For the critics of Christian Reconstruction, “taking dominion” means religious zealots taking over the government and forcibly imposing a tyrannical “American Taliban” regime on a terrorized majority.
But in the real world—in Appomattox, Virginia—the picture looks very different.
In its quest to apply the law of God and the teachings of Christ to every sphere of life, including politics, the Reformed Bible Church has been active in local politics. One of its more visible members, Paul Coviello, now serves as chairman of his county Republican organization. In his application of Biblical principles, there’s little to generate hysteria and much to generate hope.
Coviello doesn’t talk like the kind of lifelong political operative who usually secures a party chairmanship.
“Actually, I loathe the two-party system,” he said. “But we can use the party apparatus to promote a local agenda and gradually tie it in to a multigenerational work to transform the state and the country.”
Winning elections is not his focus.
“Gaining power is only beneficial if it allows me to do what is right,” Coviello said. “You can’t betray the truth for the sake of accomplishing something.”
How, then, did he wind up heading a Republican committee?
“Everybody consents to Christ’s sovereignty,” he said, “but there’s a thorough disconnect. People won’t lobby for the law of God. They won’t even try to live by it themselves.
“For me, it was a natural step to mobilize the church politically. We had to teach the congregation how to vote like Christians, and then teach others.”
Coviello started his mobilization campaign by writing letters to newspapers and becoming “an almost daily call-in to our local talk radio show. People got to know me. I focused on state and local issues, always applying Biblical principles.”
The chairmanship, he said, was “an opportunity that fell into my lap.
“There was a movement going on to make the Republican Party in Virginia more conservative, and I was recruited by conservative Republicans to oust the incumbent chairman. Our state budget is just littered with programs that have no justification for being there, and I attacked it in the local media. That made me a candidate.”
Why the Local Approach?
Coviello answered the conservatives’ call, but he has never become a party apparatchik.
“There is some Biblical merit to the creed of the Republican Party—reduce the size and intrusiveness of the government, tax cuts, personal responsibility, etc.,” he said. “But in practice, especially in Washington, it’s been a disgraceful display of betraying one’s own principles.
“Still, there is an element in the party with which I can find some agreement, and on that basis, work for a local agenda. The federal government practices plunder, backed up by the force of law. But the Biblical model is for a limited government and the self-government of individuals and families. Our goal is to transform local government so that it reflects a Biblical model.”
Working to influence local government, Coviello said, is “a more effective use of resources” than setting up a third party to run a candidate for president, “a prize that’s unattainable. And if a third-party candidate did win, the Washington establishment would eat him alive.”
He has, however, preached sermons in the church against “pragmatic” voting.
“It’s a violation of Scripture to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils,’” he said. “That doesn’t mean a candidate has to be in 100 percent agreement with me before I can vote for him. But you can’t vote for a bad man just because the other candidate, or the other party, is worse. When the wicked rule, the people suffer. That’s what the Bible says about it.”
Busting a Boondoggle
Far from turning Appomattox County into the Christian equivalent of Iran, Coviello and the Bible Reformed Church have concentrated on applying a Biblical approach to practical issues.
“Over the past two or three years,” he said, “we have created a groundswell among the people about issues that were previously not addressed; for instance, this water line project we’re battling now.”
To combat the threat of a drought (“In reality, the wells in this county never ran dry,” Coviello said), officials proposed building a $4.7 million water pipe system and creating a public authority to manage it.
“At first they told us it would have no impact on our taxes,” he said, “that it would be funded by bonds and grants, and so on. If that were so, we would have no problem with it. But the more questions I asked, the fewer answers I got.”
“Problems” quickly surfaced, Coviello said. Hookups to the water line were to be mandatory (“People should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to hook up”). Eminent domain would be used to take over private property. There would be user fees and political appointments to seats on the authority. And political insiders would know in advance where the water lines would go, exposing them to the temptation to acquire such property beforehand—an illegal conflict of interest.
“They accused us of fearmongering, but we’ve succeeded in mobilizing the entire community,” Coviello said. “We are now exploring alternatives to ensuring our county’s water supply without expanding the government—digging new wells, building a reservoir, things like that. We also want to get more Christians elected to local government boards so that this kind of situation won’t come up in the future.”
Applying Biblical principles to the resolution of concrete local issues can be difficult, Coviello said.
“I’ll be happy to read and answer emails from people who are trying to do this in other parts of the country,” he said. “We need to network together, share ideas. We’ll have to come up with good ideas to help future generations build on our work.”
Paul Coviello’s email address is [email protected].