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My First Interview with R. J. Rushdoony

I sat in the classroom gazing out the window, only half interested in the seminar I had chosen for the afternoon at the writer’s conference: interviewing.

  • Susan Burns,
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I sat in the classroom gazing out the window, only half interested in the seminar I had chosen for the afternoon at the writer’s conference: interviewing. Some writers made a decent income interviewing, but there were so few people who intrigued me. I wasn’t into celebrities or politicians or sports stars. My motivation for taking the class was to develop skills to help me do what I really wanted to do—investigative journalism.

But the instructor asked a question that turned my life around: “Don’t hold back,” he said. “Let your imagination run wild! What one person in the whole world would you love to interview if you could?” “Tom Selleck.” “Ronald Reagan.” “George Washington.” “Albert Einstein.” “Marilyn Monroe.” Famous names ascended through the air on the sighs of the daydreamers. I thought a bit and then joined in, “R. J. Rushdoony.”

The symphony of famous names stopped. All eyes were on me as the class in unison asked, “WHO?” “R. J. Rushdoony,” I sighed. “Who is he?” they wanted to know. “Only the greatest thinker of this century,” I replied dreamily, never imagining for a nanosecond that I would ever meet my hero, much less have the thrill of sitting down with him for an interview.

Oh me of little faith!

I knew Rush rarely gave interviews. My dear friend Byron Snapp kept encouraging me to ask, but I was too shy and in awe of Rush. Finally with Byron’s prodding (he had been speaking to Rush on my behalf for some time, I found out later), I asked and Rush said yes! We planned to meet after the Appalachian Conference to Rebuild America (ACTRA) in Kingsport, Tennessee. The date was only six months after the writer’s conference where I had sighed his name!

The ACTRA conferences were popular among the Reformed and Christian Reconstructionists. When Rush spoke, attendance was even better. I stood in line with the others, introduced myself, and asked when we could get together. He said after the conference, and I stepped aside so the long line of men, women, and children could have an opportunity for a word with Rush. Just a few seconds with him was considered the moment of a lifetime.

Throughout the day, Rush gave his lectures and talked to people. The crowd hovered around him like dust. I thought he might be too tired at the end of the day for our interview. But fatigue did not seem to touch him.

Finally the conference ended, and once again Rush was surrounded by people asking questions, thanking him for his work, introducing their children to him. As we walked through the hotel lobby, more folks wanted a moment of his time. Slowly we made it to his hotel room. There were several men there who wanted to listen to the interview. I remember Byron was there with his son, Samuel.

I had fallen in love with Rush as a thinker and a writer a few months after my conversion in 1971. The first book I read was Intellectual Schizophrenia. Everything I read after that just sealed the deal with me. What an intellect! What a beautiful writer! What a warrior for the faith! I had all that going into this interview. But what I did not have was Rush the man. I had seen it throughout the day as he spoke to people—his patience and kindness as he dealt with the endless line of people wanting a moment of his time. He was a true gentleman.

He sat across from me, eye to eye and face to face. His was a calm and steady spirit nurtured by an unwavering faith in a loving Heavenly Father. I was very excited; but just a few moments in his presence calmed me down, and we began our interview. It was published in two parts by The Christian Observer. As usual, Rush was prophetic in his comments. He was so far ahead of the rest of us in his observations about where we were headed as a nation that abandoned God’s law-word. Here at Chalcedon, we are continually reading what he had to say and marveling at how his comments of decades ago hit the nail on the head today.

In our first interview, Rush spoke of the Christian homeschool and day school movement. “Christian schools are restoring literacy to the United States. I believe that is going to be very important. We are producing the only people who can command the future.” In addition to seeing the miserable failure of the statist schools, Rush saw the glorious harvest that would come when Christian parents obeyed God’s commands to provide a Christian education for their children.

It was as though he had the church of 2006 in mind when he said, “It is only the power of God unto salvation that is effectual in any sphere of life and thought. And if we go after other forms to gain power, we are forsaking God’s appointed way. Apart from God’s way we will not have His blessing. We will only have His curse.”

Rush also spoke of the atonement. He said, “Take away the atonement and its centrality and you take away the Law of God. Take away the Law of God and you take away the purpose of any law in society. Take away the backbone of society and you have jellyfish culture.

“And this is what we have today. We have a vague approbation of the atonement and being saved by the blood but without any relationship to the law or any understanding of what atonement means for society.

“We have to restore the meaning of atonement in order to restore the meaning of law in society. Only this will save our culture from becoming a jellyfish culture in which there are no standards, no backbones, and everything goes.”1

Can anyone deny that we are living in a jellyfish culture today? We are drowning in the evidence of it. And Rush saw it coming—seventeen years ago! He also pointed to the way out of these circumstances—to the law and to the testimony.

1. The Christian Observer (Manassas, VA), November 19, 1989, 18.

  • Susan Burns

Susan  is the managing editor of the the Faith for All of Life magazine and the Chalcedon Report (bi-monthly newsletter). Susan has worked for Chalcedon since 1997. She lives in Virginia and is rather fond of animals, especially her many cats.

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