On Monday and Tuesday, I published posts examining what dominionists (short hand for Christians who believe Old Testament law should be the basis for civil law) recommend for people who violate aspects of Mosaic law. Today, I briefly examine a 2011 book by Stephen Che Halbrook titled, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws.
The book is an extension of a Master’s thesis presented at Regent University in 2008. The thesis and the book calls on government to use the Old Testament moral code as a basis for civil law, including the death penalty for blasphemy, idolatry, sabbath-breaking, disobedient children, adulterers and gays.
Halbrook runs the Theonomy Resources and teaches at The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy. New Geneva is a college-level school which is endorsed by American Vision’s Gary DeMar, Chaplain Ray Moore, of Frontline Ministries and the Exodus Mandate, and Mark Rushdoony, son of R. J. Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism.
Basically, Halbrook says that capital punishment for violators of biblical law benefits society. Throughout the book he makes the case that the laws governing all of us should reflect “God’s law as applied to the realm of civil government (which is mostly found in the Older Testament).” (p.xxi). Here is a sampling of recommendations for capital sanctions. On disobedient children he writes:
To all this we must add that capital sanctions for those who repudiate parental authority protect the family from treason. Many today would think capital punishment for treason against the family is extreme, but on the other hand, capital punishment for treason against the state is a necessity. (p. 205)
Given the evidence that criminality begins with Sabbath breaking, we see the importance of the Sabbath capital sanction. Fear of execution by the state deters many would-be criminals from embracing a life of crime and executing innocent people. Thus the more lax society becomes regarding the Bible’s penalty for Sabbath-breaking, the more society can expect to contend with crime. “[T]he wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the wages of the heinous sin of Sabbath breaking on a societal level results in death on a societal level. (p. 191)
In general, God’s law as understood by Reconstructionist authors is to be the law of the land. On sanctions against blasphemy, Halbrook writes:
In sum, the purpose of civil government is not primarily to defend the rights of man, but the rights of God. God’s rights over the state entail the state’s requirement to recognize God as Lord over the state (i.e., the highest political authority), and the state’s requirement to execute God’s wrath in His prescribed manner. This in no way diminishes human rights, but increases them. As we can see from the necessity of theocentric laws that we discussed, to disregard God’s rights—which are the rights from which all human rights derive—is to disregard man’s rights. And what right of God is more fundamental than not to be blasphemed? (p. 155)
This is similar to the thinking of Islamic clerics who defend anti-blasphemy laws in Islamic countries such as Pakistan, where Christian mother of five, Asia Bibisits in a prison cell waiting to see if her sentence of death for allegedly blaspheming Mohammed will be carried out. Of course, among the other capital sanctions, Halbrook has a chapter on “sodomite” acts. He begins this chapter:
Before exploring this topic, we must note that Christians must evangelize sodomites. This in no way conflicts with the capital sanction against those convicted of engaging in sodomite acts, a sanction which helps protect potential sodomites from themselves as well as society, as we shall see, from suicide.
Aren’t you warmed by the fact that he wants to “evangelize” and “protect potential sodomites from themselves?” Halbrook’s chapter about gays is filled with quotes from Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika (the book is refuted here). Drawing on Lively’s characterization of National Socialism as a “sodomite movement,” Halbrook justifies his position:
But as we have seen, justifying sodomy on the grounds of it being a private act doesn’t work, because it contributes greatly to a society’s cup of iniquity that can result in God’s destruction of that society. What good is it for a society to promote the freedom for all to participate in the lifestyle of their choice if a society isn’t around to promote it?
The 503 page book is comprehensive in defense of applying Old Testament law to civil life, even including a chapter defending stoning and burning as methods of capital punishment. One endorser of the book is Buddy Hanson. Hanson is the Alabama representative to the Exodus Mandate, a home school support group which calls for all Christians to remove their children from the public school. Hanson wrote in support:
With God’s grace, God Is Just: A Defense Of The Old Testament Civil Laws will be used to bring American Christians to repentance and back to honoring God’s Word through their daily decisions.
Halbrook cites Hanson (as well as R.J. Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, etc.) as providing justification for imposing biblical laws on a society. Halbrook writes:
And so Buddy Hanson is correct: “By not ‘imposing’ Christian beliefs on others, we allow them to ‘impose’ their beliefs on us.”455 (This endorses imposing Christian beliefs about biblical law—it does not endorse imposing conversions.) Pluralism is no less impositional than other political system—and actually, it is potentially the most impositional. Being polytheistic and thereby lacking anything beyond the coercion of the state by which to unite others, pluralism naturally tends towards outright totalitarianism, and even imperialism. (pp. 169-170).
Do unto others before they do unto you.
Some readers may believe I am giving too much attention to what appears to be a movement on the fringe of the evangelical community. Clearly, a large portion of evangelicals would be offended by this book and feel out of place in the churches where this teaching is offered. If anything, bringing this to light highlights just how diverse evangelicalism is.
Still, theonomy (the term those in the movement prefer) cannot be ignored. The groups in the theonomy world (American Vision, Exodus Mandate, Vision Forum) have political influence within the Christian Right and seek broader impact. If Halbrook is correct, some theonomists have designs on infiltrating the broader Christian Right to pursue their goals. Mostly, Halbrook criticizes the Christian right for being aligned with political conservatism, writing
The Christian Right—the largest group of politically-active Christians in America—rejects the Bible’s requirement of the state to uphold the O.T. civil laws. Instead, it embraces political conservatism. But conservatism, as pointed out, lacks an unchanging moral anchor (see Appendix D). Thus the Christian Right is handicapped by its marriage with political conservatism.
However, quoting a 1992 book by Matthew Moen, Halbrook holds out hope that perhaps Reconstructionists could save the Christian right:
Other evidence that the secularization of the Christian Right may be limited to that time frame [the Reagan era] is found in the emergence of Christian Reconstructionism. It emphasizes the utility of the first five books of the Old Testament for ordering contemporary American society, a goal that Bruce Barron and Anson Shupe have noted proceeds well beyond the Christian Right in scope yet has certain affinities related to ‘recapturing’ institutions from secular forces. … [T]he penetration of the Christian Right by Reconstructionists may halt, or even reverse, the process of secularization described. (from Moen, 1992, p. 425 in Halbrook).
While such a take over may be no more likely now than in 1992, I am concerned that theonomists and dominionists of several persuasions, notably the New Apostolic Reformation movement, continues to make gains in GOP and evangelical circles.
See also Part 1 and Part 2 in the series about what dominionists would do with gays. Part 1 examines the differences between New Apostolic Reformation dominionists and the Christian Reconstructionist variety. Part 2 briefly describes the views of the American Family Association spokesperson on criminalizing homosexual activity.