So what arguments have you recently heard against government social programs? They’re too expensive, they’ll bankrupt us; they’re socialist; they’re too bureaucratic; they’ll inhibit self-reliance… they’re unconstitutional?
How about: “They violate the First of the Ten Commandments prohibiting idolatry.”
Jon Ralston at the Las Vegas Sun reported on a radio interview recently come-to-light in which Nevada Senate Candidate Sharron Angle made exactly this argument against social programs promoted by “Obama, Pelosi and [her opponent] Harry Reid.” You can read about it and listen to the radio interview here. Angle said,
entitlement programs…make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.
If the idea that government care for the poor is idolatry strikes you as unusual, you can be sure that Angle did not make it up.
Last month I reported on ties that link Angle to Howard Phillip’s Constitution Party and traced out the degree to which Christian Reconstructionism undergirds that organization. I took some heat on that post from folks who thought I made too much of those ties.
Yet this is exactly what Christian Reconstructionists see as wrong with civil government: Angle’s criticism is Christian Reconstructionism in a nutshell.
As Reconstructionists see it, there are three spheres of institutional authority established by God: the family, the church and that civil government. Each of the institutions has specific responsibilities and when “men” look to the State to meet needs the State was not intended to meet, they are looking to the State for salvation and making the State God.
This is the source of their views on helping the poor (it’s the responsibility of families and churches) and education (a family responsibility). For them the civil government has no legitimate role in either function so they advocate dismantling the welfare system, eliminating the Department of Education, and ultimately “replacing” public schools.
It is also the reason they give for opposing taxation in an amount greater than the tithe (‘he” who has authority to exact the most money has the most authority.) The state makes itself God when it takes more that God requires.
Christian Reconstruction isn’t a secret organization one can join (well I guess you could but few people do). It’s a school of thought that has profoundly influenced contemporary American Conservative Protestantism—especially in its politicized forms. That Sharron Angle and others might never have heard of Rushdoony or Reconstruction is not an argument against its influence. We rarely know the sources of the views we have. (How many contemporary Christians know that Protestant crosses are without a Christ figure because of the influence of a 16th century Swiss theologian named Ulrich Zwingli?)
But Angle should explain how her broader view of government is informed by this view of the limitations of the First Commandment. I know Rushdoony and Gary North have worked it out its implications in great detail.