I am about to become a mother in just eight weeks. My husband and I are very excited, but like all new parents we are worried about finances, healthcare, daycare, etc. We’re very lucky to have sufficient income and enough money saved that, though we will worry like all parents do, we are not likely to need public assistance. Of course, anything can happen. We could lose our jobs and not find others for quite some time. One of us could become severely ill. In that case, we would find ourselves grateful for public assistance. It would allow us to pay the bills and feed our baby. It would help us, as a couple, to be less stressed out about money and, therefore, our relationship would not suffer as much. In short, public assistance and programs that serve families do more than just feed people; they allow families to be emotionally healthy, keeping them intact.
Have you ever wondered why so much of the religious right is opposed to life-saving programs that serve families? Why would someone, who claims to promote family values and family togetherness, want to abolish the very programs that for many keep their families together and thriving? The answer for some is quite simple – because Christian Reconstructionism.
Christian Reconstructionism is a Calvinistic philosophy founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, a man who has had a profound influence on the Christian right. The underlying premise is that god demands separate roles for government, church, and family. Government, though theocratic, is meant to be limited and all moral offenses are dealt with by the church. These distinctions can become confused because Christian Reconstructionists call for Old Testament law, which would naturally involve both the criminal (government) and the moral (church). Furthermore, Christian Reconstructionism demands that only staunch adherents participate in government, further mingling church and state. However, one area that believers are convinced is firmly in the realm of the church is family assistance or charity. In the eyes of the Christian Reconstructionist, government has absolutely no business whatsoever creating programs to help needy families because god has intended this role for the church alone. To summarize, it is not only a bad idea to create government programs, it is absolutely going against god’s laws.
This might sound like a fringe philosophy, and twenty years ago you would have been correct. However, nowadays, you can find it in the mouths of such right-wing luminaries as David Barton, who said, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy. It’s the church’s responsibility.” The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and other notable right-wing groups have also espoused this philosophy. Even more terrifying is that Michael Petrouka, the Republican nominee for an Anne Arundel County, Maryland council seat, openly embraces Christian Reconstructionism and will quite possibly be making and passing laws that negatively impact families in that state. Still more “mainstream” right-wing politicians have made common cause with many Christian Reconstructionists and have worked tirelessly, both in congress and state legislatures, to slash budgets and find other ways to put their theological views to work.
The problem for us as non-Christians is obvious. If the right continues to be successful in cutting programs to families in need, what will be our lot? The Christian Reconstructionist says that we should then look to the church for help. This is problematic in many ways: under a theocratic government, a church may refuse to grant help to non-members or unequal treatment may be given to families who don’t believe. Perhaps a family may not wish to convert and compromise their integrity. Of course, the reality is that many would compromise if it came down to feeding their children and that is exactly what the Christian Reconstructionist would like to see. In short, the religious right is working to destroy the integrity of your and my non-Christian family in its pursuit of what it sees as god’s mandate, that America embraces biblical law. It is time for non-Christian families to make economic justice a priority in the fight against religious oppression.