The Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony, often called theologian to the religious right and an outspoken advocate of a nation ruled by biblical law, has died. He was 84.
Rushdoony, a native of New York City and the son of Armenian immigrants, died Feb. 8 of prostate cancer in Vallecito, Calif.
A prolific author, Rushdoony’s works included “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” a compilation of five years of his sermons from 1968 to 1972 that became the theological framework that his followers said underscored much of the Christian right’s political activism.
“Rushdoony’s writings are the source of many of the core ideas of the New Christian Right,” said his son-in-law, Gary North, a conservative political activist.
Rushdoony believed in a return to a “Christian civilization.” He championed Christian home schooling. Indeed, supporters called him the father of the Christian home schooling movement that began to take hold in the 1970s.
As an unabashed Christian Reconstructionist, Rushdoony called for replacing civil law with biblical law--and an unalloyed Christian version at that. He believed that because Christianity fully embodied God’s law that it rightly should be the final arbiter of right and wrong. He thought biblical law should apply worldwide.
Political action could help bring that about, he said.
“He believed that all faith results in action and social consequences,” his son, the Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony, said in an interview this week. “We have a humanistic culture because humanists have been acting in terms of their beliefs. He believed, if Christians acted in terms of their beliefs, we would have a different culture.”
But a number of political conservatives disassociated themselves from Rushdoony’s views, among them Ed Dobson and Ed Hindson of Liberty University, the fundamentalist Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Writing in the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review in 1986, Dobson and Hindson said Rushdoony wanted Christians to prepare to take over the world’s government and its courts. “Rushdoony distrusts democracy,” they said.
They noted that some of his followers called for laws mandating the death penalty for homosexuals and alcoholics.
Some Distort His Vision
“No doubt this is a frightening prospect for many secularists and members of the Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths. But they are not alone,” Dobson and Hindson wrote. “It is a scary vision for the majority of evangelicals and fundamentalists as well, the two of us included.”
Rushdoony was approvingly quoted by racist fringe groups, according to Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which tracks anti-Semitism worldwide. But, Cooper said, Rushdoony also disavowed such groups.
In a 1986 interview with The Times, Rushdoony said the end of the nation-state was at hand. “We are in the last days of humanistic statism,” he said. “Now people regard politicians, the state, lawyers--everyone associated with the state apparatus--with the same cynicism that people in 1500 regarded the Catholic Church” (before the Protestant Reformation).
But Rushdoony insisted that he never sought to impose God’s law by force. The change, he said, had to take place in the hearts of individuals. Having seen the light, he said they would prove their fidelity to God’s law in all their actions.
But his son said his father did not believe in “a statist” approach. “He was not writing a political plan of action for a modern government. He believed in looking at the Bible first of all as God’s requirement for us as individuals,” he said.
Rushdoony’s single-minded appeal to “God’s law” meant there would be consequences for those who violated it. His critics said that if God’s law were enforced as Rushdoony saw it, the death penalty would be imposed on offenses ranging from blasphemy and witchcraft to propagating false doctrine, adultery and homosexuality.
That was not his intent, Mark Rushdoony said. “He did not favor the killing of homosexuals by the modern state. He said we should understand [homosexuality] as being against God’s law.”
Rushdoony graduated from UC Berkeley and the Pacific School of Religion, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Early in his life, he was a missionary to Shoshone and Paiute Indians on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in northeastern Nevada before serving two churches in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Besides his son, Mark, Rushdoony is survived by his brother, Haigh Rushdoony of Danville, Calif.; wife Dorothy Rushdoony; and four other children: Rebecca Rouse and Joanna Manesajian of Angels Camp, Calif., Martha Coie of Downey, Calif., and Sharon North of Winslow, Ark. He also had 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.