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Kingdom Coming…Buyer Beware

John on May 30, 2006 at 2:15 pm

There seems to be a groundswell of books warning that America is two skips and a jump from theocracy. The latest, written by Salon senior writer Michelle Goldberg, is titled Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.

Salon posted an excerpt of the book today. As HolyOffice notes on his livejournal site, “Goldberg casts doubt on her ability to serve as a reliable guide by repeatedly confusing premillenialism with rapture theology, by confusing the Weimar-era “conservative revolution” in Germany with Nazism, and by apparently believing that Leviticus was a person.” As you’ll see in a moment, however, these aren’t the only reasons to be skeptical of Goldberg’s bona fides on this topic.

The excerpt itself is predictable in every way. There is lots of talk about Judge Roy Moore and Christian Reconstructionists. Goldberg notes (in a typically breathless passage), “thousands of Americans nationwide have flocked to rallies at which military men don uniforms and pledge to seize the reins of power in America on behalf of Christianity.” Thousands? Wow, that’s almost the entire readership of Salon. Goldberg then devotes half a page to a description of a rally at the Texas Capitol where “A few hundred people from across the state had turned out…” At which point I have to ask, how potent a force is Christian theocracy in America when only a few hundred show up for a rally in Texas? After all, there are probably 5 million Christians within a two hour drive of the Texas Capitol building. When a few hundred from across the entire state show up, that should tell you something. But Ms. Goldberg doesn’t seem interested in seeing the forest, only the trees that look threatening.

A two paragraph review of the history of Dominion theology leads to my least favorite part of the excerpt:

Since the 1970s, though, in tandem with the rise of the religious right, premillennialism has been politicized. A crucial figure in this process was the seminal evangelical writer Francis Schaeffer, an American who founded L’Abri, a Christian community in the Swiss Alps where religious intellectuals gathered to talk and study. As early as the 1960s, Schaeffer was reading Rushdoony and holding seminars on his work. Schaeffer went on to write a series of highly influential books elucidating the idea of the Christian worldview. A Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, described modern history as a contest between the Christian worldview and the materialist one, saying, “These two world views stand as totals in complete antithesis to each other in content and also in their natural results — including sociological and government results, and specifically including law.”

Schaeffer was not a theocrat, but he drew on Reconstructionist ideas of America as an originally Christian nation. In “A Christian Manifesto,” he warned against wrapping Christianity in the American flag, but added, “None of this, however, changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, nor that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government.” Schaeffer was one of the first evangelical leaders to get deeply involved in the fight against abortion, and he advocated civil disobedience and the possible use of force to stop it. “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority,” he wrote.

Dragging Francis Schaeffer into this is just low. Undoubtedly, most of the regular readers of Salon know little more about Schaeffer than the sketch Goldberg paints of him. In reality, he was an extremely well educated man, a lover of art, music, and writing, with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of history. Goldberg admits that Schaeffer was not a theocrat, but goes on to paint him as an anti-abortion radical who sanctioned force. Because she fails to define “force” the reader is left with the definite impression that Schaeffer was on the leading edge of abortion clinic bombings. What utter crap nonsense.

In reality, Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto does have a chapter called “The Use of Force” and the chapter does indeed argue that in certain circumstances, when all other avenues have been closed, defensive force should be used. Schaeffer gives an example, “A true Christian in Hitler’s Germany…should have defied the false and counterfeit state and hidden his Jewish neighbors…” Anyone want to disagree? Schaeffer then turns to the issue of abortion and gives three avenues to address it:

  • First, we should aggresively support a human life bill or a constitutional amendment protecting unborn children
  • Second, we must enter the courts seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.
  • Third, legal and political action should be taken against hospitals and abortion clinics that perform abortions

He further clarifies #3 as involving legislation, lawsuits and non-violent picketing outside of clinics. So “force”, in this case, does not equate to violence but to non-violent action. Finally, Schaeffer adds a fourth action point:

  • Fourth, the State must be made to feel the prescence of the Christian community.

Describing what he means by this, Schaeffer writes:

State officials must know that we are serious about stopping abortion, which is a matter of clear principle concerning the babies themselves and concerning a high view of human life. This may include doing such things as sit-ins in legislatures and courts, including the Supreme Court, when other constitutional means fail. We must make people aware that this is not a political game, but totally crucial and serious. And we must also demonstrate to people that there is indeed a proper bottom line. To repeat: the bottom line is that at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state.

So contrary to the impression left by Goldberg’s summary, Schaffer was quite explicit about what he meant by the use of force. It was explicitly peaceful civil disobedience as a last resort. He never advocated violence against aborion providers or seizing the reigns of power through violence. In fact, the paragraph above is immediately followed by this one:

Of course, this is scary. There are at least four reasons why. First, we must make definite that we are in no way talking about any kind of a theocracy. Let me say that with great emphasis. Witherspoon, Jefferson, the American Founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy. [Emphasis mine]

Those thinking of purchasing Michelle Goldberg’s book might want to consider how artfully she handles facts. If she can leave the reader with the impression that one of the brightest, most rational evangelical writers of the 20th century was a closeted clinic bomber, there’s no telling what she’s done in the rest of her book.

Caveat emptor.

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