Administration's attacks on `religious right' show paucity of understanding

The Clinton Administration, demonstrating again that demogogues keep their own power only by having an enemy to attack, recently sicced its attack dogs on what they call the religious right and the San Jose Mercury in typically high literary form refers to as "Bible thumpers."

One TV commentator said this revivified religious crusade seems to be based on fear that "Elmer Gantry is going to end up running the country." Others have expressed fears that growing strength on what they fancy as the "religious right" will lead to the breakdown of democracy and the rise of theocracy in America.

Though no one can predict with any certainty what any generation might bring forth, such opinions show an utter lack of understanding of American religious history, currents, and influence, and the relationship between religion--not "the church"; equating religion with "the church" is where the breakdown in understanding begins--and politics.

Joycelyn Elders, the U.S. Surgeon General and what some are calling the administration's unofficial advocate for fornication, was one of the government's two most vicious pack leaders the week before President Clinton himself jumped into the fray. A speech she made impugning the sincerity of people who call themselves Christians while having the timerity to criticize aspects of the administration's health care plan led to calls for her resignation by 87 members of Congress.

Though there is much scare-mongering by liberals about "theocracy," there is virtually no support for theocractic government among American Christians. Billy Graham has spoken out against attempting to establish a theocratic government. Pat Robertson, the only person on the "religious right" with anything approaching a widespread political following, speaks against theocracy and, on matters of political theory, is seen as more Republican than "Christian," as discussed in this column previously.

A small movement of Christian intellectuals which has grown up around philosopher R.J. Rushdoony, a former Santa Cruz minister now running a small think tank in the Sierras, does advocate a theocratic philosophy of government, and has produced a collection of books to demonstrate why and how America should be run on Old Testament models of law and governance. But their following is in the thousands, not the millions needed for any kind of political viability, and like most Protestant movements, their thousands are divided into several parties that don't see eye to eye on many details.

Though some of these "Theonomists," as they call themselves (from theo, meaning God; nomo meaning law), have had some success supporting local candidates in city, county, and school elections, they have never made theocracy an issue in these, using the Democratic - Republican - independent model of American politics as their vehicle for such campaigns.

It is hard, except, apparently, for paranoid partisans of the President's party, to imagine theocracy, by definition, gaining ascendency in a culturally diverse nation like the United States. By definition, theocracy is the rule of God directly over His people. In the Old Testament, this was achieved for some generations through judges, who did not rule like kings or presidents, but used the Mosaic law to keep order in Israel by declaring sentences on law breakers according to the Torah's guidelines.

Prophets upheld the judges (and sometimes both roles were incorporated in the same persons) by telling the nation what God's will was in specific controversies, and the people themselves executed the law, acting as a community to carry out such sentences as stonings.

Whether the prophets were true or false ones was always a fair question, and it was decided by comparing their latest prophecies with what the nation had been given as "God's word" by Moses. Consistency with the Torah was the key.

Apparently, similar consistency with the "word of God," by which they mean the Bible and especially the detailed law given by Moses, would be the key advocated by Theonomists. Some of them would require execution for offenders, for example, other than murderers, the most frequently mentioned of which would be practitioners of sodomy or homosexuality.

Most Christians find this approach inconsistent with the teachings of Christ on grace and a New Testament society normed by persuasion, rather than coercion, as a series of these columns described last summer. In this context, most of the Christians who support traditional family values oppose enlarging the role of government whether on models from the right or the left.

Meanwhile, ironically, the closest our generation has ever come to having a theocratic government was the administration of Jimmy Carter, in the sense that Carter, the Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher who was outspoken about the role of his faith in his politics, took no major actions, we can presume, without first consulting God and being confident it was consistent with His will.

Published June 1994.

Go to the next Theophilus article.

Return to the Theophilus Home Page

Email: Send us your comments, ideas, questions.

© 1994, 1995 Jon Kennedy