Exploring the Radical Roots of Roy Moore's Theocratic Christianity
Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate and alleged high school girl enthusiast, was part of a fundamentalist curriculum on law and government that taught that women shouldn't run for office — and hinted it would be best if they weren't allowed to vote. On Wednesday, ThinkProgress published a piece examining "Law and Government: An Introductory Study Course," which promised that in "addition to learning concepts of civil government and public policy, students will be strengthened in their understanding of biblical principles which govern us and which point us to the Lawgiver who governs us all -- Jesus Christ."
Moore was one of the lecturers and a co-author of the curriculum, which appears to be part of the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy, which is not a school in any formal sense, but rather a program of four-day seminars teaching a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the law to male-only audiences.
The ThinkProgress coverage, which is worth reading in full, focuses largely on what this course teaches about women's rights, which is basically that feminism is "a false ideology" and a "heresy." But as Julie Ingersoll, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, explained to Salon, the implications of this curriculum go far beyond Moore's opinion of women's rights. This discovery is more evidence of Moore's links to Christian Reconstruction, a far-right, borderline theocratic ideology that has radical views on women's rights, religious freedom and the role of government.
Christian Reconstruction is an obscure far-right ideology developed by a man named Rousas John Rushdoony. In her book, "Building God's Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction," Ingersoll writes that Rushdoony "started a movement — Reconstruction, which sought to remake the whole of society to conform to his reading of the Bible — that didn't attract much support, but the movement's ideas became a driving force in American politics."
Moore doesn't identify openly as a Christian Reconstructionist, but then again, hardly anyone does. Rushdoony was, among other things, a Holocaust denier, a slavery apologist and a virulent racist who opposed racial integration and called for the death penalty for gay people. Openly calling oneself a follower of his is unwise even in the Deep South, and Christian fundamentalists understand this. But Rushdoony's ideas, Ingersoll told Salon, are pervasive in the Christian right.
The Reconstruction movement, Ingersoll explained, teaches that the role of civil government is to "to punish evildoers and provide for its own national defense," while everything else should fall under the authority of church and family. There is to be no business regulation, no civil rights protection, no welfare, no environmental regulation and most definitely no public education. All these things are understood as responsibilities belonging to churches or families, living in a world "where ultimately everyone will be a Christian" in, to be sure, the Reconstruction movement's "understanding of being a Christian."
The libertarian bent of so much evangelical thought, then, owes a lot to the pervasiveness of Reconstruction, even as the word itself has fallen out of fashion. But the curriculum that ThinkProgress dug up, Ingersoll noted, is "run by the Vision Forum, which is about as close to pure Rushdoony-style Christian Reconstructionism as you get." The Witherspoon program, she added, even included Rushdoony's best-known book, "The Biblical Philosophy of History," in its reading list.
Vision Forum collapsed in 2013 after its head, Doug Phillips, was publicly accused of sexual and emotional abuse by a woman named Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, who said Phillips used his religious authority over her to move her into his house, bully her into sexual encounters and tell her that he that he expected her to be his new wife when his current one died. (His wife, Beall Phillips, is 50 years old and appears, from her blogging activity, to be in good health.)
The view that women shouldn't run for office and possibly should not even have the right to vote, Ingersoll explained, is part of the concept of "Biblical patriarchy" that Phillips taught, which flows from Reconstructionist views about the proper roles of family, church and civil government.
"Women's roles are to procreate and be in charge of the home and be in submission to their husband's efforts at establishing dominion, as he was commanded to do in the book of Genesis," Ingersoll said, describing Reconstructionist teachings. "Every aspect of a woman's life is as this helpmeet to her husband as he seeks to exercise dominion."
Beyond his relationship with Phillips and his participation in teaching for the Vision Forum, Moore's public statements, Ingersoll said, indicate how deeply influenced he is by Reconstructionist ideas. This is especially true of his battle over a monument to the Ten Commandments he had erected outside the Alabama Supreme Court.
“The church's role should be separated from the state's role," Moore told Gwen Ifill in 2004. "That is the definition of separation of church and state. But separation of church and state was never meant to separate God and government."
"When they say 'government,'" Ingersoll explained of Reconstructionists, "they think of government as the process by which people order their lives according to the dictates of the Bible."
Reconstructionists believe there are three spheres of government — church, family and civil government — which are "distinct and autonomous" but all ultimately "under God's authority, so they're theocratic in that sense," Ingersoll explained.
This is how Reconstructionists reconcile their claim that the church and state are "separate" while maintaining what appears to the rest of us to be a pretty clear belief that the state should be controlled by a fundamentalist Christian church. Church and state have "separate" functions, because the church controls religious instruction and charitable services and the state controls police and military, but both are expected to adhere to a narrow fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.
Ingersoll argued that the influence of Reconstructionist ideology is "really pervasive but not recognized" on the right. The libertarian style of conservative Christianity, where "small government" is held out as a Christian value, is a measure of how far Rushdoony's ideas have percolated out through the modern and more "moderate" Christian right. Moore's language and ideas are familiar to most Alabama conservative Christians, who have incorporated them in a watered-down form into their own worldview. That's why it's unlikely that many of them will understand how radical his views really are, and why he's likely to be elected to the U.S. Senate on Dec. 12.