Gary DeMar makes a disconcerting impression for a firebrand revolutionary who wants to overthrow the established order in the United States. No camouflage, and he carries a Bible instead of an assault rifle. Sporting khaki pants with razor creases, tassel loafers and, most of all, a warm smile, he looks like your neighbor. He might be.DeMar runs American Vision, a prolific publishing house of mostly his own books in Powder Springs, a suburb of Marietta, Ga. He's a churchgoer -- nothing radical there. His church is Midway Presbyterian -- and Presbyterians are pretty mainstream, aren't they?
It's a Wednesday night in February and about 40 Midway parishioners are gathered for a class. They're bedrock, anytown Americans -- other than their monochrome white complexion.
DeMar is talking to a teenage boy about an assignment for a high school course. Well, not exactly a traditional high school. The lad is being home-schooled, as are many of Midway's young members. The youth says he is trying to prove an issue of "family government."
"You don't have to prove that," DeMar gently chides. "That's established -- established by God!"
A little earlier, DeMar had lectured the group on three "governments" created, he says, by God: the family, the state and the church. But this is more than just a pep talk on a trinity of subjects dear to most Americans.
Rather, DeMar, a relentlessly logical (if you accept his assumptions) speaker, excitedly describes a new order, one in which God's trusted servants reign supreme over the three governments. It's a society in which only the faithful are citizens, democracy is a distasteful memory, and the state's primary purpose is assisting in the conquest of the Planet Earth for Christ.
This is more than one man's radical dreaming. It's the core belief of a movement called Christian Reconstruction, and DeMar is its Tom Paine. Many followers accord him the status of transforming an arcane offshoot of Calvinism into a political dreadnought -- and of launching that theological warship at a speech 20 years ago.
The movement, also dubbed "dominion theology" and "theonomy," has spread far beyond the right wing of Presbyterian and Reformed churches. It has penetrated, to some degree, most conservative denominations, including Southern Baptist.
Not all in the movement agree on every point; theology wouldn't be theology without endless schisms, after all. Nor would all people who advance Reconstruction's goals agree that they're part of the movement. But as St. Matthew wrote, "By their works shall you know them."
The Reconstruction movement has burrowed deep into the religious right. Its architects have gained strength via a broad alliance with other religious advocates who seek a radical restructuring of America. Reconstruction and dominion theology certainly set much of the agenda for conservative Christianity's political activism.
Is DeMar championing a theocracy? With the rueful smile of one who has been hit with this one before, he retorts: "All governments are theocracies. We now live in a secular, humanist theocracy. Yes, I want to change that to a government with God at its head."
Resurgent religion has been prophesized ever since Mephistophelean secularism reared up in the wake of the 1925 Scopes evolution trial in Tennessee. The God-fearing suffered a media mocking that left scars that still inflame debate today. Humanism proclaimed temporary victory on April 8, 1966, when Time magazine asked on its cover: "Is God Dead?"While he personally hasn't answered the question, his followers have roared, no!
Like ancient Christians, today's ardent believers feel they've been fed to the lions. In the years just prior to the Time apostasy, the U.S. Supreme Court had ripped prayer and the Bible from public schools. Then, in 1973 came the galvanizing abortion decision of Roe v. Wade. Five years later, then-President and staunch Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter demanded that private religious schools, often the segregation academies of white flight, prove they did not racially discriminate -- an intrusion, many Southern preachers fumed, onto their turf. Throughout this time, gays at first tiptoed, then charged out of the closet; and women demanded equal rights, upsetting the biblical order of families, as interpreted by religious conservatives.
Secular America fooled itself by assuming it had won. "The media subjected the fundamentalists to such ridicule that they slunk away," says Karen Armstrong, author of The History of God. "But these fundamentalists were simply withdrawing in the time-honored way, leaving the mainstream denominations and founding their own churches, Bible colleges, broadcasting stations and publishing houses."
Today, a new cultural civil war rages, with political skirmishes as far flung as Massachusetts and San Francisco, but with most of the major battlefields in the South. For Southerners aggrieved at what they see as Northern liberalism, the New Cause is just one more campaign for the Lost Cause.