Feb 7, 2011

The theocratic Lone Ranger

A Georgia state legislator has grabbed some attention recently for a bill that would do away with driver's licences. It's the kind of story that's good because 1) it's crazy, being well outside the normal window of debate, and 2) it's conservatism that seems to contradict you're more standard far-right conservatism. The "small government" right in Georgia has been pushing for voter IDs and similar measures and here comes a state rep. from the right worried about too-much government in the form of IDs.

It has caused a little bit of a head-snap.

There are, of course, varieties of conservatism, varieties of far right, so the idea that one law proposed by a conservative should be consistent with another law proposed by another is a bit silly. It can be hard to keep track of the types, though. Bobby Franklin is the type you sometimes hear a lot about but rarely actually see: a theocrat.

A graduate of Covenant College and a Reformed Presbyterian, Franklin believes that there's really no such thing as religious neutrality or a non-religious sphere of the world. He thinks Christ lays claim to the whole world, ought to be king of everything, and that, thus, the only right and proper ground for government is the bible. Everything that's not that, for Franklin, is an attack on God, an affront, etc.

As they say at The American View, the Constitution Party-connected site where Rep. Franklin blogs, "Secular, Christless conservatism — even when it is supposedly 'compassionate' — will not defeat secular, Christless liberalism because to God they are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and, thus, predestined to failure."

Franklin isn't secretive about this. He recently sent a letter to all his fellow state legislators citing theonomist thinker R.J. Rushdooney and warning them, basically, about setting themselves up as false christs. "Man needs a savior," the Rushdooney quote goes, "and the question is simply one of choice: Christ or the State?" I assume Georgia politicians don't automatically recognize the name of the California Calvinist who kind of rediscovered Christian theocracy, but they could look him up.

Bobby Franklin is also pretty direct about his political goals: He has, twice now, introduced a bill designed to reconstitute Georgia as a theonomic state. Using the "four spheres of government" language common to Christian Reconstructionists, he asserts that the people of Georgia are idolatrous in their relationship to the state, and that the state government itself is blasphemous.

The other bill's Franklin has proposed seem to have attracted more attention -- a birther bill, the one about IDs, one about budgets, the one allowing guns in churches -- but those scattershot, apparently idiosyncratic or crazy, too-far-afield proposals should really probably all be understood in the context of the theonomy bill, House Bill 4.

Here's the thing, though: Even in a conservative state like Georgia, Bobby Franklin stands alone. The man has no co-signers. Against the panic that sometimes ensues over Christian theocrats, we have someone who's overtly doing or trying to do what so many on the religious right have talked about, and what so many on the left assume the religious right "really" wants to do, and he has no support. He's considered fringe, even in the Republican party in the South in the age of the Tea Party. Even his fiscal responsibility budget bill was voted down -- by everyone. Not only did he have no co-signers for the bill, he had no co-voters.

This is a man who showed up at the state house in a Lone Ranger mask.

Thus the state of Christian theocracy today.

That's not totally fair -- Rushdooney and co.'s ideas have had quite a bit of influence, and the kind of rhetoric Bobby Franklin uses has real purchase in some large parts of American political discourse -- but this political theology is too often taken for something it's not, or for something else it's not, or for something else it's not.

Any understanding of the religious right that sees it as monolith, and any talk about the right that doesn't see how contested these ideas are, even among those who ostensibly hold them, is going to be really flawed. The interaction between Christianity and conservative politics is complicated, and there are a lot of internal contests and conflicts. It's important not to miss that.

In other religion and politics news, Billy Graham is still regretting his political involvement.