Last fall, a tiny Christian Reconstructionist* group quietly claimed victory in the battle against gay rights in Oregon. In an intense statewide battle, Christian conservatives defeated legislation that would have guaranteed equal rights for gays and lesb ians. Christian Reconstructionists go beyond denying equal rights for gays; in fact, they advocate the death penalty for "practicing" homosexuals.
The group, The Committee for Biblical Principles in Government (The Committee) began preparing for this contest during the 1995 legislative session with the introduction of its first Bible-based study guide, titled The Challenge of Godly Government .
That year, Representative Charles Starr, a member of The Committee's board, conducted a study group at the state capitol. According to Starr, his classes "focused explicitly on Biblically-based answers to the problems of society." He continued his Bible s tudy group at the state house last year, using The Committee's newest study guide, The Challenge of Godly Justice.
The Freedom Writer asked Starr what impact, if any, the state house Bible study groups had in defeating the gay rights legislation. "We studied The Challenge of Godly Justice," Starr said, "during our '97 session of the legislature. The study group s were enthusiastically received by House and Senate members, staff, and a few lobbyists. It was because of the lobby efforts of dedicated Christians in and out of the legislature that we succeeded in blocking the homosexual rights bill."
While battles over gay rights are being fought around the country, the Oregon situation is unique in that it serves as a prototype for religious political extremists in other states.
Christian Reconstructionism, a movement spawned by Rousas John Rushdoony, has a distinctive interpretation of the separation of church and state. Its adherents believe that, as institutions, the Church and the State are separate, yet, God rules over both. For example, in a large corporation the advertising department and the shipping department operate separately, but the president of the company directs both departments.
"What the First Amendment separated was the Church as an institution from the State as an institution," writes Gary DeMar, one of the authors of The Challenge of Godly Government. "The First Amendment's intention was never to separate religion and State."
Joseph C. Morecraft III, another prominent Reconstructionist, adds, "This separation in no way implies a radical antithesis between God and State, between Christianity and State, between morality and State, between Bible and State."
In The Challenge of Godly Government's forward, former California Congressman William Dannemeyer sheds more light on Reconstructionism's view of separation of church and state. Although Dannemeyer wishes to make it appear that Reconstructionists do not want to "Christianize America," he freely admits that Reconstructionists want to take over elective and appointed positions in government. Then, they will change public policy to reflect their narrow Christian Reconstructionist beliefs.
"We need to make it very clear that our efforts are not designed to take over positions in government in order to pass a law that compels everyone in America to worship God in a certain way," Dannemeyer wrote. "It is not the business of any level of gover nment to dictate the observance of the Christian faith. It is the business of the American people, who profess our Judeo-Christian heritage as the cornerstone of their lives, to influence public policy in the intense battlegrounds raging in this nation ov er values."
Dannemeyer is not saying that they want to take over the government so they can make people worship God according to the dictates of the Church, but they "only" want to make the State's social policy reflect their understanding of God's law.
According to an article in Chalcedon Report (November 1997), written by Dr. John Shaw, the Bible classes at the Oregon State House were attended by fifty "leaders and activists in positions of influence," including eight legislators, six legislativ e assistants, eleven lobbyists, and the Oregon director of the AFL-CIO.
Lynn Snodgrass, Oregon House Majority Leader, said, "The study [groups] prompted good participation and communication. It was a great resource and strong reinforcement for Biblical principles in government."
Representative Starr told the Freedom Writer that last year's state house Bible lessons were from The Committee's newest book, The Challenge of Godly Justice. This course is a continuation of the "Christian America" theme, and delves more de eply into the intricacies of Mosaic Law.
An essay by a noted Christian writer precedes each lesson. Writers in the series include: Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, Tim LaHaye, David Barton, Gary DeMar, and Rus Walton.
That the Bible curriculum is Christian Reconstructionist is evident from its lessons. For example, in The Challenge of Godly Government, the stated theme of a lesson called "The Duty of Government in the Problem of Crime" is: "The principles of God 's Mosaic Law, consistently applied, can and will reduce crime — even crimes committed by the unregenerate [non-Christians]."
In another lesson, author Gary R. Williams, writes about the four benefits of Mosaic Law. "First," he writes, "the punishments of Mosaic Law were more unpleasant. Heavy fines were levied for a number of offenses. Almost all others called for either beati ngs, mutilation, or death. Hanging, lethal gas, and electrocution are relatively painless ways to die as compared to death by stoning." Second, he adds, punishment by Mosaic Law was more public, where "the public observed and actually carried out the ston ing of convicted offenders."
Third, Williams wrote, the punishment under Mosaic Law was swifter, with no lengthy appeals, and fourth, the punishments were more certain than they are today.
The lesson on "Government and Education" implies that Christian schools, or home schools, work best because it is not possible "to rightly teach history, literature and the arts, science and mathematics without reference to Christ." Other lessons deal wit h "Biblical Economics," and "Biblical Taxation." The final lesson is called "Hope for a Nation in Turmoil." It concludes by stating that the American government "was founded upon Biblical principles, without which workable reforms will not occur."
Dannemeyer outlines the strategy by which Christians can influence public policy. According to Dannemeyer, the first step is to vote for and support "godly candidates for public office." Once elected, these officials have opportunities at every level. Cit y council members have a say in upholding antipornography laws; school board members have the power to reject materials that state that homosexuality is "natural, normal, and healthy."
Dannemeyer made an important point, one also understood by Ralph Reed when he was building the Christian Coalition. Dannemeyer said, "Men and women serving in local offices are important because, in time, many will move up the political ladder. If we desi re to be governed by godly and capable leaders, then we must build our base."
The third book in the series, The Challenge of Godly Citizenship, is scheduled for release this year. Like the other volumes in this series, it will have its own "Leader's Guide." With an initial print run of 2,000, the lesson books will no doubt g row in popularity, as several Christian book distributors plan to market them nationally.
While Christian Reconstructionism has been around for a number of years, never before have so many well-known Christian personalities been so closely aligned with this movement. As far as we know, this is the first time the movement's teachings have been taught in places of government, with an eye toward introducing Reconstructionist teachings in state houses across the nation.
* Christian Reconstructionists believe every level of society should be based upon Biblical principles.