Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Is Don Armstrong Preparing Leaders for a New Theocracy?

EpiScope points us to this item from the Colorado Springs Independent:

...All of the attention over Grace has been lavished on the Rev. Don Armstrong, found guilty this month by an ecclesiastical court of financial misconduct and tax fraud totaling nearly $1 million, and receiving more than $122,000 in illegal loans. Armstrong is now a "person of interest" in a Colorado Springs police investigation.

Meanwhile, the John Jay Institute, its organizing machine hard at work in the bowels of Grace's building, has somehow escaped scrutiny.

What is this John Jay Institute, you wonder? Let's start with its president, Alan R. Crippen II. You might recognize Crippen — he's the guy who's been pitching Armstrong's talking points in the press. Turns out he's much, much more than a mouthpiece. But more on that in a minute...

...So just what is Crippen's institute? For starters, it's named after founding father John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States and co-author of the Federalist Papers. According to its literature, the official mission is to "prepare Christians for principled leadership in public life."

Let's cut to the nuts-and-bolts translation: Essentially, the institute appears to be a sort of high-class, all-expenses-paid Christian boot camp for recent promising college grads (preferably white, if the academy's online testimonials are a clue).

Every semester, a dozen or so idealistic students will trek to Colorado Springs to learn how to be secularity-busting soldiers for Jesus. They will then, as hopes go, attain leadership roles in the highest levels of government, where they will presumably work to obliterate the separation of church and state.

For those who are keeping track, chalk up another point for Team Theocracy.

Included among the Institute's advisory council is Kenneth Starr — yes, he of Bill Clinton impeachment-over-a-stained-blue-dress fame. The former solicitor general is joined by 11 other men, most scattered in places like Oxford, Malibu, Chattanooga and Washington, D.C. The group includes one well-known Coloradan: former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, now president of Colorado Christian University and widely regarded as the godfather of conservative GOP politicos in Colorado.

The board of governors similarly includes a collection of well-groomed, middle-aged white men, only two are from Colorado. One — you guessed it — is Don Armstrong. The other is Crippen himself. A former vice-president at the Family Research Council, which is Focus on the Family's Washington lobbying arm,—Crippen also founded and operated the Witherspoon Fellowship,—which appears to be the same sort of setup as the John Jay Institute...
Crippen was previously working for James Dobson. Now he's the "spokesperson" for Don Armstrong, and President of the John Jay Institute. This certainly suggests that Crippen and Armstrong qualify as members of "the Religious Right." But is this part of a movement towards theocracy; the establishment of biblical law as the law of the land? The "need" the Institute is addressing is described in this manner:

...The need is for epoch-making leaders in public life - men and women of principle who are grounded in the Holy Scriptures and formed by the Christian moral and intellectual tradition. Our time calls for leaders in both the commonwealth and the church who possess the full wealth of conviction of the truth of their faith and its implications for the complete flourishing of human civilization, society, politics, and law...
Is this a nice way of describing the grooming of leaders for a future theocracy?

To answer that, we need a definition of theocracy. Here is one defintion of a specific form of theocracy advocated by a segment of the religious right known as Christian Reconstructionists, offered by Frederick Clarkson:

...But another largely overlooked reason for the persistent success of the Christian Right is a theological shift since the 1960s. The catalyst for the shift is Christian Reconstructionism--arguably the driving ideology of the Christian Right in the 1990s.

The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist ideas. Because as a theology it is controversial, even among evangelicals, many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
One of the lectures sponsored by the Institute, Christian Realism and the Rise of Islamic Fascism, includes troubling statements like the following:

...The earlier darkness was national and race-based. The darkness we face today is supra-national and faith-based. If we fail to reckon with the nature of this threat, if we try to appease it, it will devour us—and everything else that is decent, and noble, and honorable that stands in its way...

...We cannot wait for perfection or for the absolute purity of our motives before we rise to take our stand. We must take it. We will stumble, we may lose our way. But we must take it. Against this evil, we must stand for freedom...
The article in the Independent suggested that the Institute was moving out of Grace Church. According to Grace's most recent newsletter, that is not the case. The Hearthstone Inn will be the residence for the students, but classes will be held at Grace. It will be interesting to see what happens to this new venture when the CANA trespassers are evicted.

It is worth noting how Don Armstrong describes the John Jay Institute in the newsletter:

...The following Sunday, September 9th, we will welcome the first students of the John Jay Institute. As these robed academics process into the church on that day, it will mark the coming to fruition of a dream that has been several years in the making—an Institute dedicated to preparing young men and women to assume positions of leadership fully formed in a Christian worldview and the founding principles of our nation, and ready to accept the call to service and duty that continued freedom and security requires...
So, what is your opinion? Is Grace Church, and so by extension CANA, embracing Christian Reconstructionism?

One last question that is on my mind. These students are being granted full fellowships. Hearthstone Inn sounds like a grand local landmark. There's a lot of money involved in this venture. In light of Don Armstrong's recent "financial irregularities", I'm inclined to wonder where the funding is coming from for this new Institute.


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