Sunday, April 03, 2005

Welcome to the Culture of Life?

The Schiavo tragedy spawned reams of interesting commentary and dialogue. It also engendered this essay by Andrew Sandlin. (The essay is short, so please read the entire piece--if you can stop snickering long enough to finish it.)

Sandlin is a one-time acolyte of Christian Reconstructionist theologian R. J. Rushdoony and edited Chalcedon magazine before founding the Center for Cultural Leadership. The mission of CCL is to make Christianity “relevant” and create “a new kind of Christian.”

In his essay, Sandlin notes the growing influence of Christians in the public square, “A fact surrounding the Terri Schiavo imbroglio that has escaped much notice is the influence Christians (as Christians) have wielded. That the President, Congress, a state governor and prominent parts of a ubiquitous media would have worked so vocally and diligently to spare Terri’s life would have been unthinkable 25-30 years ago — with Richard Nixon, Carl Albert, Tip O’Neill, and Walter Cronkite at the political and media helm.”

Furthermore, though Christians were far from united on the Shiavo issue Sandlin helpfully explains, “it was largely the Christian contingent in Congress that catapulted it to the forefront and hastily passed a bill requiring a new judicial look at Terri’s case — and make no mistake, there are plenty of devout Christians in Congress, starting with Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay. Senate majority leader Bill Frist is a committed follower of our Lord, too. Both the President and his brother Jeb submit to Jesus as Lord. Fred Barnes and Sean Hannity of Fox News are devout Christians; and Bill O’Reilly, who is much less devout and often rather spiritually confused, nonetheless gives vocal support to Jesus as His Savior. This is not a nation without Christians in culturally influential positions — or who do not take their faith seriously. After the culture wars of the last 20 years, the country has been repositioned to press Christianity and Christian issues in the public square. Christians, under the power of the Holy Spirit, have seen to that.”

I suppose it is plausible that the Schiavo case will finally spur Evangelicals to keep Republican feet to the fire on issues of life and judicial activism, but I have my doubts. Let’s face facts for just a moment. Florida has a Republican governor and legislature. Both the executive and legislative branches in DC are controlled by the GOP last time I checked. Moreover, come 2008, the GOP will have controlled the White House for 28 of the last 40 years. During that time, REPUBLICAN presidents have nominated all but two Supreme Court justices. Has the GOP effectively pressed “Christianity and Christian issues in the public square?”

Sandlin seems to think so. In his endorsement of George Bush, here is what Sandlin wrote:

Bush has alienated the last vestiges the old Eastern Republican establishment (the Rockefeller variety) and has justifiably become the champion of Evangelical Christians. This is not surprising.

He has been an unflagging champion of the pro-life position, and he eagerly signed Congress’ legislation banning partial-birth abortion (Clinton had twice vetoed it).

Despite pressure even from some conservatives, Bush has opposed stem-cell research.

As the San Francisco mayor trumpeted same-sex marriages in that city and as Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, Bush urged a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman — that is, the Biblical definition.

Bush has implemented “faith-based” initiatives, allowing churches and other religious groups access to state funding for specific ministries beneficial to society (like drug rehabilitation).

Bush responded quickly and aggressively to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and has made the defense and security of the United States a priority of his administration. All of these actions endeared him to many conservative Christians, the vast majority of whom support him.

Forget for a moment the slew of inaccuracies in the above paragraphs. Of greater concern are the strategic implications Sandlin draws.

Sandlin is concerned that Christians who have abandoned the GOP are acting like children, looking for the instant gratification of political victory before doing the hard work of cultural reclamation. God has placed each of us in a particular place and time, Sandlin says, and we must operate within the parameters of His providence. Sandlin writes that we should work faithfully with the historical options God has granted us because, "He has not placed us in a historical situation that permits us to vote for the ideal candidate (and perhaps He never will). So, God expects us to vote responsibly and thoughtfully for the electable candidate that most accurately reflects Christian conviction."

In other words, vote GOP or deny God's providential working in history!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Darrell,

Here is pragmatism at it's worst, the self-same kind of pragmatism that permitted Chuck Colson to embrace the Bush stem-cell decision and to foist it off on Evangelicals as acceptable. And this from an associate of John Rushdoony! Familiar to a degree with some of Rushdoony's corpus, it would be difficult for me to believe that pragmatism was what he advanced. Here was a man capable of advocating the re-introduction of stoning as method of choice for dealing with sexual sin. Sandlin would appear to have wandered very far off the reservation.

John Lowell

1:33 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Though I am not a Reconstructionist myself, I've read a good bit of their literature and benefited from it greatly. The "movement" itself seemed to fracture after the deaths of Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen.

Rushdoony was a great supporter of the Taxpayers and then the Constitution Party. He supported Howard Phillips in 2000, I believe. Phillips himself is something of a Reconstructionist.

It is odd to me, too, to watch followers of Rushdoony fall into pragmatism. Another fine theologian in that orbit, Ken Gentry, wrote similar things leading up to the last election.

Unfortunately, ignorance keeps me from writing about Catholics who have fallen into the same sand pit. I'm waiting for you to start a blog, John!

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Darrell,

One thing we overlook, perhaps, is the role played by Rove in all if this, Darrell. For several years Rove has cultivated religious people assiduously. While in no way attempting to excuse the choices made about this kind of closeness, it can be a very heady experience being pursued by the President of the United States. And it hasn't been Evangelicals alone that have been schmoozed. Practically the entire group of those Catholics considered the most outspoken cultural conservatives, Deal Hudson, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, Paul Weyrich, William Bennett, William Donohue, also have gone along with the program. In my opinion the most reprehensible of these are Hudson and Novak, although Neuhaus and Donohue come in a very close second. Hudson actually was on the payroll, paid to advise Rove about how to reach people like me. I've communicated in the past with Hudson. For many years his magazine, Crisis, was one of the few publications keeping the Bishops' feet to the fire regarding liturgical abuses. But he had his price and Rove paid it, and then there was revealed the allegation of a drunken episode with a young girl at Fordham in the 1990's. I can forgive Hudson the drunkenness and the girl; I can't forgive his going on Rove's payroll. Novak, a theologian, disgraced himself utterly attempting to shill Bush's war in Rome. One wonders what serious theological journal would accept his pieces anymore.

John Lowell

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Chad Bull said...


It seems to me that Sandlin is either a useful idiot or a subversive. My guess is that he is a subversive, as his past work with Chalcedon and as a Christian Reconstructionist was outstanding. In fact I still use his description of Christian Reconstruction on the JPRCC website: .

It's hard for me to believe that he has almost instantly gone from simply brilliant to idiot savant.

I have heard, that for some reason, R.J. Rushdoony wanted to fire Sandlin from Chalcedon, but Mark Rushdoony intervened and allowed Sandlin to gracefully leave in his own time. Whether this is close to fact or closer to myth, I'm not sure. What I do know is that Sandlin has written about and attempted to usher in the demise of Christian Reconstruction. At the same time he has become a champion of the Bush neo-cons and has ties to Vanguard PAC.

Chalcedon has suffered since the death of R.J. Rushdoony and some of this I believe is due to Sandlin's influences.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

John, I think the Christian Right was long gone before Karl Rove hit the scene.

In 1996, Buchanan ran in the GOP primaries against Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, etc. Buchanan won the caucuses in AK and LA, finished a close second to Dole in IA and then shocked everyone by winning in NH.

After that, all hell broke loose, as you may recall. Ralph Reed pulled out all the stops to organize conservative Christians for Dole in South Carolina. If Pat had prevailed there, it would have been virtually impossible to wrest the nomination from him. Why would a leader of the "Christian Right" call in every favor to help carry Bob Dole across the finishing line? The obvious answer is that expedience trumped principle.

Same thing in 2000. The "right" wanted to rally early around a single candidate, and frankly, they chose Bush. Rove has certainly courted the Evangelical vote since the election, but they had already given their allegiance to the false god known as the GOP.

7:31 PM  
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