Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part VI “The Lord Will Perfect That Which Concerneth Me”
As both postmillennial and a Christian Reconstructionist, my father had no lack of big ideas and hopes. It is safe to say he saw his ministry in the context of an expansive Kingdom of God that would give significance to his work beyond his own field of view. His hopes never trumped his theological perspective, however, so he never fell into the trap of trying to force big things by a big spending program.
Several times he was close to big money. First with the Volker Fund and then with its transformation into the Center for American Studies (the Center), he was close to a vast sum of money. Later, on more than one occasion, a wealthy individual promised to endow Chalcedon only to die unexpectedly intestate. My father would later recount those instances with a wry smile; his only indignation was in recounting the shiftless heirs these individuals had intended to disinherit.
My father’s desire was to write and teach. As early as his years on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation he had entertained the idea of a study center. This idea varied between a library and study center to a college or seminary or a combination, but the place and funding never materialized. It was likely a blessing because, for all his very real abilities, my father was not an administrator, and such duties would have been a distraction from his primary talent and contribution, his writings.
The Grant Years
My father’s distinctly Christian perspective was ruled too divisive for the Center for American Studies, which terminated him in September of 1963. The next day he applied to the Center for a grant and it was immediately approved for two years at the same salary.
I think my father was perfectly happy with the freedom the grant gave him. While at the Volker Fund, he wrote papers as assigned, often for internal use. The grant enabled him to devote his time to reading and writing, as well as the freedom to travel and speak. That Christmas, my father was in a particularly celebratory mood; Christmas day saw three new Huffy bicycles parked by the tree, one for Sharon, Martha, and me. Within days we were in Southern California and Disneyland, then at the Rose Parade in Pasadena. That 1964 New Year’s Day Dad began his work journal, as he frequently did, with a Bible verse. That year he chose Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” He was not one to look back in frustration at what might have been.
A week later he visited the Center offices in Burlingame with Mother. It was just four months after his termination and he noted the end of what had seemed, just months before, an unparalled opportunity:
Mr. Luhnow’s illness: a stroke, now followed by fears and religious searching. Funds of Center tied up, not readily available, and activities curtailed.1
Each year on the last day in December my father would write a summary of his work output for the year. His 1964 summary noted the completion of The Nature of American System and Freud, and he began recording his in-progress writings by chapters. My father was an essayist, and all of the chapters of his books represent independent essays. Even his most systematic book, the 1973 Institutes of Biblical Law I, was written as a series of sermons on the topic. Now that he was spending more time at his desk, he began to record the number of chapters he had written. Some of his books were written over a period of several years. As he completed a chapter he put it into a file folder which represented a book in progress. In 1964 he had two such folders. By the end of 1965 that number had grown to nine. It was only after his passing in 2001 that I uncovered the full extent of these folders, enough to full several shelves.2
The Beginnings of Chalcedon
Dad had been looking for a site for a library and learning center for some years. He even contemplated something at Owyhee. One of his tasks at the Center was the accumulation of its library, a job he probably thoroughly enjoyed.3 It seemed that the Center might be the means by which the study center would materialize. His journal had for years occasionally noted conversations he had with others about the need for such a study center as well as possible donations of land or buildings. After the demise of the Center, he returned to the idea. It had a name, Chalcedon, well before it was formally organized after our move to Los Angeles in 1965. I turned eleven that year and can remember finding various places in an old atlas of the United States because there was a possibility we might move there if a permanent home for Chalcedon could be found. Dad and Mother looked all over California and considered prospective sites in Nevada and Arizona. A donation of land near Lake Havasu on the Colorado River was at one time a promising prospect. For many years, opportunity and funding never seemed to meet.
He began his journal for 1965 with Psalm 147:4 and added a prayer.
“He shall choose our inheritance for us,” Psalm 147:4.
Make this, Lord, a year of great inheritance.4
By mid-1965 my father’s two-year grant was nearing its end. With the Center now defunct, there was no chance of any long-term funding such as the old Volker Fund had provided for Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Murray Rothbard. In June he received a call from Virginia Stevenson regarding the possibility of support in Southern California. Later that month he flew to Los Angeles where he spoke and met with Mrs. Stevenson, Evelyn Harris (owner of the conservative Betsy Ross Book Shop), George Brauer, and Grayce Flanagan. An informal group asked my father to move to Los Angeles and hold regular classes in exchange for which they promised monthly support.5
It was a vague offer, but two businessmen, Phil Virtue and Walter Knott (founder of the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park), absorbed the cost of the move, which due to my father’s library represented 35,000 pounds in two Lyons moving vans. My father drove our 1956 Chevy wagon and Gary North came from Los Angeles to drive Mother’s 1950 Plymouth. On August 27 the vans were unloaded at our rented house in Woodland Hills and on Sunday afternoon, September 5, Dad held his first class at the Westwood office of Phil Virtue, just blocks away from the University of California Los Angeles, with thirty-six people present. The next Sunday he began officiating at services at the Orthodox Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit in Santa Ana and added a third evening meeting the following week at a home in San Marino. The Santa Ana and San Marino meetings were replaced, at times, by meetings in Pasadena, Placentia, or elsewhere. He also held weekday classes at times and later a Friday evening class 135 miles to the north in Santa Maria. The Westwood class was the longest-running one and he continued to hold classes there (spelled at times by Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, and Marshall Foster) for years after his move to Vallecito in 1975.6 Several of his books were presented as lessons one chapter at a time at the Westwood meetings, including The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. I. After the sudden death of Phil Virtue in 1967, the Westwood meetings were held in the chapel of the Pierce Brothers Mortuary, where visitors always remembered being shown the crypt of Marilyn Monroe, with fresh red roses provided even then by Joe DiMaggio.
In October of 1965 my father began writing a newsletter, to those supporting him. The original intent was to provide a means of regularly reporting a summary of his activities, such as his travels, speaking engagements, articles and chapters written. For instance, the January, 1966, newsletter ended with:
During December, I spoke 31 times, having meetings in Sunnyvale, Anderson, and Redding as well as locally. I wrote another chapter for The Religion of Revolution, of which the first chapter has been published in a pamphlet, and I delivered it as a talk at the wonderful Christmas dinner party on December 19 at the Eric Pridonoff home. At that dinner a tape recorder was given to me as a gift. I am thankful to all of you for it. Several short pieces were also written during December, plus a chapter for another book.
During 1965, I spoke 212 times. Two books were published, Freud and The Nature of the American System; two pamphlets, The Religion of Revolution and The United Nations, A Religious Dream. Several articles were written, and a number of chapters for several books in progress. My travels to speak took me to Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and up and down the state of California repeatedly. Many of my listeners were neither Christian nor conservative.7
These were at first only titled Newsletter followed by a number, though we always referred to it as “the report.” For some years they were mimeographed and stapled. As his speaking increased and more people signed up to receive a copy of the Newsletter, they became longer and featured an essay and the report on activities was dropped. In 1968 the title Chalcedon Report was added, and in 1973 it was being typeset by a print shop on an 11” x 17” sheet folded to an 8 ½” x 11” size. Gary North and then Greg Bahnsen began writing regular columns that year. For over twenty years it was labeled and stamped by a group of volunteers. By the mid-1980s this was a process that spanned a week each month. In 1987 the Chalcedon Report became a magazine. In 2005, four years after my father’s passing, having long-since ceased to be a report on activity, its name was changed to Faith for All of Life and the name Chalcedon Report was retained by our bi-monthly newsletter.
In Newsletter 1, dated October 1, 1965, my father began, “In this first Newsletter, instead of a report on activity, I want to discuss the significance of what you, my supporters, are doing.” He then described the patronage system of the Renaissance, stating “…it was the heavy, steady, and long promotion of these things by subsidy that was responsible for the rapid spread and victory of these forces.” He then concluded:
What you are doing, in your support of me, is to sponsor a countermeasure to the prevailing trend, to promote by your support, interest, and study, a Christian Renaissance, to declare by these measures your belief that the answer to humanism and its statism is Christian faith and liberty. Our choice today is between two claimants to the throne of godhood and universal government: the state, which claims to be our shepherd, keeper, and savior, and the Holy Trinity, our only God and Savior. You have made your choice by both faith and action.8
Thus, the first Newsletter described a Christian resistance to humanism not merely as opposition but as a positive work, a “Christian Renaissance,” financed by tithes and offerings.
In order to understand the shift my father was trying to initiate in people’s thought, it is necessary to understand the context of 1965. Just months earlier “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, had lost the 1964 presidential campaign by a landslide. A year before Kennedy could not get his agenda through Congress; his presidency seemed a failure and his re-election prospects looked dim. His death in November of 1963 reversed everything. Johnson invoked the name of the fallen Kennedy and his “Great Society” by government program sailed through Congress. Conservatives were shell-shocked and discouraged after the November presidential election. Many of my father’s early supporters came from disheartened political conservatives as is evident from the questions and answers after his lectures. Moreover, this was the era of the space race and the cult of science; man, it was still believed, could solve all his problems.
As opposed to this sense of total defeat and disillusionment, my father proposed a postmillennial hope in the victory of Christ’s Kingdom. In Newsletter 2 he adopted another analogy: One of his persistent themes was that, as opposed to many conservatives and conspiracists, he did not believe “educating people with the facts” would produce change. Thus he wrote:
The various phases of this vast attempt to turn the world from God’s creation to the scientific planners’ re-creation can be documented in detail. It has been done by the volume. The answer, however, is not in the facts and knowledge but in a restoration of Christian faith.
Because God is God, and because He will not allow Himself to be dethroned, the scientific planners are doomed. This judgment is a certainty because God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. All sin is either atoned for, or punished. The question is whether we will be among those judged, or among those, the saved remnant, who shall undertake even nowthe task of reconstruction.9
Thus, the term Christian Reconstruction was born. It was more than a slogan; it was a faith in the advance of the Kingdom of God. The faith in the Great Society has long since disappeared, and science is today seen as a villain as often as a savior. There is a pervasive cynicism today that was not present in 1965. My father often said that we were at the end of the era of statism and that cynicism and disillusionment were the precursors to change.
The influence of the Chalcedon Report was always more than its modest circulation numbers would indicate. In 1965, the idea of a religious worldview organization was unheard of. The great ideological battle was typically seen in political and economic terms, as opposition to communism abroad and creeping socialism at home. My father was told that a worldview organization based on his religious perspective would not work; he was advised that there was, on the other hand, money to be had in being anti-communist. He was often told he was too old (at 49) to undertake a task as monumental as the reconstruction of all of life and thought.
In 1966 Dad began a regular column in what might seem an unexpected venue. The California Farmer, which at the time had a very large circulation, asked him to write a column which was called “Pastor’s Pulpit.” He would continue to write a total of 438 articles for this publication over the next twenty-five years. The earliest of those articles were published as Bread Upon the Waters but a reprint always took a backseat to new books. Over the course of two moves, he had lost many of the originals. Near death, one of his specific instructions to me was to collect those articles because he felt it was some of his best writing. Those essays are now contained in the seven volumes of A Word in Season.10
A radio program was begun in late 1966 that extended into the next year. This was a pre-recorded series that was aired in several states. These broadcasts contained some of his most powerful material, which I have often described as a series of thesis statements, but the show was not a commercial success; he was advised that religious programming required constant heavy-handed appeals for money, but he refused to, as he saw it, “beg” for money. The essays, however, which were always intended for publication, became the text of Law and Liberty (1984).
In 1972 my father began the first of several Christian school seminars. Christian education as a necessary alternative to government education had been the topic of much of his earliest writing and speaking in the 1950s, and his Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961) and Messianic Character of American Education (1963) had spurred the creation of many Christian schools. Various aspects of Christian education were covered at these seminars, but my father’s unique contribution was the reason for Christian education beyond the pragmatic need for quality. My father’s approach was always theological. At the time, Christian education imitated the model of the day school.
In the 1970s the homeschool phenomenon began to expand rapidly. Later, when the right to homeschool was challenged by bureaucracy and state attorneys, my father would emerge as a frequent expert witness in their defense. He has been called by some “the Father of the Homeschool Movement.” His writing was more directly influential in the Christian day school revival of the 1960s, though the homeschool movement adopted the same educational philosophy with a more workable economic model a few years later.
A Home for Chalcedon
In 1966 my father’s long search for a permanent home for a Chalcedon educational center seemed to have borne fruit. He found Las Tablas Creek Ranch, a 960-acre property near Paso Robles, California, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The owner agreed to finance a short-term loan. In May Dad made a deposit. A board of trustees was formed with my father and two other men. Memberships that represented home-site parcels were sold with the understanding that Chalcedon would be given about a third of the property for its use. My father became the principal promoter of the project over the next several years.
By 1970 the inherent flaws of such a plan became obvious as there was a division amongst the board members as to the disposition of the funds. Soon the two other trustees were making unilateral decisions and spending large amounts of money on irrigation and cattle operations that did not provide significant returns. They also tried to pressure my father into agreeing to long-term debt. Before long, my father was precluded from seeing the books.11
My father had been the primary face of the “ranch group” and was very distressed at the impasse. He began his work journal in 1971 with Psalm 138:8, a verse which would become his recurring annual theme over the ensuing years: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.”12
On January 31, 1971, he found out the treasurer had not made the payment due to the owner. The “ranch group” of members took sides; a settlement was attempted but the matter ended up in court in 1972. The judge ordered a division of the assets after the property’s sale. The property finally sold in 1977 and, though the price was a good one for the investors, it was an embarrassing episode for him because he had been the driving force behind the project.13 Over a dozen years later, in 1994, in the midst of rearranging his library, he made the following note in his journal:
Library work. Threw away Las Tablas Ranch records, a grim memory. I had been in search of a rural location for Chalcedon where costs would be low, and P.H. and R.L. saw it as useable for a survival location. They took over with large promises of much funding, but as they had the papers drawn up, Chalcedon could not receive more than 30 acres, which meant legally as little as one acre or less. They wasted the funds and then called it quits.14
Undaunted, my father began looking once again for either land or a facility for Chalcedon. Closed public schools, hospitals, and defunct colleges were visited but either the price was wrong or the facilities too dilapidated. Meanwhile, in 1971 after six years of leaking roofs and numerous references by our landladies that they intended to sell the Woodland Hills rental, my parents bought a house in neighboring Canoga Park.
Still, their search for a home for Chalcedon continued, with occasional daytrips to look at properties. Meanwhile, property taxes began a steady climb and my father could foresee being forced out of Los Angeles. Again, he looked for a rural property, which he found in Vallecito in Calaveras County, California. It was an old 100-acre mining property in the heart of the Mother Lode, the area of the California Gold Rush following the discovery of gold in 1848. The property had a ten-year-old home on it. A few weeks after deciding it was unaffordable the realtor called to say it was available at a reduced price. With a four-way lot split between Chalcedon, my parents, my sister Martha and her husband, and a Chalcedon supporter, the deal was made. By late September the move from Los Angeles to Vallecito had begun. The Canoga Park house sold for a good price to a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and two years later California’s Proposition 13 greatly limited property tax increases on the newly acquired property.
Chalcedon afforded my father the opportunity to write, travel, and speak full-time. In the ten years after the establishment of Chalcedon, my father published thirteen books and many more were in the works, piling up in those file folders in his library. His writings were always his primary concern. He was never too interested in his audio recordings because virtually all of that material ended up in his published work. He was a reader, and considered his writing to be his work.
This burst of activity after 1965 was made possible by Chalcedon and those who enabled it by their gifts. This was the patronage of a new renaissance he mentioned in his first Newsletter. Those writings are still serving the Kingdom of God and I believe that their primary impact on the church is yet in the future.
Read the Previous Articles in This Series
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part 1 “I Am Armenian”
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part II “You Are Going to Be a Writer”
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part III “My Days on the Reservation”
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part IV “The Painful Years”
Rousas John Rushdoony: A Brief History, Part V “An Opportunity... Thanks Be to God!”
1. R. J. Rushdoony work journal, entry of Thursday, January 9, 1964.
2. A few of these manuscripts are still in the process of being published as staff and funds permit, including one begun in 1964. Dad himself often prioritized newer manuscripts for publication.
3. This library is to be distinguished from his own personal one. I am unaware of the fate of the collection he began for the Center.
4. RJR work journal, entry of January 1, 1965.
5. RJR work journal, entries of June 10 and 22, 1965.
6. RJR work journal, entries of September 5, 12, and 19, 1965 and September 6, 1981. David Chilton’s speaking was primarily at the Placerita meeting.
7. Newsletter 4, (later known as the Chalcedon Report) January 1, 1966.
8. Newsletter 1, October 1, 1965.
9. Newsletter 2, October 31, 1965. Emphasis is in original. My father did not reject the idea of conspiracies as invalid, but grew increasingly impatient with conspiracy talk because he found it paralyzed those who studied it. They believed that by exposing the facts, people would rush to the truth. My father thought this ignored the moral tendency to cover the truth with lies, and was a faith in education. Moreover, he saw many who were so consumed with the power of conspiracies they had a stronger belief in the power of evil than in God. This angered him into his strongest denunciations of such thought as practical Satanism.
10. Microfiche records of missing California Farmer articles were found in the library of California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, California.
11. RJR work journal, entries of July 7, September 9 and 19, 1970.
12. RJR work journal, entry of January 7, 1971
13. RJR work journal, entries of January 31, December 7, 1971, June 16, 27, October 10, 22, 1972
14. RJR work journal, entry of September 10, 1994.
Topics: Christian Reconstruction, Dominion, R. J. Rushdoony