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How the GOP
Became God's Own Party

Kevin Phillips

[COMMENT: I added "Theocracy" to the title above, as that is the underlying issue. 

Has the GOP become, in any real sense of the word, God's own party?  Test your wits, Christian or otherwise, on this one.   What are the dangers of a theocracy, and how are the dangers of rule by God different from the dangers from rule by politicians? 

My following commentary puts a Biblical preface on Phillips' article below.

Theocracy vs. Churchocracy

A theocracy means 'rule under the law of God', a government under God,.  A churchocracy is a government run by one church or another.  Those are two quite different things.  A churchocracy is subject to all the same dangers of power struggle as any political party.  God is not subject to power struggle. 

The question is whether civil law could contradict the law of God.  Most jurists and politicians on both sides of the 1700's Atlantic thought it could not, for the simple reason that human beings have no authority, only power, and that all authority originates in God, or it does not originate at all.  That was not a deeply contested issue in America, and not by Wm. Blackstone, the primary English jurist.   

From the Biblical point of view, the roles of Church and State are parallel but different.  Both belong to God (because the whole of creation belongs to Him), but they are not to interfere in each others role unless there are clear issues of usurpation or abuse.  History has shown examples of both. 

Phillips does not distinguish between God running the government (through the will of believers voting or through personal prayer on the part of the elected leadership) and a particular church controlling government, and so undercuts much of the value of his article. 

People raise fears about God running things, with images of nefarious clergy shoving religion down everyone's throats.  The same people do not raise fears about political parties shoving their politics down everyone's throats.  By a very large margin, more people have been killed by secular governments than by any form of religion, Biblical or otherwise.  And politicians, in the name of compassion and pluralism, are now shoving religion and politics and morality down the throats of persons in America in ways that would have shocked any of the contenders of the 18th century. 

Coercive Force -- the Real Problem

The problem is not God or religion, but coercive force -- which is what civil government is all about.   The issue is how to restrain the use of coercive force so that it will be used for the benefit, not the abuse, of the people. 

When churches run government, they run the same gamut of problems as when political parties run government, and for the same reasons.  People with power let it go to their heads.  Government is all about power.  Government does everything at gun point -- though you do not see the gun unless you break the law. 

That is why our American founding fathers insisted on a limited government.  There are only a limited number of things which ought to be coerced.  Neither religion nor education should be on that list because both of them form the hearts, minds, and culture of the people.  And both, under the domain of coercive force, will soon become mind-control institutions, not institutions for freedom. 

The American Constitution (and English Common Law, upon which American law is largely based) were designed to put the use of coercive force under the law of God, the only safe place for it to reside -- as the Declaration of Independence notes. 

The Christian religion is built on freedom from top to bottom.  God is building a Kingdom of Heaven, into which He invites us by way of a freewill covenant.  A freewill covenant requires the full disclosure of the terms of the covenant and the introduction of the members of the community.  Only then are potential participants rationally free to choose -- Yes or No.  That is what revelation is all about -- God introducing Himself and His law (the terms of the covenant).  An entirely rational procedure.  God wants in His Kingdom only those who want to be there, so He gives and respects our capacity to say No.

The problem is that God has all the life there is (eternal or temporary), so if we choose No, then we alienate ourselves from life.  The judgement is by ourselves on ourselves (as in John 3:19). 

Neither Greek politics nor the secular Enlightenment could have produced the American Constitution, as we are told by secularists.  They have no authority above civil government to which that government is accountable, and are thus a law unto themselves -- the very meaning of autocracy.  Christians have often violated their own principles, but the historical fact is that the Bible has been, by far in human history, the primary inspiration for the growth both of freedom and of education (the truth sets us free...).  The only worldview known to mankind which consistently supports human freedom and honest education is the Biblical worldview (see two articles on slavery: 1 & 2).  Freedom in the Bible is not only permitted, it is mandated. 

So the issue is not merely about the "dangers of theocracy", but -- whether we can survive as a free and civilized people without the rule of God.  A theocracy is a danger only if the deity involved is less than that of the Bible.  Islam is an example of a theology which, by its very nature, cannot sustain freedom. 

A Godly Political Party

If all authority comes from God, and if thus the Declaration is right, then it follows as a logical fact that secular folks who want a free people under a free government can have what they want only at the cost of something they are not willing to grant -- the sovereignty of God. 

No party has succeeded in doing it, but there is one way a political party can become "God's party".   And that is by adopting God's strategy and plan for human government, by adopting the way God governs in human affairs. 

The first principle of anything God does is that it must be based on truth.  As in, "Come, let us reason together..." (Isaiah 1:18).  Or as illustrated by Elijah, several centuries (ca. 900 BC) on Mount Carmel, putting his whole case to an open, honest test of logic and fact (I Kings 18:17 ff.).  

The second two principles are given in the two Great Commandments, the two highest laws of the whole cosmos:  Love God and neighbor.  Love is not emotionalism or soft or mushy.  Love is tough,  (1) based on truth (see #1 above...), and, (2) based on willingness to lay down one's life for God and neighbor, which includes willingness to speak the hard truth when necessary, and to discipline.   

Biblical government, therefore, does not enforce belief in any religion, it rather enforces open, honest public debate on all political issues.  And that is what our American Constitution was written to ensure.  God, as He instructed Elijah, and is illustrated throughout the Bible, is content to win His case in that open contest. 

See Michael Peroutka on Biblical government, and also the nature of honest pluralism (scroll down to "4. Honest Pluralism".  See also Jesus & Pluralism.  Do a search on 'pluralism' at the Road to Emmaus search page.  Further comments below in text.  E. Fox]

Sunday, April 2, 2006; Page B03  

How the GOP Became God's Own Party?

Kevin Phillips

Now that the GOP has been transformed by the rise of the South, the trauma of terrorism and George W. Bush's conviction that God wanted him to be president, a deeper conclusion can be drawn: The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history.

[COMMENT:  This is a bit overdrawn.  G Washington was much more clear about his trust in God regarding public affairs than G W Bush has been, who treats his faith as only a personal application of private beliefs, not as something the nation ought to share.  A number of previous presidents showed GW's frame of mind on government and religion.  And so has the Supreme Court (see David Barton's Original Intent for commentary on those Supreme Court decisions which clearly stood on the Biblical foundations of America). 

Up until about the 1940's, the Court was quite clear and open about the Biblical foundations of America -- based on law, history, and logic.  The ax fell in 1962 with the Engel v. Vitale decision outlawing prayer in government schools.  The problem was not prayer in schools, but government in schools (see the Education Library and especially Free Market of Ideas...).] 

We have had small-scale theocracies in North America before -- in Puritan New England and later in Mormon Utah. Today, a leading power such as the United States approaches theocracy when it meets the conditions currently on display: an elected leader who believes himself to speak for the Almighty, a ruling political party that represents religious true believers, the certainty of many Republican voters that government should be guided by religion and, on top of it all, a White House that adopts agendas seemingly animated by biblical worldviews. 

[COMMENT:  Every Christian and Jew should be speaking for the Almighty.  Truth, of course, is to be spoken in love, not arrogantly, and with a teachable and correctible spirit.  But the implication that no one can really know what God has in mind is nonsense.  At least it is if God has taken the time and courtesy to introduce Himself and make His will known. 

There should be a public debate on whether there is a God (there is now, with the Intelligent Design movement), and if so, what He might have said.  Christians ought to be fostering this debate in an intelligent and graceful manner -- a task at which we have done very poorly.  We Christians have been our own worst enemies in the matter of public debate.]

Indeed, there is a potent change taking place in this country's domestic and foreign policy, driven by religion's new political prowess and its role in projecting military power in the Mideast.

The United States has organized much of its military posture since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks around the protection of oil fields, pipelines and sea lanes. But U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East has another dimension. In addition to its concerns with oil and terrorism, the White House is courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the Holy Lands are a battleground of Christian destiny. Both pursuits -- oil and biblical expectations -- require a dissimulation in Washington that undercuts the U.S. tradition of commitment to the role of an informed electorate.

[COMMENT:  We do have a tradition of informed electorate, but more honored in the breach than in the keeping -- by all parties.  Honest Christians will risk losing an election rather than hide the truth. ]

The political corollary -- fascinating but appalling -- is the recent transformation of the Republican presidential coalition. Since the election of 2000 and especially that of 2004, three pillars have become central: the oil-national security complex, with its pervasive interests; the religious right, with its doctrinal imperatives and massive electorate; and the debt-driven financial sector, which extends far beyond the old symbolism of Wall Street.

President Bush has promoted these alignments, interest groups and their underpinning values. His family, over multiple generations, has been linked to a politics that conjoined finance, national security and oil. In recent decades, the Bushes have added close ties to evangelical and fundamentalist power brokers of many persuasions.

Over a quarter-century of Bush presidencies and vice presidencies, the Republican Party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests -- a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex. The three are increasingly allied in commitment to Republican politics. On the most important front, I am beginning to think that the Southern-dominated, biblically driven Washington GOP represents a rogue coalition, like the Southern, proslavery politics that controlled Washington until Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860.

[COMMENT:  Certainly the concern about oil is legitimate.  The manipulation of politics is not.  If these Christians are simplistic, and no doubt some are, that is regrettable.  But I suspect the issue is the involvement of God at all in politics.  And that is not regrettable.  The question is whether there is such a God, and, if so, what is He saying...  Would the author accept any appeal to the will of God in politics?  Would he object to the current appeals by Supreme Court justices to foreign legal traditions?  Why one and not the other?  What is a legitimate appeal?]

I have a personal concern over what has become of the Republican coalition. Forty years ago, I began a book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," which I finished in 1967 and took to the 1968 Republican presidential campaign, for which I became the chief political and voting-patterns analyst. Published in 1969, while I was still in the fledgling Nixon administration, the volume was identified by Newsweek as the "political bible of the Nixon Era."

In that book I coined the term "Sun Belt" to describe the oil, military, aerospace and retirement country stretching from Florida to California, but debate concentrated on the argument -- since fulfilled and then some -- that the South was on its way into the national Republican Party. Four decades later, this framework has produced the alliance of oil, fundamentalism and debt. 

[COMMENT:  What has this debt or oil to do with God?]

Some of that evolution was always implicit. If any region of the United States had the potential to produce a high-powered, crusading fundamentalism, it was Dixie. If any new alignment had the potential to nurture a fusion of oil interests and the military-industrial complex, it was the Sun Belt, which helped draw them into commercial and political proximity and collaboration. Wall Street, of course, has long been part of the GOP coalition. But members of the Downtown Association and the Links Club were never enthusiastic about "Joe Sixpack" and middle America, to say nothing of preachers such as Oral Roberts or the Tupelo, Miss., Assemblies of God. The new cohabitation is an unnatural one. 

[COMMENT:  The author again is not distinguishing between churches and God.]

While studying economic geography and history in Britain, I had been intrigued by the Eurasian "heartland" theory of Sir Halford Mackinder, a prominent geographer of the early 20th century. Control of that heartland, Mackinder argued, would determine control of the world. In North America, I thought, the coming together of a heartland -- across fading Civil War lines -- would determine control of Washington.

This was the prelude to today's "red states." The American heartland, from Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to Ohio and the Appalachian coal states, has become (along with the onetime Confederacy) an electoral hydrocarbon coalition. It cherishes sport-utility vehicles and easy carbon dioxide emissions policy, and applauds preemptive U.S. airstrikes on uncooperative, terrorist-coddling Persian Gulf countries fortuitously blessed with huge reserves of oil.

Because the United States is beginning to run out of its own oil sources, a military solution to an energy crisis is hardly lunacy. Neither Caesar nor Napoleon would have flinched. What Caesar and Napoleon did not face, but less able American presidents do, is that bungled overseas military embroilments could also boomerang economically. The United States, some $4 trillion in hock internationally, has become the world's leading debtor, increasingly nagged by worry that some nations will sell dollars in their reserves and switch their holdings to rival currencies. Washington prints bonds and dollar-green IOUs, which European and Asian bankers accumulate until for some reason they lose patience. This is the debt Achilles' heel, which stands alongside the oil Achilles' heel.

Unfortunately, more danger lurks in the responsiveness of the new GOP coalition to Christian evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals, who muster some 40 percent of the party electorate. Many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil price spikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis and melting polar ice caps lend further credence. 

[COMMENT:  The author is writing with the assumption, no evidence given, that such thoughts are lunacy.  They may be, and many of them I do not hold.  But he needs to dig further into the beliefs of the people before making negative judgments.  And, again, he needs to distinguish between theocracy and churchocracy.]

The potential interaction between the end-times electorate, inept pursuit of Persian Gulf oil, Washington's multiple deceptions and the financial crisis that could follow a substantial liquidation by foreign holders of U.S. bonds is the stuff of nightmares. To watch U.S. voters enable such policies -- the GOP coalition is unlikely to turn back -- is depressing to someone who spent many years researching, watching and cheering those grass roots.

[COMMENT:  If Bush's pursuit of oil is inept, and it may well be, he needs to say what is ept.  How should America protect its oil interests?]

Four decades ago, the new GOP coalition seemed certain to enjoy a major infusion of conservative northern Catholics and southern Protestants. This troubled me not at all. I agreed with the predominating Republican argument at the time that "secular" liberals, by badly misjudging the depth and importance of religion in the United States, had given conservatives a powerful and legitimate electoral opportunity.

Since then, my appreciation of the intensity of religion in the United States has deepened. When religion was trod upon in the 1960s and thereafter by secular advocates determined to push Christianity out of the public square, the move unleashed an evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal counterreformation, with strong theocratic pressures becoming visible in the Republican national coalition and its leadership.

[COMMENT:  Given a clear distinction between theocracy and churchocracy, and given the provable Biblical foundations of the American democratic republic, what role would the author suggest for God in government?]

Besides providing critical support for invading Iraq -- widely anathematized by preachers as a second Babylon -- the Republican coalition has also seeded half a dozen controversies in the realm of science. These include Bible-based disbelief in Darwinian theories of evolution, dismissal of global warming, disagreement with geological explanations of fossil-fuel depletion, religious rejection of global population planning, derogation of women's rights and opposition to stem cell research. This suggests that U.S. society and politics may again be heading for a defining controversy such as the Scopes trial of 1925. That embarrassment chastened fundamentalism for a generation, but the outcome of the eventual 21st century test is hardly assured.

[COMMENT:  The author is apparently not up on some of these issues, Intelligent Design in particular (which makes a point of not being "Bible based"), and the nature of the Scopes trial (which the fundamentalists won, though indeed it was a PR disaster).  He seems to identify Christianity with fundamentalism, and any rejection of Darwinism as more of the same.  That is ignorance of the facts.  He appears to identify a pro-life, anti-abortion position with hostility to women's rights, which is a false association. 

The Christian community had lost its intellectual credibility in the 19th century and spent most of the 20th hiding from the public arena -- to the delight of secularists.  It is slowly getting its intellectual credibility back, and promises to make a much better showing in the 21st century -- which is scary to secularists.  It will no doubt be a bit shaky and ungraceful at first, but I expect the coming decades to show a Christian community with increasing intellectual credibility and influence.  The secular program has pretty much run aground with little life left to it.  People are looking for something better.  E. Fox]

These developments have warped the Republican Party and its electoral coalition, muted Democratic voices and become a gathering threat to America's future. No leading world power in modern memory has become a captive of the sort of biblical inerrancy that dismisses modern knowledge and science. The last parallel was in the early 17th century, when the papacy, with the agreement of inquisitional Spain, disciplined the astronomer Galileo for saying that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of our solar system.

[COMMENT:  The author has at last identified the culprit -- inerrancy.  I.e., what is taken to be a rigid, anti-science imposition of belief on unbelievers.  The Church has had its share of that problem.  But the scientific community has had just as much rigidity, dishonesty, and infighting, with a lot less public repentance for its sin. 

Science, as a matter of historical and logical fact, issued out of a civilization which had for about a millennium (roughly 400-1400 AD) been steeped in Biblical thinking.  That was no accident.  The Biblical worldview is the only worldview which asserts the cosmos to be both good and orderly -- without which no science is going to develop.  Nobody with common sense is going to spend the enormous time trying to do science unless he believes the world to be orderly and good.  And no secular or pagan worldview can sustain those two premises -- which are the foundations of empirical science. 

Sadly, Christians alienated themselves from science out of fear of an honest contest of ideas.  But we are recovering.  The Intelligent Design movement is one of the prime examples of that recovery.  With a lot more in the wings. 

And as for the God of the Bible, He invented (and commanded) the process of reasoning together long before there were philosophers anywhere in sight.  The failure of His people to reason together with God (and hence with one another) is a failure of the people, not of God. 

So the author is right in calling Christians to task.  He is wrong in calling God to task -- by his use of the word 'theocracy', which 'means rule by God'.  If Jesus is the final revelation of God, then it can be said of God that He wants only those in His Kingdom who want to be there, and that He respects our freewill capacity to say No.  E. Fox] 

Conservative true believers will scoff at such concerns. The United States is a unique and chosen nation, they say; what did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He apparently was not added a further debilitating note to the late stages of each national decline. 

[COMMENT:  I suppose he means "true believers" in skeptical quotes.  Would he accept honest believers with intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity? 

Phillips is right to critique the misuse of the name of God, as though He were "on our side".   As Abe Lincoln remarked, the important  point is whether we are on His side.  But you have to know the will of God to get on His side, and Phillips does not frame the issue that way.  The United States has its own unique purpose in the plan of God, but so does every other nation.  Only when we follow those plans will the nations ever find harmony.  An orchestra produces harmony only when the individuals submit themselves to the leadership of the conductor. 

The plan of God for the US of A does not elevate the US above any other nation.  It rather specifies what servant role it has in the family of nations.  But nations, even more than individuals, tend to dislike being servants of other nations.  God does not.  And, indeed, at times, whole nations have dedicated themselves to the welfare of others.  Can anyone other than God orchestrate such a working together?  The UN, by virtue of concentration of unaccountable power in itself, virtually guarantees war. 

I would ask him, "What, on your view, would be the legitimate role of God and religion in America?"  Is religion just a private internal affair, or does God (being the Creator of, and thus Sovereign over, all things) have a claim on the public arena?  Is it possible that all previous civilizations have come to a bad end, and perhaps ourselves, precisely because, as St. Augustine said in The City of God of the sacking of Rome, we have all refused to submit ourselves to His purpose and direction for life?   E. Fox] 

Over the last 25 years, I have warned frequently of these political, economic and historical (but not religious) precedents. The concentration of wealth that developed in the United States in the bull market of 1982 to 2000 was also typical of the zeniths of previous world economic powers as their elites pursued surfeit in Mediterranean villas or in the country-house splendor of Edwardian England. In a nation's early years, debt is a vital and creative collaborator in economic expansion; in late stages, it becomes what Mr. Hyde was to Dr. Jekyll: an increasingly dominant mood and facial distortion. The United States of the early 21st century is well into this debt-driven climax, with some analysts arguing -- all too plausibly -- that an unsustainable credit bubble has replaced the stock bubble that burst in 2000.

Unfortunately, three of the preeminent weaknesses displayed in these past declines have been religious excess, a declining energy and industrial base, and debt often linked to foreign and military overstretch. Politics in the United States -- and especially the evolution of the governing Republican coalition -- deserves much of the blame for the fatal convergence of these forces in America today.

[COMMENT:  There is such a thing as "religious excess", no doubt.  But he needs to define that more carefully by contrasting that with legitimate religious interests.  Phillips is a deep thinker.  I hope that he will integrate his spiritual side with his political and economic wisdom.  E. Fox]

Kevin Phillips is the author of "American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century" (Viking).

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