- The Constitution of the United States Article VI, Section 3
An often-forgotten part of our history is that colonial America was a collection of little Protestant theocracies. Even many of the early states continued to have "established churches" — Anglican, Congregational, or Dutch Reformed. And to hold public off ice, one had to be a member of the "established" church. Thus, a vital part of the new democratic society was the "disestablishment" of the state churches, the abolition of "religious tests" for officeholders, and the enactment of laws protecting religiou s freedom for all.
But some leaders of the contemporary Christian Right long for a return to religious tests for public office, among other elements of the pre-constitutional theocracies. Among these is Michael Farris, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Vir ginia. Mr. Farris, whose nomination epitomizes the Christian Right takeover of the state GOP, is a longtime Christian Right activist (as detailed in a recent report by People for the American Way).1 He once served, for example, as general couns el for Concerned Women for America. But one aspect of Farris' record that has gone unreported is his involvement with the theocratic Coalition on Revival (COR).
The 11-year-old COR networks the disparate theological camps of evangelical Christianity while advancing a theocratic platform. Farris was a signer of the original (1986) COR Manifesto, and was a steering committee member through the late 1980s.2
Among COR's positions (to which steering committee members were to have signed): "We deny that anyone Jew or Gentile, believer or unbeliever, private person or public person is exempt from the moral and juridical obligation before God to submit to Christ' s Lordship over every aspect of his life in thought word and deed." Another COR requirement is that one be "willing to be martyred for Jesus Christ and the establishment of his Kingdom here on earth" and be "willing to submit to the hierarchical order tha t God has created in which we are willing to submit as to Christ to employers, civil government, and church leaders, and within families, wives to their husbands, and children to their parents."
Much of this reflects the influence of Christian Reconstructionism, a theological movement whose leadership has been represented on the COR steering committee. Among these are R. J. Rushdoony of Chalcedon Foundation, Gary North of the Institute for Christ ian Economics, Rev. Joseph Morecraft of the Counsel of Chalcedon, and Gary DeMar of American Vision. While COR is not specifically reconstructionist, such conservative Christian leaders as Bob Dugan of the National Association of Evangelicals and Tim LaHa ye disassociated themselves from COR largely because of Reconstructionist influence.
Reconstructionism asserts that the laws of Old Testament Israel should apply today, providing a biblical blueprint for society. Pure Reconstructionism embraces a wide use of the death penalty — not only for such crimes as rape and murder, but for blasphem y, heresy, astrology, and homosexuality — in accordance with what they call "biblical law" — a nation which largely grows out of biblical accounts of the judicial application of the Ten Commandments.
The fuzzy Farris line
While many are influenced by Reconstructionism, few admit to the label. But fortunately for those who may be wondering about Michael Farris, he raises the matter in his 1992 book Where Do I Draw the Line?.
"(T)here are those" writes Farris, "who advocate the idea that America should enact the Old Testament law right down to the rules for conducting trials."
"I am not one of those people," he declares, "but I do believe the moral principles of God apply to every age. The principles of the Ten Commandments, for example, will forever be valid and should be honored in modern America."3
There are evangelical leaders who waffle on Reconstructionism, the way some politicians waffle on issues of public policy. In Michael Farris, we have an evangelical politician, waffling on his beliefs as they relate to public policy. Indeed, Farris writes that "as a matter of strategy" it's good to conceal the biblical root of one's views and stress matters of "right and wrong."
Nevertheless, the normal standards of public discourse apply to candidate Farris. To what extent does he see the Bible as a blueprint for public policy? And what are the public policy implications of his views?
There is, for example, the commandment "thou shalt not kill." Does he believe abortion is murder? And if so, who should be prosecuted? Mothers? Doctors? Husbands? Boyfriends? Social workers? Could anyone be charged with conspiracy? And what would their pe nalty be if convicted? If it's prison, how long a term? How much would it cost to build all the prisons, and how would the state raise the revenues to pay for all this? Does the death penalty apply, and if so, for whom? In this regard, how does he view co ntraception?
The Ten Commandments also forbid idolatry: "Thou shalt have no other God before me." Would non-Christian religions be banned? According to Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, heretics, blasphemers, and astrologers could be subject to the death penal ty. What of other minority religions?
While Mr. Farris probably does not advocate capital punishment for the insufficiently Christian, what does he propose?
Religious minorities in the colonies and the early states were often persecuted and allowed neither to vote nor hold public office. Michael Farris waxes nostalgic for the pre-constitutional Protestant theocracies, even though religious tests for state and federal offices were banned by Article VI of the Constitution.
Farris, an ordained Baptist minister and self-described "constitutional lawyer," declares in Where Do I Draw the Line? that "the founders of this country believed that the principles of God's word should be used in our nation."
"The laws of Massachusetts," he explained, "once proclaimed that 'The ordinances of Jesus Christ shall be enforced by the magistrate in every community.'"4
Farris wistfully notes that: "In order to hold office in Delaware, the state constitution of 1776 required the following oath: I do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; an d I do acknowledge the Holy Scripture in the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."
"The founding fathers," he concludes approvingly, "employed the Word of God in the public arena."5
Farris glibly invokes the "founding fathers" as a kind of ancestral anchor for his contemporary views. But he conveniently ignores those "founders" who authored the Constitutional proscription on religious tests, not to mention the state legislatures that ratified the Constitution. It so happens that Delaware was the first state, in 1792, to bring its laws into conformity with this constitutional provision.6
Farris' main backer, Pat Robertson, also judges whole classes of people based on religion. Robertson complained about criticism he received on this point in 1988 in his book The New World Order: "When I said during my presidential bid that I would only br ing Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm." He then reasserts the idea that those who believe in "Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern Americans than Hindus and Moslems."7
Farris served as the treasurer for the Committee to Draft Pat Robertson for President in 1986, and last fall attended the national strategy conference of Robertson's Christian Coalition.
Among the early governors of Virginia were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Each fought hard for religious freedom and the disestablishment of the church, and opposed religious tests for public office. Colonial Virginia was divided into Anglican "paris hes," and each parish supported a minister through taxes. Church attendance was compulsory by law. Following the revolution, these and related laws were repealed. In 1777, Jefferson drafted (and Madison ultimately pushed through in 1786) the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. Complete freedom of belief, not only for Christian groups, but all others including "the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Hindoo"8 — the first such legislation in the history of the world.
Does Michael Farris support Article VI of the Constitution? If so, how does that square with his approval of pre-constitutional religious tests for public office? And does Michael Farris, who would be a heartbeat away from the office once held by Madison and Jefferson, support religious freedom for all? Or Christians only?
N O T E S
1"Michael Farris: In His Own Words," People for the American
Way Action Fund, June 24, 1993.
2"HardCOR" by Frederick Clarkson, Church & State
magazine, January 1991.
3Where Do I Draw the Line? by Michael Farris, Bethany
House Publishers (6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, MN 55438), page
4Ibid., page 26.
5Ibid., page 26.
6No Religious Test: The Story of our Constitution's
Forgotten Article by Albert J. Menendez, Americans United for
Separation of Church and State (8120 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD
20910), 1987, page 11.
7The New World Order by Pat Robertson, Word Publishing,
8The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson by Charles B.
Sanford, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1984, page 26.
2"HardCOR" by Frederick Clarkson, Church & State magazine, January 1991.
3Where Do I Draw the Line? by Michael Farris, Bethany House Publishers (6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, MN 55438), page 25.
4Ibid., page 26.
5Ibid., page 26.
6No Religious Test: The Story of our Constitution's Forgotten Article by Albert J. Menendez, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (8120 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD 20910), 1987, page 11.
7The New World Order by Pat Robertson, Word Publishing, page 218.
8The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson by Charles B. Sanford, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1984, page 26.