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A Coming Theocracy?

"What is the real agenda of the religious far Right? I'll tell you what it is. These nuts want to take over the federal government and suppress other religions through genocide and mass murder, rather than through proselytizing." --Stanley Kurtz, paraphrasing Leftist fears


Increasing Tensions

Ever since the 2004 elections, palpable paranoia has surfaced in some segments of society. Distraught over the emergence of the Christian Right, many in the cultural Left fear the advent of an American theocracy; and with that, "a return to the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery, sodomy, and witchcraft," according to Stanley Kurtz of the National Review.


With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and with a President who is vocal about his faith, can religious injunctions and witch burnings be far behind?   All that remains to put the rising theocracy in place, they fret, is for conservative Christians to flex their new political muscle and seize the judiciary.


Mr. Kurtz points out there is a fringe group of far-Right Christians, called Dominionists, who would like nothing more than to bring back slavery and extend capital punishment to sodomists and heretics. But, as Kurtz continues, "The dystopian political program of this utterly marginal, extremist sect has absolutely no traction with anyone of significance."


No doubt, every ideology has its fanatical group that neither represents, nor is recognized by, the majority; and Christianity is no exception. In fact, contrary to the utopian dreams of Wahhabists, Zionists, and Dominionists alike, a theocratic government established by a political takeover is as foreign to Christianity as private property is to Marxism. To understand why this is so, we need to look at the role of church and state as they relate to the Creation Mandate.


The Role of the State

When God created Adam and Eve, he directed them to fill the earth and subdue it, beginning with the Garden. The twofold elements of this mandate are multiplication: creating society through the procreative act, and administration: creating culture through responsible custodianship. 


Before the Fall, man's administrative role involved the care and cultivation of the Garden, including the simple task of naming the local fauna. But after the Fall, the nature of man's stewardship changed. Man's rebellion drove a wedge into the wholeness of Creation; a wedge that rapidly spread, dividing and isolating everything it touched.


One effect of this isolation was that the world became an alien place for man. What had been pleasing to the eye and good for food now included thorns and thistles. What had been a joy to cultivate was now a source of hard work and sweat. Even the joy of the reproductive process would culminate in pain.  In short, what was once good, whole, and yielding became corrupted, fractured, and resistant.


Another effect was that men became alienated from each other. Within one generation, man's alienation progressed from suspicion, jealousy, and anger to fratricide. In the countless generations hence, the effects of this ever-increasing fracture have led to world wars, innumerable genocides, global epidemics, and growing poverty and hunger.


To ameliorate the consequences of this fracture, God commissioned humankind, through the Creation Mandate, to work toward restoring wholeness until he returns to make all things new. Central to that commission is the creation of a just society; one whose governance is committed the inherent value of each individual and the common good of all.


James Madison once wrote "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Madison, like the rest of our Founding Fathers, acknowledged that, because of the Fall, society needs a governing body to establish civil order and restrain evil. This governing body, as St. Paul writes, does not derive its authority because it is established by man, but because it "ha[s] been established by God...For he is God's servant to do you good [and] an agent of wrath to bring punishment to the wrongdoer." 


Thus, government is not a human invention for power and control, but a divine provision for ordering and shaping culture. Of course, that doesn't mean that government always fulfills its divine purpose. In fact, history books are full of governments that failed their high calling by succumbing to one of two errors: either that Caesar is God, or that God is Caesar.


In the first error, the State becomes a law unto itself. Without any external basis for justice and human rights, the rule of law is reduced to whatever the ruling body dictates. For such governments "The law is right," as Abraham Kuyper said, "not because its contents are in harmony with the eternal principles of right, but because it is law." Whatever rights and protections are granted today, can be overturned tomorrow with a change of mind or a change of regime. Examples include the fascist government of Nazi Germany and the communist regime of North Korea.


In the second error, a religious body uses the power of the State to legislate every aspect of social life according religious law.   The medieval papacy of Europe and the present-day theocracies of Muslim countries, like Iran, are such examples.


Interestingly, both errors lead to religious persecution. Under the secular autocracy (Caesar is God), all allegiance must be secondary to the State. Since, by its very nature, religion flies in the face of the claim that "Caesar is God," religion is a threat that must be suppressed. Thus the appearance of the gulag, where millions of citizens have disappeared to be "re-educated."


Likewise, a theocratic system cannot tolerate loyalty to any Sovereign other than the Church-State. That is why Islamic states consistently top the lists for human rights violations. But, ironically, even in a theocratic government, the religion of the realm is undermined.  For where people in a free state would have converted because of a heart conviction, in a Church-State they convert to avoid persecution or for political advantage. As a result, spiritual shallowness eventually erodes the moral strength and authority of the State religion, which serves to exacerbate the tyranny.


If history has taught us anything, it is whether the Church is an arm of the State, or whether the State is an arm of the Church, the efforts to build a just society are undercut. That leads us to question the proper relationship for the Church in fulfilling its Creation Mandate.


Role of the Church

The Founding Fathers came predominately out of the Judeo-Christian tradition as either deists or Christians. Consequently, although much ink has been spilt about a "wall of separation," it was never the aim the Framers to jettison God or biblical principles from the public arena. Even Thomas Jefferson, who wrote about "building a wall of separation between church and state," authorized a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, one year later, that included federal support for building a church. It was one of numerous instances of federal assistance given to churches on Indian reservations, according to historian Robert Cord.


Thus, Jefferson and the Framers never intended that religious expression be restricted to the private sphere, or that government support of religion be considered unconstitutional. Rather, they understood that if society is to avoid "might makes right" tyranny, the standards of a just society must come from outside of society itself. They further recognized those standards to be the principles of virtue and justice revealed in Judeo-Christian tradition. The Declaration of Independence reflects their religious viewpoint in the appeal to human rights, inalienable by virtue of the Creator's endowment.


Likewise, the three-branch system of government is a direct product of biblically-informed thinking. Recognizing the reality of human nature, the Founding Fathers established the separation of powers.   They knew, because of the Fall, that mankind's inherent bent toward evil required a government with checks and balances to safeguard against abuse.


In conclusion, it can be confidently said that the Framers never envisioned creating a public square that was a religion-free zone. Rather, their objection was the favoring of one religious sect over others, creating a de facto State-Church. In other words, "freedom of religion" was never intended to be "freedom from religion," as it has read into the Constitution by the courts since the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged that society is best served when Church and State are independent, yet cooperative, mutually supporting each other in promoting the common good, while respecting each other's separate spheres of authority and responsibility. In that relationship, the State legislates, protects, and executes justice; while the Church informs about the principles of a just society.


What this means for panic-ridden conspiracy theorists, is that the coming theocracy does not depend on wresting political power from an earthly king, but on the arrival of a heavenly One.


Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.--St. John


(This article first appeared on


Regis Nicoll publishes a free weekly worldview commentary to demonstrate how Christian thinking can be applied to every sphere of life.   To be placed on this free distribution list, e-mail him at: [email protected]