How Evangelicals Opposing DACA Imitate Segregationist Theology

On September 4th, in anticipation of President Trump’s decision to sunset legislation protecting illegal immigrant minors from deportation, a group of evangelical leaders issued a public letter under the auspices of “Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration.” The letter supports Trump’s repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), an executive order issued by Barack Obama.

The letter begins with shallow declarations of compassion for immigrants as well as a shout out to #alllivesmatter. Those are reason enough to be disturbed by the letter, but it was something else that really jumped out at me as a professional historian who is also an evangelical Christian. The letter’s reasoning mirrors that of evangelical proponents of segregation in the mid-20th century.

Here are the two key paragraphs from the letter in full:

While some faith groups use selective Bible words for open borders and amnesty, we consider the whole [emphasis in original] counsel of Scripture. We find that the Bible does not teach open borders, but wise welcome. We are to welcome the lawful foreigner, who, like a convert, comes as a blessing (eg.s Ruth and Rahab). We also find Nehemiah building walls to protect citizens from harm. In Isaiah 1, we see God condemning the destruction of borders and indigenous culture.

All lives matter. The lives of North, Central and South Americans matter. The lives of Africans, Asians, Europeans and people from the Middle East matter. In Scripture, we learn that God placed us each in a family, a land, an epic story of creation, the fall and redemption. The Bible envisions a world of beautiful and unique nations, not a stateless ‘open society’ run by global oligarchs. Each of us is called to be a blessing where God has placed us in the world.

There is much to pick apart in these statements. For example, the authors assume that the word “nations” in Bible is synonymous with our contemporary system of “nation-states” and, thus, that God would be opposed to globalization. Yet the ethno-cultural nation-state is a modern invention created to more fully harness the capacity of a country to wage mass warfare via centralized taxation, registration, and border control. “Nation” in the Bible means “people group,” closer in meaning–though not synonymous with–tribe than to “nation-state.” There was no capital-‘s’ State in antiquity. So saying that God has a clear opinion on nation-states vis a vis “stateless”-ness just betrays the authors’ ignorance of political theory and history.

But the most striking thing about these paragraphs is that the authors have rooted their argument in the idea of fixed ethno-national boundaries. Thus they misquote Isaiah 1 as condemning the destruction of borders and the violation of indigenous culture. Doing so requires some serious reading into the passage, given that the context for the book of Isaiah is the conquest of Israel by the Assyrian Empire. This isn’t a passage about immigration at all but about the consequences of losing a war. Of course, anti-immigration activists often use military language in referring to immigration as an invasion, so I suppose it’s easy for them to buy into their own hyperbole and see illegal immigrant children as some kind of vanguard force.

Such is negative reasoning, that God says not to allow such and such. But the authors also make a positive argument, that God says to do such and such. In this case, they believe that God intended for the various peoples of the earth–North, Central, South Americans, Africans, etc…–to stay in their respective homelands, thus the emphasis on “unique nations” and on God’s placement in a particular land. Note also the final sentence; where has God called people to be a blessing? In another country? No, of course not. It’s strongly implied that we ought to remain “where God has placed us in the world.” What God has put asunder, let no man mix together.

That is the same basic logic of segregation theology that was widespread among mid-twentieth century white evangelicals. Let’s compare the rhetoric and logic of this letter to that of a prominent pro-segregation preacher of a generation ago. I’ve picked Bob Jones Sr. both because his 1960 sermon, “Is Segregation Scriptural?”, is available online (do read the excellent introduction by Justin Taylor) and because I attended the eponymous Bob Jones University as an undergrad. I know firsthand how damaging segregation theology can be not just to its targets but to its adherents and their descendants.

Jones preached the sermon in response to a surge in civil rights activism. In the weeks prior to the sermon, Congress was considering passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, sit-in protests were popping up around the South, and evangelist Billy Graham–whom Jones opposed–issued a statement condemning racial segregation. So when Bob Jones spoke into the radio microphone on Easter Sunday, 1960, he wanted to explain why he believed God actually supported segregation.

The sermon is lengthy and meandering. Jones repeatedly attests to his love for blacks and his desire for their well-being. I do not doubt that his claims to compassion felt as hollow to most African-Americans at the time as do the protestations of the Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration group sound to DACA recipients today.

But at the core of Jones’s sermon is a Biblical text, Acts 17:26. “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” Evangelicals call themselves “Bible believers” because we try to find specific textual justification for everything we hold to be true. Thus, this is the essential grounding of Jones’s argument. Here’s Jones (excerpted for length):

Now, what does that say? That says that God Almighty fixed the bounds of their habitation. That is as clear as anything that was ever said. …

It is no accident that most Chinese are in China. There has been an overflow in the world, but most Chinese live in China. There are millions and millions of them there, and there are no greater people in the world. I have never known lovelier and more wonderful people than the Chinese. We were over in Formosa a few years ago and conferred an honorary degree on Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and I never met a greater man. I never met a man of more intelligence or a more wonderful Christian; and Madame Chiang Kai-shek is a wonderful woman. There they are. Now, what happened? They married each other. … All right, he is a Chinese. He married a Chinese woman. That is the way God meant it to be.

Paul said that God “. . . hath made of one blood all nations of men . . . .” But He also fixed the bounds of their habitation. When nations break out of their boundaries and begin to do things contrary to the purpose of God and the directive will of God, they have trouble. The world is in turmoil today because men and nations go contrary to the clear teaching of the Word of God. Let’s understand that. The Chinese people are wonderful people. They have internal troubles, of course, because Communism has gone into China and disturbed a great deal of the population. But the Chinese people are wonderful people. The Japanese people are ingenious-they are wonderful people. The Koreans are wonderful people. The Africans are wonderful people. In many ways, there are no people in the world finer than the colored people who were brought over here in slavery in days gone by.

You talk about a superior race and an inferior race and all that kind of situation. Wait a minute. No race is inferior in the will of God. Get that clear. If a race is in the will of God, it is not inferior. It is a superior race. You cannot be superior to another race if your race is in the will of God and the other race is in the will of God. But the purposes of these races were established by Almighty God; and when man attempts to run contrary to the directive will of God for this world, there is always trouble. Now, that is the trouble. What happened? Well, away back yonder our forefathers went over to Africa and brought the colored people back and sold them into slavery. That was wrong. But God overruled. When they came over here, many of them did not know the Bible and did not know about Jesus Christ; but they got converted.

It should be noted what Jones does not say. He is not a biological racist who believes in the genetic inferiority of African-Americans. But his belief that both blacks and whites are equal in the eyes of God doesn’t prevent Jones from also supporting racial segregation. Why not?

Because Jones believes that God fixed the boundaries of the nations and that mixing across those boundaries is wrong. That’s why he affirms that “it is no accident that most Chinese are in China,” why he implies that inter-cultural marriage is outside God’s plan, and why he roots the sin of slavery in the mixing of nations that should have remained separate (as opposed to, I don’t know, inflicting tremendous physical, emotional, and spiritual pain on millions, not counting those who died in the transatlantic passage). This is why elsewhere in the sermon Jones can assert that “God is the author of segregation.” What God has put asunder, let no man mix together.

Now, let me do a little mash up of Jones’s words and those of the Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration letter to make the comparison more obvious.

God loves us all and all lives matter. The lives of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans matter. The lives of  North Americans and Central Americans and South Americans matter. The lives of Europeans and Africans matter. In Scripture, we learn that God placed us each in a family, a land, an epic story of creation, the fall and redemption. God is the author of a world of beautiful and unique nations, not a mixed-up, stateless society. Each of us is called to be a blessing where God has placed us in the world.

But the purposes of these boundaries were established by Almighty God; and when man attempts to run contrary to the directive will of God for this world, there is always trouble. What happened? Well, away back yonder Democrats opened the borders through bad laws and illegal executive actions. But now, God has overruled.

That little thought experiment took just a few seconds because the underlying logic in Jones’s pro-segregation sermon and in the public letter is fundamentally the same. Our boundaries–whether they be boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture, or national border–are fixed by God. As such, any attempt to alter those boundaries is highhanded rebellion against their true Author.

If you are a Christian who sees nothing wrong with the Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration letter, then you aren’t likely to appreciate being compared to a segregationist. But let me show you why both views are not just misguided but ultimately heretical.

Ethno-nationalism of this sort is rooted in a basic distortion of traditional Christian theology. Its supporters rip Bible passages out of context. They take verses meant for the particular context of ancient Israel, an ethnic people group governed theocratically, and apply those passages directly to modern America, a multi-ethnic country governed democratically. In other words, they mentally replace every mention of “Israel” with “America.” Americans are now the chosen people, a holy nation, God’s special possession.

This is why the authors of the letter exclusively rely on references to the Christian Old Testament rather than to the New Testament. Contrary to their assertion, the letter authors do not consider the whole counsel of Scripture. They are only attentive to those sections that enable their heretical application of God’s promises and commands to Israel to be applied instead to the United States of America.

It’s all the more perverse because it requires an intentional misreading of a passage it references, Isaiah 1. Why does God condemn Sodom and Gomorrah in that chapter? Is it because they failed to keep immigrants out, as the letter authors imply? No, they couldn’t be more wrong. Isaiah tells us the reason for the condemnation: ancient Israelites had failed “to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

Okay, you might say, what does that have to do with immigrants? I only see widows, orphans, and a generic reference to oppression. Here we turn to Luke 10 in the New Testament. Christ is sending seventy-two of his earliest disciples out to minister, assuring them that towns and families they visit will provide for their basic needs. They can count on local hospitality, which is the selfless extension of one’s resources to those in need for the sake of the Kingdom of God. So when Christ condemns, in advance, those townspeople who will not welcome his disciples and care for them, Christ says they will receive a judgement worse even than Sodom’s judgement. Their inhospitality to strangers from outside their community made them even more worthy of judgement than a place that was legendary for its wickedness.

It’s interesting that when he says these words, Christ tells the disciples to inform both hospitable and inhospitable towns of the same truth. They are to say to each that “The kingdom of God has come near,” but for one town that’s a blessing while for the other it is a divine curse.

Think of the significance of that charge. These disciples were spreading out all over the Mediterranean world. They would reach not just ethnic Jews, but all peoples. Soon, Cornelius the Roman centurion would be made a disciple, along with Apollos the Greek and Simeon the Niger. The ethno-cultural nation of Israel was being subsumed as the kingdom of God drew near, replaced by a multi-ethnic, polyglot, marvelously mixed Kingdom composed of every tongue, tribe, and nation.

This is why the apostle Paul could write that in Christ “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” That is the promise of the New Testament gospel, a radical faith completely free from any remaining shred of ethno-nationalism. Indeed, that’s why the NT authors spend so much time condemning Jewish converts who attempted to exclude non-Jewish converts from their churches. These “bewitched” Jewish believers were reverting to the old ethno-nationalism. That’s why Paul criticizes Peter for trying to “force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs” (Galatians 2:14). The New Testament expressly rejects the ethno-nationalist understanding of the Christian faith in the strongest possible terms.

Yet now we have self-proclaimed Christians falling back on ethno-nationalist lies. These lies feel safe; they do not ask believers to extend something so radical as Biblical hospitality. They do not threaten the identity politics that blinded most white evangelicals in the last election. It’s easier to blame foreigners for our nation’s ills than to consider our own culpability.  And so we craft a heretical theology that justifies our beliefs and our votes.

Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism – Michael McVicar

Christian Reconstructionism has long functioned as a bogeyman in electoral politics. Politicians identified with the New Christian Right are routinely tarred by accusations of proto-theonomy, the belief that the government should enforce Old Testament civil and moral laws. Fear is an effective means of getting out the vote, so around every election season you’ll find a profusion of essays, even entire books, suggesting that a vote for [insert conservative politician] is the first step towards laws punishing homosexuality, witchcraft, and even childish rebellion with stoning. The slippery slope towards Christian Reconstructionism functions for the Left as accusations of incipient socialism do for the Right.

Apologists for Christian Reconstructionism typically respond by saying that this common depiction of their movement is skewed. Yes, they believe that in an ideal society these sins would be punishable by the civil authorities, but the advent of that society is many generations removed from the present. By that point in time, society will have already been remade voluntarily by Christian families and thus homosexuality and other sins will be much rarer than they are today. Government sanctions would hardly even be necessary. (I’m not sure that this line of Reconstructionist reasoning has ever reassured anybody anywhere who wasn’t already a convinced Reconstructionist.) In any case, the apologist avers, it’s unfair to fixate on one small, controversial part of Reconstructionist ideology while ignoring the broader intellectual framework.

Michael McVicar’s book, the first critical history of Christian Reconstructionism, digs deeper into the ideology of the movement than either the shallow criticisms of previous books or the self-congratulatory work produced by Reconstructionists themselves. McVicar had unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s personal papers and thus was able to reconstruct the theologian’s intellectual evolution in his own words. The portrait of Rushdoony that emerges is of a theological lone-wolf who patched together a system of thought by borrowing from a surprising variety of sources.

From his mentor at UC Berkeley, German expat Ernst Kantorowicz, Rushdoony imbibed a romantic nostalgia for early modern European Christendom. As McVicar puts it, he was compelled by the “ways in which abstract theological conceptions of God and man had concretized into the political infrastructure of the medieval and modern worlds.” Rushdoony wanted to bring that missing sense of religious enchantment back to American politics. Not long after his time at Berkeley, Rushdoony chanced upon the work of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til, a theology professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, had created a system of Christian apologetics known as presuppositionalism. Van Til argued that epistemology is always grounded in presuppositions about the nature of the universe. In short, a belief in God so drastically alters a Christian’s approach to learning the truth that an uncrossable chasm opens up between theology and secular philosophy. By combining Kantorowicz’s political theology and Van Til’s system, Rushdoony created a critique of State progressivism. He believed that the government’s efforts to solve social ills without reference to God were not only doomed to failure but actively harmful.

Rushdoony’s first ministry was as a missionary pastor to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada. Rushdoony believed the social disorder on the reservation was the result of the heavy hand of a State that had divorced itself from God’s law. As Rushdoony griped, “[The state] is the giver of all things, the course of power, of land, and (having built a reservoir for irrigation here) even of water….The government hospital delivers the children, and the government army taketh them away, and blessed is the name of the government each Memorial Day.” In the face of widespread drunkenness and gambling on the reservation, Rushdoony’s messages of individual salvation seemed insufficient. The reservation, and American society more broadly, needed a full-orbed reconstruction along Biblical lines.

While on the reservation, Rushdoony encountered the third major ideological strand that composed Christian Reconstructionism. Rushdoony had grown dissatisfied with premillennial eschatology, the belief that society would sink into ever greater depravity until the second coming of Christ to earth. Rushdoony rejected premillennialism’s pessimistic outlook in favor of postmillennialism, the belief that Christians would actively usher in the kingdom of God. Christ would return once a truly Christian society had pervaded every corner of the globe. The telos of history, according to one postmillennial scholar found in Rushdoony’s personal library, “is nothing less than a Christianized world.”

These three major components of Rushdoony’s thought–Kantorowicz, Van Til, postmillennialism–were all borrowed from other sources, but he gave them his own spin by adding a novel scriptural hermeneutic. Traditionally, Reformed theologians had distinguished between three kinds of Old Testament law: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The ceremonial laws were fulfilled by the first coming of Christ and the civil laws ceased to apply after the transition from theocratic Israel to the New Testament Church. Only the moral commandments remained fully binding for Christians.

Rushdoony rejected this division between “two tables” of the law as excessively facile. He believed that the division between civil and moral law had been read into scripture rather than pulled from the text itself. Furthermore, even ceremonial law, while technically superseded by the new covenant in Christ, remained instructive as a series of principles that should inform proper Christian living today. Rushdoony’s opus, Institutes of Biblical Law, applied these Old Testament laws and principles to modern American society in mind-numbing detail. For example, the OT prohibition on mixing linen and wool threads when weaving clothes and harnessing oxes and donkeys together while plowing (Deutoronomy 22:11) elicited a lengthy discussion on the dangers of genetic hybridization, bestiality, interracial marriages, and the wanton use of the pesticide DDT.

Indeed, that odd list of issues is evocative of the idiosyncratic nature of Reconstructionism. Rushdoony attempted to harmonize three discrete streams of thought and the rough edges show through. For example, Rushdoony believed that America was headed to hell in a handbasket. (Gary North later pinned his hopes on Y2K.) That’s a grand narrative usually associated with premillennialism. Yet once America had been debased Christian Reconstructionists, organized around patriarchal family units, would rebuild a Kingdom society brick by brick. Rushdoony wedded the pessimistic assumptions prevalent on the Right during the New Deal and early Cold War with an optimistic future view of the Kingdom associated with postmillennialism. Similarly, Rushdoony’s distrust of heavy government intervention from his days on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation led him to advocate for a radically decentralized, shrunken State. And yet his hermeneutic also led him to conclude that the Bible commanded a massive extension of civil authority to protect and advance the institution of the church and Biblical morals. It’s the natural outcome of an ideological project that mingled the fears of mid-20th century conservative political culture, the political theology of a German romantic historian, and the theology of two Dutch Reformed intellectuals.

Much of the rest of McVicar’s book is an interesting account of Rushdoony’s mostly failed attempts to work with conservative think tanks. Because of his Van Til-ian presuppositionalism, he kept pushing broadly-based conservative groups to adopt stricter policies on employing Catholics and agnostics. Rushdoony’s disciples, including his son-in-law Gary North, spread his ideas to a wider audience by being willing to view non-Reformed conservatives as co-belligerents in the fight for a Christianized America. They also connected Christian Reconstructionism to the survivalist movement, which turned out to be a very profitable source of income for North in particular. It wasn’t long before Rushdoony, North, and other Reconstructionists started squabbling over who represented the future of the movement. (North even insinuated that his father-in-law had gone insane for living in godless California.)

If I have one critique of McVicar’s book, it’s that I think he exaggerates the influence of formal Reconstructionist thought on the broader New Christian Right. In his final chapter, he argues that everyone from Francis Schaeffer to Pat Robertson borrowed ideas from Rushdoony. I suspect McVicar gets this from Rushdoony himself, who frequently grumbled about people stealing his ideas without giving him credit. Yet while the language of “dominion” certainly bounced about in Right-wing discourse, I’m not sure that McVicar gives strong evidence that those ideas necessarily came from Christian Reconstructionism. New Christian Right intellectuals were more likely to cite Abraham Kuyper or Cornelius Van Til than Rousas Rushdoony. I’ve embedded a Google Ngram for “Abraham Kuyper,” “Rousas Rushdoony,” and Cornelius Van Til. It’s hardly scientific, but it’s suggestive as to their relative weight on conservative Christian political theology.

Take the example of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s books, How Should We Then Live? and A Christian Manifesto, were hugely influential among evangelicals interested in cultural engagement during the 1970s and 1980. McVicar credits Rushdoony with a “distant, complex influence on the genesis of Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto” and recounts one of Rushdoony’s journal entries: “Read Francis Schaeffer: A Christian Manifesto, another book using some of my material…with no mention of me…Not faith but timidity is the mark of too many Christians today, including able men like Francis.” Yet while Rushdoony may have felt that Schaeffer borrowed his ideas, it seems just as likely that Schaeffer merely pulled from the same streams as Rushdoony had. Schaeffer attended Westminster Theological Seminary and had taken classes from Cornelius Van Til. He certainly borrowed Van Til’s ideas, but I’m not sure McVicar gives any direct evidence that Schaeffer borrowed from, or even read, anything by Rushdoony. A visit to Schaeffer’s archives might have shed light on the matter, but in this and other instances, McVicar is too willing to take Rushdoony’s assertions at face value.

I’ll close with a personal comment. (That’s the advantage of writing a review for your own website!) As a Reformed Christian myself, I found the sections of McVicar’s book that touched on Rushdoony’s hermeneutic of Scripture deeply disturbing. Oddly enough, I do agree with Rushdoony on one point, that the traditional division between “two tables” of Old Testament law is facile. It’s just not that neat and tidy when you get down into the weeds. However, I push that observation to exactly the opposite conclusion. I agree with David Dorsey’s view in “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise.” The New Testament authors say that the entire Old Testament law code is fulfilled in Christ and is thus voided for the New Testament believer. While pieces of the Old Testament law are restated and even expanded upon in the new covenant, the Mosaic law code is no longer binding upon the life of the Christian. Period. The OT law does have value inasmuch as it tells us something about the character of the God who wrote it, but it should not be fodder for endless speculation on how to apply OT law to NT life. That feels more like something learnt sitting at the seat of Gameliel than at the foot of the Cross.

And it’s worth noting where Rushdoony’s hermeneutical logic led him. McVicar includes the following anecdote. At one of Rushdoony’s Bible studies, a student asked him, What would happen to a Hindu in a reconstructed America? Rushdoony, bouncing a child on his knee, responded, “As long as he didn’t practice his faith, the Hindu would be fine.” The student pushed again. And what if said Hindu did practice his faith? Well then, Rushdoony replied, “He’d be guilty of violating the laws of the state.” And? “And be subject to capital punishment.” Rushdoony pushed his vision of a postmillennial Christendom enforcing Old Testament law to its logical extreme.

The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution – John W. Compton

The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution

I recently finished reading John W. Compton‘s new book The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution. Compton’s argument about nineteenth century jurisprudence is intriguing to me as a twentieth century historian because it challenges a common conservative perspective on Constitutional history. There are few phrases that the New Christian Right loathes more than “a living constitution.” America is in its current dire straits, so the story goes, because secular humanists conspired to both destroy American morals and to undermine the US Constitution. Liberals had encroached on private property, banned school prayer, enshrined abortion rights, and protected pornography. These nefarious progressives saw the Constitution as a “living document” that should be routinely updated according to changing social customs and political needs. In response, conservatives, led by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have rallied around the banner of “originalism”; Constitutional meaning is fixed and thus judges and legal scholars should attempt to return jurisprudence as much as possible to the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

Compton, however, turns that story on its head. He shows that the major tenets of living constitutional jurisprudence were not inventions of the Progressive Era but the result of nineteenth century evangelical activism. When contemporary evangelicals complain about the “living constitution,” they are complaining about a judicial philosophy that their ancestors did much to foment.

The Founding generation were no laissez-faire libertarians; they assumed the need for regulation of lotteries and alcohol but for the sake of public order, not the suppression of vice. During the colonial era alcohol licenses were required “not, ultimately, to minimize liquor consumption but rather to ensure that inns and taverns did not become disorderly” (44). Taxes on liquor sales were a significant source of revenue for the federal and state governments and lotteries funded most infrastructure development in the early Republic. If a town needed a new church building or bridge, the congregation or town sought permission from the state legislature to run a lottery to pay for it. Lotteries enabled the construction of infrastructure in the absence of concentrated capital and without reliance on government control.

That old attitude towards regulation changed with the rise of evangelicalism from persecuted minority in the 18th century to religious and cultural majority by the mid-nineteenth century. That rise to prominence also corresponded with a significant theological shift. The old style Calvinism–with its emphasis on human depravity–had given way to the Wesleyan pursuit of sanctified perfection. The old Anglican planters in Virginia and Puritan divines in New England believed that the presence of sin was an ever present reality on earth. This was true for individuals, yes, but for broader society as well. Thus, laws aimed at eradicating vice were a fool’s errand. The best that could be hoped for was to control vice to limit its harmful consequences, not eradicate it altogether. The Wesleyans–including not only Methodists but also many Baptists and Presbyterians–believed that sinless perfection was attainable. And what kind of man would deny the benefit of moral living to his fellow men? Surely the law could give Americans a useful little push along the road to righteousness. Furthermore, the rise of postmillennial eschatology meant that a majority of evangelicals believed that they and the government had a role to play in ushering in the millennial kingdom of God on earth. And those pearly gates didn’t need lottery funding or liquor tax revenue!

Yet evangelicals hit a major legal roadblock in the US Constitution’s guarantees of private property (touched on in six of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights). The Constitution protects life, liberty, and property which is deeply inconvenient when one is determined to rid the country of a particular kind of property. In order to get the social outcomes they desired, evangelicals had to weaken the contract clause, massively expand the definition of interstate commerce, and deny individual rights to property. And it was a roaring success. You’ll have to read the book for the dirty details.

Nineteenth century evangelicals might not have ushered in the kingdom of God, but they had given front row seating to the essentially unlimited government of the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Ironically, when nineteenth century evangelicals weakened Constitutional protections for individual property and liberty, they left their twenty-first century descendants vulnerable to a new wave of anti-vice laws. But this time around the targets are racism and homophobia rather than drinking and gambling. Oh, you think that business is your property so you can dispose of its goods and services as you will? Think again and thank your evangelical predecessors.

Meanwhile, I’ll go enjoy a nice dram of Elijah Craig, named for the eighteenth century Baptist preacher who founded an early distillery in Kentucky. Cheers to the (probably apocryphal) father of Bourbon!