Is Wisconsin Union-Busting Religiously Sanctioned?

A friend of mine emailed me this weekend and asked about the fight in Wisconsin over the state budget. “Where’s the Religious Right in those events,” she asked, and then wondered whether there is Reconstructionist influence in what’s happening up there.

That got me to thinking… and re-reading Gary North and David Chilton on “Biblical economics.” I have argued that Reconstructionists have spent the last fifty years articulating a critique of American culture and developing resources and institutions (especially Christian schools and Christian homeschools) to “reconstruct” society in terms of what they understand as biblical law. In this world, every aspect of life is governed by biblical law; there is no area of life outside of it.

There are now families in which multiple generations—grandparents, parents and children—have all been shaped in these contexts; contexts that include “Christian American history,” dominionism, creationism, and biblical economics. For Reconstructionist Doug Phillips’ organization Vision Forum, cultivating this kind of “multi-generational faithfulness” is an explicit goal. And when you look at tea party rallies and see all those white middle class fifty-somethings you are looking at many of them. Sarah has also made the case for this at RD. We’re not arguing that this in the only influence… just that it is an important one.

Economics is seen as so central to a “biblical worldview” that it is the focus of much of the work of leading Reconstructionist Gary North. North’s earliest work (1973), widely used as a Christian school textbook, is entitled Introduction to Christian Economics and he was founder/owner of the publishing outfit Institute for Christian Economics (ICE). North has written on the Federal Reserve, inflation as intentional theft of the value of money, and in favor of privatization labeling other arrangements “socialism.”

He also published David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators (first in 1981) which is a critique of Ron Sider’s “socialism.” Here, socialism refers to something broader than an economic system; it refers to a civil government that regulates activities other than those the Bible charges it with regulating, a society in which people look to the government to solve problems over which the Bible doesn’t give it authority.

According to North and Chilton, biblical economics begins with private property and the individual, free from any regulation and subject only to God—beyond theft (and therefore fraud) almost anything else is permitted in the name of freedom. Labor unions, in this view, could only be biblical if they were free associations and if any other laborer was free to undercut the wages they negotiate by agreeing to work for less. Specifically, in terms of developments in Wisconsin, fifty years of spreading “biblical economics” has created a religiously sanctioned battle against labor unions:

Labor unions are gangs of legalized thugs. They do not believe in allowing employers and employees the freedom to make contracts. They do not allow non-union people to sell their labor at lower wages; thus they create institutional unemployment for they are also strong advocates of minimum wage laws. There is nothing wrong with workers bargaining with employers about wages. What is wrong is when unions are able to get the government behind them. This means that bargaining is done at gunpoint. The fact that government backs them also means that unions can usually threaten, terrorize and even kill those who oppose them, without facing punishment from the state.

But the Wisconsin labor unions are even worse, in terms of biblical economics, because they are public labor unions. Not only do Reconstructionists believe that public employees should not have the right to organize, they believe that almost all of them should not be public employees; most of the tasks performed by those protesting the Wisconsin state budget would, in the biblical economics of North, Chilton (and Rushdoony, of course), be privatized.

Reconstructionist Gary Demar’s tea party-oriented organization, Vision2America, joined the anti-union chorus today. DeMar promotes his views in a number of venues, each tailored to connect with a specific group. His American Vision is explicitly Reconstructionist, arguing that there is no neutrality and that all the positions he takes are rooted in biblical law. Vision2America, though, has a slightly different audience, so while the article focuses only on the Wisconsin budget crisis, it’s important to remember that busting a teachers’ union is just the first step. These folks want to eliminate the Federal Department of Education too, because in the end, they want to eliminate public education.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.