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Christian Reconstructionism Is Not 'America's ISIS,' Says Religious History Expert Molly Worthen

Mark Rushdoony, Son of Christian Reconstructionist Founder The-Late RJ Rushdoony, Says Movement Lacks Leadership, but Its 'Ideas Are More Prevalent Now Than Ever Before'

Christian Reconstructionism Is Not 'America's ISIS,' Says Religious History Expert Molly Worthen

Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

An expert on the history of American evangelical denominations is taking issue with the claim by some that Reconstructionism, a strict faction within conservative Christianity, is America's version of the Islamic State.

Christian Reconstructionism, which calls for the application of biblical law in society, has been compared in recent months to the Middle Eastern terrorist group that's best known in the United States as ISIS.

Molly Worthen, an assistant history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is an expert on religious and intellectual history in North America.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Worthen explained that it's "grossly misleading" to call Christian Reconstructionists "America's ISIS."

"To state only the most obvious difference, most Reconstructionists — even those very few who endorse, in theory, reprehensible practices like the stoning of gay people — have not called for terrorism or the violent overthrow of legitimate government," Worthen explained.

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"Reconstructionists have usually called for Christians to use the institutions of liberal democracy to elect and empower likeminded leaders."

Rousas John Rushdoony, considered the father of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement. | (Photo: Chalcedon Foundation®)

Worthen added that comparison of the two entities "misunderstands the goals, character, and origin of both movements."

Founded by Calvinist philosopher and writer Rousas John Rushdoony, Reconstructionism is also known as Dominionism or Theonomy.

The movement became organized during the 1970s courtesy R.J. Rushdoony's magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law.

Ever since ISIS garnered headlines for its brutality and growing strength, some have compared Reconstructionism to the Islamic extremist organization.

Last September, a blog entry on the website The Pink Flamingo described Reconstructionism and ISIS as "two peas in a pod."

On the Americans United for Separation of Church and State's blog "Wall of Separation," Rob Boston also argued that the two movements are comparable.

"When you read the platform of the Reconstructionists, you can't help but notice its similarities to the goals of ISIS, the Taliban and like-minded bands of extremists," Boston wrote.

"In both cases, there is great hostility to ideas like women's rights, LGBT rights, pluralism, democracy and religious freedom. The irony, of course, is that both factions would consider the other 'heathens' or 'apostates' worthy of death."

Boston added that, unlike ISIS, the Reconstructionists "have nothing like their own party and (thankfully) no military arm."

While ideological opponents have occasionally accused conservative Christians of supporting or being influenced by Reconstructionism, Worthen told CP said influence "has been minimal."

"If by 'Reconstructionism' we mean self-conscious followers of Rushdoony who actively seek a theocratic regime governed by Mosaic law, we are talking about a tiny number of people whom most Christians view as extremists," Worthen continued. "I believe journalists have generally exaggerated the importance of the personal connections between Rushdoony and his acolytes and more mainstream Protestant activists."

Worthen did add, however, that Reconstructionism is important when understood as "the far right-wing expression of a broader, more diffuse impulse in conservative Christianity, a backlash against the values of Enlightenment secularism and cultural pluralism, and a desire to reassert the Protestant establishment that governed American culture for so long."

"In this sense, Christian Reconstructionists are not a tiny group of extremists, but a group of activists and thinkers whose platform should compel other Christians to think through their own assumptions about the role of Christianity in American culture and law," Worthen added.

In the present, organizations that promote the ideology of Reconstructionism include the American Vision, the Institute for Christian Economics, and the Chalcedon Foundation.

Mark R. Rushdoony, president of the Chalcedon Foundation and son of the-late R.J. Rushdoony, told CP that he believes "Reconstructionism has grown quite a lot" in recent years.

"Its growth is not readily apparent. I think the influence has grown even though the number of prominent individuals associated with us is not what it was in the 1970s," Rushdoony said. "So I think it is somewhat lacking in leadership right now, but the ideas of the movement are more prevalent now than they have ever been before."

Regarding the ISIS comparison, Rushdoony told CP that "the comparison of Christian Reconstruction, or Theonomy, to Islamic fundamentalism is an old charge by our critics."

Rushdoony added that he believes a major difference between ISIS and Reconstructionism is that the latter "is a very libertarian type of philosophy."

"My father believed that the basic government is the government of the individual. So he very much believed in liberty and limiting the power of the state, which was the intent of our Constitution," Rushdoony emphasized.

"He did not believe in imposing biblical law on an unbelieving society, he believed biblical law was the direction, the marching orders for the people of God."

Rushdoony further asserted that people "mistook my father's position as a political agenda" when his "primary audience" was "the individual Christian."

"Modern man is really statist, so he thinks in terms of the ultimate organization of society as being at the government level," he continued.

"My father was a very bottom-up thinker and he held that the kingdom of God is from the bottom-up. It's the kingdom of God displayed in the individual that is going to greatly impact the future."

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