Dorothy Ross Rushdoony, wife of R. J. Rushdoony, is an individual who has had a profound influence in my life and the lives of many Christian women. Despite a life that has seen its share of hardship and disappointment, and one where she occupied a supportive role rather than one in the spotlight, Dorothy has maintained a love for God's law and embraced the fact that the elect, in being obedient to his word, don't always have an easy road. Dorothy Rushdoony has been a role model to Christian women of a Proverbs 31 woman in its fullest and deepest sense. It would be omitting a significant chapter in the history of Christian Reconstruction to fail to describe the enormous contribution made by this woman of faith.
My first introduction to the Rushdoonys came back in 1985 when a good friend steered my husband and me in the direction of Rush's books. After reading just a bit and listening to his Easy Chair tapes, we became convinced that hooking up with R. J. Rushdoony was not a luxury, but a necessity. Becoming acquainted with him meant becoming acquainted with his wife, Dorothy. From the outset of our interaction, they were truly a package deal. We'd schedule our vacations, travel up from San Jose on weekends, and take every opportunity to visit with them, asking theological questions and discussing current affairs from a Reformed, reconstructionist worldview.
In that season of my life, I unofficially adopted Dorothy Rushdoony as my mother and she likewise took me as her daughter. This relationship has been priceless to me and my family. As she has watched my children grow up, she has demonstrated a keen perception regarding their personalities and character. She has always had the capacity of dealing with children frankly, never patronizing them or talking down to them. When I became pregnant in 1991, one of my prayers regarding the child we were expecting was that the Lord would give us a girl so that I could name her after Dorothy. (God gave me the desire of my heart!) Dorothy Rushdoony continues to encourage me in the homeschooling of my children and constantly challenges me to treat them as individuals. It was Dorothy who got me started working with Ross House Books getting Rush's manuscripts typeset and into print. Her enthusiasm for these projects wore off on me and today this activity occupies much of my time and effort.
Dorothy never hesitates to "call it as she sees it" and embodies the scriptural truth, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Her ability to "get to the bottom line" on issues is truly remarkable, if not sometimes uncomfortable. Two instances come to mind. Once I was expressing aggravation to her over the fact that my efforts to get pregnant for a third time were repeatedly frustrated. I anticipated that she would share in my pity-party, validating my irritations. Instead, she looked at me resolutely and asked, "What makes you think that you create eternal life?" Talk about being put back in your place! Another time we were lamenting how painful it was to go to antinomian churches in our area and have to suffer through repeated sermons where grace and law were continuously pitted against each other. In her inimitable style she responded bluntly, "How long are you two planning to torture yourselves in this way? Why not start your own house church?" It was at her suggestion with Rush's encouragement that we did just that and ten years ago Emmaus Christian Fellowship was born. Years later, R. J. Rushdoony, Mark Rushdoony, and Andrew Sandlin ordained my husband, Ford, and together Dorothy and I felt the satisfaction of correctly perceiving the Lord's will in this matter.
Other women I've spoken with, who have had the benefit of Dorothy's counsel and perspectives, comment that Dorothy has been an older woman in the Lord whom they could go to for solid, Biblical, trustworthy advice, and she always gives them much food for thought and growth. As the woman behind the throne, always serving Rush and helping him with her day-in, day-out devotion, she communicated a powerful message to them about loving their husbands — a message that has first of all been lived out in her committed life. The prefaces and introductions in many of Rush's books, where he expresses his great appreciation for the woman God gave him as a helpmate, are much more understandable once you've known Dorothy and all she's been to him.
Dorothy was right by Rush's side in keeping abreast of what he was studying Biblically. She numbers among his best students and must rank with the most loyal. Her ability to enter into theological discussions made it obvious that she had spent a great amount of time in the word of God and had a firm grasp of Scripture and doctrine. I could tell during our lengthy conversations that her opinions were reached freely and were not carbon-copies of her husband's. I witnessed a woman who was well-read and who contemplated the implications of her faith in her life.
Dorothy has been an encouragement to me to not hide my God-given gifts. She has helped me to realize that as a woman I don't have to take a back seat in theological discussions and conversations regarding the application to daily life. She has helped me see that my role is to be submissive to my husband, not necessarily silent. Through her influence I began to truly understand how the Christian Faith elevates women to a much higher station that any other philosophy or religion. She helped me to see that our calling is a high one that demands us to be fluent, articulate, and ready to act on the dictates of Scripture, not shying away from hard questions or hard decisions. Dorothy has shared the perspective many times that godly submission isn't about sexuality (i.e., whether you're the man or the woman, the husband or the wife). As she puts it, godly submission is just like an army, somebody is the commanding officer, and in a family, that person is the husband. Therefore, it behooves all in that army to recognize their roles to help the forward progress of the kingdom of God.
One woman put it this way, "At times in my life, when I've been 'stuck' for some reason, and needed a trustworthy perspective, I've often called Dorothy and have always walked away from our conversations with strength for the journey and wisdom that only a mature, godly person can give. I never think of Dorothy as my equal — though I consider her one of my dearest friends. God has gifted her with the grace and wisdom that comes with 'age' and I have been the benefactor of listening to that sage advice many, many times."
Dorothy's contribution on an organizational level has also been extensive and unfailing. She was the typist, proofreader, and confidant of R. J. Rushdoony during his years of formulating Christian Reconstruction. She worked, with others, at getting the Chalcedon Report into circulation and handled many of the mundane jobs that were essential but didn't bring much glory. With her support and encouragement, Rush embarked on a career of calling the modern church to task for its failure to take the word of God seriously and apply it to all areas of life and thought. He wrote and she worked diligently to get his words into print. For those readers who can't picture life without computers, spell checkers, and automated labeling, much of this work was accomplished using manual typewriters and mimeograph machines, where the demand for accuracy and perseverance required much greater effort than what we are used to today. She would manually index Rush's books with him and help flush out his ideas. Her unpaid work was acknowledged by Rush by his naming the publishing arm of Chalcedon, Ross House Books, after her.
Dorothy witnessed her vision and appreciation for her husband's calling bloom from a small seed into a growing, blossoming tree. She was a vital part of his work from the beginning and was eager to do it. I've heard people comment that Rush truly became a productive writer when God brought Dorothy into his life. Dorothy saw the Christian Reconstruction movement and the Chalcedon Foundation grow. She was there as people came to "investigate" Rush and what he taught. She provided unselfish hospitality and often had to share personal-family time with visitors. She remained a credit to her Scottish heritage in standing by her husband as he asserted the dignity and relevance of God's law to a church and world that had lost touch and fallen into darkness. Never flinching from the personal attacks directed at Rush from many quarters, on the contrary she continued to open her house and her life to all comers — potential friend or foe.
Then, in the early 90s Dorothy began to go blind. The technical term is macular degeneration complicated by glaucoma. Dorothy was stripped of the thing she loved best — reading the word of God and helping in the production of the Chalcedon Report and Rush's books. The pill was bitter indeed. Not being able to read! Not being able to have her hand on the pulse of the day-to-day workings of the ministry she'd devoted much of her energies to for years and years. Dorothy spent a good deal of time testing the very theology she had been immersed in for so long.
Dorothy is probably best known for her practical attitudes and her unassuming demeanor. For a while she had a regular column in the Chalcedon Report and many women, and just as many men, used to read Dorothy's articles first. An example of her useful insights came in an article entitled, "In This House You Are Lord." In it she emphasized that when a husband returns home from the battles of life each day, a wife should have him know that as he steps over the threshold, "in his house he is lord." These and other Biblical themes, not in vogue in today's culture, continue to be of great concern to her. She has a passion for studying and understanding the proper Biblical roles for men and women — the gender issue as she likes to call it — and I hope to succeed someday to get her to do more writing on the subject.
As I look back on the 14 years that I have had the honor and privilege of knowing her, I realize how important Dorothy has been in my life. She has represented the best of what St. Paul describes in Titus 2:3-4, "the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things, that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." I came to her needing such a woman in my life and she more than instructed me in these things. She helped me appropriate the role of "older woman" — called to help younger women assume their God-given responsibilities. Our world has been blessed by her wisdom which perceives the desperation of feminism as well as the slothfulness of mindless submission. One grateful woman sums it up this way, "Dorothy has left a legacy which includes not being afraid to speak your own mind while in the same breath maintaining the power derived from godly submission."
Rousas John Rushdoony has been acknowledged as the Father of the Christian Reconstruction movement; most certainly, Dorothy deserves recognition as its mother.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].