My Recollection of Chalcedon’s First Forty Years
My father, Rousas John Rushdoony, formally launched Chalcedon in the summer of 1965. I was eleven years old at the time and our move from Palo Alto to Woodland Hills (in the suburbs of Los Angeles) was a memorable event.
The name Chalcedon was already familiar to me. For several years my father had talked of starting Chalcedon, but in those years his plans were more focused on a college. That idea persisted for several years, but as my father’s writing grant expired, he decided not to delay the start of his “educational institution,” but to begin it by other means.
Over the New Year’s holiday of 1965 we traveled to southern California, where my father spoke and met with potential sponsors. (We also made memorable family trips to Disneyland and the Rose Parade.) The results of that trip were sufficiently encouraging that my father committed to move to Los Angeles that summer.
To keep his supporters informed of his activities, my father began what was simply called the Newsletter. It included an essay and a report on his activities, so that the end of each Newsletter reported on the number of talks given, chapters written, and his travels. We came to refer to it as “the report.” Because he saw his supporters so frequently at meetings throughout southern California, the Newsletter soon became less of a report on activities than a monthly essay. Nevertheless, the name stuck and the Chalcedon Newsletter became the Chalcedon Report, a name it held long after it became a magazine in November of 1987. In January 2005, we changed the magazine’s name to Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report became what it originally started out to be, a report on Chalcedon and its ministry.
The support provided by those early contributors allowed my father to give his full attention to his writing. It also, I believe, changed his style of writing. Some of his earlier work was more scholarly. By What Standard? (1958), Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961), and the Messianic Character of American Education (1963), were more academically oriented, as was The One and the Many (1971) which was then already extensively researched. When he lectured, he always asked for questions. His interaction with these live audiences made his written works increasingly geared towards the reading layman, rather than the academic.
Many of the early supporters of Chalcedon were conservative Republicans discouraged by the landslide loss of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential contest. Those were heady days for liberalism. President Lyndon B. Johnson threw massive amounts of money into his “Great Society,” and those enamored with the cult of science claimed it was poised to find the solutions to many of man’s problems.
My father consciously avoided making Chalcedon into a conservative mouthpiece, because he saw the quest for political answers as symptomatic of modern man’s problems. He believed that the essential government was the self-government of man under God.
Chalcedon thus avoided being evangelistic. Its purpose was not to convert non-believers, but to teach believers. Its purpose was always to train Christians to be faithful to the law-word of God. Chalcedon was self-consciously established to fill a large void in Christianity. The church was so busy focusing on the “fundamentals” and the “simple gospel” that it tended not to go beyond preaching the gospel and baptizing. Chalcedon was to be a ministry about faithful obedience, about the other half of the Great Commission: teaching men to observe all things Christ commanded.
Chalcedon’s ministry was future-oriented, whereas politics is very present or even past-bound. Many suggested Dad could raise more money if he stressed an anti-communist message, but he was never interested in merely condemning sin. Chalcedon was not a message of negation, but one of affirmation of the truth and wisdom of God’s way.
The problem with ministries of negation is that they do not see the extent of man’s evil. They see the essential evil as a particular vice, a liberal congress, president, or court, or a particular ideology (like communism), or military threat (like the USSR). My father did not start with present evils, but with the root of evil, man’s sin, man’s rebellion against God. He traced man’s present manifestations of evil to man’s first sin and his desire to “be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) on his own, independently and autonomously. To defeat present evils would only mean their replacement by new evils, he would say.
His answer was a more systemic approach, that of rebuilding Christian society, beginning with the individual and his faithful adherence to the Word of God. In his second Chalcedon Newsletter (Oct. 31, 1965), my father called his readers to “undertake even now the task of reconstruction.” The term Christian Reconstruction would stick.
Chalcedon began as a ministry of ideas. It did not try to build organizationally. In fact, much of its work was in support of individuals and groups outside its scope. We helped some with grants, others with seminary tuition. Many had their first real exposure in the Chalcedon Report. Chalcedon gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to men who, my father believed, would further the Kingdom of God by their work, some far removed from the United States.
Chalcedon was twelve years old before it ever had an office of its own. Until then, it operated exclusively out of my father’s home. Volunteers or conscripted labor, like my sisters and me, collated and stapled the original mimeographed Newsletters on our dining room table. Meetings with Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, and other young scholars were in my parents’ home, sometimes at the kitchen table. Few photographs of such Chalcedon history exist. Chalcedon’s ministry was in the realm of ideas, and true to the parable, its influence has been like leaven, unseen until its effect is suddenly apparent.
Property values and corresponding taxes started to escalate rapidly in Los Angeles in the early 1970s and my parents began searching for a more rural home for Chalcedon and my father’s extensive library. Unable to find an affordable developed facility in 1975, they purchased a home on some property in Calaveras County, California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The property was subdivided to provide a home for Chalcedon. There Chalcedon’s first office building was built in 1977.
In 1976 my father started another organization, Ross House Books (Ross was Mother’s maiden name). This allowed him to publish his increasing number of titles and channel the proceeds into further publications. Many earlier titles were brought back into print. Today Ross House Books has more Rushdoony titles (as well as works by other authors) in print than ever before. In 2004 Ross House Books merged with Chalcedon.
In the late 1970s, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the government made a concerted effort to bring private education under the central control of the states. Numerous cases around the country were brought against schools, churches, and individuals. Homeschools, independent Christian schools, and churches that operated schools were brought up on charges by government officials. School administrators, pastors, and parents were often charged. In more than a few instances, officials removed children from homes under charges of truancy (defined as not being in a government school). There was a full frontal assault on the right of independent private education in America, and ultimately on the free exercise of religion itself.
Chalcedon took part in these trials. My father traveled extensively in these years, serving as an expert witness on church-state and education matters for the defense. These court cases ultimately resulted in a defeat of statist control over private education. As a result of these cases, my father and Chalcedon became better known. Years later, when the name of R. J. Rushdoony was mentioned to President and Mrs. Clinton, they both recognized the name and knew him for his involvement in education.
I joined the staff of Chalcedon in 1978 after teaching school for three years. I served in several capacities; I was, at first, even again given my old job of collating the materials for the Chalcedon Report and inserting them into envelopes. I suppose you could say I started in the “mail room,” but back then that was in my parents’ home or mine. My wife, Darlene, my mother, Dorothy, and I, as well as other volunteers, would mail the Chalcedon Report out each month. It was only in the mid 1980s that we began using the services of a mailing house.
Economy has always been a by-word at Chalcedon. The foundation could have built several elegant buildings for the cost of what it gave to other Kingdom-builders. I have no doubt this is part of the reason it has been blessed. Chalcedon has sought to promote the Kingdom of God, not an organizational structure.
The legacy of Chalcedon is its message and the writings of R. J. Rushdoony. He looked at a culture and a church and saw its errors as deeper and more systemic then others.
Before my father founded Chalcedon, a wealthy man offered him a nice home and a good salary if he would work toward reversing the drift of his denomination toward modernism. My father refused. He wanted not to reverse a failing institution but to call all believes to Christian Reconstruction, a rebuilding of themselves, their families, their callings, and all else in terms of their faith. In this sense he was truly prophetic, not in the sense of foretelling but in the sense of forth telling. He proclaimed the all-encompassing claims of God and the total power given to His Christ. He called modern believers to act in terms of the faith they professed and the certainty of its victory in time and eternity.
His dying words to his gathered family were, “We have an ordination to victory in this battle. Oh, my God, have mercy upon us. Oh my Lord! Oh, my God, we thank thee for this great calling to victory. Oh, my God, bless us in this battle.”
The strength of Chalcedon’s message is its confidence in the certainty of victory. This victory was not in my father’s lifetime and it may not be in mine or yours. But it is certain. Any uncertainty involved is not in God, but in our faithfulness to the promise He has given us.
In preparing for this fortieth anniversary issue of the magazine, it was hard to find any photographs of Chalcedon’s history. Our history was poorly documented in that sense, but in another sense is readily accessible. Read dozens of books by R. J. Rushdoony and others. They are both the history and legacy of Chalcedon’s first forty years. If you want to know Chalcedon’s history, look at the freedom of Christian and home schools in this country, and the enduring legacy of the scores of thousands of students who have been trained therein.
Defeat for the Christian is to quit the battle to which he has been called. Victory is certain, only our fidelity in the conflict is in question. When Adoniram Judson’s 19th century mission to Burma was destroyed and he was put in a wretched prison, his jailer mocked him by asking how his prospects then looked. “As bright as the promises of God,” Judson replied. This is the confidence of faith to which we are called and which Chalcedon, by the grace of God, will continue to proclaim for years to come.
Topics: Biography, Christian Reconstruction, Education, Government, R. J. Rushdoony