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Deconstructing Reconstruction

Pastor Responds to "America the Theocracy"


I am a pastor, a Presbyterian pastor. Theologically speaking, I am a traditional pastor, which means I hold such beliefs as trusting in the Bible to tell us true things and faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the central element for true life. But I am also a newsreader, a Creative Loafing newsreader. I open the pages of Creative Loafing expecting to read a different take, to learn from good and corrective journalism. That's why I read it every week; that's why our church advertises with them. The March 24 edition started off the way I expected; Tara Servatius wrote an article on a journalist who ignored facts for the sake of a juicy story. Servatius wrote: "...Creative Loafing is still trying to figure out if the story...was a poorly thought-out hit piece, or an example of what can result when really sloppy reporting and really bad detective work collide." Another Servatius article, another achievement chalked up for alternative news.

Then came the lead article entitled "America the Theocracy" by John Sugg. As a pastor familiar with the subject, I turned to the article with considerable interest.

I became disappointed and frustrated, however, when I realized how this article was eviscerated by the omission of salient information and burdened by the admission of spurious facts. I was first struck by the lack of proper distinctions being made and the misleading juxtaposition of statements, names, and ideas. Frankly, I found myself feeling like Servatius: trying to figure out if it was a poorly thought-out hit piece, or an example of what can result from sloppy reporting and really bad detective work.

So I am writing because I care about truth and because I care about good journalism. More pointedly, I am writing because I care about what Mr. Sugg said about the church to which I am united, and because I care about Creative Loafing.

First let me say what I am not doing:

I am not agreeing with Christian Reconstructionism. In fact, I whole-heartedly disagree. Though my fellow Calvinists and I may have some similar presuppositions to our theology, we do not end up in the same place. I, like the Reconstructionists, have a view that sees Jesus as Lord over all creation. But God's creation is made up of a series of overlapping pluralistic societies. My duty as a Christian, and citizen, is to ensure justice for all. The Bible (to which I give final authority) and the US Constitution tell me so.

I am not saying that Mr. Sugg has missed the whole point. I am aware and deeply troubled with the theocratic (or theonomic) trends of Christians in this country. I am deeply concerned as a spiritual guide to God's people; and I am concerned with its effect in my own denomination -- the Presbyterian Church in America. But I am also concerned as an American citizen. Frankly from both perspectives, I am tired of the deliberate mixing of God's glory and Old Glory.

I am not lobbing grenades from the Christian Right. People who know me would laugh at the thought of me being a spokesman for such a thing.

So that's what I am not doing. Here is what I am trying to do. I want to clarify where Mr. Sugg's article was mistaken or misleading. Let me start with the easy stuff -- at least for a pastor anyway.

Mr. Sugg did not communicate the important nuances of the theological perspectives he was defining and using. Describing the theological framework theocrats used to move forward, Sugg said that they "preached the gospel of "post-millennialism,' meaning that it was Christians' job to take over the world and impose biblical rule.

I have never heard of his definition of post-millennialism. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge has a kinder, gentler definition. "Through the Church the Gospel gradually permeates the entire world and becomes immeasurably more effective than at present." There are a slew of theologians who hold a post-millennial view and are lauded by people in all denominations: A.A. Hodge (who founded Princeton Seminary), B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards; and in the early centuries of the Church, you can add Origen, Eusebius, Athansius, and Augustine. In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be best described as holding this view. King held that Christian life was a holistic realization of the kingdom of God wrought by our hard work and God's good grace. I would not word it as "taking over the world to impose biblical rule."

Sugg got some theological and denominational categories simply wrong. Speaking of the origins of dominion theology, Sugg wrote: "Thus was born dominion theology, sometimes dubbed covenant or kingdom theology." As a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, I am confident that covenant theology describes the continuity between the Old and New Testaments and God's promise of relationship to his people. It has very little to do with the Church and politics. Covenant theology frames the theology of Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics, and Presbyterians.

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