Freedom Writer - June 1994
Profile:The Rutherford Institute
The Institute for First Amendment Studies receives many calls concerning
a number of Religious Right organizations. Near the top of the list
is the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based Christian legal organization
that promotes the Christian Right agenda through the courts. The following
report offers some pertinent and basic information about this influential
Samuel Rutherford, a 17th-century Scottish minister, is best known
for his defiance of the King. Rutherford proclaimed that, as kings
were not divine, kings' laws were not above God's laws. He urged his
followers to disobey any royal decrees that failed to follow God's
In 1982, attorney John W. Whitehead, writer/filmmaker Franky Schaeffer,
and other "concerned Christians" formed a new organization to act
as "the legal arm of Christian civil liberties in this country." They
named it the Rutherford Institute after Samuel Rutherford.
Schaeffer contended that "modern-day courts issue laws which are contrary
to God's law." And Whitehead believes, according to an article by
Martin Mawyer published in the May 1983 issue of the _Moral_Majority_
Report_, "that courts must place themselves under the authority of
Mawyer's article explains, "The Institute states that 'all of civil
affairs and government, including law, should be based upon principles
found in the Bible.'" That statement is a simplified definition of
Christian Reconstruction, an important movement within evangelical
From the beginning, the Rutherford Institute has taken a militant
position. "We need to be very aggressive, not passive," Whitehead
said in a 1983 interview. "Take the initiative. Sue rather than waiting
to be sued. That's where we've been weak. We've always been on the
defensive. We need to frame the issue and pick the court. The institute,
if necessary, will charge that government is violating religious freedoms
rather than the church waiting for the government to charge it with
violating the law.
Franky Schaeffer, son of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer, wrote
_Bad_News_for_Modern_Man:_An_Agenda_for_Christian_Activism_, a guide
for radical Christians. As a writer and filmmaker, Franky Schaeffer
(he now prefers Frank) played an important role in the development
of the Religious Right.
A vocal opponent of abortion, he wrote: "Every church should be involved
in the prolife movement. Abortion clinics must be picketed nonstop.
Doctors who wish to murder the innocent must be harassed and driven
from our communities." In 1990, in a move toward religious purity,
Schaeffer joined the Greek Orthodox Church. Today, his role as a Christian
Right activist has diminished.
On the other hand, John Whitehead's 1982 book, _The_Second_American_
Revolution_, which sold well over 100,000 copies, helped establish
the Rutherford Institute as a leading far-right organization.
The Second American Revolution contains numerous references to a former
Presbyterian minister named Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony. A prolific
writer, Rushdoony is known as "the father of Christian Reconstruction."
He heads an organization called Chalcedon.
According to Rushdoony's brochure, "The Ministry of Chalcedon," "Chalcedon
was instrumental in establishing the Rutherford Institute, the purpose
of which is to aid lawyers in the defense of religious liberties."
In fact, Rushdoony served as a board member of the Rutherford Institute,
and is listed as a speaker at Rutherford conferences.
In a discussion on Christian Reconstructionism, Dr. Jay Grimstead,
president of the Coalition on Revival (COR) said, "We believe that
God has given the Bible as a rule book for all society, Christian
and non-Christian alike. I concur with most of the Reconstructionist
matters; and I am trying to help rebuild society on the Word of God,
and loosely, that would be a Reconstructionist orientation in anybody's
In the views of Christian Reconstructionists, every aspect of society,
including law, medicine, education, the media, and the arts and entertainment,
should be based upon the Reconstructionists' interpretation of the
Bible. Strict interpretation includes swift justice for sinners, including
the death penalty for abortionists, "unrepentant" homosexuals, and,
according to Rushdoony, even "incorrigible sons."
Alexis I. Crow, an attorney with the Rutherford Institute, told us
"John Whitehead is not a Reconstructionist and he never has been."
While Whitehead may not be a Reconstructionist, he is apparently Reconstructionist-influenced,
or Reconstructionist-oriented. Besides his affiliation with Rushdoony
and references to Rushdoony's writings in _The_Second_American_Revolution_,
in the same book Whitehead declares his own Reconstructionist-like
Like Reconstructionists, Whitehead sees the mission of the Christian
church as one of domination. "The church," Whitehead writes, "has
a mandate from the Creator to be a dominant influence on the whole
Currently, the Republican Party is fighting for its soul; it is trying
to ward off domination by religious extremists. Back in 1982 Whitehead
addressed this very issue. "Getting involved in local politics will
eventually mean Christians running for office. This will include attending
and eventually TAKING CONTROL [emphasis added] of party conventions
where grass-roots decisions are made."
Christian Reconstructionists want to take control of America's legal
and educational system. Whitehead concurs. "The challenge of the Christian
attorney," he writes, "is to be a vocal, dynamic spokesman for the
true legal profession -- the one with Christ at its center -- and
to stop at nothing less than reclaiming the whole system."
On education, Whitehead says, "[T]he public education system, which
includes the entire educational structure up through the university
level, must be reinstilled with Christian theism." He adds, "If there
is little hope of revamping public education -- and this is more than
a probability -- then Christians must remove their financial support
from the system."
Rushdoony's influence is apparent in Whitehead's book. When asked
if there has been a parting of the ways between Whitehead and Rushdoony,
Crow failed to respond.
There is some confusion about the history of John Whitehead's relationship
with COR. A 1986 brochure on COR's "Continental Congress on the Christian
World View III," a Fourth of July weekend conference held in Washington,
lists Whitehead as a speaker and Steering Committee member. The topic
of his talk at the conference was called "Priorities for the Eighties."
His photo is included in the brochure.
Nevertheless, Alexis Crow of Rutherford claims that Whitehead is not,
nor ever has been a member of COR, or of COR's Steering Committee.
To clear up the matter we called Jay Grimstead, COR's president. "As
far as I know," he said, "John was a member in the early years; maybe
for a couple of years. At one time, several dispensationalists withdrew.
About that time, John's office called and asked that he be taken off."
Grimstead added, "I thought he was on then , when we made the
"The Rutherford Institute is an organization that defends the rights
of ALL religious persons," according to Crow, "regardless of denomination
or creed and, as such, has defended, among others, Christians, Jews,
atheists, Santerians, Native Americans, and Hare Krishna."
Her statement is a bewildering one. Many people, such as Unitarian
Universalists and people of other liberal religions, feel that there
are circumstances where it is their religious duty to have an abortion.
How many times has the Rutherford Institute defended religious people
who opt for their legal right to have an abortion?
Other religious people, such as many members of the Metropolitan Community
Church, are gay Christians. They believe God has made them homosexual,
and accept that as a gift from God, just as others celebrate their
heterosexuality. How many times has the Rutherford Institute defended
the rights of gays and lesbians?
Does the Rutherford Institute really defend the rights of all religious
people, or do they seek special privileges for Christians -- such
as helping Christians discriminate against gays in housing or employment?
Operating on an annual budget of $8 million, the Rutherford Institute
and its team of aggressive lawyers may soon show up in your neighborhood.
With about 230 active cases, the institute can be commended for taking
on some cases involving true religious liberty. However, it is clear
that the organization pursues the agenda originally outlined by John
Whitehead and Franky Schaeffer. "We must influence all areas of life
including law and politics," Whitehead stated. "We can leave nothing
untouched by the Bible."
Schaeffer, Franky. _Bad_News_for_Modern_Man:_An_Agenda_for_Christian_
Activism_. Crossway Books, 1984.
Whitehead, John. _The_Second_American_Revolution_. Crossway Books,
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