Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, Christian Reconstruction in Pacific Northwest

Historian and researcher Crawford Gribben states his purpose clearly: “This book describes a migration into the Pacific Northwest of religious and political conservatives, among whom and from whom the claims of Christian Reconstruction, or ‘theonomy,’ as this movement of ideas is often known, are beginning to circulate in modified forms more widely and more effectively than ever before” (p. ix).

The author has adopted biographical, institutional, and thematic approaches and has attempted to be descriptive and analytical while allowing his subjects to speak for themselves (p. xii). As a result, he provides valuable information concerning a religious and political migration into the Pacific Northwest since the 1990s, which is guided by a philosophy of Christian Reconstruction or theonomy, and a postmillennial theological framework, with strong respect for the Ten Commandments (p. 4). Those migrating to the Pacific Northwest “embrace a common concern to survive, resist, and reconstruct wider society… and participate in the recovery of America” (p. 9). As can be seen, this “strategy of hibernation” has as its objective the restoration of America and, in fact, the world along the lines of biblical principles, including Old Testament Law (p. 5).

The popularity of the movement owes much to James Wesley Rawles’ conspiratory fiction (p. 12). It is Rawles who in 2011 named this strategy the American Redoubt (p. 12), and the goal is to “solidify a conservative Christian worldview through a demographic shift” (p. 11). No one involved with the Redoubt is advocating violence, or even revolution; they are, nevertheless, expecting to reconstruct the world “one county at a time” (pp. 48, 83). Those described in the book need to be distinguished from groups such as the Christian Exodus movement in South Carolina, which promotes seceding from the union (pp. 14, 62), and the “kinists” who argue for preservation of racial differences and distinctions (p. 34), and especially from the radical “skinheads” who lean toward violent overthrow. Those in the Redoubt movement have a variety of political views (although all would identify as being libertarian), doctrinal diversity (although most are Reformed Calvinists), and varied lifestyles. But everyone involved agrees that there is no hope of turning America around morally or spiritually through the political process and that after the best action to take is to remove themselves from mainstream society, congregate with those who are like-minded, and influence the world slowly through evangelism, discipleship, and classical education. And while Moscow, Idaho (the hub of the Redoubt) has only 2000 adherents, its reach and influence is magnified far beyond its numbers because of strategical uses of print, including a magazine, Credenda Agenda (since 1988), books through Canon Press (pp. 126-128), and other publishing houses, a college (New Saint Andrews, est. 1994), podcasts, blogs, a Prime Video broadcast call “Man Rampant,” homeschool curriculum (pp. 92-93, 109-113), and other forms of media (pp. 116-118).

What the leaders of the Redoubt are trying to do draws on deep roots, going back in many ways to the pioneering spirit of early Americans. The desire to push boundaries, head west, and live rugged individualist lives is engrained in America’s DNA. Over 100 utopian societies existed in the 1800s, and even the communes associated with the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s attest to this longing. What is taking place in the Redoubt is nothing new in some ways. The Redoubt ideology is also building on the capital ideas of the earlier writings of R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North, theonomists who attempted similar reconstruction communities beginning in the late 1960s. By the end of the century, however, their efforts had lost steam, their communities had been abandoned, and the movement had splintered. But many of their ideas have been revived by Doug Wilson and the Redoubt. What Rushdoony and North could not establish is now doing quite well in the Pacific Northwest. Rushdoony and North undermined their own project by outlandish predictions of catastrophe and doom (pp. 24-27), ridiculous denials of the Holocaust (p. 42), alliance with flat-earthers (p. 139), survival preparation and scare tactics surrounding Y2K (p. 27), and calls to abolish the prison system by expanding reasons for capital punishment (p. 42). But as the earlier theonomists faded, new audiences were emerging (pp. 46-19). Wilson, himself, has misstepped in some of the same ways, however: at first by buying into North’s Y2K theories (pp. 51-53), writing a book defending aspects of slavery (p. 55), and spreading conspiracy theories: “Of course our regime is a regime. Of course we live under a tyranny. And of course the American experiment is a sham and a farce. Of course our elections are rigged. Of course somebody needs to wake up” (p. 50). Others have caused similar damage; for example, Joel McDurmon, former director of American Vision, has set out a ten-step, long term program for restoring America by limiting the power of the state. His plan includes such radical ideas as the elimination of Social Security and abolition of a permanent standing army (pp. 83-84). More recently, Wilson has proclaimed “Jesus Christ is already the King of Idaho… we have the task of announcing to the remaining rebels that their capital city has already fallen, their rulers dethroned, and that resistance is futile” (p. 55).

These boasts dovetail well with Wilson’s view that the second coming of Christ will be the “culmination of what is happening right here, right now,” which, of course, is consistent with his postmillennial eschatology. Postmillennialism is defined by Gribben as, “The belief that Christ will return after the millennium has substantially reformed life on earth. Postmillennialists can be either apocalyptic or gradualist and vary in the extent to which they believe the millennium can be expedited by their own effort. Postmillennialism has been revived among some conservative Presbyterians, particularly those with interest in Christian Reconstruction“ (p. 153). Postmillennialism was quite popular in the Western world during the 19th and early 20th century, but fell out of favor when optimism that either social agendas or the gospel would usher in the Kingdom of God was crushed by WWI and virtually abandoned after WWII. Hope for a Christian (or at least a moral) America, was on the rise in the 1970s-1980s with 1973 being declared the year of the evangelical by Newsweek, the establishment of Focus on the Family (1971), the Moral Majority (1979), the election of Reagan (1980), the formation of the Rutherford foundation (1982), and Pat Robertson’s run for the presidency (1980) (pp. 65-67). But hope began to fade as none of these things arrested America’s moral slide for long. Finally, the election of Obama (2008) confirmed that America was headed in the wrong direction.

These results did not surprise Wilson and his followers for, after all, they believe neither the American revolution nor democracy is Christian but secular and totalitarian (pp. 68-74), foolish (p. 75), and needs to be eradicated (p. 82). It has become obvious that the Redoubt is not a movement to improve the moral nature of America. This is not right-wing politics (pp. 76-77); it is a call for withdrawal in order to ultimately replace America as we know it. And that can only happen through evangelism on a massive scale. The “key to the transformation of America was the gospel” (p. 76): “The fulfillment of the Great Commission… requires the establishment of a global Christendom, [and that victory requires] the necessary exclusion of a secular democracy” (p. 82). And where does this lead? To a “baptized civilization in which the practice of non-Christian religion would be permissible only within private homes” (p. 82). In other words, a theocracy.

A theocracy is necessary because every other means, including political tradition (pp. 143-146), standard evangelical approaches (pp. 137-138, 148), and moralistic, therapeutic efforts (pp. 122-123) have all been exhausted (pp. 147-148). For these reasons “the migration to the Redoubt is likely to continue” (p. 148) at least in America. This is because the language of resistance and survival is that of the American frontier. Utopia is a distinctively American vision and not easily transferred to other countries or cultures (pp. 143-146). And all utopias eventually unravel. Even as Moscow grows in numbers and influence, recent concerns have appeared, so much so that Rod Dreher dropped Moscow from his list of “Benedict options” (p. 146), and lively web discussions tell stories of those who consider themselves victims in the very communities in which they were meant to find protection from the outside world (p. 147). Even the leaders of the principle congregation in Moscow have warned those considering migrating their way to not have unreasonably high expectations. “It is telling,” Gribben writes, “that the advocates of postmillennial social reconstruction feel the need to temper the expectations of their converts” (p. 147). And despite Wilson’s claim that Jesus is King of Idaho, less than ten percent of Moscow’s population of nearly 26,000 are members of theonomist churches. There is a long way to go before Wilson’s dream becomes reality. Still, at the moment anyway, there are members of the Redoubt riding a wave that shows little sign of subsiding, and Redoubt believers are taking “The long view” of multiple-generational change.

Survival and Resistance is an excellent historical and analytical study of the Redoubt by a researcher who is not part of the movement. Gribben makes no attempt to interact with Reconstruction theology or determine the value or merits of its strategy or philosophy. Nor does the author engage in the accusations made by some against Doug Wilson, Christ Church, or other related leaders and institutions. His book, however, sets the stage to understand the Redoubt and provides a starting point for further evaluation.

by Crawford Gribben (Oxford: Oxford Press, 2021), 210 pp + xiii, hard $30.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel