Bill Moyers speaks with the founders of the Christian Reconstructionism movement which holds that the Bible should be the basis for all government, laws and economic systems.
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EDWIN MEESE: George Washington, our first president, said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
RAY JOSEPH: Thomas Jefferson never had in his wildest dreams what we have today, what we call separation of church and state.
ROBERT THOBURN: Well, they say religion and politics don’t mix, but they do.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: It’s not an issue of whether you will separate religion from politics, but which religion will you mix with politics? And that’s the whole issue of this country.
DAVID CHILTON: We believe that institutionally, Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The Constitution cannot save this country.
EARL PAULK: Honey, I want you to get it into your minds, I want the boys and girls to learn it in our schools, I want everybody to know it. The basic issue on this planet is what? Who’s in charge, that’s all.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In this report, we’ll hear from the Christian Reconstructionists, a growing movement of believers and sympathizers who want to invent America all over again, with the Bible as its primary charter, and Washington, D.C., as a new kind of government where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. I’m Bill Moyers.
BILL MOYERS: The mainstream press says the political influence of the religious right is fading. Ronald Reagan will soon retire to California and Jerry Falwell is giving up politics to save souls. We’re seeing a changing of the guard. The people in this broadcast are Christian Reconstructionists; they believe it’s the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution of society for Jesus Christ -and they’re committed to a long grassroots campaign.
There’s no estimate of their numbers; they’re not a formal organized group, not a cult or sect hiding away in the back country. There is no hierarchy or headquarters. Their leaders include learned scholars, articulate speakers and prolific writers. They represent a cross-section of faiths. They disagree on many things, but on this they agree: every area of American life law, medicine, media, the arts, business, education, and finally, the civil government, must one day be brought under the rule of the righteous.
[voice-over] It’s a small Presbyterian church in a suburb of Detroit; 153 years old, it was here before Detroit was a city or Michigan was a state. This is a church from America’s past. This is a church of America’s future, the fastest-growing church in Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of America’s new mega-churches, as dominant on the landscape of this modem age as the Gothic cathedral was in the Middle Age.
Different style, different size, but what you hear from the pulpit of this super-church in Atlanta and the little church in Detroit is the message that Christians can create a new America as the kingdom of God on earth.
Bishop EARL PAULK: [preaching] The whole issue has to do, are you going to have a humanistic state or a God-centered government? That’s the whole issue.
SCHOOLTEACHER: The story of the prodigal son.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] These are the citizens of the new America. They attend a Christian school in Atlanta, and they’re being taught something called Christian Reconstruction. The founder of the school is the Reverend Joseph Morecraft, one of the movement’s leaders.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: I believe the children in the Christian schools of America are the army that’s going to take the future. Right now in America, the Christian Reconstruction movement is made up of a few preachers, teachers, writers, scholars, publishing houses, editors of magazines, and it’s growing, and it’s growing quickly. But I expect a massive acceleration of this movement in about 25 or 30 years, when those kids that are now in Christian schools have graduated and taken their places in American society and moved into places of influence and power. That’s when I expect to see the real acceleration of the Christian Reconstruction movement take place.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] These are the true believers of the movement, Barbara and Arnold Simkus in Detroit, Michigan.
ARNOLD SIMKUS: I would say a Reconstructionist is a very sensitive and very enlightened human being, one who has found that there are true solutions to the world problems.
BARBARA SIMKUS: Everything -movies, books, theater, art -everything captive to Jesus Christ.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Darlene and David Chilton in Placerville, California:
DAVID CHILTON: What we’re saying is that every ruler, every legislator, everybody in every sphere of government is directly responsible to God, and must do his job in terms of biblical principles.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] And Diane and Bill Garaway in San Jose.
BILL GARAWAY: Christianity is not just, you know, to be saved and live a good life and go to heaven. I think God’s calling us to a lot more than that. But when you start taking your beliefs and bringing them to the marketplace, you know, getting involved in civic government and social affairs, in schools and education, when you start doing those kind of things, then you’re entering territory that we’ve really given over to the enemy, and we’re trying to reclaim that
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] And this is the patriarch of Christian Reconstruction, Rousas John Rushdoony, the grandfather of 17 children, and the godfather of the movement. Dr. Rushdoony lives about two hours southeast of Sacramento, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. His home is tucked away on a hillside, atop what once was a goldmine. For centuries his family had been Christian leaders in Armenia, that region of the old world around Mount Ararat, the biblical landing place of Noah’s ark. At 71, this biblical scholar has offered more than 30 books and hundreds of articles and commentaries. When he’s not writing, he travels the world, lecturing and holding seminars. In his epic, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony set forth the basic doctrines of Christian Reconstruction: every word of the Bible is literally true; the Bible contains God’s law, for all people, for all times, for individuals as well as government; and American society is in decay, he writes; it is the task of Christians to reconstruct this country, using the Bible as their blueprint.
[interviewing] Why the Bible? Why does it become the basis for this new society?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Because the Bible is God’s word, because the Bible is God’s declaration of the way of life. Here is justice.
BILL MOYERS: But the laws in the Old Testament were written for a primitive people living in a nomadic agricultural society. And here we are, living in a modem technological, industrial society, joined by economic forces that are beyond nations and beyond governments. How can the laws that were considered a covenant between a small group of people on a tiny sliver of geography two, three, four thousand years ago apply to the world you and I live in?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Because they are God’s truth.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The basis of R.J. Rushdoony’s philosophy is his faith in the literal truth of the Bible. Rushdoony and other reconstructionists believe one need not investigate or prove the Bible to be God’s word. Rather, one presupposes the word of the Bible is absolutely true. His belief, as well as his yearning for a Bible-based culture, was at first nurtured by his mentor, theologian Cornelius Van Til. Van Til taught that man is inherently religious; one either worships God or oneself.
[interviewing] If the Bible is the basis for law, why not just simply substitute it for
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The Constitution gives us procedural law, not a substantive morality, so anyone can use the Constitution for good or ill. So the Constitution gives us a good procedural manual, and is on the whole a very good one. But it has to be the people as they change and govern themselves; the Constitution cannot save this country.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Ancient Jerusalem is the model for Reconstructionists of the ideal biblical government. Israel was a theocracy; God ruled Israel, and God’s laws, the covenant, formed the sole basis for the social, political, economic and cultural order of the day. Modem Washington is a far cry from ancient Jerusalem; to Reconstructionists, it’s more like Sodom and Gomorrah.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: I think people sense that things are falling apart, economically, politically and in every way; that a worldwide breakdown is under way of our culture. And they are looking for answers as to what does the future hold? The state is a bankrupt institution. As a result, they are going to have to find it religiously or go into a dark age. We have been in a dark age most of this century; a higher percentage of mankind has died in this century, been killed by war, revolution, mass murders, famine and so on, than in any other era of history. And men are fearful; as a result, they are being thrown back on their basic resources. If they have a faith, they are looking to that faith to provide the answers. And so you have Islamic fundamentalism; you have within the Christian community a desire to go back to the biblical roots and to reorder society biblically.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] While Reconstructionists differ about many particulars, their new America would drastically reduce the size and scope of civil government -welfare, public education and most government services would wither away, as Christians become educators and caretakers. Church offerings would suffice for most taxation, and federal buildings would be sold to private enterprise. Strict Reconstructionists envision a national government with just two main functions, defense and justice -and maybe a State Department to handle relations with other countries, but they’re not sure of that. Church elders would form courts, hold the trials and rule, particularly on issues of morality, side by side with civil courts, which would still be responsible for certain civil disputes. The line between church and state would be blurred, as society is brought officially and publicly under God’s law.
[interviewing] What happens to the economy? Would it return to the gold standard?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes, it would.
BILL MOYERS: Because?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Because God stipulates money by measure. “Just weights and just measures shall ye have.” The reference there is to measures of gold and silver. And so the biblical pattern is a hard money economy, and a debt-free economy.
BILL MOYERS: I was going to ask you about debt.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Short-term debt.
BILL MOYERS: Short-term debt.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: No more than six years.
BILL MOYERS: What about these 30-year mortgages on houses that-today. Would they be unbiblical?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: No — they are unbiblical, yes.
BILL MOYERS: A 30-year mortgage is unbiblical.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes. We are told that the borrower is a slave to the lender.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve written that the Bible calls for the death penalty -and I’m just running down a variety of things, as you can see.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve written that the Bible calls for the death penalty for some 15 crimes -rape, sodomy, adultery?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Adultery, because in the Bible the basic institution is the family. There is no law of treason against the state. The Bible doesn’t even imagine anything remotely like that. But the basic institution is the family, and so several of the death penalties are associated with the family and its life.
BILL MOYERS: So adultery was considered a theft of the family.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: It was, yes, it was treason to the family.
BILL MOYERS: Homosexuality?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes, it was treason to the family.
BILL MOYERS: Worthy of the death sentence?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: What?
BILL MOYERS: Worthy of the death sentence, deserving of the death sentence?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes, yes. That’s what Paul says.
BILL MOYERS: And what about the one that Christian Reconstructionists are really suspect on, and that’s incorrigible young people, juvenile delinquency, because there are cases in the Old Testament where incorrigible young people were put to death.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The law there is very interesting; it specifics a son, not a child, and an incorrigible delinquent. Now, the case of the incorrigible son was chosen first, because blood could not be above justice, so the parents had to participate by saying, yes, our son is indeed an incorrigible criminal. Second, it was the foundation of the death penalty in the United States until ’72, whereby a third or fourth offender, depending on the state, who is a habitual criminal, was executed. That’s where we get the law, right out of that law from Deuteronomy.
BILL MOYERS: But you would reinstate the death penalty for some of these, or all of these biblical crimes?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: I wouldn’t.
BILL MOYERS: But I mean, the reconstructed society.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: I’m saying that this is what God requires. I’m not saying that everything in the Bible I like. Some of it rubs me the wrong way. But I’m simply saying this is what God requires, this is what God says is justice. Therefore I don’t feel I have a choice.
BILL MOYERS: And the agents of God would carry out the laws.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The civil government would, on these things.
BILL MOYERS: So you would have a civil government, based upon-
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Oh, yes, I’m not an anarchist.
BILL MOYERS: No, I understand that.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: I’m close to being a libertarian, but
BILL MOYERS: But the civil law is based upon the biblical law.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: And so you’d have a civil government carrying out a religious mandate.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Oh, yes, because all law is a religious mandate. It just depends on what religion it is. But all law is a religious mandate.
BILL MOYERS: Then which religion runs the civil government?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: That’s the question.
BILL MOYERS: Your version of Christianity or mine, or his, or hers?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: That doesn’t concern me, because I don’t believe it’s going to be in the statute books or a part of our government, until there is a common assent. Remember I said you have to have the overwhelming majority of the people believing that this is the way that things should be before it will work.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] To show that it will work, Reconstructionists invoke historical precedents. They point to the Emperor Constantine, who in 313 A.D. legalized Christianity in what had been a pagan kingdom. The Holy Roman Empire then spread across Europe, and the Crusaders marched off to reclaim Jerusalem for the faithful.
During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin established the rule of the righteous in Geneva, and governed according to the Bible. Reconstructionists by and large consider themselves heirs of Calvin, and descendants of the Puritans, who came to America believing God should prevail over every area of life, politics included. According to the Reconstructionists, Puritans created a Christian nation on biblical principles; Reconstructionists would call America back to the Bible.
Rev. RAY JOSEPH, Southfield Presbyterian Church: There is definitely a yearning to go back to what is called the Puritan foundation and roots. You know, the Puritan name has been really misaligned [sic] and distorted and twisted out of all reality. They were a wonderful folk; they enjoyed life, they built a country.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Pastor Ray Joseph of the Presbyterian Church in Southfield, Michigan, quotes freely from the writings of R.J. Rushdoony.
RAY JOSEPH: [preaching]: R.J. Rushdoony says this about this particular verse in Psalms.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The essence of the sermon this Sunday is that Christians should not merely wait for the second coming of Christ, or look to a heavenly reward; they should work to inherit the earth now.
RAY JOSEPH:: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] As one of Rushdoony’s disciples, Pastor Joseph looks to the day when the institutions of society will be Christianized.
RAY JOSEPH:: Well, the term Reconstruction really, it could be misleading, in the sense like we’re trying to go back to the previous eras. Well, in a sense we’re trying to, but we’re trying to look forward to the future. We’re trying to reconstruct, if you will, these institutions and base them upon the scriptures, because that’s what society used to do.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The members of Pastor Joseph’s congregation come from several denominations, and now embrace the Calvinist strains of Reconstruction. In the back of the church, a lecture program invites the faithful to a series of evening meetings.
RAY JOSEPH:: The numbers of Reconstructionist churches are rapidly multiplying, because people are learning that there is something more to Christianity than just getting to heaven, you know, and it’s something for this earth, it’s something for here, something for our communities. This is spreading rapidly, and it’s catching on across the country, so I think there is a tremendous movement going on. And all the cynics put together end to end aren’t going to stop it; the kingdom in here on earth.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The new kingdom would gradually reshape the democracy we know. Dr. Rushdoony has lost faith in democracy; he says it is, quote, “The great love of the failures and cowards of life.” Christianity, he says, is basically and radically antidemocratic, it is committed to a spiritual aristocracy.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: If democracy exalts man to the place of God, and the will of man to the place of God, it will fail. And it is failing today.
BILL MOYERS: And you think democracy has substituted what for the kingdom of God?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The will of the majority. The will of the majority. It has become Rousseau personified. Without a faith in a supernatural standard of morality, this is the logical conclusion. The only standard becomes what is legal, what the majority says is tolerable. And so much of the discussion today of right and wrong is in terms of, does the majority want it, and majoritarianism can be evil.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Reconstructionists say that if the majority were Christians, truly believing and obeying the Bible, America would not be permissive.
DEMONSTRATOR, Gay Rights Parade: God made us just as she made the snowflakes, each one of us different.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Conduct condemned in their reading of the Bible, conduct like homosexuality and gay rights, would not be permitted. Reconstructionists deplore the majority vote of the Supreme Court that made abortion legal.
DEMONSTRATORS: We want prayer! We want prayer!
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] By majority vote, the courts ruled unconstitutional prayers in the public school. Public education is in crisis because the majority passively accepts humanistic standards set by the state. Entitlement programs like welfare and Medicare defy the biblical injunction that only the people who work should eat. Taxes amount to what Reconstructionists call theft by government; pornography flourishes because the majority is indifferent. And the nation’s prisons fail at justice, because the majority favors the rights of the accused and coddles the common criminal.
Virtually all of society’s ills, from AIDS to the deficit, Reconstructionists attribute to the decline of biblical authority in an increasingly godless society, a people exalting the laws of man ahead of the law of God.
WOMAN: God is not mocked. You cannot mock God. One day there is going to be a judgment.
BILL MOYERS: Your family lived 2,000 years, as I understand it, near Mount Ararat, the old biblical mountain, which is right in the heart of Armenia. And Armenia, in 300 A.D., was the first country to adopt Christianity as the official religion.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Is that the kind of society you’re looking for here, where Christianity is the official religion, like it was in Armenia?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: No. Anything official doesn’t mean anything unless it’s personal with the people. So the United States tomorrow, if Christianity were proclaimed the religion of the United States, wouldn’t change, because the people have to change. Because the people change, today humanism is really the working religion of the United States, and the working religion of many of the churches.
BILL MOYERS: And by humanism you mean?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: The priority and ultimately the worship of man. Our values are humanistic, even within the churches.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] R.J. Rushdoony sounds as if he stepped right out of the book of Leviticus, an Old Testament patriarch confounded by an adulterous modem world. He still writes in longhand with an old-fashioned pen. But he has turned modem technology to the service of his gospel. He appears on television talk shows, including Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.” His 30 and more books are sold around the world; some are in their seventh or eighth printing.
He is frequently a key expert witness in trials concerning the establishment of Christian schools, and the right of parents to educate their children at home, as well as court fights over textbooks and the teaching of creationism in public schools. His Chalcedon Foundation is a research center and think tank, with a newsletter that goes to more than a dozen countries.
Reconstructionists claim members of Congress among their sympathizers, a vice chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, a score of state legislators, hundreds of preachers and pastors in all 50 states, the Washington columnist John Lofton, and a smattering of Hollywood actors and celebrities, including the A Team’s” Mr. T. Rushdoony’s writings have inspired a host of younger thinkers who are turning out books, pamphlets and newsletters. One of the most popular is David Chilton; two of his books have sold more than 30,000 copies each, best sellers by most publishing standards. Rushdoony’s work has also contributed to the thinking of Reconstructionist philosopher, professor and pastor, Dr. Greg Bahnsen. His seminal work is on theonomy, the belief in the supremacy of God’s law over man’s.
Arguably the most prolific Reconstructionist writer is Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Dr. Gary North. North has written or edited 17 books. He heads the Institute for Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas, where young Reconstructionists come to research and write, and he runs Dominion Press in Fort Worth, a successful but carefully guarded publishing arm of the movement. We were not allowed to film there.
Both North and Rushdoony belong to the Council for National Policy, an organization of conservative politicians and activists, fundamentalist preachers and right-wing contributors. Reconstructionist ideas are showing up in a number of local elections, including initiatives to abolish property taxes and eliminate compulsory education in the state of Montana.
All told, an estimated 500 Reconstructionists make all or part of their living promoting one or another aspect of the movement. And just last year, many of the more prominent members gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to proclaim a “Christian Manifesto” outlining the principles and platforms for a reconstructed society.
ROBERT THOBURN: Well, they say religion and politics don’t mix, but they do. Well, because politics…
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Robert Thoburn, businessman, educator and writer, has championed the Reconstructionist cause since the early ’60s. He is a political activist and the founder and former headmaster of a prominent Christian school near his home in Fairfax, Virginia.
ROBERT THOBURN: I want to get that done. I called Metzenbaum’s office yesterday.
in midstream, when just the opposite is true. It’s incredible how they’ve done that.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Simkus and his Christian allies scored first in this delegate fight, putting their opponents on the defensive.
Mr. SIMKUS [on telephone] We’re seeing that, we’re seeing that this is a true.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Thoburn has served one term as a state representative in the grassroots movement, joining the Republican Party for what it stands, which is a Virginia House of Commons, where he handed out R.I. Rushdoony’s literature while Christian coalition movement, and the traditional country club Republican, the Bush sitting at his desk during legislative session. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Concamp, don’t feel real comfortable with that, that the grassroots people, the common grass. While Thoburn cannot be sure of the numbers, he is convinced the movement is generating momentum.
ROBERT THOBURN: All I know is that the movement is spreading all over the country and really all over the world. And I’m running into a lot of people who have been influenced by it, who may never have heard of the term Christian Reconstruction, but I can see these ideas being applied in different areas.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Thoburn has authored several books promoting Reconstructionist ideas. One of them, The Christian in Politics, instructs believers on how to succeed in the political world. While urging Christians to enter the political arena, Thoburn urges them to educate their children in Christian schools or at home.
ROBERT THOBURN: We’re not out here carrying on a big crusade to shut down public schools. What we’re doing is educating our own children, encouraging other Christians to educate their children, and eventually, as more and more people take their children out of the public school system, we won’t need a public school system any more.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Thoburn lives just across the Potomac River from Washington and travels often to Congress to lobby for Reconstructionist ideas.
ROBERT THOBURN: We’re trying to change institutions and programs, and not just personal lives. There would be a greatly diminished federal government under Christian Reconstruction, but this would come about gradually, and the people who are currently engaged in government jobs would gradually be absorbed into the private sector.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Robert Thoburn would eliminate property, social security, income and inheritance taxes. A flat tax of no more than 10% of a person’s income is what the Bible calls for-everyone would pay that percentage. Paper money, if used at all, would have to be tied to gold or silver. Prisons in the reconstructed society would be used only as holding centers for those awaiting trial or execution. Criminals would pay back society through biblical forms of restitution and indentured servitude.
EARL PAULK: Have you noticed what made Jesus weep?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is Robert Thoburn’s vision of the reformed and reconstructed society: social wounds healed with biblical solutions.
ROBERT THOBURN: A lot of Christians are searching for answers and I think there’s a serious interest in seeing how the Bible applies to different areas of life. And I think our movement has provided an intellectual background for that.
ARNIE SIMKUS: You know, Barb, if my tally is correct, the number of delegates that I count….
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Arnold and Barbara Simkus live in the suburbs of Detroit, where they try in their daily lives to witness to Christian Reconstruction. Arnie once played professional football; now, as a computer software salesman, Christian activist, and a vice chairman of Michigan’s Republican Party, he is in a different league, with a game plan inspired by the teachings of R.I. Rushdoony and Gary North.
ARNIE SIMKUS: From a political environment we’re seeing the Christian worldview is very much a part of the political worldview. It has solutions and real answers to all the things that we are wrestling with as human beings on this planet.
[on telephone] Hello? Clark, how are you? Good, very good.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Arnie Simkus has been leading a Christian coalition that supports Jack Kemp and Pat Robertson against Vice President George Bush in a fight for Republican delegates. His dream of a balanced presidential ticket would be Kemp-Robertson, or Robertson-Kemp.
ARNIE SIMKUS: [on telephone] So suddenly the rules did change, and they’re accusing the Christian coalition, the Kemp-Robertson coalition, to go-of changing the rules man person who is joining ranks, like you mentioned in Hamtramck and Detroit, and many other areas across the country, joining the Republican Party because it does stand for family and values and the things that made America great and strong, they feel uncomfortable with it.
BARBARA SIMKUS: Okay, today is Powers of Prediction. “Although many scientists scoff at miracles and attempt to…. ”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Barbara Simkus leads a home school movement. Children are taught at home by their parents, with textbooks that do not have to be approved by the state. She joined the cause after growing frustrated with her children’s public education.
BARBARA SIMKUS: When I found out that Valerie’s social studies class in the fifth grade consisted of watching films of Charles Kuralt going all over the United States, I got a little disturbed. They were not getting geography, they never learned their tables, math tables. There were so many things that just weren’t there. We were very dissatisfied. I’m concerned that they become productive citizens, and I think that they will, because, as Gary North says, “He who reads, leads.” And our children read a great deal, and they are being taught things that most of the children today don’t know. And they will be the people with the solutions, with the answers, to lead in this country; they are the future leaders of this country.
BARBARA SIMKUS: So how are we going to find out what the finance charge is?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Barbara’s daughter Valerie hopes to become one of those leaders. She’s a teenage Republican, and started her own business designing and selling political buttons.
VALERIE SIMKUS: I know a lot of kids, they don’t want to change things, they just want to go along with everything else. But you know, we want to change things now, so, you know, we can enjoy prosperity now instead of later.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In search of that same prosperity are the Garaway children of San Jose, California. Diane Garaway home schools her five children, using their garage as a classroom, and the Bible as the principal text. The Garaways are a Jewish family, now attracted to a vision of a Christian America. Bill Garaway is a California contractor; in his college days at UCLA, he burned his draft card and helped lead the resistance to the Vietnam war. Today he champions the cause of Christian Reconstruction.
BILL GARAWAY: The change we want to see might take five years, 10 years, 20 years, the next generation. And that’s why we’re doing school the way we’re doing it, because, you know, we’re looking to the next generation. That’s one of the things that the Reconstructionists I think have really been a positive influence, because they think generationally.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Bill Garaway once embraced the ideas of Karl Marx. Now he advances the word of Jesus Christ. He runs a political action group, The Liberators, training candidates in the San Francisco Bay area. Two years ago, he organized a Christian business group with some 300 members from Hawaii to San Diego and international chapters in more than a dozen countries.
BILL GARAWAY: Businessmen have a purpose in the kingdom of God. And I don’t believe we’re going to force someone to accept our theological views, but we’re going to create models and examples and answers that are going to attract people and draw people. And, you know, we’ll win in the marketplace.
DAVID CHILTON: [speaking] The Lord your God gives you the power to get well.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] One of the principal speakers is the Reconstruction writer David Chilton. Chilton argues that Christianity is the stepping-stone to prosperity.
DAVID CHILTON: You don’t have the things that you have because you’re so smart. You don’t. You have them because of what Deuteronomy 8 says. Deuteronomy 8
says God gave you this.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Darlene and David Chilton are spreading the word in northern California. Their oldest son, Nathan, attends a Christian school that Darlene helped to start. The younger children are home schooled.
DAVID CHILTON: Christian Reconstruction says that there are specifically Christian principles of education as opposed to pagan ones. And the only way the world will work successfully, long term, is if Christian principles are applied.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Families like these provide the grassroots constituency for Reconstructionism. The Simkus family in Michigan has started a church, which meets for the time being in a hotel conference room. A dozen or so families gather on Sunday evenings for worship; drawn from other denominations, they include former Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists and Jews. Most Reconstructionist churches are small, but Reconstructionist ideas are showing up in the modern temples of America’s super churches.
It’s called the revelry of the Holy Ghost. The charismatic movement: ecstasy over doctrine, feelings filled with the beat of the spirit, healing for the heart and rhythm for the soul. The congregation of Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Atlanta numbers more than 12,000. Twenty-two pastors lead the church’s affairs, from the kindergarten, primary and high school to an array of social and counseling services, plus a dynamic orchestra. Bishop Earl Paulk is father of the flock, and his often electrifying show is telecast at large on the Trinity Broadcasting Service.
Bishop EARL PAULK, Chapel Hill Harvester Church, Atlanta: Jesus is Lord, say Jesus is Lord. Say it again, Jesus is Lord. Say it again. He’s lord of circumstances, he’s lord of family, he’s lord of government, whether they like it or not. God, let your government come to pass. Let your government come to pass that’s now in the heavenly realm, let it come to pass in the earthly realm.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Bishop Paulk’s church is nondenominational. While he shuns the label Reconstructionist, his sermons resonate with the rhetoric.
EARL PAULK: And the very moment you say the church ought not to be concerned about government, is the very moment you cut off the work of the Holy Ghost.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] He preaches dominion or kingdom theology, the belief that Christians can rule this earth in the here and now.
EARL PAULK: The kingdom of God really means the rule of God, it means the reign of God. And even in the familiar Lord’s Prayer, it says, “Pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.” So kingdom theology is bringing to bear kingdom principles in earthly situations.
[preaching] And the reason our country’s in the shape it is today, is because we have lost the biblical and moral influence that the church is supposed to bear on the state.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Paulk aims for the hearts and souls of his flock, and for their minds as well. The bishop’s bookstore is filled with his books and other Christian literature. There’s a shelf of Reconstructionist writers. In the lobby, a call to action, political action.
EARL PAULK: Well, you see, the ultimate end of the kingdom of God is to return the rule and reign completely to God, and that would become some kind of theocracy.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Kingdom theology and Christian Reconstruction form the political and religious platform for Reverend Joseph Morecraft, whose headquarters are also in Atlanta. A Republican, Morecraft ran unsuccessfully for the seat of congressman Larry McDonald, a member of the John Birch Society, who died when Korean Airline 007 was shot down by the Soviets. Morecraft founded a thriving Christian school in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody. He’s a hard-core Reconstructionist whose ideas blend Calvinist theology and charismatic energy.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: It’s the first time in the 20lh century when the charismatics and the Calvinistic churches have gotten together on common principles. And as some have said, that what’s happening today is a mixture of the light of historic reformed faith and the heat of the modern charismatic movement. You could have light and freeze to death in the light; you could have heat and be in darkness; but when you mix light and heat, you have something that is going to be very difficult to quench and to stop. And so, what much of this movement is, is a popularization of age-old principles and truths that are right at the bedrock of what mainstream Christianity has been for 2,000 years. And it’s exciting to see the groups that we’ve touched, the Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic. Denominational affiliation means very little in this whole movement today, and even beyond those who would identify themselves as Christian Reconstructionists, our influence goes into many of the leading conservative organizations of the New Right today, through books and newsletters. So in our day it has become one of the most influential and one of the fastest-growing movements in American Christendom.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Joseph Morecraft is trying to arrange a marriage between Reconstructionists and charismatics who practice kingdom theology. This year he helped to organize a meeting of more than 100 Reconstructionists and sympathizers behind the closed doors of a Dallas Airport hotel.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: It’s the first of its kind in this century. It is a meeting of charismatics, independent Baptists, and Presbyterians, all of whom who call themselves Christian Reconstructionists; it’s the first time we’ve all met each other. We’re all coming together under common principles and with a common faith to learn to know each other, to not be afraid of each other anymore, to pray for each other and to lay plans on how we can coordinate all of our efforts. So I think there’s going to be some tremendous things take place in the advance of the Christian Reconstruction movement as a result of this meeting in Dallas, Texas.
EDWIN MEESE, U.S. Attorney General: From the earliest days, the reliance on divine authority has been professed by the greatest leaders of our country. George Washington, our first president, said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In September, more than 3,000 evangelical Christians gathered in Washington, D.C., for the second annual Congress on the Bible. The welcome to the nation’s capital was delivered by Attorney General Edwin Meese.
EDWIN MEESE: It is important to remember that the source of authority for the highest leaders and the source to guide the lowest citizen remains the same: the word of God, as expressed in the Bible.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] These people represent the conservative core of evangelical Christians. Few would call themselves Reconstructionists, and many oppose outright the linking of God’s kingdom to any political order. For now, they’re more apt to heed the call of Chuck Colson than R.J. Rushdoony.
CHARLES COLSON: If Christ is king, he is king over all, king of kings.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Chuck Colson was chairman of the convocation. A close White House assistant to Richard Nixon, Colson went to jail for Watergate-related crimes. In prison, he became a born-again Christian, and is now influential in evangelical circles. Colson believes Christians should be politically active, but he does not share the Reconstructionist union of church and state.
CHARLES COLSON: The problem is, Reconstructionist thinking is a very small group, but its ideas have widely pervaded the Christian church. And it’s part of the political illusion of our day, the idea that there’s a political solution to every problem; we can’t solve things quick enough, so let’s get to Washington and let’s get a law passed, and see if we can’t get revival through Congress. Well, that’s just not the way God works.
[speaking] There’s a group of convicts out of Lorton Prison and a whole lot of Christian volunteers ….
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Colson spends most of his time counseling prisoners and writing. His latest book contains a fictionalized account of a Christian president whose allegiance to the Bible conflicts with the oath of office.
CHARLES COLSON: Martin Luther once said he’d rather be governed by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian. And if you’ve got a riot breaking out, the most important thing is that those are well-trained riot police, not that they’re in Bible study. Reconstructionism, because it depends so heavily upon the imposition of biblical law on secular society, would in my judgment require a much bigger government, but I think if you want to bring the kingdom of God in by human means, which is really what the Reconstructionist is advocating, it would take a massive government and a massive army in order to restrain the evil in this fallen world and to bring about utopia, which is the kingdom of God on earth.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Congress on the Bible brought together hundreds of exhibitors, featuring a wide variety of Christian literature. Reconstructionists displayed their books, too, and their claims of influence at the congress brought a protest from one speaker, Dr. Norman Geisler.
Dr. NORMAN GEISLER: Well, Reconstructionists want to set up a Christian American, whereas evangelicals want to set up a moral America. We think that America needs to get back to moral principles, but we don’t think that the Bible should be the basis for civil law.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Dr. Geisler is a prominent professor of theology in Dallas, Texas, and a conservative Christian activist.
NORMAN GEISLER: We look at America and we see the statistics of the public schools declining, immorality prevailing, pornography on the rise, abortion, we’re killing 4,300 babies every day in America, 1.5 million a year. And Christians are fed up with this, and they want to do something moral, something good, something just. Along come the Reconstructionists and say, “I’ve got a plan for you. Let’s make this a Christian country.” And they suck in a lot of these naive people, who have good motives, and good causes, and make them part of their movement and use them for their ultimate goal.
Well, their goal is very militant. Rushdoony said, and this is virtually a quote, “The saints must prepare to take over the world’s courts and its governments.” That’s their goal. Now, they’ll allow freedom when it’s necessary to reach that ultimate goal, but when it’s reached, there’ll be no freedom for anyone except people who believe their way.
DAVID CHILTON: The trouble is, there are some Reconstructionists who speak in terms of a takeover. That scares me to death. I used to do it.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The popular Reconstructionist writer David Chilton is also disturbed by his more militant brethren, especially the man he once studied under at the Institute for Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas. When he and North clashed over politics and other issues, Chilton moved his family to northern California.
DAVID CHILTON: Gary North is brilliant. He’s taught me a lot; he knows a heck of a lot about economics. But he also has this streak of anger, and I can’t explain where it comes from or why it is, but it’s there. And it comes out in his theology, and it’s very destructive. Some Reconstructionists haven’t been able to decide yet whether they want to be Christians or whether they want to be members of a right-wing political cult.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We wanted to interview Gary North for this report, to ask him about some of the views espoused in his writings. He has written, quote, “The escalation of the Christian’s confrontation with government bureaucracies has only just begun.” “The modern world has been threatened by the rise of mass democracy, the politics of one man, one vote. ” Just as a magistrate or other civil officer in the United States swears with his left hand on the Bible, promising to uphold the Constitution, so should he swear on the Constitution, promising to uphold the Bible.” North refused to be interviewed, and tried to prevent other Reconstructionist leaders from talking to us.
[interviewing] Let me ask you what you think about this quote, and this is the only one I want to ask you about your son-in-law, Gary North. He wrote in some magazine, “So let us be blunt about it. We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools, until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral city-civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order, which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” Do you agree with that?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: No, and that’s one of many reasons why we don’t get along. I don’t believe that’s right, and I think Gary is paying a price for that type of opinion.
BILL MOYERS: By saying that there should be no neutral education, no neutral civil government.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: I don’t think education is ever neutral, I will agree with that, and I am saying also that there is no neutral civil government.
BILL MOYERS: It must be religious.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: It is, inescapably. I’m not saying it must be, I’m saying it inevitably is. There’s always a commitment. You cannot have a law that is neutral. What I am saying is, I don’t believe in compulsion in these areas. I believe that we must work to bring people into the faith, not whip them into it.
BILL MOYERS: So when he says, “Then they will get busy” -Christians -“in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God,” you say no.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: No. I’m not trying to deprive anyone of their freedom.
BILL MOYERS: But you see, I think Jesus would be astonished if he could see the extremes of brutality and intolerance practiced in his name. And what is to keep the adherents of Rushdoony’s wisdom going in the extremes outlined by your son-in-law?
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: There is no guarantee against anything in this world. The only thing sure, as Dorothy Parker said, are death and taxes.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: We’re not trying to create some kind of Ayatollah Khomeini Islamic theocracy. We are trying to educate Americans ….
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We will be hearing these voices for some time to come. They are shaping the debate over the nature and future of American democracy, our way of life, and the personal beliefs of Americans toward God and politics.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: Everybody’s going to benefit. Whether they’re Christians, whether they’re Protestant Christians or Catholic Christians or Jews or whatever they be, everybody will benefit from having a Christian culture. Where Christian principles reign supreme, where people in places of leadership recognize the supremacy of God, there will be more freedom, more prosperity, more security for every law-abiding American.
NORMAN GEISLER: You have to differentiate between their ultimate goal, which is really a kind of theocracy, a kind of rule of Christianity of the whole world, and their immediate tactical plans. Immediately there would be freedom, but ultimately there wouldn’t be.
ROBERT THOBURN: Christian Reconstructionists aren’t interested in imposing their ideas on people. Our idea is to change people, change the world, so that people will themselves want to be under God.
CHARLES COLSON: Well, if you can convince 100% of the people to live by a certain value, we will have achieved utopia on this earth, which will be the first time in 3500 years of recorded history that that’s happened.
ROUSAS JOHN RUSHDOONY: People have the idea that the Bible is going to interfere greatly with our lives. It would give us more freedom than we’ve ever experienced.
CHARLES COLSON: I believe there is one source of truth, but I am prepared to fight for someone else to believe that there’s one source of truth, as well.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: The choice is light or darkness. The choice is Christian morality or no morality.
NORMAN GEISLER: I think that is radical, I think that is untenable, I think that’s unconstitutional, and that’s exactly why this movement is a danger to America, a danger to democracy, and a danger to our freedom.
JOSEPH MORECRAFT: The source of law is not the Supreme Court. I can say that there are things in which the decisions of the Supreme Court have been morally repugnant. It’s not the will of the majority; for me, the source of law is God. My prayer is that through the growth of Christian schools, through the growth of local Christian churches like this one, through the unified working together and coordination of all of this large network of Christian Reconstruction movements and all their influence, that it is my prayer by the year 2000 we’ll be well on our way toward the Christianization of the United States, which will mean truly lasting liberty and justice for all.
BILL MOYERS: We can’t measure Christian Reconstruction by any single part of it. Its ranks include sincere and well-intentioned folk, deeply loyal to family, church and country. They truly believe America would be a better place if only more of us would more openly espouse Christian values and ideas -their version of such virtues, of course. But they don’t call for violent revolution to bring about the rule of the righteous; they think it will come when the hearts of men and women are changed by faith. In the meantime, like other believers left and right, they work to bring their Christian truth to bear on public policy.
This isn’t new; moral values essential to the common good are often the fruit of religious piety, and America owes much to the strength of voluntary religious sanctions voluntary. Those Reconstructionists hostile to democracy reject it for the very reason most of us embrace it. Democracy is the enemy of the absolute, our best defense against the organized intolerance and patriotic aggression that occur throughout history when the righteous rule righteously.
To be sure, there is much about America in need of grace, and all comers should be welcomed to the neighborhood, the Reconstructionists included. But saving this country is everyone’s calling, our common office as citizens. Democracy means freedom, choice and persuasion, not coercion and conformity. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on April 30, 2015.