"The army of God is to conquer the earth, to subdue it, to rule over it, to exercise dominion. Christians are called to war." — George Grant
Usually when we think of a theocracy, we think of an authoritarian society, headed perhaps, by a king, or an ayatollah. Such governments usually come to power through coups, wars, or inheritance. However, there is an important theocratic movement in the U .S. today, and it's seeking power through democratic elections. And the way things are going in California, the theocrats are becoming a force to be reckoned with.
California has been the focus of political experimentation by the Christian right since the mid-1980s, and these experiments are beginning to bear fruit. For example, in San Diego County, the Christian right fielded 90 candidates for local offices such as school board, rural fire district, and city council in November 1990. Sixty of them won. Events in San Diego County epitomize the new Christian right since the rise and fall of the stars of televangelism.
Colonel V. Doner, a key Christian right strategist, wrote in 1988 about the lessons learned from the movement he helped create. He says there is a two-part solution to the "failures" of the Christian right. The first, he said, is that "the Christian right had better be able to command complete and total loyalty and selfless dedication and sacrifice to its objectives on the part of its supporters." Second, Doner insists on "an orthodox... Christian doctrine that clearly demands that all Christians be ac tive."
The "doctrine," to which Doner is evidently referring, is Christian Reconstructionism, a virulently political theology which seeks to impose Biblical law on all of society. They believe that they have a divine mandate to build the kingdom of God on earth. Some leading Reconstructionists believe that contemporary application of Old Testament laws would mean the institution of the death penalty, not only for such crimes as murder and rape, but adultery, idolatry, heresy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and juveni le delinquency, and possibly, the breaking of the Sabbath.
Most evangelical churches in this century have adhered to variants of premillennialism — belief that Jesus will return before a thousand-year era of peace — which generally discourages political involvement, believing that Satan rules this world, and that little can be done until Jesus returns. Doner believes this view is "escapist" and a "bogus theology."
The recent appearance of militant Reconstructionist George Grant as the featured speaker at the annual banquet of the San Diego Evangelical Association, epitomizes the Reconstructionist trend. Grant, who is also a vice president of televangelist D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, was also a featured speaker at the big Operation Rescue rally in Wichita, Kansas last summer.
The "total loyalty" Doner requires is being created by the "shepherding/discipleship" model of church organization. Shepherding is a highly authoritarian system of personal supervision by a hierarchy of elders and shepherds. Over the years, this system ha s been fraught with abuses. Shepherds often control all one's important decisions, from choice of marriage partner and career to, of course, politics.
One catalyst for a Reconstructionist-oriented, shepherding-based movement has been the Coalition on Revival (COR), on whose steering committee sits top shepherds Bob Mumford and Dennis Peacocke, as well as Colonel Doner, and top Reconstructionists R.J. Ru shdoony and Gary North. COR is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California in Santa Clara County, near San Jose.
In September 1987, COR chief Jay Grimstead and his pastor Mike Kiley of the Home Church, organized a meeting of evangelical pastors in Santa Clara County. According to a tape of the meeting, their purpose was to set up a "pastors committee" for long-range social and political takeover. Grimstead proposed an experimental program to ground pastors in COR-approved theology and shepherding techniques over 18 months. They they would select 6-12 "elders, deacons, (or) staff" to become their personal disciples. When ready, they in turn would disciple other church members.
Grimstead enthused that with 25 churches so discipled, "we could create an army...of people who are ready to die for Jesus. And to die for your vision as a pastor."
Rev. Kiley described a discipleship program in which dissenters would be brought into obedience or expelled. He also said that when a city gathers enough disciples, "This is when Jay [Grimstead] comes in." He explained, "because once we raise up people, m any of them are called to areas of government... And we are able to filter them into the right type of places because they've been well-trained."
Grimstead explained that "several national groups of strategists are looking at 60 major cities" for long-term influence. This would include "replace[ment] of anti-biblical elected officials with biblically oriented candidates."
"So," he concluded, "we are launching today...an experimental effort to get a model for how that is to be done."
One COR activist is Rev. Billy Falling of Escondido, California, in San Diego County. For seven years, he has run the Christian Voters League (CVL), which has chapters all over California. Falling promotes a popularized version of Reconstructionism he cal ls "the political mission of the church," and in 1991 published a book by that title, in which he argues that "according to the Bible, legitimate civil government is the police department within the Kingdom of God on earth," and "it is to impose God's ven geance upon those who abandon God's laws of justice."
"Both Church and State," Falling continues, "are to be under subjection to the Word of God. This requires a political mission of the Church."
The book has been distributed widely in California, and is about to go national. Among the book's endorsers are Jay Grimstead, and U.S. Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-CA), who also wrote the introduction.
In an article in the CVL newsletter, Dannemeyer's primary challenge to Sen. John Seymour (R-CA) was announced under the headline: "CVL Charter member to Run for U.S. Senate." The article, which made clear Dannemeyer and Falling's long association, as well as outlining his career and views, listed Dannemeyer's upcoming appearances at local churches. Falling wrote: "Please contact my office... if you wish this CVL member to speak at your function."
Dr. Sam Rodriguez is another key figure in the Falling network, as the CVL director for northern California. Rodriguez ran unsuccessfully for state school superintendent in 1990, and is already running for a re-match with incumbent Bill Honig in 1994. Ear lier this year, he bought 100 copies of The Political Mission of the Church for pastors in Shasta County. He then organized a meeting reportedly attended by 115 people, featuring a talk by Falling.
The enthusiastic endorsement of this book by important politicians like Dannemeyer and Rodriguez raises disturbing questions about their commitment to democracy and religious freedom. If these leaders believe, like Falling, that government is the "police department of the Kingdom of God," whose job is to wreak "God's vengeance" for infraction of "God's laws," Californians — indeed, all Americans — need to ask what laws? And what punishments?
Elsewhere in the book, Falling refines his theocratic intentions: "We must discard the foolish interpretation we have so long held of the 'separation of church and state' ... Only when we restore the Bible and Its [sic] truth as the supreme law of the land will we be in line with God's intention and plan for government."
Do Falling, Dannemeyer, and Rodriguez believe, like leading Reconstructionists, that homosexuals and heretics should be executed? These are fair and serious questions, that may increasingly need to be asked of many politicians of the Christian right. Just how far do they plan to go with the notion of Biblical law?
Meanwhile, the San Diego Surprise of November 1990 is the most dramatic example to date of the efficacy of the county level organizing strategy of the Christian right. Here's how it worked: Candidates were recruited, primarily by Steve Baldwin and Dan Van Tiegham of the California Pro-Life Council (an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee). Most of the candidates did not campaign, thus avoiding alarming the opposition. These, mostly political unknowns, were pre-screened for political reliabili ty. Though novices, they could be trained and groomed for higher office. "The people we recruit will be like our farm league," Baldwin told the Southern California Christian Times.
Baldwin reportedly obtained membership lists of sympathetic churches to be compared with voter registration lists. This was followed by "massive" phone banks to turn out "the Christian vote." Then the California Pro-Life Council endorsed the candidates, b y obvious pre-arrangement, and distributed 200,000 endorsement flyers in church parking lots the Sunday before the election. Van Teigham wrote that a similar effort in June 1990 "resulted in a takeover of the San Diego County Republican Party by pro-famil y activists." "Incredibly," he concluded, "most of the victorious candidates did no campaigning except to help distribute flyers."
Baldwin (who is running Rep. Dannemeyer's Senate campaign) promises to field another 200 candidates in 1992. Baldwin was a speaker at candidate training seminars sponsored by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition this summer. Van Teigham was recently named the Coalition's state coordinator, and is currently recruiting and training candidates state-wide.
Generally, the Christian right's strategy is aimed at turning out high numbers of voters from a disciplined church-based voting bloc, to take advantage of the low general voter turn-out in any given election.
The theocrats are acutely aware of their minority status and the opportunities presented by voter apathy. George Grant writes: "Since only about 60% of the people are registered to vote and only about 35% of those actually bother to go to the polls, a can didate only needs to get the support of a small, elite group of citizens to win. It only takes about 11% of the electorate to gain a seat in the House or the Senate. It only takes about 9% to gain a governorship... 7% to gain an average mayoral or city co uncil post." Liberal humanists, writes Grant, "can be defeated by a handful of well organized, well informed, dedicated, individuals."
The theocratic intentions to exploit the weaknesses of contemporary democracy in the U.S. are clear. How well it will work, remains to be seen.