If you’ve never heard of Gary North, maybe it’s because he wanted it that way. Nevertheless, when North recently died in Georgia at the age of 80, he had quietly become one of the notable religious and political architects of our time. He was a prolific author and a power behind the throne of the Christian right who never gave interviews to the media, but who, ironically, received important obituaries from Christianity today and The New York Times (publications he hated) and not much else.
the Times title called him an “apostle of Bible-based economics”, and Christianity today said North “saw the Austrian economy in the Bible and disaster on the horizon”. All true. But both obituaries made little assessment of the political and theological significance of his life and prodigious work as an author, editor, publisher and back room political strategist. Let’s see if we can help you.
The 1976 election featuring professing evangelical Christian Jimmy Carter, and propelling him to the presidency, provided an opportunity for conservative evangelical leaders. Evangelicals had mostly been on the political sidelines since the Scopes trial, and their premillennial theology generally held that the world could not be expected to change much until Jesus returned. This view restricted political activism, since the church was essentially warning against it.
The much smaller postmillennial camp argued that changing the world was not just a requirement, but a precondition for Jesus’ return. Nevertheless, evangelicals turned to Jimmy Carter, one of their own, paving the way for more conservative political engagement and the Reagan era of 1980. Times being what they were, this called for discussion.
A series of such discussions took place in the 1980s under the auspices of the Coalition for Renewal. In short, these conversations concluded that Christian engagement with society was a necessity and that people could agree to disagree about just about anything that could be accomplished before Jesus returns. This provided an opening to begin encouraging unprecedented levels of political activism in the evangelical world.
One of the results of these conversations was A manifesto for the Christian Church, issued by 125 leaders in 1986. Signatories, along with North and other Christian Reconstruction thinkers, included Christian right-wing leaders of the time such as Tim LaHaye of the American Coalition for Traditional Values, James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, and Jerry Regier, founding president of the Family Research Council—as well as evangelist Luis Palau and Adrian Rogers, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the fundamentalist takeover in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The results of this, and related theological realignments , still have repercussions on evangelical Christianity.
In addition to his involvement in the Coalition on Revival, North has played leading, but not newsmaking, roles in other significant entities. He founded his own think tank and publishing house, the Institute for Christian Economics. He was a founding board member of the pioneering Christian right law firm, Rutherford Institute, as well as the conservative leadership network, the Council for National Policy. It was one “Associated researcherof the libertarian Mises Institute at the time of his death.
Theocracy not now, but later
the Times obit mentions how North fostered a “hard theocracy” with his notions of “biblical economics” at its heart. Corn Christianity today describes him as a supporter of “theonomy”. North itself Explain the difference as he saw it. He wrote that theocracy, as generally understood, is a “top-down” imposition of a theocratic order, while theonomy is what he calls a “bottom-up theocracy”. on the way to what he calls a “majority theocracy” which, once empowered, would drive humanism “off the face of the Earth”.
“Theocracy is government by the law of God—not just the civil government, but the whole government. It is not a top-down imposition of biblical law by an elite of priests, but, instead, a bottom-up imposition of biblical norms in all areas of life.—areas not regulated by civil law for the most part—by those who are morally responsible for making decisions. As the process of domination extends the authority of Christians over more and more areas of life, we will see the creation of a global theocracy. It will not be the result of some kind of “palace revolution”.
This is similar to the view of his father-in-law, the founding thinker of the Christian reconstructionist theocratic movement, RJ Rushdoony. Assuming they were honest about their vision of a slow motion revolution in the hearts of men on the path of religion and politics domination-What what they didn’t seem to anticipate was that they couldn’t control how others used their ideas.
Once the Reconstructionists provided a biblical rationale for Christian politics and the basis for a comprehensive set of public policies (which is what their work did), the political animals quickly left the barn, never to return. . Some of them have not been inclined to wait for a popular majority to elect Christians of the right kind to power—as seen on J6.
North’s life and theology were animated and informed by a sense of impending apocalypse: nuclear, financial and otherwise. He was in the news for a while because he thought world systems would collapse when computer clocks jumped to the new millennium in the year 2000. (The so-called “Y2K bug”.) He thought informed Christians through Christian reconstruction would be reborn from their ashes. to build the foundations of the Kingdom of God. It was wrong about all this.
Some thought the spectacular failure of North’s prediction would largely discredit him. But that didn’t happen, as is often the case when prophecy fails. He continued to be a respected thought leader in the communities to which he was connected. He was, for example, a guest speaker at a national Christian Reconstructionist conference in 2007 co-sponsored by several major Christian right organizations.
I wrote about Gary North’s role in the ideological development of the Christian right in my 1997 book Eternal hostility: the struggle between theocracy and democracy. Fellows Sara Diamond, Julie Ingersoll, Michael McVicar and Frances Fitzgerald, among othersalso noted the importance of the North in these historical developments.
Somehow North’s obituaries ignored all of this.
Religious freedom for me; dead for you
North was a patient revolutionary. He opposed the killing of abortion providers and the active organization of insurrection. He wanted to avoid a “premature revolutionary situation”. Writing on North’s website, his obituary, Craig Bulkeley, minister of the Schismatic Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), declared that North believed,
“The kingdom of God would probably not come in one generation. Nor would it come from sudden political takeover, centralized government, or vigilante violence. It wouldn’t come from the top down. But it would come. It would come gradually, over time, from the bottom up, as God moved into people’s hearts and they adopted a biblical worldview and system of laws.
North himself sometimes expressed his vision in less peaceful terms. In his 1989 book, Political polytheism: the myth of pluralism. He thought, for example, that in matters of strategy, it might be useful to temporarily advocate pluralism while plotting for takeover. He predicted that eventually “pluralism will be shattered in an ideological (and perhaps even literal) crossfire”, in an “escalation of religious war”.
That he could hold such a deceptive and violent view while believing that God must work in people’s hearts before biblical law becomes the law of the land, is a paradox that is not recognized by North’s obituarists.
North believed that the Constitution prohibits the merger of church and state, but that this prohibition stems from the prohibition of religious tests for public office in Article 6 and is far more important than the first amendment in this regard. In his view, only Christians of the right type should be government officials.
Thus, he saw the Constitution not only as a clean break from the established churches of the colonial era, but as a permanent barrier to Christian theocracy. He wasn’t wrong. And that’s why he believed that the Constitution should be abandoned one day.
The influence he had throughout his life through his prolific writings, his speeches, the publication of the work of others and his strategy towards an eventual and inevitable religious war, should give us pause when we consider his vision of religious freedom:
“We must use the doctrine of religious freedom to gain independence for Christian schools until we train a generation of people who know there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutrality. neutral education and no neutral civil government.Then they will work to build a Bible-based social, political, and religious order that ultimately denies the religious freedom of the enemies of God.
When he says raising a generation, he means producing lots of children and homeschooling them or sending them to private Christian schools. If you disagree with Gary North’s religious and political outlook, you could find yourself on the list of enemies of God, when compiled by North’s political descendants.
North’s books were widely used in conservative Christian schools in the county. His readership undoubtedly increased when he, along with neo-Confederate Catholic author Thomas Woods (founder of the Southern League) spear Ron Paul’s homeschooling program in 2013. It has likely been used by tens of thousands of homeschooling families. He also created a related online K-12 school.
Like his first mentor RJ Rushdoony, Gary North saw his life’s work not as the answer or pure doctrine for others to follow, but rather as helping to lay the foundation for the revolution and the Kingdom to come. And while revolution may never come true, North’s ideas and the political and religious forces they convey make him a central figure in the history of our time.