Born in New York City on April 25, 1916, Rushdoony's story actually begins in Armenia with his parents. Before Rushdoony's conception, his father had earned a degree at the University of Edinburgh. Parting friends wished him well with a gift of English sterling, and Rushdoony senior kept the money in cash. With this currency he combined the money he received from his teaching job after he had returned to Armenia. Life was difficult and dangerous in the far-off land near Mount Ararat where Rushdoony's ancestors had lived for around 2,000 years. The Turks had invaded Armenia, wrecked havoc, and committed genocide from which Rushdoony chose to flee.
Taking his hard earned money, Rushdoony senior bought train tickets for his pregnant wife, their toddler son, his in-laws, and himself. They planned to escape into Russia and then travel to the United States. As they made their way into Russia, the toddler died, leaving the Rushdoonys bereft as they then found passage to New York City. Rushdoony's mother delivered Rousas, a healthy baby boy, and the couple waited several weeks before continuing their journey, with California as their destination.
In Kingsburg, California Rushdoony senior founded a Presbyterian church for Armenian-speaking people. He told his son stories from the home land and entertained visitors seeking information about family members still in Armenia. Rushdoony grew up surrounded by an extended family who maintained their love for the Lord enough to flee from persecution in their own country and who also loved the country that took them in.
Rushdoony spoke the Armenian around him and learned English from the public schools. After high school he went to the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a bachelor's degree in English, a teaching credential, and a master's degree in education. Then Rushdoony attended the Pacific School of Religion and was ordained by the Presbyterian Church the same year of his graduation, 1944, continuing a legacy that dated back at least six generations. His ancestors had always been priests.
Rather than taking a position at an urban church, Rushdoony chose to become a missionary to the Shoshone and Paiute Indians on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in remote northeastern Nevada. He lived with the Native Americans for over eight years, seeking to help a people he viewed had been wronged. Though secure in his own faith, Rushdoony also sought ways to encourage others to find their faith and ways to insure that the faith was meaningful.
His time on the reservation allowed him to grow spiritually. Already a voracious reader, Rushdoony used his time to study and write articles. After leaving Nevada, he returned to California and pastored two churches in Santa Cruz for nine years. During this time he started writing books, his first one appearing in 1959. By What Standard? introduced readers to Cornelius Van Til's philosophy based on Calvinists who insisted on the Trinity's intrinsic value for a Christian faith, the truth of the Bible, and on God's ultimate authority, among other beliefs. This book led to more books, and to make time for research and writing, Rushdoony retired from being a pastor full-time and concentrated on penning his beliefs for others to read.
Rushdoony believed also in the right of a parent to choose for their children public education, a Christian school, or an education based from the home. He thought that homeschooling and a Christian-based education would help combat the growing humanism of society and the overwhelming secular nature of the school system. Denouncing the philosophies of a progressive public education, Rushdoony penned The Messianic Character of American Education. Christian school leaders used Rushdoony's book to provide them with a case against mandatory, tax-funded education. Rushdoony also blessed the homeschooling community by serving as an expert witness in case after case, defending the parents' rights to school their children.
Concerned with the direction of the culture, Rushdoony moved to the Los Angeles area and founded the Chalcedon Foundation, an organization that promoted a full life based on applying the Christian faith to every word, thought, and deed. Rushdoony took on editing the monthly magazine called the Chalcedon Report and continued writing books. His magnum opus centered on law and politics. This three-volume work entitled The Institutes of Biblical Law, based on Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, became an incredibly influential work. Rushdoony advocated a return of the Mosaic law's penal sanctions, and by focusing on the Word of God to support his vision, Rushdoony believed in reconstructing society. A society based on Christian principles placed responsibility on its citizens to live according to God's Word.
The Christian Reconstructionist Movement that Rushdoony founded created hope for some individuals and drew criticism from others. An examination of their beliefs led Christians to follow God's Word more closely, truly living the example of Christ. They acknowledged that as society falls deeper into an amoral abyss, perhaps Rushdoony saw and documented the way out. However, some Christians thought that the laws given to Moses were for that certain time and those certain people, not society as it is today. Regardless of controversy, Rushdoony stood firm in his faith, living his life as if it were a gift from God not to be squandered or unappreciated.
Rushdoony passed away at age 84 on February 8, 2001 after years of illnesses. A pastor to the very end, Rushdoony apologized on his last Sunday in this lifetime that he couldn't deliver the sermon. Family, friends, colleagues, and many who knew him mourned his passing. A man largely unknown to the general public, Rushdoony greatly influenced generations with his faith in God and his unwavering belief in His Word. He gave people hope as he addressed their causes, and he led many to Jesus Christ. For, as Rushdoony recognized, it was Jesus who refused to cast judgment and instead showed the way to the personal change through God that could ultimately lead to societal change. Rushdoony's son Mark followed him as president of Chalcedon to continue the path Rushdoony began.