So Calvinism is to blame for another evil in this world? This gentlemen is responsible for the line of thinking that permeates Joel’s Army, the Call, and the rest of the Dominionist movement. This is just a starting post – more will follow. It is worrisome because it presents Dominionism as more than a recent heresy, but shows that it was codified and has a base for thought.
Rushdoony was born in New York City, the son of recently arrived Armenian immigrants. Before his parents fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915, his ancestors had lived in a remote area near Mount Ararat for about 2000 years. There are claims that since the year 320, every generation of the Rushdoony family has produced a Christian priest or minister. Within weeks of arriving in America, his parents moved to Kingsburg, California, where his father founded an Armenian-speaking Presbyterian church. Except for a time when his father pastored a church in Detroit, Rushdoony grew up on the family farm in Kingsburg.
Rushdoony attended public schools where he learned English. He continued his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1938, a teaching credential in 1939 and a M.A. in Education in 1940. He also attended the Pacific School of Religion, a Congregational and Methodist seminary in Berkeley, California, from which he graduated in 1944, the same year he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Rushdoony then served for eight and a half years as a missionary to the Shoshone and Paiute Indians on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in a remote area of Nevada. In 1953 Rushdoony became pastor of a church in Santa Cruz, California, a small retirement town on the coast.
It was during his mission to the Native Americans that Rushdoony began writing. His first book, By What Standard? was published in 1959. In the early 1960s he was active in the homeschooling movement, appearing as an expert witness to defend the rights of homeschoolers. He moved to Los Angeles in 1965. That year he founded the Chalcedon Foundation; the monthly Chalcedon Report, which Rushdoony edited, began appearing that October.
Rushdoony also had ties to the John Birch Society, an anti-communist group whose organization he compared to the early church. Many others in the Reconstructionist movement have been members of the society. Rushdoony was a lifelong opponent of socialism.
Rushdoony had five children with his first wife, Arda June Gent Rushdoony, who died in 1977. He married his second wife, Dorothy Barbara Ross Rushdoony, who became the step mother of his children, in 1962. She died in 2003. His daughter Sharon is married to Gary North, a Christian Reconstructionist writer and economist. Rushdoony’s only son, the Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony, is the current president of the Chalcedon Foundation and editor of the Chalcedon Report. R. J. Rushdoony died in 2001 with his student and financial supporter Howard Ahmanson, Jr. at his bedside.
Rushdoony’s most important area of writing, however, was law and politics, as expressed in his small book of popular essays Law & Liberty and discussed in much greater detail in his three volume, 1894-page magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law. With a title modeled after Calvin‘s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Rushdoony’s Institutes was arguably his most influential work. In the book, he proposed that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society and that there should be a Christian theonomy, a concept developed in his colleague Greg Bahnsen‘s controversial tome Theonomy and Christian Ethics, which Rushdoony heartily endorsed. In the Institutes, Rushdoony supported the reinstatement of the Mosaic law’s penal sanctions. Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which carried a death sentence would include homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one’s virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case. Although supporting the separation of church and state at the national level, Rushdoony understood both institutions as under the rule of God, and thus he conceived secularism as posing endless false antitheses, which his massive work addresses in considerable detail. In short, he sought to cast a vision for the reconstruction of society based on Christian principles.
The book was also critical of democracy. He wrote that “the heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state … Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” He elsewhere said that “Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy,” and characterized democracy as “the great love of the failures and cowards of life.”
Due to the work’s perceived denial of the Holocaust and defense of segregation and slavery, it did not gain an immediate following. In the work, Rushdoony argued against “inter-religious, inter-racial, and inter-cultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very community which marriage is designed to establish.” But his condemnation of inter-racial marriage appears to have been his personal view and not related to the biblical text; it was not shared by other Reconstructionists. The book garnered more attention starting in the 1980s when Francis Schaeffer began espousing many similar ideas .
Rushdoony’s work has been used by Dominion Theology advocates who attempt to implement a Christian theocracy, a government subject to Biblical law, especially the Torah, in the United States. Authority, behavioural boundaries, economics, penology and the like would all be governed by biblical principles in Rushdoony’s vision, but he also proposed a wide system of freedom, especially in the economic sphere, and claimed Ludwig von Mises as an intellectual mentor; he called himself a Christian libertarian.
Rushdoony was the founder in 1965 of the Chalcedon Foundation and the editor of its monthly magazine, the Chalcedon Report. He also published the Journal of Christian Reconstruction and was an early board member of the Rutherford Institute, founded in 1982 by John Whitehead. He later received an honorary Doctorate from Valley Christian University for his book, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum.