A Warning: When Theonomy and AHA Collide
Orthodox Christians have reason to be concerned regarding the burgeoning fellowship of two groups of religious schismatics. In recent weeks, a new marriage between judaizers of the Mosaic Judicial Law (called by the abused misnomer, theonomists) and an anti-abortion group that’s known for the indiscriminate (and inexplicable) protesting of churches seems to have developed. I feel the need to inform the mainstream Christian public regarding this development, as I would developments among any other sub-christian sects that promise a troubling future.
Theonomy is a doctrine first espoused by RJ Rushdoony (best known for his homeschool advocacy), and later by two other prominent leaders, theologian Greg Bahnsen (best known as a brilliant presuppositional apologist) and economist, Gary North (best known for his failed Y2K predictions). Theonomy – as defined by these three primary leaders – is the notion that the exhaustive detail of the Judicial Code of Mosaic Law (designed for the Commonwealth of Ancient Israel) is obligatory for all nations and times, including the mandate of Mosaic penology for First and Second Table crimes as listed in the Old Testament. Please take note, there are some who may refer to themselves as “general equity theonomists” (a reference to the terminology of the Westminister or the London Baptist Confession that denotes the judicial laws of Israel have passed away); these are not to be confused as adherents of Theonomy as taught or understood by Rushdoony, Bahnsen or North, and are not a part of this critique.
Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) is an organization founded by T. Russell Hunter in Norman, Oklahoma. With cell groups in various cities across the country (and beyond), the loosely-affiliated groups come from a wide-range of theological belief, including sects of Hebrews Roots, antinomians, paedobaptists and credobaptists and others of more orthodox doctrine. AHA operational strategy is eerily similar to other social agitators, especially the methodology taught by Che Guevera and other leftist revolutionaries and propagandists (please note: AHA is not “liberal”). A loose affiliation between groups insulates leaders from criticism relating to the uncouth or ungodly behavior of individuals, and a plausible deniability is thus reinforced from leadership regarding their responsibility. Rather than internal memos, communication from leaders is done in the form of social media. Focusing heavily on classical propaganda, the organization accomplishes its purposes through the use of symbolic imagery and a unique lexicon of vocabulary terms and phrases. To abscond from the organization is seen as compromising on cherished principles and selling out to the spirits of the age. The organization sees itself as synonymous with the abolition of abortion, and sells itself to new adherents under that proposal (please note, the author of this article is a non-AHA abolitionist and subscribes to abolitionist ideology).
Other than the common denominator of having the same critics (orthodox Christian leaders have rightly criticized both groups of schismatics), there would seem to be little to build a bridge between the two groups. One is lead almost entirely by dead men and retirees (Theonomy’s chief living intellectual abandoned the movement’s core teachings last year) and the other is lead by energetic young men. While Theonomy has preciously few scholars that have ever supported their notions, there have been several notable theologians, like Greg Bahnsen. AHA, on the other hand, is led by men who are not only without classical theological educations, but seem to eschew “institutionalized” learning. So then, when posts like this one featuring professing Theonomists (left) develop or photos of Theonomists advertising upcoming podcast episodes with the AHA logo affixed (right), people have to wonder what the two groups have in common.
There are amazing similarities between the two groups, however.
1. Both Theonomy and AHA claim to provide solutions to social ills that are Gospel-centered. Both make the claim vigorously. And both claims are dubious.
Theonomists will tell you that the movement is really about the Gospel and its inevitable victorious conquest of culture, government and law. In reality, the recent absconder of capital-T Theonomy, Joel McDurmon, says that the Gospel is “application of the command to love your neighbor as yourself” (psst…that’s Law, not Gospel). Of course, Theonomic founders also made jaw-droppingly works-righteous statements, many of which I’ve written about back at Pulpit & Pen. Likewise, AHA “exhortations” have been notoriously short on the Gospel, and the protest of open air Gospel-preaching church, Heritage Grace Community Church, reveals that apparently it’s not all about the Gospel.
2. Both Theonomy and AHA have a wide and open back door.
In other words, both groups appear to be thriving and full of a robust and enthused membership. Both groups, however, have a multitude of former adherents who now repudiate the movements. Many have called themselves Theonomists because they thought that it simply meant they believed “God’s Law is good.” Likewise, many have participated with AHA because they thought that meant they believed “Abortion is bad.” Once experiencing the groups, however, expatriates of those movements have discovered that they espouse more than what they had bargained for. The appeals of radicalized schismaticism are enticing, but the reality paints a darker picture. Many – if not most – Theonomic leaders (not to mention followers) like Joel McDurmon have either abandoned its major tenets or abandoned it altogether. Likewise, many abolitionists have left AHA, discovering the problems that lie there. These sects look like fascinating places to visit. It turns out they’re terrible places to live.
3. Both Theonomy and AHA are replete with ecclesiastical anarchists.
The founder of Theonomy, RJ Rushdoony, while denouncing the Westminster Confession as “nonsense,” went twenty years without taking communion in the local church, not being able to find one pure enough for his expectations. His solution to twenty years without the local church was creating a “home church” of debatable qualifications (advice he regularly gave to others who weren’t satisfied in the local church). Likewise, the founders of AHA in Norman, Oklahoma, are a part of a self-appointed “church” of debatable qualifications and subscribe to Sectarian Minimalism – again, because there are no churches pure enough to satisfy their expectations. Both Theonomists and AHA adherents are well known to cause division and strife within local bodies.
4. Both Theonomy and AHA have attracted radical (or formerly radical) adherents with predispositions to violence.
AHA has within its ranks two men convicted of crimes against churches described by local police as domestic terrorism (these individuals now claim pacifism). When describing their crime in a recent podcast (setting off an explosive device at a church under construction and arson on church property in a different location), AHA founder T. Russell Hunter used the term terrorism with “scare quotes.” Many AHA adherents reacted with vehement and vocal objection to reports of these convicted church arsonists at the protest of a godly church in Texas, because claims of conversion, they argue, make past acts of violence against the church ostensibly irrelevant. Likewise, Theonomy and the teachings of Gary North famously were credited as a motive by convicted (and now executed) Paul Jennings Hill, who murdered an abortion “doctor” and his body guard, and injured the abortionist’s wife. There is no doubt that the regular anti-police and anti-authority rhetoric of Theonomists leads to a certain radicalization of those adherents who don’t eventually find their way out of the sect.
5. Both Theonomists and AHA are used to being a small but highly vocal minority, and both aspire to capitalize on social media to magnify their platform.
This observation may be anecdotal, but both AHA and Theonomists seem to run in tight-knit packs in social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where the actual bulk of their work and impact is actually being done. Both are known to be repeatedly removed from public or closed social media groups for violation of group rules or for berating opponents.
Consider this a cautionary warning. The merging of AHA and Theonomy is the theological equivalent of matches and kerosene. Should the ecclesiastical anarchism prevalent in AHA combine with the authoritarian political theory of Theonomy, the toxic mix may be dangerous. Each group is radical and schismatic enough on its own that to combine with another error is truly dangerous. Likewise, I have enjoyed watching the dramatic decline of Theonomy in the last two years, and would hate to see some wind blown into that dead fire that might spark a flame through eager but naive abolitionists.