The noisome corpse of institutional theonomy just keeps moldering, but no one seems to care enough to bury it. When I was first introduced to Christian Reconstruction in the early ‘90s, Rushdoony was for the sociologists, Bahnsen the philosophers, North the economists, and American Vision for the neophytes. Today, the heirs of Rushdoony and Bahnsen are in archive mode while North busies himself spawning zany get-rich-quick schemes and writing three and four word sentences extolling the virtues of Walmart to the disciples of anti-Christ Ludwig Von Mises. American Vision is the only organization that is not obviously moribund, though its eternal sophomore president, Gary Demar, continues to disappoint.
As organizations grow long in the tooth, they tend to become less about promoting ideas and more about perpetuating the institution. In the case of AV, the apparent hope is to fund Gary Demar’s pension via the Christian flotsam of the Liberty Movement. Toward that end, Gary North’s son-in-law, Joel McDurmon, has found gainful employment with AV, generating copious clickbait for the handful of Paulbots more interested in Christian governance than in legally smoking a doobie with Ron.
The modus operandi of such organizations has become boringly predictable. To build your online presence, employ a professional blogger to generate a lot of edgy, slapdash content designed to appeal to your largest demographic with the loosest purse strings. But if you get too edgy and end up alienating a significant portion of your donor base, be sure to have at least two figureheads so that the good cop can take an opposing position to keep everyone feeling represented. Kabbalisticly, the left arm of Gevurah repels while the right arm of Chesed draws near, all in the name iron sharpening iron, of course. While I am not so naïve as to think organizations like AV run on fairy dust, neither am I so cynical as to excuse donor manipulation by those claiming to be all about Christian ideals.
The latest example of this behavior by AV is especially noxious to those who value the good name of their ancestors over absurd efforts to harmonize Biblical Law with the Non-Aggression Principle. In the opening salvo, McDurmon takes aim at the Confederate battle flag and its supporters. With histrionics approaching the level of Elie Wiesel’s Night, we are informed that the Old South was teeming with cartoonish super villains who made soap and lampshades out of Negro babies. Defense of the Confederate battle flag is denounced as “ludicrous” and “a sign of utter hypocrisy”, while the flag itself is a “profound distraction”. McDurmon tells us that the Confederacy “can never be separated from institutionalized racism and oppression” because it “instituted a wicked and godless form of racist, chattel slavery”, which was “unspeakably wicked” and an “unforgivable sin” (in addition to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, presumably). Their evil, it seems, was only excelled by McDurmon’s excessive use of superlatives.
While the article appealed to the sort of greasy basement dwellers who think that cultural concerns are a senseless distraction from NDAA awareness campaigns and efforts to audit the Fed, the comments showed that more than a few of AV’s online fanboys were uncharacteristically displeased. Donor dollars now threatened, Gary Demar arrives via short bus to play sober yin to McDurmon’s raging yang with two exceedingly tepid but conciliatory posts on Godfather Politics. Demar’s writing, whether endorsing Christ-haters like McCain and Romney or even feebly defending of the flag of my fathers, always reads better if one imagines the accompaniment of laugh tracks and slide whistles. After McDurmon has a few days to convalesce and apply sufficient butthurt cream, he ostensibly doubles down with a second post. While remaining intransigent on the Confederate issue, and even adding one more superlative that somehow escaped his pen in the first post (“abomination”), McDurmon proceeds to offer an olive branch to the pro-South contingent via criticism of the Pledge of Allegiance. While ostensibly appearing edgy and bold, his topic and approach were carefully selected to please both the Southerners (via his conclusion) and the Paulbots (via his anti-Statist critique), while only offending the handful of AV supporters who still haven’t discovered patriotard David Barton’s Wallbuilders. Wash, rinse, repeat.
My friends at Faith & Heritage have already dealt with the major flaws in McDurmon’s original article, so I will only briefly discuss what I hope adds to the conversation:
1. McDurmon equivocates as shamelessly as Tim Keller, making the reader’s interpretation highly dependent on what he brings to the table. Theonomists, many of whom rightly recognize the moral permissibility of Biblical slavery, focus on McDurmon’s use of the word chattel, believing him to be critical only of a particular type of slavery. Newbies, fellow travelers, and confused Christian voluntaryists, on the other hand, read McDurmon’s article as a denunciation of slavery of any type. McDurmon could have easily clarified, but this was calculated dissimulation designed to appeal to the widest audience.
2. A great many modern Southern apologists avoid the one point that should be faced head on: the moral permissibility of slavery. The “Heritage Not Hate” Rainbow Confederates play up the participation of Negroes, Jews, Indians, and Mexicans within the Southern ranks in order to assuage the “guilt” of being white. But while the co-belligerence of these groups against the Northern aggressors should certainly be acknowledged, the Southern cause was fundamentally a white Anglo-Celtic Christian one. Some falsely attempt to cast Southern slave ownership as uncommon or put forward an essentially Marxist critique of evil rich plantation owners vs. oppressed poor whites, yet over one-fourth of Southern households owned one or more slaves, and the antebellum South was generally affluent and charitable towards its poor. Others endeavor to sell the Southern position as exclusively one of states’ rights. It’s true that the average Northern soldier fought to sustain the Union and the average Southern soldier fought for Southern independence against the Yankee invaders. Nevertheless, slavery was most certainly the occasion for the war, being the single greatest factor leading to Southern secession. Many Southern advocates seem content to point out the widespread hypocrisy: Lincoln’s “racism”, Grant’s slave ownership, the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one, the manifold evils committed under “Old Glory”, the reality that slavery had its critics and advocates in both the North and the South, etc. All are legitimate points, but none deal forthrightly with the ethical issue of Southern slavery.
3. Biblical slavery is the exclusive ownership of another person’s labor in exchange for supplying all of that person’s earthly needs, while preserving the dignity of that person due to their status as an image bearer of God, and recognizing God’s ultimate ownership of the person himself. It was most commonly entered into to repay a debt, either voluntarily for debtors of the typical sort, or involuntarily for criminals unable to make restitution out of pocket. It could also be entered into voluntarily by those whose improvidence would otherwise have left them in a grinding poverty. Further, slavery is the natural outcome of heathen cultures, especially martial ones, and those enslaved under such conditions in foreign lands could be morally purchased by the covenant people. Slavery was temporary for those within the covenant nation, in open recognition of God’s ultimate ownership of His people, and the debt to Him none could repay. For those outside the covenant nation, slavery could be permanent, recognizing the perpetual slavery of sin for those without God’s grace.
A day of reaction may yet come, when the force of the views here submitted to the world will be acknowledged, when the justice which has hitherto been denied to the Church at the South will be rendered by the people of Jesus, who cannot always be blinded to scriptural truth by theories of human right and humanitarian schemes, conceived in the womb of a rationalistic philosophy. ~ (editor’s prefatory note to James Henley Thornwell’s writings on slavery)
4. Leviticus 25:44-46 (ESV): “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.”
5. With one primary exception, Negro slavery as commonly practiced in the antebellum South followed the Biblical pattern for the slavery of heathen nations. That one primary exception is that Negroes were not purchased “from among the nations that are around you.” The importation of black Africans to white lands introduce an alien and disharmonious element; the present effect being the presence of a large and often hostile revolutionary underclass in our very midst.
6. Constant intertribal warfare made slavery a common and basic reality of Negro life in Africa. Slaves were predominantly obtained by purchase from other Africans, not through man-stealing. Slaves so obtained went from a brutal and unforgiving slavery to what was one of history’s mildest forms of the “peculiar institution.” For those who would like to delve further, Dr. Gary Lee Roper’s Antebellum Slavery: An Orthodox Christian View covers this topic in a thorough and accessible manner.
We are a beaten, conquered people, gentlemen, and yet if we are true to ourselves, we have no cause for humiliation, however much for deep sorrow. It is only the atheist who adopts success as the criterion of right. It is not a new thing in the history of men that God appoints to the brave and true the stern task of contending and falling in a righteous quarrel. Would you find the grandest of all names upon the roll of time? You must seek them among this “noble army of martyrs,” whose faith in God and the right was stronger than death and defeat. Let the besotted fools say that our dead have fallen in a “lost cause.” Let abandoned defamers and pulpit buffoons say that theirs are “dishonored graves.” … We have no need, sirs, to be ashamed of our dead; let us see to it that they be not ashamed of us. ~ Robert Lewis Dabney
7. Generally, it’s crass to speak poorly of another’s intellect, but Demar’s and McDurmon’s positions as self-proclaimed intellectual leaders of American Christianity leave them exposed to such criticism. Demar can’t reason his way out of a wet paper bag, and McDurmon, while not a drooling idiot, simply doesn’t have the level of competency such leadership requires. Plainly stated, McDurmon is not an original thinker. If you want to obtain his worldview, simply read the books he’s read. McDurmon himself is unnecessary. On the present issue of slavery, McDurmon is simply parroting his father-in-law Gary North, albeit in a more “made for TV” fashion that avoids the difficult distinctions in hopes of winning the applause of the audience. While there is virtue in confronting McDurmon’s intellectual cowardice, striking for the puppet master’s heart is the more worthy pursuit.
8. North specializes in expounding Scripture through the microscope of the dismal science. In his endless churn of economic commentaries, North presents a tone-deaf and deracinated exposition of Holy Writ where economic concerns are made ultimate. While the theonomic thesis is properly and simply grounded in the idea that God doesn’t change, in North’s convoluted typology, God’s commands are subjected to praxeological analysis, with the practical result being that the modern equity of the Mosaic laws, norms, and patterns are made contingent upon his ability to discover their economic utility within the New Covenant paradigm. Blood and soil concerns – culture, sociological organization, the power and position of the family, the nature of inheritance in tribe, land, and covenant, the importance of blood in identity, belonging, ownership, and ruling power – are assailed by North and treated as exclusively typological with no modern equity in the New Covenant era.
9. To deal honestly with North, it must be admitted that he expounds the unpopular realties of the Mosaic law-order with enough candor to make McDurmon blush. It is also commendable that at many points he explicitly undermines the false god of autonomous man that undergirds his beloved Austrian economics. Nevertheless, while it would be unfair to suggest that North self-consciously endeavors to harmonize Moses with Von Mises, the practical impact is that North’s New Covenant filter of Moses is little more than a laissez faire Procrustean bed. The “grace changes everything” ethos that tilts heavily in the socialistic direction in the hands of the average Gospel Coalitioner, in North’s hands becomes a libertarian utopia of Christian capitalists, with the free market their chosen milieu. Organic bonds of blood, language, culture, soil, and shared history, are shunned in favor of an exclusively creedal approach.
10. In Boundaries and Dominion: An Economic Commentary of Leviticus, North makes his case that the lifetime heathen (LTH) slavery provisions of Leviticus 25 passed away in Christ. Here are his primary points and line of argument:
A) Christ declared his ministry to be one of liberation in Luke 4:17-21. While this is understood first and foremost as spiritual liberation, it will also be realized in an earthly way in Redemptive History as the work of Christ overturns and removes the effects of sin (progressive sanctification on a macro scale).
And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” ~ Luke 4:17-21 (NASB)
B) The Jubilee land tenure laws and the LTH slavery laws were mutually dependent, given their shared context in Leviticus 25 and their teleological correlation.
C) Ezekiel 47:21-23 envisions a time when rural land ownership in Israel will also be open to proselytes, contrary to the Jubilee land tenure laws. North thinks this time was ushered in with the postexilic period.
“So you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst. And they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And in the tribe with which the alien stays, there you shall give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord God. ~ Ezekiel 47:21-23 (NASB)
D) The Jubilee land tenure laws became impracticable at the death and covenantal divorce of national Israel in 70 AD.
E) North concludes that the Jubilee land tenure laws are thus abrogated, and the LTH slavery laws likewise abrogated by reason of their interdependence.
To his credit, North admits that the Church never broadly questioned the moral permissibility of LTH slavery for over 17 centuries of its existence.
11. Briefly addressing North’s points:
A) The direct appeal to Luke 4:17-21 as an abolitionist proof text is intellectually dishonest. Nevertheless, there is a valid point here about the diminution of slavery as macro-scale progressive sanctification waxes greater in Redemptive History. Simply stated, the practice of LTH slavery should diminish over time as the world is won to Christ because LTH slavery is fundamentally for those outside the covenant, a population that will eventually diminish in the proper postmillennial understanding. The problem is, North does not treat this as a gradual process occurring throughout Redemptive History in which the ethics remain constant but the number of eligible participants diminishes. Instead, North promotes a revolutionary ethical inversion in the moral status of LTH slavery as having occurred either during the Exilic Period or in the Inter-Covenantal Period between the Resurrection and 70 AD (North is not consistent as to which).
B) There is definitely a teleological correlation between the Jubilee land tenure laws and LTH slavery. To wit, those inside the Covenant have permanent status in the Kingdom as the slaves of the Lord, and those outside the Covenant have no permanent claim on God’s land, being lifetime slaves of sin. I’m not sure this is to the level of mutual dependence North envisions, but I will grant it for the sake of argument.
C) Ezekiel 47:21-23 is a part of Ezekiel’s Messianic vision. Christ and the Church in union to Him are Ezekiel’s Temple, giving his vision immediate, progressive, and eschatological fulfillments in the familiar “now and not yet” pattern. This is definitely not during the postexilic period, but looks forward to the time when the Gentiles are incorporated into the Covenant and the conditional privilege of national Israel is transferred to spiritual Israel. Despite North’s gaffe identifying this as postexilic, Ezekiel’s vision is obviously present to our age in all but its eschatological aspects. What North fails to demonstrate is how this present reality inverts the ethics of LTH slavery for anyone but heathens who convert.
D) The Jubilee land tenure laws obviously became impracticable at the death and covenantal divorce of national Israel in 70 AD. That does not answer the question of whether or not the principles that animated the Jubilee land tenure laws, and the LTH slavery provisions by association, are thereby abrogated.
The problem with North’s approach is that it is contrary to the nature of the Law. The Law of God is an unchanging coherent unity with peculiar contextual applications. Remove the Law’s coherence, and it becomes a collection of unconnected fragments without comprehensive animating principles. Remove the Law’s unique application to peculiar contexts, and it becomes anachronistic, irrelevant, arbitrary, and ultimately contradictory. Within the theonomic movement, both errors have found expression. In the Rushdoony camp, context is frequently ignored and the realization of a Christian law-order largely presented as a brick-for-brick rebuilding of national Israel. In the North camp, the Law is stripped of its unity, with a sophisticated system of contrivances introduced to edit, revise, and amend the Law to an unrecognizable New Covenant era transmogrification.
Ethics do not change. The context of applying an ethical principle can and certainly does change, giving rise to differences as to how those principles are actualized in the realm of human experience, but the moral oughtness of the underlying principle is constant. The Resurrection of Christ and the supersession of national Israel by the Church has profoundly changed our context. The curse of the Law has been made of no effect to the Church, and the present reality of the true Passover Lamb has transformed our religious expression, but not one ethical principle has changed. Heathens are still outside the Covenant, they still have no inheritance in God’s land, they are still in perpetual slavery to sin. The incorporation of the Gentiles into spiritual Israel raises the question of whether or not heathen slaves who convert should be permitted to gradually manumit themselves through labor, something I would be in favor of, but that does not change the status of those who remain outside the Covenant.
The Bible contains much didactic moral instruction, and yet not once does it ever condemn slavery as immoral. The centerpiece summary of its moral instruction, the Ten Commandments, fails to condemn this supposedly grievous sin. While the First Commandment declares God’s grace to His people in removing them “out of the house of slavery”, the Fourth and the Tenth give moral instruction in the treatment and consideration of their own slaves. North treats the divorce of national Israel as a death blow for LTH slavery, and yet can only offer up an elaborate argument that he admits is original to him. Are my Southern ancestors guilty of “unspeakably wicked” and “unforgivable” sins when the one prophet who was able to finally able to assemble a suitable argument against slavery didn’t arrive on the scene until 1942?
12. LTH slavery is basically a settled issue in the West, so why is it important to defend the ethics of it? (I admit that I’m not particularly in love with it myself.) Even ignoring the fact that the good name of our ancestors is worth defending, the effects of abolitionism continue to be felt in ordinary life. In the 19th century, higher criticism invaded the Church, and the biological transformism of Darwin found a parallel in the ethical transformism of the abolitionists. Essentially, abolitionists could offer no sound Biblical arguments against slavery. The more orthodox in their ranks relied on weak Golden Rule arguments that were easily dismantled, but the more innovative believed they’d reached such a high level of sanctification that new truths beyond Scripture had been made evident to them. This notion of evolutionary truth discovered outside the Bible, combined with their new concept of social sin, directly led to the Social Gospel and liberal Protestantism we’re surrounded by today. People who reckon themselves holier than God often come equipped with guillotines. But don’t worry, it’s entirely for your moral edification.
13. Egalitarians view man in terms of a decontextualized ideal, an unrealized potential who is always in the process of becoming. He is a raceless, universal man, without history, whose important factors are exclusively a matter of his creed. His intrinsic attributes hold no importance because he is little more than an interchangeable part. Perfection may be demanded of him because if he is less than another, it is only because he is weak willed, lazy, or evil. Thus, real, historical men are subjected to an unforgiving critique for failing to actualize this ideal. Such is the present treatment of the South. Historical Southerners owned slaves, issued paper money, conscripted men into the military, shot deserters, etc. They had not reached the level of sinless perfection demanded by the apostles of Utopia, and are deemed worthy only of derision. We should expect to see this behavior from the enemies of Christ, but when a Christian like McDurmon judges his brothers by egalitarian standards rather than the Law-Word of God, he needs to be called into account.
[A]nytime that we are ready to confess the sins of our forefathers, there is something wrong with us, because we have enough of our own sins to confess without confessing mama’s and papa’s and grandpa’s and great grandma’s sins. … That’s what our generation is busy doing: confessing the sins of our forebearers. Oh how terribly they treated the Indians, and how terribly they treated this or that person, or the blacks. … So don’t go confessing the sins of your ancestors or missionaries of the past. They were very often better people than we are. And we need to be up and doing, so that we can accomplish as much as they did in their day. They were not perfect, none of us are this side of Heaven. But they did the Lord’s work as best they could, and we should thank God for them. ~ R. J. Rushdoony
14. I would ask McDurmon what the opportunity cost was of writing this article. Why does he need to lend his voice to the immense chorus of popular voices execrating the South? Wouldn’t his talents be better employed in analyzing the racial problems in America that led to the Charleston shooting? Or would that lead to uncomfortable places? How about the manufactured theater of this incident? Did the occult cryptocracy have a role in orchestrating these events in order to hammer the American god-state’s most powerful remaining enemy while advancing the black victim narrative? Why do mass murders of whites by black perpetrators repeatedly go unmentioned in the mainstream media? Why did FedGov instruct Amazon, eBay, and others, to no longer sell any paraphernalia bearing the Confederate battle flag? Why was this symbol popularly tolerated for so long yet is so hated now? What happens to a people when you deny them their history? Why and how was a dualism between the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag of the sodomite revolution so quickly and seamlessly formed in the minds of the American people? The burden of being a leader does not permit one a comfortable place in the bandwagon, and being a scholar requires more original thought than playing intellectual dress up in one’s father-in-law’s clothes.
In most European countries as well as Europe’s daughters around the globe, the Confederate battle flag is the symbol of an underdog standing its ground against State tyranny. The State hates it for that reason, but that is not the primary reason behind the widespread invective it has experienced as of late. The Old South was the last outpost of Christendom, an outpost where white Christian men and white Christian ideas dominated. Consequently, the Confederate battle flag is not just a flag of the resistance, and not even just a flag of the Christian resistance, but uniquely the flag of the white Christian resistance. Whites have largely rejected Christ, becoming guilt-ridden and self-loathing, while non-whites have had their envy stoked and inflamed against us by the Talmudists principally in control of the major media and entertainment outlets. Simply put, the flag is hated because Christ is hated. If American Vision and Joel McDurmon actually want to be the Christian vanguard of the culture war, perhaps they should raise the battle standard of my forefathers and stop baptizing the vomit of our enemies.