Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part IV The “Painful Years”
I was born in Santa Cruz, California, in 1954, just thirteen months after my parents’ arrival from the Reservation. My sisters and I have many happy childhood memories of Santa Cruz. We lived in a two-story Craftsman house on Berkeley Way, a picturesque street with our own playgrounds of empty lots, fields, and a nearby creek. We walked to school, and if we happened to find a pop bottle to return, there was a little market nearby with lots of penny candies to choose from.
When my father heard there was a vacant pastorate in Santa Cruz, he was already familiar with the town. At least as early as his college days he had gone to the beach there. Crowds from as far away as San Francisco, seventy-five miles to the north, flocked to its Boardwalk and carnival rides each summer weekend. Other than its fame as a beach town, it was a retirement community, so its demographic was dominated by a distinctly older, often widowed population.
Many years later my siblings and I sat down with my father to record some oral family history. When the narrative approached the nine years my father was in Santa Cruz, he said, “Those were painful years for me; I’d rather not talk about them.”
We were a bit taken aback so we went on. We certainly knew the source of the pain he was referring to, however disappointed we could not reminisce about our own pleasant memories. My older siblings personally recall some of the events which caused Dad such pain, sometimes to the point of nightmares. The totality of our experiences, however, was mixed with many real joys of childhood. Dad absorbed the brunt of the pain from those years, not us.
Many of the details of my father’s experiences in Santa Cruz (1953–1962) I had to glean from his work journals. In addition, I read through a large collection of papers that I had left on a shelf in his library. I had briefly reviewed it some years ago, after Dad’s death, but it was and still is painful for me as well, as many of the wounds of those years were familial. So I also put the bad memories in the past. I have only occasionally referred to them in defense of my father, and then briefly. My sisters and I will sometimes speak to one another of them. I felt a responsibility to share this article with them, and to solicit their critiques and comments before its publication. They not only did so, but suggested that they subscribe their names to it so that we might speak with unanimity as to the presentation of the facts.
The pain is a sufficient reason to avoid the unpleasant aspects of the Santa Cruz years. But then, too, I do not want to dishonor my mom with a “Mommie Dearest” tell-all. Still, when I decided the centennial of my father’s birth was a logical time to write a series of historical sketches of his life, I felt that perhaps it was time to lay out the facts as a counterpoint to the insinuations that sometimes arise. In doing that, I knew I would have to address the subject of Mom’s mental illness and the divorce. This is the hardest article I have ever had to write, but it has given me a renewed sense of gratitude to my father who so protected us that what was to him a time of pain was to us a time of happy memories.
Trinity Presbyterian Church
My father received word of the possibility of the pastorate of Trinity Presbyterian in Santa Cruz on Tuesday, October 7, 1952. In Owyhee he was under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Presbytery. That Sunday he traveled to California and preached at the Stone Church in San Jose. He received word that there was already opposition to the prospect of his entry into the San Jose Presbytery.
Received word on arrival of bitter and slanderous statements concerning me made at Presbytery by modernist leaders, especially area executive R. W., who regarded the possibility of my entrance into the Presbytery as a tragedy. Trinity committee approached by W., etc.1
Later that day he had a meeting with the Trinity committee he described as “very rewarding.”2
He candidated at Trinity on the 26th of the month and again on November 2. The three previous pastors had not fared well at Trinity. Two had lasted just eighteen and twelve months respectively and the previous pastor had been accused of adultery with a member. My future stepmother, Dorothy, was a member of Trinity at the time. She was favorably impressed with his preaching, so much so she felt he would never be approved by the church’s “old guard.” Years later she would recount her feelings about my father’s prospects: “That’s one man this church will never call!” A congregational meeting after his second Sunday voted to call him, 115 voting yes, two ballots left blank, and none opposed.
That put the ball in the court of the Presbytery of San Jose. Years later, my father would write of two reasons for the attempt by the “hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church USA to eliminate me from that denomination.”3
Back of this attempt was their hatred of my stand, and the frequent success of my stand. I had opposed two tendencies in the church strongly. The first was the growth of a bureaucracy. Unhappily, in too many churches today we are seeing the concentration of power in the hands of the leaders of the church, its schools, and institutions. All bureaucratic roads lead ultimately to Rome, in that unity, peace, and increased power (and use of funds) by the powers that be are stressed above faith and doctrine. Before the Presbyterian Church USA went modernist, it first went bureaucratic. Second, was the doctrinal defection. This I opposed strongly also. On these two grounds, a strong effort was made to eliminate me in 1952, with no small unethical tactics used…4
At least two special meetings of Presbytery were held to discuss Trinity’s call to my father before one at which my father was allowed to speak on December 15. He recounted it in his journal that evening:
An hour’s debate before I was permitted to enter to answer questions, which I did for 1 1/4 hrs. Questions: re. faith and polity; re. Westminster Herald. Why did I dare to differ with a majority? I had no right to write for Westminster Theological Journal or U.S.A. Bitter and mostly personal comments. Did I plan to go to Trinity to split the church? Left meeting. Motion by P.: 6 mo. trial period for me. Carried in secret ballot, 19–16. Stormy debate against it, with majority vote giving me new strength. F. M., previously against me, now for me, standing up to point out that “threats, by telephone and letter,” had been made against him & others if voting for me. Immediately squelched by executives present; later left the meeting shaken. Unanimous voted [sic] then extended trial period to 12 months, vote on call due in October. Effect: to still my voice until then in regard to publication. Main opposition: C. H. of Palo Alto, M. G., San Jose. The latter, in hardly controllable venom, made threat to stir up trouble in Trinity in presence of three Trinity men. Prayer session with C. B., H. M., J. H. Left for S.F., [his sister] Rose’s. Little sleep.5
The family left Owyhee on January 9, 1953, and arrived in Santa Cruz after midnight the following day. My father’s years in Santa Cruz were filled with activity, so much so that his journal entries grew shorter for a time.
To the morning services and Sunday school, a second morning service was added in 1954 as well as an evening service and a once-a-month shut-in service. He began a weekly radio program on KSCO that ran for several years.6 His work journal is filled with meetings he attended, groups he addressed, and his interaction with other churches.
The large number of elderly people in Santa Cruz meant that hospital visitations were a regular part of his week. He made himself available for those retirees without local family or church affiliation. Funerals thus also became a regular part of his schedule. His first was two weeks after his arrival in Santa Cruz. His journal records 117 funerals during his years in Santa Cruz.
Trinity experienced steady growth, but it was a church with serious problems. The “old guard” my future step-mother Dorothy had been aware of was a constant source of problems, yet they were firmly entrenched in leadership positions. One of them told his neighbor that they were “either going to run the church or ruin it.” That neighbor later recounted that “Although I live near Trinity it has kept us from attending church.”7
The theology of the membership was also quite varied. Several held to sinless perfectionism and were ready to denounce others they deemed unspiritual. Just prior to his arrival, a faith healer had been hired, then dismissed by the session for his shady practices. Very soon after his arrival my father had to rebuff requests from the session for revival meetings and regular altar calls. Others were opposed to infant baptism and covenant theology. One man interrupted an evening service to attack my father’s spiritual standards, in part because he preached too much of the Old Testament and not enough against sins like smoking and social drinking. One woman, a “convert” of the faith healer, refused to take communion because of the call to examine oneself and repent of sins. Since she felt she had achieved sinless perfection, she felt she had nothing to confess and so refused to partake. On communion Sundays, she made a point to sit near the front of the church, so her refusal to partake was noticed by all. Not too surprisingly, she became one of the leading sources of problems for my father. The session was not much help, as it was controlled by the old guard.
The various complaints within the church may likely have contributed to opposition he felt from without. In 1955 my father noted:
Twin Lakes Baptist Church members & leaders believe a person cannot be a Christian if Presbyterian. This belief concerning me: I do not believe in regeneration (because of my covenantal theology and infant baptism). Two modernist churchmen, regarding me: they did not like my preaching because “there’s too much Bible in it.”
O church of God, wither hast thou wandered!8
The brewing trouble in the church was not lost on its members. After recording a radio talk one Tuesday in 1955, Dad took my mom shopping and then visited some church members. He noted one particular incident in his journal that day:
Mrs. G., near death, unconscious most of the day, recognized my voice and spoke. I read portions of Psalm 139, then prayed. When I opened my eyes, she had pushed herself to a sitting position, bracing herself with both arms, and prayed for me. She thanked God for bringing me to Trinity, for blessing her through me, and prayed that “we” (the people of Trinity) might not be a burden to me when the others need me so much and should hear me. This blessing from a dying woman is one of the greatest moments in my life, and I left in tears of humility before God and thanksgiving to Him.9
One Sunday some months later, he confronted some of the troublemakers after they had tried to take over the Young Adults Sunday School class and teach their ideas of sinless perfectionism:
Saw A. S. re. class disturbance, she inferring that I am a false prophet or preacher; L. B., O. A. present. I challenged them to show me one bit of evidence that I had not preached the Word of God faithfully, & they were silent, save for O., who objected to my reference to Elvis Presley during the lesson.10
My father’s hope was that the church’s growth would allow new leadership to outnumber and replace the troublemakers, though my father noted the nominating committees were largely self-perpetuating. Very soon, however, my mom’s worsening mental health would provide an opportunity for this group to force my father out of the church. Later, in an official statement to Presbytery’s Judicial Commission, he stated:
This group has controlled Trinity and perpetuated itself while never representative of the church. In my 4 years here, the church has had a greater growth than in the past 15; this means that the church was rapidly outgrowing them. Unless they eliminate me now, using my wife as an excuse, they are finished. It should be added, that these people are not givers; of them, 12 have given nothing this year, and the rest next to nothing, and this is typical of their financial past.11
My father had first picked up a book by Cornelius Van Til in 1946. In the university Professor Edwin Strong had spoken of “the given,” though he was referring to the necessity of speaking of evolution as a fact by starting one’s argument with a pre-existing cosmos. Van Til used the term “presupposition,” and his starting point was the triune God and His revealed Word. Van Til was a seminary professor. What he presented as a philosophy of religion my father would later expand into an epistemology and a comprehensive worldview based on Scripture. Later, his theonomy would move that worldview into the practical areas of its application to every area of life and thought.
My father immediately began a correspondence with Van Til whose thought was later the subject of his first book,By What Standard? (1958). Van Til went over the manuscript and made comments and suggested changes my father should make, including toning down his excessive praise of the Westminster Seminary professor.
Santa Cruz also provided my father the opportunity to see Dr. Van Til on a reoccurring basis. Van Til was a frequent guest at the Pinecrest, California, summer home of his good friend and benefactor Dr. Gilbert Den Dulk, of Ripon, who became my father’s personal physician. In August of 1955 my father notes that he prepared for what he called a “debate” on Van Til with James Daane in Mt. Hermon (a Christian conference center near Santa Cruz), and even though it appears this was a closed, private event, he considered it important and described it as “a resounding victory over Daane.”12
In addition, my father’s eschatology crystallized during these years. Though he had read Warfield, he later said he was definitely a postmillennial after reading Roderick Campbell’s Israel and the New Covenant. His work journal notes he completed it on February 29, 1956.
Both his presuppositionalism and his postmillennialism must have seemed as bizarrely aberrant by the modernists in the PCUSA as well as the old guard at Trinity. In 1955 my father noted one particular condemnation with a sense of humor:
According to T. M., Dr. J. H. B., president of San Anselmo Seminary, former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, declares, among other things, that my opposition to the church hierarchy indicates not only my sinfulness but also that I am “devil-possessed.” This is a compliment, coming from him, and good news, in that it indicates a return to conservative theology on Dr. B.’s part, since heretofore he has not believed in the devil’s existence. Perhaps, having now recognized the devil’s existence, he may even admit God’s!13
Dad had been trying to get Mom to seek professional help since the beginning of their marriage when he had become aware of her mental illness. Much of the reason for the move from the Reservation to California was the hope that a more conventional social context would be good for her. Instead, Trinity provided her with a circle of individuals who were willing to encourage her delusions.
In Owyhee my father had read books on mental health to Mom. In the early 1950s the number of books he personally read on the subject and noted in his journal increased noticeably.
Perhaps it was the hormones of childbirth, but pregnancy seemed to improve her state of mind and she was at her best the month after delivery. After that her symptoms returned. I was her last baby in February of 1954. Her condition deteriorated thereafter. My father recorded her acts of violence: In 1955, “52 times, an average of once a week,” in 1956, “95 times, better than once every fourth day.”14 At times she would freely admit her illness and yet at other times deny it. At times she threatened scandal and divorce if Dad forced her to get help; at other times she promised she would never do anything to hurt his ministry. As my father continued to insist she get professional help, she began to accuse him of being mentally ill; this would become a recurring theme in her talk; when the church gossips heard it, the story grew to her line of defense and the story line of the malcontents.
In September 1955, Mom did, with the encouragement of a few church friends who had no doubts about the seriousness of her condition, begin to see Dr. Harvey E. Pinto, a psychiatrist in San Jose. He would later write to the presiding divorce judge that
…Mrs. Rushdoony…was totally unwilling to accept the premise that there was anything wrong with her, and constantly belabored the proposition that because her husband was mentally disturbed, it was necessary for her to explain in most minute detail all that transpired between them in order to clarify her status, and at the same time, to further incriminate her husband.
Because she would not accept the idea that there was something wrong with her, and because she seemed to derive nothing of value from the therapeutic session with me, I terminated treatment on December 19, 1956.15
That last session with Dr. Pinto precipitated an angry reaction from Mom. The next day my father noted the fallout in his journal:
To San Jose to see Dr. Pinto; Arda extremely wild over doctor’s statements. Funerals: 2 pm, R. F., 2:30 pm G. M. Call: Mrs. Sutton. Saw Louise Robinson re. Arda’s behavior on return. 7:30 pm Bible Study and Prayer. Arda raging; left house for [church] study at 1am. Read Andre Parrot: Nineveh and the Old Testament. Returned home, slept from 3:00–5:30 am, when Arda began again.16
There were many such tirades, which often went on far into the night.
Mom’s reaction to whatever Dr. Pinto said in that last session was likely only aggravated by his letter dated the following day explaining in writing his termination of the sessions:
…It has become increasingly more apparent that psychiatric treatment has little to offer you at present for several reasons. First, you are not willing or able to see that you are ill; second, you have an unreasonable desire to prove that your husband alone is at fault; third, you have such an overpowering tendency to rationalize your own behavior that you can’t see relationships objectively; and fourth in a metaphysical sense, you don’t see the forest for the trees.
In retrospect it is obvious that from the beginning you have not wanted psychiatric help. You came to me not to get help for yourself but only to get official verification that there is nothing wrong with you. For your own best interests, I would suggest that you reevaluate your relationship to your family, to the church, to the community, etc. with an open mind, and without the bias that has colored your thinking about these matters.17
The emotional outbursts of my mom that I remember from much later years were dramatic and draining. She was determined to blame my father even then, and would frequently begin to tell her story to perfect strangers. Her purpose was to elicit sympathy by portraying herself as a victim of a terrible injustice, a loving mother whose children had been taken from her by her husband. I was the youngest, and was often able to quietly slip away.
When she wanted to pressure us into saying we wanted to live with her or acknowledging the truth of her stories (concurrent with later custody hearings), she would park her car in a remote place which offered us no place to escape. Sobbing would give way at times to anger because we were non-committal. Actually, we had made up our minds, I think; we just did not want to say so and precipitate a more pronounced tirade.
I do not remember the tirades or the violence of my mom when she was at home, though my older sisters have such memories, but none of what my father noted in his journals or the doctors noted in their reports seems hard for me to believe based on my later experiences with her. My last lengthy visitation with her was in 1971. My siblings were grown and either married or working. I was seventeen and so on this visit I was alone. It was obvious she felt this was the last chance she had to convince me of her every claim. The more I balked, the more determined she became. It was probably the worst experience of my life; for a few weeks I experienced just a bit of what my father had for years.
By the time Dr. Pinto terminated Mom’s therapy sessions after fifteen months some of my siblings were of an age where they were aware of Mom’s behavior. Ronald, the oldest and nine years my senior, was eleven at the time Mom ranted well into the night after that last session with Dr. Pinto. A few days later he ran away from home; he was found in Watsonville, a town eighteen miles away.18
Life at home was becoming increasingly difficult. My sister Rebecca can remember Mom banging her head against the wall. Windows were broken and she more frequently lashed out physically at my father. Joanna has a vivid memory of Mom throwing herself against the bathroom door, cracking it in the process, because my father had locked it. I do not believe she ever directed her violence at my siblings or me.
The house suffered as well. In Owyhee my father had done most of the domestic chores. In Santa Cruz there were too many demands on his time and piles of laundry, dishes, and clutter made it completely unsuitable for entertaining guests; other church members performed that function.
When my father decided to tell Dr. and Mrs. Den Dulk about the seriousness of the situation (he had already surmised a problem and offered some sort of advice to Mom at dinner, which made her suspicious that my father had primed him), Dad apologized for previously lying about a bandage he was wearing but did not want him to dress; it was an injury Mom had inflicted. An officer of Trinity whose wife often entertained for my parents had already written to Dr. Van Til explaining the situation because he felt one was in order after some disturbing behavior of Mom’s during his visit.19
Dr. Pinto had privately recommended my mom’s commitment to my father. By law, voluntary commitment could be terminated at any time by the patient. As Dr. Pinto noted in his letter, Mom did not want treatment, but a declaration of her mental health. For the rest of her life she would falsely claim the doctors had given her a clean bill of mental health, though their correspondence indicates unanimity on just the opposite. Dr. Pinto gave my father letters to explain the need to the church session. Mom begged for another chance and my father delayed acting.
Unknown to him, Mom had appealed to several of the malcontents in the church and gossip carried the news of Mom’s potential commitment throughout the church and beyond. The self-inflicted injuries and violence kept reoccurring. At times, my father had to leave the house and only felt safe returning with other church members who had no illusions about the seriousness of Mom’s condition. On May 22, my father saw the District Attorney about involuntary commitment, since Mom refused to get treatment of her own volition. An informal meeting of the session with Mom occurred a few days later and she was examined at the county hospital by Dr. Julius Heuscher, whose report to the court concluded with:
The clinical and test findings are consistent with the diagnosis of a severe character neurosis with both schizoid and manic-depressive features. May I add here that in our conversation Doctor Pinto, M.D. seemed to concur fully with this opinion.
An intelligent and in many ways valuable person who suffers from such a disorder will usually be able to retain proper social functioning outside the home long after serious difficulties have developed within the home…
It is my opinion that from a psychiatric standpoint there is sufficient evidence of a mental disorder in Mrs. Rushdoony to warrant a recommendation of commitment for further observation and treatment. If the court should decide that there is not enough legal cause for commitment, I would strongly recommend and hope that a temporary separation could be arranged, whereby Mrs. Rushdoony would live with some relatives and possibly obtain further psychotherapy or counselling. Meanwhile the children should remain in the custody of her husband who, by getting psychiatric counselling, may be helped to understand whether and to what extent he may have unconsciously aggravated his wife’s disorder and in which way he could help her when she is able to return home.20
Two days before her examination at the county hospital, that informal meeting of the session revealed that the gossip had already reached far and wide with a host of accusations against my father now circulating. In the coming months these were repeated many times, but never substantiated. A very painful family issue was turning into a church fight. Despite my father’s pleas that this be left as a family matter, both local and denominational church officials assumed they had jurisdiction. He would relate later:
I told them this was a medical matter, and the court hearing was in the presence of a panel of doctors and asked them to await the verdict. On Tuesday May 28, Mrs. Rushdoony was taken to the county hospital for examination by the county psychiatrist; this is a standard procedure. I asked P. T., undersheriff, a friend, to pick up Arda, so that it would be kindly and by a friend. He did so, not in uniform, and with patience and friendliness. On Wednesday, May 29 because of the wild stories concerning me being circulated among the women, I called the executive committee of the Women’s Association together, took in five witnesses to Arda’s conduct, hallucinations, and violence, who briefly, prayerfully, and kindly outlined the situation. I asked that they abstain from gossip and allow her to be hospitalized for her and the family’s welfare. After that, I avoided all further contact with all, and counselled my friends to say nothing. P. M. threatened me repeatedly, (see Dr. den Dulk’s statements and Mrs. P. D.’s statement) stating that unless I dropped the hearing, I would be run out of the church and ministry, and petitions to secure that end would be circulated immediately.21
The meeting with the executive committee of the Women’s Association occurred the same day as one with the Presbytery’s Ministerial Relations Committee regarding the complaints against my father, all based on the largely anonymous gossip that was circulating. This group had vocally objected to the county regarding the court hearing on commitment. Apparently those proceedings were terminated, though by whom is not clear. A compromise was reached. Dr. Den Dulk arranged for a voluntary commitment in Modesto, California, under the supervision of Dr. Victor Simecek. The church took up a collection to pay for the hospitalization.
Amazingly, Dr. Simecek allowed the church complainants to assume control over my mom’s treatment. He communicated directly with one of them (P.M., who had tried to intimidate my father), not my father or Dr. Den Dulk, the referring physician, and Mom was not hospitalized, but placed in a hotel and received mild shock treatments for a few days as an outpatient at which point she refused further treatment and considered herself cured, still blaming my father for all her problems. Dr. Simecek noted this refusal in a letter as his initial “diagnosis of Manic Depressive reaction, manic type with paranoid trends.”22 As Dr. Pinto and my father already realized, voluntary treatment was pointless.
When Mom went to Modesto my father assumed it would be a lengthy stay, rather than four days. He sent Sharon (7), Martha (5), and me (3), to our Aunt Rose’s in San Francisco, Rebecca (10) and Joanna (8 1/2) to our great aunt in Oakland because he was now so fully consumed with defending himself. He wrote in his journal,
Rose and Mr. Devolet here, left at 3:30pm with 5 children. Ronny remained; one of the saddest hours in my life, to see my children go away for a time when I have so longed for deliverance and a godly home.23
The next day Dad recorded in his journal what he had heard Ronald say, talking in his sleep: “I almost went crazy myself.”24
Committee and Commission
To its great credit, the Presbytery appointed a medical doctor as one of three members of a committee to investigate the complaints about my father’s handling of Mom’s condition. They also required all charges against him be made in writing and signed. His supporters and detractors worked feverishly to submit letters. Because the gossip often hung on the false supposition that Mom had been cleared by several doctors and that it was my father who was mentally ill, Dad agreed to a psychiatric examination to be submitted to Presbytery.
I should note that my mom never returned to our home after her first stay in Modesto. She apparently returned to Modesto a short while later, but her activities are hard to account for during this period. The troublemakers in the church housed her and kept her location secret from my father. They also spread some very false stories, including one that they had letters from several doctors who had supposedly ruled my father, not her, the one that needed help. What they did at this juncture may have prevented her from ever acknowledging her condition. She needed intervention and they gave her encouragement. When this group assumed my mom’s care and support they also provided her with the unshakable conviction that everyone knew she was fine. Long after they abandoned her cause, she remained convinced that their support proved her every delusion true. They used her for a time, but she used their support and lies as her substantiation for the rest of her life. My siblings and I know this because we became her primary audience in those years.
To a certain point, I can understand that Mom’s mental health was the cause for much of her problems, and I can also understand how a person of her very real intelligence and education would insist on her own self-evaluation. The denial of the illness that was apparent to others is even understandable, because it is part of human nature to resist admitting our faults. It is this very aspect of human nature on which my thoughts must shift, however, because one aspect of human nature I do not want to excuse is sin. The fact will always remain that she took refuge in lies. That the lies were a defense mechanism does not detract from their seriousness. She lied, others repeated the lies, and some even fabricated lies and convinced her of their truth. I cannot speak as to how mental illness and sin intersect, but I believe both were certainly present when Mom turned on my father rather than face the reality that there was something wrong with her.
Within seven weeks, the local Presbytery’s committee issued its report, which I include here in its entirety:
At the request of the Session and a group of members of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Santa Cruz, the Presbytery appointed a committee to investigate matters in the church and at this moment the committee reports as follows:
I. Regarding Mrs. Arda Rushdoony --- The committee has reviewed extensive medical reports from three qualified M. D. psychiatrists. These three psychiatrists had examined Mrs. R. at length, and all arrived independently at the same diagnosis, manic depressive reaction type psychosis. This is a type of insanity (or mental disease) in which stages of melancholia or depression of mood and emotion alternate with periods of more or less pronounced maniacal excitement. There are, of course, periods between the extreme phases when the patient may appear essentially normal. This is an illness that should be treated in a psychiatric institution. It is an illness for which patients can be committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Mrs. Rushdoony tried psychotherapy in the office of a private psychiatrist for a year and a half. In December 1956, the psychiatrist terminated treatment because Mrs. R. was not improving, and lacked the ability to have realistic insight into her condition. He counseled the Rev. R. to arrange for commitment. As a compromise Mrs. R. tried shock treatments in a private institution near Modesto, but after three treatments refused to return for more.
Therefore, because of the diagnosis of manic depressive psychosis; and because Mrs. R. failed to improve on a year and a half of office psychotherapy, and because she lacked the purposiveness to continue voluntary institutional therapy after but three treatments, it is recommended that commitment proceedings be instituted on her behalf for observation and treatment at Agnews State Hospital.
It should be noted that persons entering Agnews State Hospital voluntarily may sign themselves out even though still psychotic. (The hospital can hold them no longer than 7 days after they request release). Thus a patient with variations in mood would very likely leave before completing an adequate course of treatment.
The welfare of the patient is our sincere concern. Preventing her from obtaining adequate treatment or subjecting her to repeated courses of inadequate treatment may cause a worsening of her condition. This could produce reinforcement of her delusions to a degree where she might never be able to gain insight into her condition. In short, the disease would become incurable. It is therefore advised that no effort be made to interfere with her hospitalization.
It is recommended that the Rev. R. and his family accept counsel from the psychiatrists and cooperating agencies in order that the rehabilitation of the patient may be as complete as possible upon her return to the home.
II. Regarding the Rev. Mr. Rushdoony --- Since rumors have been circulated that Rev. Rushdoony was mentally ill rather than Mrs. R., on the advice of the chairman of Presbytery’s committee, the Rev. R. submitted to thorough psychological tests and the examining psychiatrist has made a full report to Presbytery’s committee and cleared the Rev. R. both as to his mental health and with regards to his responsibility for Mrs. Rushdoony’s illness. The committee noted the patience and Christian concern that the Rev. R. has shown through the extended period of his wife’s illness, and wishes to call to the congregation’s attention that Rev. R. was acting on the advice of competent psychiatrists in taking steps for her hospitalization.
III. Regarding the relationship of Pastor and Congregation --- Since the problem of Trinity church has been placed in the hands of Presbytery by request of the Session and a portion of the congregation, the Presbytery will determine the steps necessary to solve the problem regarding the relationship of Pastor and congregation. This will be done without any undue loss of time, as we recognize the need for immediate action.
May God’s Will Be Done!
The Committee of San Jose Presbytery to counsel and advise in the Trinity situation.
Dr. R.R., MD
July 10, 1957
This report is being sent to all those whose signature appears upon the petition presented to the executive committee of Presbytery.25
Even before this report was available, both sides had learned of the committee’s decision. The Trinity complainants decided to appeal even as they circulated a petition to oust my father from the church. One or more detectives were hired in an attempt to substantiate claims against him. In an attempt to solicit scandalous information on my father, they told people that they had proof of various accusations against him, and in at least one instance, made up a new accusation. The detectives, who were paid by one of the church troublemakers, found nothing. On August 15, 1957, my father noted in his journal: “Learned that Arda was back in town…” The next day he added: “Arda telephoned in evening. Stated she is cured & innocent & I devil possessed.”
As noted by the Committee Report, a larger group, a special “Judicial Commission,” was appointed by Presbytery to look into the larger issue of conflict between pastor and congregation. They met with individuals on both sides. It heard complaints from many of my father’s supporters against those that were making these accusations, asking for their discipline. Most of the troublesome individuals stayed away from Trinity during this time. My father was hoping his exoneration regarding Mom’s care and the discipline of the offenders would end their harmful reign for good. A complete house-cleaning seemed within reach, particularly when the Judicial Commission made its findings which were acted on by the Presbytery on October 8, 1957.
My father was given a compulsory paid leave of absence for six months. The church session was removed and five members of the Presbytery (three ministers and two elders) were appointed as the “Administrative Commission” for a period of “at least” six months. Certain members of the Trinity congregation would not be permitted to hold “elective or appointive positions of any kind” for at least three years. Presbytery acted unanimously to pass the following resolution:
Insofar as charges regarding the moral turpitude of the Rev. R. J. Rushdoony, a member in good standing of San Jose Presbytery, are concerned, neither this Presbytery or the Administrative Commission has found any of these charges to be substantiated.26
Within two weeks, on October 18, Mom entered Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara. The church proceedings had disrupted the court proceedings, so this was apparently also a voluntary commitment. She stayed there until March of 1958.
On Christmas day my father noted in his journal: “Remembered by many godly friends this day. Lord, remember me.”27The Presbytery’s actions were encouraging to that point, though I doubt my father was anxious for a leave of absence. He began his leave, but week after week went by and no action was begun against those identified for discipline.
Everything changed very quickly at a meeting of the Presbytery on January 15, 1958. Without warning, that body rescinded the disciplinary action against the Trinity members and dissolved the pastoral relationship between my father and Trinity Presbyterian Church. He was later told the offenders would “continue to make trouble” and that he was “expendable.”28 The action against my father was appealed by members of Trinity on January 25. They designated several individuals, including two elders as their representatives. These stated that their protest was that the action was illegal on several points, including: grounds were not stated or recorded,29 no notice of the intended action was given to either pastor or congregation as required,30 and that such an action was not allowed at a pro re nata (special) meeting unless it was specified in the call.31 Six months later, on June 17, the Presbytery would legalize its action by publishing the resolution prior to its meeting, then re-passing it. Immediately following that second action they read into the minutes my father’s letter of resignation from San Jose Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church USA which also notified them of his new ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church32 (OPC).
In April, three days after receiving word that Mom was filing for divorce and requesting our custody, my father was visited by Rev. Henry Coray regarding the possibility of his entering the OPC. During the uproar about Mom’s treatment in 1957, members of San Jose Presbytery (PCUSA) had suggested my father consider either the OPC or the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as a more agreeable fit.
On April 25, his forty-second birthday, my father’s supporters hosted a birthday party with sixty-five people present. They were interested in a new church as well. They dropped their appeal of Presbytery’s actions, and they formed the core of Santa Cruz OPC, organized by the Credentials Committee of the Presbytery of California on May 12, 1958. That committee had been given all the documents available to both the special committee and the commission of the PCUSA. They approved his entry before the divorce trial or decision without a single dissenting vote, being fully informed of the facts. Moreover, in September of that year (just three months after the divorce trial and decree) he was appointed to a committee to state Presbytery’s stand on divorce in general and a particular case of annulment that was before it.33Three years later, ten OPC churches in California and Oregon sent my father gifts totaling $340 towards his mounting legal expenses in one of several custody hearings brought by Mom.
After five months at Agnews State Hospital, Mom had asked to be released. The diagnosis she had received there was no more promising than previous ones. The Superintendent and Medical Director wrote that “…her illness while not totally disabling is of such a type that, it is very unlikely to be benefited by therapy or to have a remission.” Dr. Julius Heuscher, M.D. summarized his opinion and that of her personal doctor at Agnews, Dr. Bernard F. Hanson, M.D., as a diagnosis that “varied between paranoid personality and schizophrenia.”36
Talking with the two eldest of the children now living with the father, I convinced myself that they strongly prefer not only to remain in the custody of their father, but also prefer this to a reconciliatory attempt of the parents. Undoubtedly, they have been influenced somewhat by the father’s feelings and attitudes, but it was my impression that their preference was not primarily caused by these.
In view of the foregoing, I doubt very much whether placement of the children with the mother, in case of divorce, would work out satisfactorily. In fact, I feel that this might lead to great difficulties and to more harm to the children and the mother.37
We had visited her once at Agnews. Dr. Heuscher referred to talking to the two older children, but Sharon, who was eight, remembers at some point being interviewed about her preference with Martha, age six, in the room and being clear that she wanted to live with Dad. To the end of her life Mom would maintain that these doctors at Agnews had told her that there was nothing wrong with her.
Her appeal to the church having failed, and my father insisting further treatment was necessary, Mom decided instead to file for divorce and seek our custody as well as support. Eleven years before “no fault” divorce, California required a cause for divorce action, and evidence was presented at the trial. There were, in 1958, seven grounds for divorce: adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, willful neglect, habitual intemperance, conviction of a felony, and incurable insanity. The most common complaint was “extreme cruelty” which could refer to abuse but usually referenced what other states called “irreconcilable differences.” Because my father wanted to contest custody he entered a cross-complaint.
At the trial, Dr. Hansen from Agnews testified as to her mental condition as a court witness, not my father’s. Mom had a few friends testify on her behalf, but made no effort to substantiate any of the many allegations she had encouraged over the previous year and a half. “Not one word said against me; by admission of court to attorney, no ground for divorce established but we did not want to file ‘no suit.’”38 The divorce proceedings concluded on June 23, 1958.
On June 27th an interlocutory decree of divorce was filed which granted a divorce to both parties on the grounds of “extreme cruelty.” In a move that was extremely rare in 1958, my father was not only given all community property, but full custody of my siblings and me. Mom was awarded just $1.00 per month support.39 They had been married for fifteen and a half years. That evening we had our first brief visitation with Mom. Eventually they became weekly overnight visits.
Mom lived the rest of her life near Santa Cruz, mostly in Mount Hermon; she worked intermittently as either a teacher or a conference center cook. She died of cancer in 1977 just shy of her sixty-second birthday. My father paid for her interment in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Orthodox Presbyterian Church
In light of the unexpected action by the PCUSA and the old rumors in the community that had been given new credibility by it, my father’s decision to stay in Santa Cruz may seem surprising. The bitterness of the old guard at Trinity remained. Sharon and Rebecca, then eleven, had friends from Trinity refuse to talk to them at school. After hearing of my father’s removal from the pulpit, Grandpa Rushdoony, virtually blind, wrote him:
…Mother’s and my heart go out prayerfully for you. Certainly you are made by God’s grace of a true heroic spirit being able to endure what unjustly you went through in your church and home life. Thanks be in God for His sustaining and upholding power. As long as you keep your present unwavering faith in God you will have buoyancy of life in spite of all counter currents…
My dear son, there is no reason or any ground for you and your friends to be perplexed and down-hearted. We are born and believed in Christ for such days.40
Grandma had already penned a mother’s practical advice:
We are very sorry that the Presbytery has taken such action against you.
We think as long as you are there Arda & … will do their best to talk against you and make trouble, so please when this term of the school ends take the children & come here & have a peaceful life and let the people do what they want it is better you are far away from them so they won’t bother you in any way.
You can come here and let the children start school here and do not think about anything whatsoever we have is yours too. When you are here we can talk and plan about future work.
Please do as I write to you it will be better for you as well as the friends of yours in the church.
God will open a new door for you I am sure and will pray for it and also to give you power to stand all your difficulties.
It would have been easier to leave town, but several dozen of Trinity’s members had now had enough of its old guard clique. Sixty-six persons signed a letter requesting admission to the OPC with my father as their pastor. Thirty went to his installation at Presbytery. Fifty attended the first service the following Sunday.
His ministry did change somewhat. Some doors were closed because of the rumors, still fed by Mom, though fewer and fewer people wanted to listen to her anymore. She tried to get my siblings and me to believe the same stories two Presbyteries had dismissed for lack of evidence.
I was four years old when we began visiting Mom after the divorce. I had hardly seen her for the previous year and have only one vague memory of her in the home. My memories of Santa Cruz were of my father caring for six young children, with help from the church women in the form of ironing, haircuts, mending, and meals. The house was clean. Many of our clothes were hand-me-downs, so we look a little ragged at times in our pictures but our home life was stable. My Mom I knew as someone I visited. She tried to do fun things with us, but even our overnight stays took their emotional toll on us. She would frequently say awful things about Dad, but that was just something I ignored. Home was with Dad, and I liked it. It was a long time before I understood the extent of what he had gone through. I certainly did not realize at that time the extent of Mom’s mental and emotional issues.
In a later custody hearing (Mom was constantly fighting for custody or longer visitations) the judge ordered that neither parent criticize the other to us children. We knew Dad had a very negative view of Mom, but he never talked about things until we asked as adults. Mom, on the other hand, could at any given moment launch into a histrionic account designed to elicit sympathy. Mom’s one-sided accounts were always something I just endured. I lived with Dad and could never re-mold the father I knew into the image Mom portrayed.
Apparently, neither could many people at Trinity, who formed the core of the Santa Cruz OPC. I remember it as a close-knit group, many of whom likely felt hurt by the events at Trinity along with my father. Many of them knew not only Mom’s condition but the involvement of the Trinity troublemakers. Many had testified to the Special Commission and asked them to do something about those who had spread the rumors and false accusations. They likely felt that if my father was expendable to the PCUSA, so were they.
Whispers and Suspicions
In September of 1958 my father was invited to speak at The Central California League of Men’s Societies meeting at the Christian Reformed Church in Ripon. In October, just three weeks before the event, he received a two-sentence letter cancelling his invitation: “Due to the circumstances you are in at present…”42 Dad had spent a year and a half defending himself against anonymous rumors and whispered accusations. He was unwilling to let such a vague statement go unchallenged. His response followed:
Your letter has been received. You state, “Due to the circumstances you are in at present the Board of the Central California League of Men’s Societies feel that we cannot go through with this engagement.”
To what circumstances do you refer? And what are the grounds on which this judgment was based? If my “circumstances” are the problem to you, my “circumstances” are sinful in your eyes, and I have then been judged without evidence and on hearsay. Apparently, the Board reached a decision concerning my life and character without even hearing any real evidence on the matter, which, according to Scripture, must be at the mouth of two or more witnesses (Matt. 18:16). Again, Scripture says, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I am Jehovah.” (Lev. 19:16). Many, many more Scriptures could be cited, including the 8th Commandment.
What your decision implies is that I am under a moral cloud and therefore the Societies “feel we cannot go through with this engagement.” But to reach such a conclusion without evidence is not Christian conduct, and it places me under a moral cloud without evidence or hearing.
I have, in the past year and half, been savagely and viciously slandered by modernists and heretics in the Presbyterian Church USA, but, when I challenged that church to produce any evidence of unchristian conduct on my part, they had to take official action clearing me. My position has been thoroughly examined by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, through the proper channels, and I have been accepted as a minister in good standing.
My associations with the Christian Reformed Church have been many and very happy ones, and I have come to know many of your men personally. It is my earnest expectation that this happy association will continue, and that this is merely one of those hasty and ill-considered errors to which all of us are too prone. I hope to be in Ripon on November 7. Consider what a failure to sustain the invitation means: First, it places me under a moral cloud in the eyes of many, and without any evidence. Second, it placed [sic, should be places] you under a moral cloud also, in that it will gradually be known that you acted without evidence. Also, some of your men will wonder if my real offense is not the fact that I am now in the OPC, and a strong follower of Van Til, and have accordingly been made to suffer for a church situation of a few years ago in which I had no part. Third, it will trouble or offend members of the OPC that such an action has been taken. Our two churches are the two strong Reformed churches in the United States of this day, and nothing should be done to harm their fellowship, and it is unfortunate that at times a few act as though we were not one in a common cause for our Lord Jesus Christ.
R. J. Rushdoony43
Henry Coray and Dick Lewis defended my father in a meeting with the executive committee. He asked them to defend him and, indirectly, the OPC.
Just a year earlier a PCUSA minister had confronted my father for the second time since that denomination’s Presbytery had exonerated him. When told he should resign and leave, my father replied, “Why should I? I’m in the right.” The man “flushed and left angrily.”44 Now on this occasion, my father wrote Coray why he felt it necessary to confront the implication of wrongdoing:
I believe that my case was a providential trial of San Jose Presbytery, and, like Pilate, they pronounced me innocent while assenting to my ministerial execution. I believe my case was again a trial of the OPC, one for which God will bless her for her stand. I believe that it is now a trial of the CRC. It has also been, all along, no small trial for me; I haven’t liked it and have more than once been sick because of it and over it, but I too am the stronger for it and will continue to be.45
When a board member of the CRC society wrote to my father to tell him he and others were opposed to the recall of the invitation, my father wrote him a summary of what had transpired, and concluded:
Beyond these facts, I do not feel it necessary to discuss my private life. I have been cleared by a church which tried to eliminate me, and by the church which received me. The burden of proof is on anyone who tries to maintain that my conduct in any respect has been unchristian. It seems to me, that, instead of me being required to give an accounting, these persons are subject to church discipline for tale-bearing and false witness.
I cannot allow this board’s action to go unchallenged. If it remains, then, at any time I am asked to speak to any group in the Christian Reformed Church, a question can be raised against me, and someone can say, “Haven’t you heard? The Central California Men’s League, cancelled him out as a bad character.” There is no getting around that fact: it will be presumed that I am guilty of some kind of misconduct. I am not, and I believe that certain persons, who have raised questions against me without any knowledge of the facts, and only on the basis of gossip, are themselves guilty. Either amends must be made, or some kind of action should follow.46
On November 7, my father spoke at the society’s meeting. I believe his determination not to yield when he believed himself in the right was also why he did not do the easy thing and leave Santa Cruz. It was that and the sense of obligation to those who had stood with him; they needed an alternative to the constant trouble at Trinity and the Presbytery that had now aggravated it through a pragmatic solution.
As the years went by the matter of his divorce and later remarriage receded. Those who bring it up often have no new information, only the vague suggestion that perhaps it should be adjudicated yet again. Dad had no desire to defend himself repeatedly. Moreover, even if he had done so, the facts would mean little to most. Any three churchmen likely have at least as many differing views on divorce and remarriage, all strongly held as the definitive Biblical position. My father wrote his understanding of the Biblical doctrine of divorce in The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), which borrowed much of its text from what he had written for the OPC Presbytery between 1958 and 1960. I leave it to the reader to settle that issue for himself. As for my view, I believe that the divorce provision of Deuteronomy 24:1–4 was a gracious provision of God that enables us to deal with sin in the home. I believe it was God’s idea, not that of Moses. As for my personal experience, it provided a grace in my life, as my childhood was not dominated by a constant interaction with mental illness. The occasional was hard enough.
My father continued as pastor of the OP Church in Santa Cruz for four years during which time they purchased a church building on Pennsylvania Avenue. He finished By What Standard? (published 1958) during the year of the divorce, and while pastor of the OPC his first work on education, Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961), was published, and the manuscript of The Messianic Character of American Education (1963) was completed.
In 1962 he retired from the pastorate in order to research and write full time. We moved over the mountains to the Los Altos area (now part of what is known as “Silicon Valley”) and my father began work at the Volker Fund in Burlingame, a conservative think tank.
A few weeks later he was back in Santa Cruz for a wedding and the installation of Art Riffel as the new OPC minister when he was stopped on the street by a member of Trinity:
He stated last pot-luck at Trinity was like a wake. Sale of old bldg. has fallen through; “church” is deeply in debt. O. never calls on sick, dying or bereaved, begs for money from pulpit, etc. At dinner people mourned “letting me go” (!) and remembered that I never asked for money, never missed a home in my calling, and called daily on those seriously ill, etc. He stated also that the reputation of the OPC was that of a harmonious, growing & prosperous church. He further stated that some men (not of Trinity) who attended the Monday night Constitution Class reported, “That man is nothing short of sensational.” No mention of any sense of sin; situation is one of regret, not repentance.47
His calling had now taken him from Santa Cruz. He was not one to give up when he felt he was placed in a position where his duty was to fight, but now that his goal of researching and writing full-time was before him, I’m sure leaving Santa Cruz and its painful years behind him was something of a relief.
We lived through the events described above and were impacted by them in some ways too personal to relate. With no intended disrespect for Mom, we felt it was important to affirm the details our brother has described by subscribing our names to this account.
Rebecca (Rushdoony) Rouse
Joanna (Rushdoony) Manesajian
Sharon (Rushdoony) North
Martha (Rushdoony) Coie
1. Work journal of R.J. Rushdoony, entry of Sunday, Oct. 12, 1952.
3. Letter to Mr. A. Van Spronsen, Oct. 25, 1958.
5. Work journal, entry of Monday, Dec. 15, 1952.The Westminster Journal was a theological periodical my father tried to start while in Owyhee. It was an attempt to have an independent voice in the PCUSA, one not controlled by the denomination. To the best of my knowledge, only one issue was produced. I assume from the context that USA was a periodical.
6. The majority of the transcripts of those radio addresses has survived and are being prepared for publication in several volumes. The tentative title is his on-air introductory line, “Good morning, friends!”
7. Letter of Helen M. G., Oct. 15, 1954.
8. Work journal, entry of Thursday, June 16, 1955.
9. Work journal, entry of Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1955.
10. Work journal, entry of Sunday, Dec. 9, 1956.
11. R.J. Rushdoony, statement to the Judicial Commission, July 29, 1957.
12. Work journal, entry of Wednesday, Aug. 31, 1955.
13. Work journal, entry of Thursday, June 16, 1955. Underlining is in original. Often called San Anselmo, the name of the seminary was San Francisco Theological Seminary. It is located in San Anselmo, California, and is a seminary of the Presbyterian Church USA.
14. R.J. Rushdoony, Statement to the Judicial Commission, July 29, 1957.
15. Harvey E. Pinto, M.D. to the Honorable Gilbert Perry, Judge of the Superior Court, Santa Cruz County, May 29, 1957.
16. Work journal, entry of December 19, 1956. Louise Robinson was a retired nurse in the church who was very early aware of my Mom’s condition.
17. Harvey E. Pinto, M.D. to Mrs. R.J. Rushdoony, December 20, 1956.
18. Work journal, entry of December 30, 1956.
19. R.J. Rushdoony to Gilbert and Jessie [Den Dulk], January 25, 1957.
20. Julius Heuscher, M.D., to honorable Judge G. Perry, Superior Court, Santa Cruz Court house. May 30, 1957. Underlining is in original. Judge Perry also later presided at the divorce hearing, but this was a much earlier commitment process.
21. R.J. Rushdoony, Statement to the Judicial Commission, July 29, 1957.
22. Victor H. Simecek to P.M. (one of the Trinity complainants), June 10, 1957.
23. Work journal, entry of Sunday, June 9, 1957.
24. Work journal, entry of Monday, June 10, 1957.
25. Committee report to San Jose Presbytery, July 10, 1957.
26. Phil W. Barrett, Stated
Topics: Family & Marriage, Medicine / Healthcare, R. J. Rushdoony, Biography