grandma, her explanation of democracy was something I took to heart. I research candidates, ballot initiatives, and I vote carefully.
In the years since going to vote with Grandma I have voted myself numerous times and also learned that most Quiverfull people believe differently than my parents. Not about their views on government structure, but about their views on voting and other forms of political participation. They vote, they canvass, they campaign, they donate, they profess allegiance to our nation. They also run for office, high office whenever they can. So as this election season is upon us, Americans should know that there are some very conservative “family values” politicians who have less than “American” views on democracy. I wish I could make a list of politicians who believe this way, but most who have them do not openly espouse such views, for obvious reasons. It doesn’t help you get elected. So a good way to tell is by paying close attention to the politicians who oppose the teaching of evolution and also want to repeal the 17th Amendment. As I understand it, they see both of those things as a good way to get closer to a theocracy. As a big fan of democracy, when I see that stuff I head the other way. I already had a little taste of what this kind of life might look like and it sure isn’t good.
Excellent post Heather. Your paragraph about voting with your grandma made me tear up a little. I remember going to vote with my grandfather as a kid. His speech was similar to your grandmother’s. It always stayed with me.
Hi, I just found your blog! I did not realize people are advocating for repeal of the 17th Amendment. I am very worried about those who would happily incorporate theocratic elements into our system of governance, because I think a lot of people don’t understand how valuable separation of church and state is for preventing oppression and religious war and other dire things. Your grandmother was right; we shouldn’t get complacent about democracy.