A state legislator in Washington is under scrutiny after issuing a document that outlines the “Biblical Basis for War.”
The manifesto distributed by state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) conjures up images of a “Holy army” that will overturn marriage equality and legal abortion as well as ban “idolatry and occultism.” Openly proclaiming that “God is a Warrior,” the document chillingly lays down rules for dealing with those who refuse to obey “biblical law”: They should first be given a chance to surrender, but if they choose to resist, they should be invaded, conquered and, in some cases, killed.
“If they yield – must pay share of work or taxes,” the manifesto says. “If they do not yield – kill all males.”
Faced with the document’s troubling contents, Shea decided to go with the always-popular claim that it was taken out of context. The document, he says, was part of a lecture series on the Old Testament.
There’s good reason to be skeptical. Shea has long championed far-right causes and hangs out with groups that advocate “Christian nation” ideas, promote conspiracy theories and even press for eastern Washington forming its own state. Many of these people would like to see a society built on “biblical law” – as they define it, of course.
All Religious Right groups are extreme, but at the furthest fringe there rests a collection of people who openly embrace theocracy. They go by different names – Christian Reconstructionists, theonomists, dominionists or Christian nationalists. Many of them argue for a society based on the legalistic books of the Bible, especially Leviticus. In their view, anyone who fails to follow all of the laws outlined in these books – even the complex dietary restrictions – should be imprisoned or killed.
In 1988, I wrote an article about this movement for Church & State and interviewed several of its leaders. It was highly disturbing to chat with people who would matter-of-factly explain to you that the Bible mandates the death penalty for homosexuality, blasphemy, “witchcraft,” adultery, “unchastity” and propagation of false doctrines, among other things.
The Reconstructionists are no fans of democracy. One of them, Gary North, who declined my request for an interview back in ‘88, has written that because the Bible does not recognize democracy, there can be no such thing as “one man, one vote.” North said the world has been “threatened” by such ideas.
He and other Reconstructionists also despise the very idea of freedom of conscience because, in their view, it can lead people down the wrong path. The founding father of Reconstructionism, a man named Rousas John Rushdoony who died in 2001, was clear on this, once writing, “In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed.”
It’s sometimes argued that people with thinking this far around the bend are just cranks who can be safely dismissed. That would be a mistake. While the Reconstructionists are not likely to seize control next week, their movement has had a profound influence on America’s Religious Right groups.
Calls for “biblical values” in public life or demands that a narrow slice of right-wing fundamentalist Christianity merge with the state contain more than an echo of Reconstructionist thought. Efforts to strip members of the LGBTQ community of their rights or control women’s reproductive lives are usually anchored in someone’s narrow interpretation of the Bible. Demands that our public schools stop teaching evolution or parrot bogus “Christian nation” history are rooted in the false belief that America would be better off if church and state were thoroughly mixed.
Many people active in the Religious Right long to use their religion to tell the rest of us what to do, although they deny that when pressed. The Reconstructionists are at least honest enough to say it upfront. Shea’s manifesto is more of the same. It’s an insistence that the Bible (as interpreted by a small band of far-right fundamentalists) provides justification for whatever these folks want to do – and that usually involves them running everyone else’s lives.
When you survey the incredible diversity of religious and non-religious thought in our free society, it’s hard to grasp that there are some people who think the founders made a mistake when they rejected church-state union and theocracy, opting instead for a wall of separation between church and state. Yet recent events have proven to us, once again, that religious and political extremism is alive and well in our nation.
Advocates of theocracy are among us. They have a right to their strange beliefs – and we have a right to tell them how wrong they are.