This weekend a small cadre of far right Christian leaders are hosting a conference on religious freedom in Iowa. The freedom they are fighting for is the right to organize all of culture according to their religion and their notion of the requirements of biblical law. They specifically reject any form of religious freedom that requires a commitment to tolerance, pluralism, or a civic order that maintains neutrality toward diverse religious traditions—they consider that idolatry.
Oh, and a handful of GOP Presidential candidates are joining them: Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz.
Those leaders hosting Freedom2015, a “National Religious Liberties Conference,” are Christian Reconstructionists—but you won’t know that from the promotional materials or even from their lectures, unless you know what to listen for.
The conference has been promoted as an opportunity for Christians to become educated to protect themselves and their families in the coming persecution in the wake of the Obergefell decision. On the website, visitors are told to get ready for “the gathering storm,” and are asked: Are you ready to be arrested? Are you ready to lose your children to the state? Will your church be shut down? Will Christians be forced to break the law?
The conference opened Friday morning with a livestream of Kevin Swanson’s “welcome” message, outlining a view of freedom that is exclusively freedom from civil government. And, following from that, anything short of complete freedom from civil government is tyranny.
Swanson’s lecture was Rushdoony through and through, while sanitized of specific references. Setting up an apocalyptic vision of the current state of affairs in the US, Swanson tried to contextualize legal battles over whether Christian bakers and photographers must abide by non-discrimination laws by setting them alongside a history of violence and real persecution unto death.
Swanson’s view is that Christians are not obliged to follow those laws because same sex marriage is unbiblical. Swanson, and even Jindal and Huckabee who followed him, advocated that lower level officials (whom they call “lesser magistrates”) should lead massive public resistance.
The six speakers listed on the schedule as “Pastor, Theologians, Philosophers & Historians” are all explicitly Reconstructionists and are a core part of a traveling roadshow appearing at conferences and conventions (especially homeschool conventions) to promote their views and sell their books. They all reject the idea that there can be any religious neutrality (they actually reject the idea of neutrality entirely, claiming it is a myth).
Rousas John Rushdoony, the founder of this movement set the framing for this conflict over religious freedom in 1962. In a chapter entitled, “Attack on Religious Liberty,” he wrote: “First the state is secularized in the name of freedom, and, second, every prerogative of the church is attacked.” A prerogative is a right, privilege, or entitlement pertaining to a specific class of people; Rushdoony was not concerned to protect religious equality for Christians but rather to defend their privileged status.
So here’s what Christian Reconstructionist Gary North said about religious freedom:
So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government….Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.
It would be great to have the moderator in the next GOP debate ask Huckabee, Jindal and Cruz about this.