Rand Paul and the Influence of Christian Reconstructionism

In April 2009, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul spoke to the Campaign for Liberty rally to end the Federal Reserve, in front of the Federal Reserve building in Minnesota.

Paul cited libertarian icon Ayn Rand. But he drew on Christian Reconstructionist Gary North. He argued against centralized banking, explicitly not on the grounds that conservatives traditionally have (conspiratorially) but, instead, on the very grounds that North lays out in his book, Honest Money: Biblical Principles for Money and Banking.

In that book, North explains his view that the cause of the international debt crisis of the 1980s was the Federal Reserve System. The solution, he maintained, rested in eliminating that institution and moving to a hard money standard. It sounds familiar to Paul-ites, but for North it is all based in the biblical command to have “just weights and measures.” Paul, in very similar language, attributed our current debt and economic crises to the Federal Reserve and fractional reserve banking.

In the video of his Federal Reserve speech, a supporter behind Paul is holding a sign advocating a gold/silver money standard, with the title of North’s book.

North, the son-in-law of the late Christian Reconstructionist founder R.J. Rushdoony, worked on Rand’s father Ron Paul’s congressional staff decades ago, and remains a supporter of the former presidential candidate, whom he is encouraging to promote a home school curriculum

The Pauls and North have connections to the Constitution Party, founded by Christian Reconstructionist Howard Phillips, also founder of the 1980s Christian right group the Conservative Caucus. Ron Paul has spoken at Constitution Party events and Phillips has spoken for Ron Paul in favor of his candidacy for president. Rand Paul went on to serve as the keynote speaker at a Minnesota Constitution Party event.

The stated goal of the Constitution Party is to reestablish America as a Republic organized around biblical principles and under the authority of Jesus Christ. An examination of the Constitution Party platform shows clearly the influence of this movement advocating not only positions on numerous issues that have long been developed and promoted by Rushdoony and his followers, but doing so in terms of the reasoning put forth by Reconstructionists.

It’s not only Reconstructionists who hold these views—they share them with the John Birch Society, the Libertarian movement, the Moral Majority, and others. And just because Paul has spoken at Constitution Party events doesn’t mean he supports every facet of Christian Reconstructionism. But Paul’s supporters like to claim he is a man of principle, whose principles are philosophically systematic, and who stands up for what he believes. There is an internal coherence to the positions taken by Reconstructionists and if Rand Paul shares some of their views, as well as the detailed framing of those views, it is worthwhile to better understand his wider belief system.

Reconstructionists criticize the “conflation” of spheres of government. They draw clear distinctions between various forms of government they believe to be delegated by God. There is self-government, and then there are three forms of institutional government: family, church and state. So when the Constitution Party platform uses the phrase “civil government,” it does so to draw a distinction between what the party sees as the mistaken idea that all government is civil government and its view that there are distinct biblical spheres of government—civil government being only one.

The Constitution Party platform opposes marriage and/or legal partnerships for gays and lesbians. No surprise there, but the plank regarding family articulates a notion of family as one of three governing institutions established by God. Likewise, the platform articulates support for Christian schooling and homeschooling. But it does so on the basis of Reconstructionist framing: the family is understood as a form of government, given by God, with a specific sphere of authority that includes the raising of children, without the interference of the civil government. Opposition to welfare, in the platform, is not based in more common conservative view, such as “welfare allows people to be lazy,” or “it’s unfair (or even inefficient) to tax productive people to care for those who are not.”  Rather, it is based in the argument that welfare is more properly understood as charity and is legitimately within the authority of the church, not the civil government.

How can they be theocrats and libertarians? This has puzzled those of us who write on Reconstructionists who see evidence of both libertarian and theocratic tendencies. In other words, how can they advocate limited government and, at the same time, application of biblical Law? 

An understanding of the subtleties of Christian Reconstruction is really helpful here. For Reconstructionists, the civil government’s authority is limited to protecting citizens from criminals. Family and ecclesiastical authority are established to uphold (and enforce) other aspects of biblical law. That’s not to say that any of these institutions are understood as functioning autonomously; all are under the authority of God and are to function according to biblical law. But each is independent of the others. So for libertarian Reconstructionists (as many of them are) limited government means limited civil government. Their form of libertarianism is distinct from the more libertine versions of libertarianism. They are much better described as theonomic than theocratic.

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.