The Dominion of Katherine Harris

Sadly, No! has posted a passage from Katherine Harris’s website which I found amusing and ironic, in which she boasted of her efforts to bring about electoral reform so that the disabled could vote more easily. Seb also notes the following from her site:

She studied abroad at the University of Madrid and at L’Abri outside Geneva, Switzerland.

The L’Abri connection has actually been noticed before, and has spawned some lurid conspiracy theories which I prefer to pass over, but this is interesting considering my post on Doug Giles from a couple of days ago. L’Abri began in 1955 as a Christian community at the home of apologist and pastor Francis Schaeffer, and has since spread to a number of locations. The late Schaeffer enjoys a status among conservative Christians akin to that of CS Lewis; one appreciative article offers the following portrait:

It seems to me that there are basically two reasons for the response Schaeffer has gotten. First, in the words of Richard Russell, “Francis Schaeffer is a pastor with a rare and deep sensitivity to the spiritual plight of the present generation…” In Schaeffer, this sensitivity is coupled with a charisma that both engages and excites the minds of his audiences and readers. But there is this and more. Schaeffer genuinely loves those he confronts. This is admittedly a personal and subjective judgment, but I believe it is true. I have on several occasions witnessed Schaeffer, tired and spent after an hour’s lecture — perhaps the third such lecture in a single day, taking an additional hour or two talking and witnessing to a cluster of young people gathered around him.

So far so unsinister (even if not my cup of tea). However, a Public Eye article on Reconstructionism by Frederick Clarkson notes:

Many Christian Right thinkers and activists have been profoundly influenced by Reconstructionism. Among others: the late Francis Schaeffer, whose book A Christian Manifesto was an influential call to evangelical political action that sold two million copies, and John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute (a Christian Right legal action group).

…Schaeffer, a longtime leader in Rev. Carl McIntire’s splinter denomination, the Bible Presbyterian Church, was a reader of Reconstructionist literature but has been reluctant to acknowledge its influence. Indeed, Schaeffer and his followers specifically rejected the modern application of Old Testament law.

Here’s a Schaeffer quote on a Christian site opposed to Reconstructionism:

In the Old Testament there was a theocracy commanded by God. In the New Testament, with the church being made up of Jews and Gentiles, and spreading over all the known world from India to Spain in one generation, the church was its own entity. There is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns…Unfortunately, the support [Constantine] gave to the church led by 381 to the enforcing of Christianity, by Theodosius I, as the official state religion…None of this, however, changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, nor that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government. But that is very different from a theocracy in name or in fact.

OK, but here’s Sara Diamond’s perspective (circa 1995). Diamond warns against conspiracy and “guilt-by-association” thinking, but goes on:

More prevalent on the Christian Right [than Reconstructionism] is the Dominionist idea, shared by Reconstructionists, that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns–and there is no consensus on when that might be…The idea of taking dominion over secular society gained widespread currency with the 1981 publication of evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s book A Christian Manifesto. The book sold 290,000 copies in its first year, and it remains one of the movement’s most frequently cited texts…

In A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer’s argument is simple. The United States began as a nation rooted in Biblical principles. But as society became more pluralistic, with each new wave of immigrants, proponents of a new philosophy of secular humanism gradually came to dominate debate on policy issues. Since humanists place human progress, not God, at the center of their considerations, they pushed American culture in all manner of ungodly directions, the most visible results of which included legalized abortion and the secularization of the public schools. At the end of A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer calls for Christians to use civil disobedience to restore Biblical morality, which explains Schaeffer’s popularity with groups like Operation Rescue. Randall Terry has credited Schaeffer as a major influence in his life.

This is a key point. We know that Doug Giles used to belong to a church grouping (perhaps still does) whose leader, Rice Broocks, was a leading figure in another group that disseminated Reconstructionist literature, but that doesn’t make Giles or Brooks a Reconstructionist (I’ve amended my previous post to clarify this). Indeed, since Broocks was also an associate of Kenneth Copeland, it’s likely he is a premillennialist, a position rejected by Reconstructionists (and Doug Giles). However, within the Charismatic movement there is a strand of authoritarianism which would resonate with some Reconstructionist ideas, although the emphasis is more on apostles being given Charismatic authority from God rather than restoration of Old Testament law. Where it all overlaps can be called dominion theology.

So, back to Katherine Harris. According to an interview in World magazine, Harris attends a Calvary Chapel church in Tallahassee. Calvary Chapel is a Charismatic church, founded at Costa Mesa by Chuck Smith in the 1960s (and attracting the same kind of “Jesus Freaks” who also went to L’Abri during the same era). Smith is a Christian Zionist in the Hal Lindsey mode, although whether those Christian Zionist ideas are actively promoted at Harris’s particular church is another matter. But Harris is also possibly connected with David Barton, with whom she was at one time slated to share a panel on the subject “God in Government” at Doug Giles’s April conference (see here) [Amendment 29 October: since writing this post I’ve discovered the agenda I got this from was changed and this panel never happened. So, the Harris-Barton link is considerably weakened, I have to admit]

I’ve looked at David Barton before. Here’s Diamond’s take:

Barton’s bottom line is that only “the righteous” should occupy public office. This is music to the ears of Christian Right audiences. To grasp Barton’s brand of dominion theology, unlike reconstructionism, one does not need a seminary degree. Barton’s pseudo history fills a need most Americans have, to know more about our country’s past. His direct linkage of the deified Founding Fathers with contemporary social problems cuts through the evangelicals’ theological sectarianism and unites them in a feasible project. They may not be able to take dominion over the whole earth or even agree about when Jesus will return, but they sure can go home and back a godly candidate for city council, or run themselves. Barton tells his audiences that they personally have an important role to play in history, and that is what makes his dominion theology popular.

I see no reason why this should not be characterised as theocratic, whatever careful distinction Schaeffer made.

(I’ve written more about what this post set out to do here.)


Aside: A couple of other notes related to Schaeffer. Diamond adds that:

Schaeffer was allied with the strident anti-Communist leader Rev. Carl McIntire who headed the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches. Later Schaeffer joined an anti-McIntire faction that, after several name changes, merged into the Presbyterian Church in America.

That’s the same denomination as that of Gary DeMar, whose book Myths, Lies, & Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians was brought to my attention by The Dark Window recently. The denomination’s Harvestwood Covenant Church was explored by World O’Crap a while back. The denomination is also the home of Don Dwyer, the Maryland House member who told an elderly atheist who objected to being made to pray at a day centre that she should “leave my people alone” and crowed over how local law allowed office only to theists (he was wrong – the law changed in 1961); and of Texas-based GOP-funder James Leininger.

Also interestingly, Schaeffer’s son Frank converted to Orthodoxy (the kind of Christianity that did so well out of Constantine and his successors). He now runs Regina Orthodox Press, which publishes anti-Muslim (and pro-Putin and Serbia) tomes such as The Great Divide by Alvin J Schmidt and The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic. Sadly No! noticed the former of these just recently.