Is Ron Paul a Closet Theocrat?

Does presidential candidate Ron Paul want to use government to impose Old Testament laws on the nation? As incredible as it sounds, journalist Michelle Goldberg makes that claim in an article for The Daily Beast.

Goldberg's assertion is based upon Paul's supposed ties to devotees of Christian Reconstructionism. Christian Reconstructionists, such as R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North, believe that it is the duty of Christians to take control of their government and impose Old Testament law.

Christian Reconstructionism has always been a fringe group and is not taken seriously by mainstream Christians. Goldberg admits this as well, but continues to argue that several Republican candidates are actually Christian Reconstructionists, which she also labels “dominionists,” and wish to convert American democracy into a theocracy.

Last August, she made this claim about Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Paul is now the subject of her theories in her Jan. 3 article, “Ron Paul's Christian Reconstructionist Roots.”

To support her argument, Goldberg makes three main points.

First, many of Bachmann's evangelical Christian supporters, whom she refers to as “ultra-right evangelicals,” also support Paul, and the chair of Bachmann's Iowa campaign left her to support Paul. The reasoning goes like this: Bachmann is a dominionist, her supporters must also be dominionists, her supporters like Paul, Paul must be a dominionist.

Second, Goldberg states that Christian Reconstructionists are a radical faction of reformed theology, or what she calls covenant theology. Goldberg's “expert” consultant in this area is Steve Deace, a conservative talk radio host who endorsed Newt Gingrich. Deace has no formal training in theology or religious history.

Reformed theologians are the modern day inheritors of John Calvin's theology. They are represented by a broad swath of denominations, from the mainline, and more liberal, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to the more conservative and evangelical Reformed Church in America.

Goldberg's reasoning seems to be that all Christians who have adopted reformed theology must also be theocrats or on a slippery slope toward a belief in theocracy, because, Christian Reconstructionists have also been influenced by Reformed theology. Once that connection has been established, Goldberg uses reconstructionist and covenant theology interchangeably in the rest of the article.

Third, Christian Reconstructionists like Ron Paul. North worked on Paul's staff in 1976 during his first term in Congress. Howard Phillips, who Goldberg claims is also a Reconstructionist, founded the Constitution Party, and Paul endorsed the Constitution Party candidate (Chuck Baldwin) in 2008.

But how can Paul favor a theocracy if he wants a smaller, limited government? Goldberg answers that by arguing that Reconstructionists actually want a theocracy at the level of local government, not national government.

“It might seem that Paul’s libertarianism is the very opposite of theocracy, but that’s true only if you want to impose theocracy at the federal level. In general, Christian Reconstructionists favor a radically decentralized society, with communities ruled by male religious patriarchs.”

Goldberg reasons that anyone who has associated with a Reconstructionist must also be a Reconstructionist, and those who are two or three times removed from an association with a reconstructionist are also suspect. By the end of the article, Goldberg has lumped Reconstructionists, Reformed theology, and evangelical Christians all together and warns that a Paul presidency would lead to “Taliban-style stonings.”

Writing for the Action Institute's “PowerBlog,” Jordan Ballor, who has a Ph.D. in Reformation studies at the University of Zurich, says that there are some “interesting connections” between libertarianism and Christian Reconstructionism, but the connection between Christian Reconstructionism and Reformed theology is more tenuous.

Some of the strongest critics of Christian Reconstructionism, Ballor notes, have been from Reformed theologians. Plus, while Christian Reconstructionists identify themselves as within the Reformed tradition, Calvin explicitly opposed the idea of a theonomy (instituting the Old Testament laws).

In an Aug. 22, 2011 editorial for The Washington Post, columnist Michael Gerson argues that Goldberg and others who have made similar arguments are feeding a liberal paranoia that Republican candidates with high levels of religiosity secretly desire a theocratic state.

Gerson also notes that conspiracy theories based upon loose associations can also be found on the right.

“It is not just an argument but a style of argument. Critics of a public figure take a marginal association and turn it into a gnostic insight – an interpretive key that opens all doors. Barack Obama was once trained in a community organization that was associated with Saul Alinsky, whose organization was reportedly subject to communist influence. And we all know what that means. Or: Obama’s father was a socialist, anti-colonial Luo tribesman, and, well, like father like son. Never mind that that there is no serious evidence of political philosophic influence of father on son.”

“Thin charges of Dominionism are just another attempt to discredit opponents rather than answer them – in the same tradition as thin charges of Kenyan anti-colonialism,” Gerson concludes. “It is easier, after all, to allege a conspiracy than to engage an argument.”

For further reading: Ross Douthat, "Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy." First Things, August/September 2006.

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