The Wallbuilders Christmas catalog is out. In addition to a plethora of books and videos featuring the group’s founder and self-declared “America’s premier historian” David Barton, the catalog features a massive three-volume work by Christian Reconstructionist John Eidsmoe, “Historical and Theological Foundations of Law.” Wallbuilders’ promotion of Eidsmoe is a sign of the deep influence of Reconstructionism in today’s religious right—and of the near vanishing of whatever blurry line may have once separated religious right political advocacy groups from their more overtly extreme and dominionist compatriots.
Christian Reconstructionism was articulated in the 20th century by R.J. Rushdoony, who taught that America should be governed according to biblical law as he interpreted it. In his book “God & Caesar,” Eidsmoe frequently quoted Rushdoony, including this assertion:
It is God’s world and must be brought under God’s law politically, economically, and in every other way possible. The Enlightenment, by its savage and long-standing attack on Biblical faith, has brought about a long retreat of Christianity from a full-orbed faith to a kind of last-ditch battle centering around the doctrines of salvation and of the infallible Scripture. The time has come for a full-scale offensive, and it has indeed begun, to bring every area of thought into captivity to Christ, to establish the whole counsel of God and every implication of His infallible word.
Religious right activist and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann calls Eidsmoe a mentor and major influence. Eidsmoe is also closely associated with Roy Moore, the former Alabama chief justice who was accused of sexual assault and misconduct with teenage girls and is making another run for the U.S. Senate.
Eidsmoe has long been affiliated with the Foundation for Moral Law, formerly headed by Moore and now led by his wife Kayla Moore. Eidsmoe, described as senior counsel and resident scholar on the group’s website, participated in a 2010 Secession Day event held at the foundation, at which he said, “I support the Constitution of the United States of America. I took an oath to defend it. But I also believe that Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood that Constitution better than did Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster.”
Religion scholar Julie Ingersoll is the author of “Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction,” published by Oxford University Press a few years ago. As Ingersoll has documented, Eidsmoe has promoted “the doctrine of the lesser magistrate,” which asserts that “when leaders depart from their biblically mandated and limited roles it is the duty of lower level officials (lesser magistrates) to ‘interpose’ themselves between the people and those leaders.”
That doctrine is also promoted by religious right figures like anti-abortion extremist Matt Trewhella, who argues that government officials have a duty to defy federal law and court decisions on issues like abortion and LGBTQ equality. Other right-wing figures cite the doctrine in urging local officials to defy any attempt to regulate guns. In 2016, Eidsmoe declared that state courts and legislatures have a “duty” to “nullify” the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.
Most religious right leaders would say the Reconstructionist label does not apply to them because they do not, for example, advocate for Old Testament punishments, like the death penalty for homosexuality, to be imposed by law in the U.S. But the religious right’s focus on a Christian-nation reading of America’s history, its promotion of the importance of “biblical worldview,” and its teachings about limited government and right-wing economics are rooted in Reconstructionist thinking, as is Barton’s teaching about the biblical roots of the Constitution. Reconstructionism has also had a major influence on the Christian homeschooling movement, which is itself a political player on the right wing.
Ingersoll has described Barton as “Reconstructionist-lite,” which I previously characterized as “someone heavily influenced by Reconstructionist thinking even though he doesn’t publicly identify with the term and may depart from some of its more extreme positions.”
Barton is an influential Republican Party activist who has made a career out of collecting documents from the era of America’s founding and using those documents to promote a distorted Christian-nation narrative about the country’s founding, history, and Constitution. His work has been frequently challenged by actual historians, including those who are themselves Christians. In 2012, Christian publishing company Thomas Nelson pulled Barton’s book “The Jefferson Lies” off its shelf after a wave of criticism about the book’s inaccuracies.
But none of that seems to diminish his standing within conservative evangelical circles or the Republican Party. Barton was an active member of the committees that wrote the Republican Party platform in 2012 and 2016, when he called the GOP platform “the most biblically friendly platform we’ve had in my lifetime.”