Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism

Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism

Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism

Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism


This is the first critical history of Christian Reconstruction and its founder and champion, theologian and activist Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001). Drawing on exclusive access to Rushdoony's personal papers and extensive correspondence, Michael J. McVicar demonstrates the considerable role Reconstructionism played in the development of the radical Christian Right and an American theocratic agenda. As a religious movement, Reconstructionism aims at nothing less than "reconstructing" individuals through a form of Christian governance that, if implemented in the lives of U.S. citizens, would fundamentally alter the shape of American society.
McVicar examines Rushdoony's career and traces Reconstructionism as it grew from a grassroots, populist movement in the 1960s to its height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. He reveals the movement's galvanizing role in the development of political conspiracy theories and survivalism, libertarianism and antistatism, and educational reform and homeschooling. The book demonstrates how these issues have retained and in many cases gained potency for conservative Christians to the present day, despite the decline of the movement itself beginning in the 1990s. McVicar contends that Christian Reconstruction has contributed significantly to how certain forms of religiosity have become central, and now familiar, aspects of an often controversial conservative revolution in America.


To surrender children to the state is to turn them over to the enemy.
For the surrendered children … to turn on the society that begat them
and to destroy it is a judgment on the Moloch worship of their elders

—R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:40

Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that
sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely
be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones

—Leviticus 20:2 (King James Version)

In 1945, on the isolated Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada, a young Presbyterian missionary named Rousas John Rushdoony had an idea. He believed that the troubles of the reservation’s Paiute and Shoshone inhabitants were directly linked to the poor education they received in the reservation schools. He called his flock together to discuss the matter. During the meeting, “[i]t was decided that the present government-controlled school board was highly unsatisfactory.” One of the church’s elders was “the sole Indian on the Board,” so Rushdoony suggested that another tribal elder should run. But the reverend’s goals were more ambitious than simply placing another Indian member of his church on the school board. “A Christian principal is our objective,” he told the meeting, “plus a Christian staff, all willing to work with the Church on a broad Christian communal program.” Rushdoony reckoned that education based on Christian principles would not only help save the souls of the enrolled children but, over time, would also change the culture of the reservation and lead to the spiritual redemption and regeneration of the entire reservation. Since the area was so isolated, Rushdoony knew that his mission did not face the “usual competition most Churches face” from non-Christian diversions. He also . . .

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