Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What to do with the CNP? (It's not the CNP exactly but rather the growing fringe within it.)

Since referencing Jim McCotter as a member of the Council for National Policy, I’ve received some emails asking more about the group and what I though of it. Some Christians have never really heard of the Council. If you asked me about them 15 years ago, I would have told you that they were on of the most important organization in the United States. Many people who I loved and looked up to with love and admiration were members and participants. Watching the events of recent years unfold, I have a very mixed and contradictory opinion of the group that I once revered so highly, often believing what I was told to believe. Aside from general knowledge that I’ve gained while reading and interacting with Christian Reconstructionists, I think the book that put more of this together for me was Pat Robertson’s “New World Order.” I don’t know whether others consider that to be a good source of information in a condensed form, but that book certainly, for me and my Pentecostal roots, argued well for the need for the CNP. (I don’t recall if the book actually discusses the group, as it has been about 15 years since I’ve read it.)

There are many respectable, politically active Christians noted on the CNP who have been there for quite a long time. I share most of their core beliefs. The impact of the group is nearly impossible to measure, and I’m sure that I’ve benefitted greatly in a thousand indirect ways as a result of the impact that the individuals within the group have had on American culture. Yet I have concerns. Years ago, I did not believe that any Christian Reconstructionist sought a top-down approach to promoting Christianity within US politics, yet that apparently is no longer the case. For example, Gary North has been noted to be a one-time participant with the CNP, and I have never been at ease with Gary North’s interpretation of Theonomy. I never understood that Theonomy advocated a paternalistic approach to civil responsibility, and I always viewed it as more libertarian. Whatever was true about the past or my idealized view of it, the zeitgeist within Christian Reconstructionism and within many churches since the late 1990s leans toward an approach that seems far more authoritarian than anything I recall in the past, something that I don’t believe conforms to a proper understanding of American liberty or Christian liberty. Fifteen years ago, I knew nothing of these things. The CNP were just a group of powerful Christians fighting to preserve the influence of Christian values in the US government and in our culture as well. Many or most of them may well still be doing just that.

What concerns do I have regarding the CNP? As stated, I am concerned about the names of (some of) those who participate in the Council who have demonstrated lack of integrity, lack of sound judgement, authoritarianism, escalating intolerance of those who are not Christian or fail to meet their Christian standard, etc. There is a part of me that would love to throw the baby out with the bath water, but I honestly cannot do that with all good conscience. The Gary Norths and the Jim McCotters have their liberties as Americans and as Christians, though I am uncomfortable with many of their interpretations of where liberty stops and paternalism begins. The idea that these men and those like them have such power and powerful connections does not bring me comfort at all.

The group’s own description, noted on its website, sounds nebulous to me:
The Council for National Policy ("CNP") is an educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. We do not lobby Congress, support candidates, or issue public policy statements on controversial issues. Our more than 450 members include many of our nation's leaders from the fields of government, business, the media, religion, and the professions.

Our members are united in their belief in a free enterprise system, a strong national defense, and support for traditional western values. They meet to share the best information available on national and world problems, know one another on a personal basis, and collaborate in achieving their shared goals.

Information about group activities can only be found through the very limited documentation on the CNP website, and most other documentation comes from Left Wing watchdog groups, another factor with which I am uncomfortable for conflicting reasons. First, it is quite uncomfortable to realize that, as a very conservative Christian who shares many common ideas with Christian Reconstruction (but from a libertarian approach and application), finding yourself agreeing with the liberal folks like Lyons and Berlet is no easy thing. (It is siding with the enemy because of the evidence at hand, and that’s never easy.) Yet, I have to admit that I often agree with their observations about the inconsistent behaviors of many conservatives. Their description of Right Wing Populism, in a general sense, could not be more accurate for describing some of the militant Christian Reconstructionists. I find this admission painful and embarrassing, yet I must be honest. Does that make me a liberal Democrat? I surely hope not. I think it makes me what I’ve been all along – an advocate of freedom and liberty who believes that turning the United States into a type of theocracy wherein people must fit into collectivistic bureaucratic categories is very wrong. I believe that more than a few people on the CNP effectively strive and seek after just such a collectivistic system, something that I did not recognize to be true in the past.

I am troubled deeply by the secrecy of the group or of any such group of power that operates under cloak. Maybe there are good reasons for that, but I don't understand them. Why is even the list of members restricted so tightly and not a matter of public record? The tightly controlled group participation does carry an elitist mentality within a nation that and among Christians who reject elitism in theory. We are all equal citizens under the law who should have equal access to power, according to our representative style of government, yet members of this group are invited only. We are all members in equal standing within the Body of Christ, yet this is not true of this network of powerful Christians. New members are presented to the group based on recommendation of current members when an opening becomes available, and one does not apply for membership, to my knowledge. Thus access to power is restricted to a certain elite, and it’s interesting to note that the group is not just religious leaders but includes the very, very wealthy. In that respect Americans and Christians alike theoretically have equal access to power and advantage (according to the laws of our representative government -- no one citizen has more than another), yet in practical terms, not all are created equal. Who you are and the wealth you possess make all the difference in the world, in the church, and in the politics of both.

This web page notes the members in attendance, the workshops presented and those who presented material to the CNP in 1998. I recognize many names and my responses to these names are greatly varied. Phyllis Schafly, Robert Bork, Grover Norquist and Tim LaHaye give me confidence. I’m rather neutral about names like Howard Phillips, James Dobson and even Jim Leininger (a member but not at the 1998 Tyson’s Corner meeting per this account). But I am troubled by names like Brad Phillips, the McCotter family, and Michael Farris, just to name a few examples.

For those interested in knowing more about the NCP so you can ponder and pray, I also found this article on the ABC website, actually less biased than this Christian apologetics website. Ah, but these tensions are all part of living life in living color, all without the ease of all-or-nothing thought and without static categories into which we can conveniently place dynamic people.