This is my follow-up post to my one on why I believe Ted Cruz is a Dominionist.
As I noted in that post, the problem facing Evangelicalism is that it has embraced the beliefs of the Dominionist movement - if not its most controversial, but logical, consequences.
I also spelled out in that post just how much Dominionism has influenced the political wing of the Religious Right. The most obvious is the fact that Dominionist (and liar and historical fabricator) David Barton helped write the 2012 Republican Party platform. But there is a lot more, if you do a basic Google search.
In the Christianity Today article that sparked that post, there is a line that I think is telling. “The term has become elastic, encompassing Christians who believe the United States was once a predominantly Christian nation as well as those who hold 'right-wing' views.” And the corollary essentially defining “right-wing views", “Ted’s not a dominionist; he’s a constitutionalist.”
The problem is, both of these illustrate just how far Evangelicalism has embraced the Dominionist doctrine, to the point where they can’t even recognize when they are quoting Dominionist talking points. As I will show in this series, the belief in the myth of the Christian Nation and the political goals of the the Religious Right are Dominionist at their core.
I am going to break this post up into three parts. The first will focus more on Dominionist teachings, while the second will look at the specifically American version of Dominionism. The third will look at how Dominionst assumptions (particularly Presuppositionalism) have poisoned Evangelicalism.
Let me first credit my online friend and fellow blogger, Scarlet Letters who referred me to Talk2Action as a resource on Ted Cruz and Dominionism. She and I have had an ongoing discussion for a few years on our mutual concern about Christian Patriarchy and Dominionism - and our mutual love for Classical Music, which we both perform in a professional capacity.
This article in particular clarified for me the continuum which exists between “hard” and “soft” Dominionism. The article is worth reading in full.
I have personal experience both with “hard” Dominionism (from my involvement with Bill Gothard - and his law school which is my alma mater) and with “soft” dominionism, from both my upbringing in the homeschool movement of the 1980s and 90s and from my nearly 40 years in Evangelicalism.
My knowledge of the “hard” Dominionism is mostly of the Christian Reconstructionist movement (read my post about it and its longstanding connection with the White Supremacist movement here), but I also was influenced by the “Kingdom Now” branch through the influence that David Barton has exerted on the homeschooling movement and Evangelicalism in general. For those who delve into the gritty details of theology, they argue (and have made the point in this discussion) that “true” Dominionists are the “hard” variety. This makes sense to a movement that is obsessed with ideological purity. However, it ignores the fact that the similarities are greater than the differences. We may use different words, but the ideas are the same. We may take things further or not, but the direction is still the same.
And, most important as I see it, the practical results are remarkably similar.
As the authors of that post above point out, there are three essential ideas that are present in both “hard” and “soft” Dominionism. My goal in this post is to show how these three ideas have been widely embraced within Evangelicalism, and particularly within the political bloc which is the Religious Right. First, however, I want to look at the more general principle of Dominionism.
The first clue is in the name: Dominionist. The doctrine is drawn in large part from Genesis 1:28.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (King James Version - because it translates the original as “dominion” - and because many Dominionists are “King James Only.”)
This is what Dominionists refer to as the “Dominion Mandate.” Mankind is tasked with “taking dominion” over the earth. The Fall got things off track a bit, so God had to start again with Israel, giving them the dominion mandate, and appointing them to rule the earth. This didn’t work out for various reasons (or, if you are a Dominionist, presumably because Israel screwed it up, so God gave up on them…) So finally God went with Plan C: The Church.
Thus, in our modern times, the Church™ has been given the dominion mandate, and has thus been appointed to rule and subdue the earth. And yes, “every living thing” includes ruling other humans.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The point of “dominion” is power and control. The ability to wield power and exert control over others.
It is kind of amusing sometimes talking with Dominionists - the true believers. I had an acquaintance who would say things like “I weeded my garden today, taking dominion over my bit of earth.” Worth a chuckle in that case, but not so much when you start looking at the overall goals of the movement.
At this point, I think it is good to look at the “Seven Mountains.” As I pointed out in my Cruz post, Dominionists are not monolithic. The two main branches are Christian Reconstructionism, which has strong ties, personal and philosophical, to the neo-Confederate movement. These are the followers of R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North. It’s a very white, strongly Calvinist, and openly theocratic movement. The other branch is the New Apostolic/Kingdom Now/Seven Mountains group, which has ties to the Pentacostal/Charismatic movement, and is less likely to be racially segregated. (This is the branch that Ted Cruz’s father is a luminary in.)
The differences between the movements are real, and the members sometimes take them deadly seriously. However, for most outsiders, the two branches are much more alike than different.
The “Seven Mountains” may be from that branch, for example, but there is no doubt that the Reconstructionist branch holds the same views, even if the terms are different. The belief is that Christians (of the right, Dominionist sort, not Catholics or Liberals, of course) should seek to exert dominion over these seven areas of human society:
Government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see these listed. In fact, many of us raised in generic Evangelical churches have heard plenty about how Christians have to “take back” these areas from the infidels the non-Christians. This is Dominionism in a soft form. But don’t forget, this isn’t merely a call to engage in these areas, it is to “take them back,” to exert power and control over these areas.
It is this idea that has infiltrated Evangelicalism - and it explains why Christianity Today is so eager to draw a “distinction.” They don’t want to be lumped in with the Reconstructionist crowd, but they are unwilling to look at the fact that they have adopted the same idea, that Christians must “take back” and rule these areas of society.
It has been about three and a half years since I wrote my first post on religious issues, Patriarchy, Christian Reconstructionism, and White Supremacy. In the process of researching that article, something clicked in my brain, and I started to see just how many of the offensive political positions and laughably silly claims of the Religious Right were in fact coming from a Dominionist point of view. If you look at those Seven Mountains, it starts to make sense. Let’s wade in.
“Government” is the most visible and obvious one, of course. As I will discuss in the second part of this post, a key Dominionist goal is to use the government to enforce religious rules. In another context, we might call this “Sharia.” Dominionists call it “Theonomy,” and I hope to look more closely at that in the next post.
In any case, you can see this in the legislative priorities of the Religious Right. Enforcing sexual rules is essentially priority #1 and has been for a number of decades. (In fact, that was the big pivot of the movement back in the 1970s, going from pro-segregation to “family values.”) Right now, you can see this in the push for “Religious Freedom” acts allowing businesses and even government officials to deny housing, employment, and basic services to those who do not follow certain sexual rules. (Recent laws would allow discrimination against single mothers as well as LGBT people.) You can further see it in the rhetoric surrounding birth control as basic medical care. The Religious Right is furious that birth control might be considered to be part of basic medical coverage because that might permit the wrong people to have the wrong sex and not be sufficiently punished for it. (I wrote about the Evangelical obsession with sex here.)
I’ll just touch on it, but the other key bit of “taking Dominion” over government concerns economic policies. For Ted Cruz’s father, in the end times, God will appoint “kings” to preside over a massive transfer of wealth from the “ungodly” to the “godly.” For far too many Evangelicals, there is a similar idea at work, namely, that the “free market” is God’s means of rewarding “good” people and punishing “bad” people. In another context, we would call this "Karma." By interfering with the market - and particularly by giving benefits to poor “bad” people, we are interfering with God’s Karma "justice." (This could be a whole other post…)
Perhaps there is no greater indication of just how far Dominionists and Dominionist ideas have infiltrated politics is that historical denialist (aka “liar”) and Dominionist David Barton helped write the Republican Platform in 2012. My Ted Cruz post also has a list of prominent Republicans who are strongly associated with Dominionists. And make no mistake, this is the result of a concerted long-term effort by the Dominionists to gain political power. They have never claimed otherwise.
One final bit on “government.” This also explains why there has been this push in certain places to have blatantly sectarian prayers in government meetings. Including “In Jesus’ Name Amen.” And on the flip side, a complete meltdown if any other religious are allowed to give an invocation. Dominion requires control of the state by the church.
Moving on the the next one, “religion,” Dominionists have expressed this two ways. The first is that they unapologetically believe that religious freedom is for Christians (the right kind) only, not for atheists or believers in other religions. As Reconstructionist Gary North stated:
"We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."
Remember this quote when you hear Ted Cruz and others in the movement - and the Religious Right - talk about “religious liberty.” It is a Trojan Horse. I’ll look at this idea in the context of Christian Nationalism in the next post.
The second is one that Dominionists seek to exert dominion over local churches. I have known several different people who left churches after they were taken over by people with an agenda and a "system." This has ranged from relatively soft Dominionists like the Ezzos (who advocate that parents use abusive discipline to control their children) to followers of Bill Gothard to outright Reconstructionists.
In the less blatant sense, though, the Dominionist idea of power is making a comeback in the form of “Church Discipline.” This is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but those interested might poke around on thewartburgwatch.com for more. The general idea is that church discipline isn’t a way of removing egregiously bad people, but of enforcing theological purity, female submission, and autocratic rule by pastors.
“Media” is an interesting one. There has long been a push for Christians to “take back the media” from the liberals and atheists. (And the Jews, in some cases… ) Certain elements of Fox News have filled this function, as have a few alternative publications. The problem, of course, is that legitimate journalists have a bothersome tendency to be loyal to the truth, even when it reflects badly on religious leaders. So certain Dominionist leaders (hi there, Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, and David Barton!) have been furious when a supposedly “friendly” publication, like World Magazine shows integrity and exposes them. Perhaps the closest the Dominionists have come on this score is getting Glenn Beck to name David Barton as his “history” consultant.
Probably where we see this one most often is in the relentless attacks and distrust of “liberal” media.
“Family.” By now, this one should be pretty obvious. From the appropriation of “family values” to mean a very specific family structure - and income level - to the insistence on the use of government power to favor some families over others, the Dominionist doctrine is endemic to Evangelicalism. This is why we have had a knock down, drag out fist fight over which relationships a secular government will recognize. It is also why there is so much invective against (usually poor) single or divorced mothers, why the stay-at-home-mom is worshiped in Evangelicalism as the pinnacle of “godly” femininity (despite the fact that this excludes lower income women from “godliness”) and so on.
Note again that power and control are the issues. It’s not enough to have a certain kind of family. One must use government power force others to do the same, and punish them if they don’t.
The second way this is expressed, though, is in the Dominionist blitz of books on and for families. Bill Gothard is probably the most visible and long lived, but the “godly” childrearing books are everywhere. As are the “godly” marriage and “godly” dating books. And, surprise, surprise, these are also all about power and control. How to get unquestioning and instant obedience from your kids. Why a woman must obey her husband, and coddle his ego from feeling in the least bit challenged by her competence. It’s all about a structure, a hierarchy. It’s about who has “dominion” over whom. As in the church, as in society, so also in the family.
I think you also see dominion in the area of “business” in two different ways, the personal, and the societal. On the personal level, many Dominionists teach that Christian men (always the men) should be business owners and entrepreneurs rather than work for a boss. (You can’t serve two masters, right?) A "godly" man ought to be exerting power and control, not submitting to it.
On the other hand, though, you also see this in the ever-recurring calls to boycott businesses that won’t enforce our sexual rules. (I grew up in the 1980s when there were never-ending lists of businesses to boycott because they gave health benefits to same-sex partners. Because providing health care is clearly the work of the Devil.) Again, it was never enough to just not do something oneself. One had to “take dominion” and force others to follow the religious rules.
“Education” has been a huge issue for many years. The big battlegrounds have been “prayer in schools,” meaning, as in government, sectarian prayers to Jesus Christ. I know the Establishment Clause has been unpopular with Dominionists since the beginning, but it has been disappointing that so many Evangelicals can’t understand why it is a violation to force children to sit through a religious prayer backed by the power of government. Maybe it is because my wife and I had to grit our teeth and keep our mouths shut when we were teens because there was no alternative. But I just can’t get on board with the idea that the government should sponsor prayers. It cheapens the prayer, and dirties the government.
It’s not just prayers, though. Two other battlegrounds are centered around science and scientific denialism. Young Earth Creationists (who I’ve blogged about here) are strongly associated with the Dominionist movement. In fact, the major figures currently (Ken Ham, for example) are themselves Dominionists. Rushdoony bankrolled the founding of the modern YEC movement. Despite some key court cases that found (for extremely obvious reasons) that YEC and its twin, “intelligent design” were in fact religion trying to pretend it was science, the YEC movement continues to battle for the use of Genesis in science classrooms. (And in Louisiana, they actually won.) On a related note, Tim Teepell, a homeschooler raised in the Dominionist wing of that movement, was Governor Jindal’s chief of staff.
The other rather obvious battleground has been over sex ed. (Actually, the more accurate title might be the human reproductive system, but like anything else involving sex...) This has become increasingly laughable as the results of “abstinence only” education has become clear. Even the extreme religious form not taught in schools but churches, involving virginity pledges, only serves to delay sexual initiation by a short period of time - and increases STDs and pregnancy. Again, way beyond the scope of this post, but many of the popular “abstinence only” curricula are written by religious organizations, and contain a multitude of statements pushing “traditional” gender roles, sexist stereotypes (including the one that females aren’t good at math and science), and blame women for rape. Clearly this goes beyond the scientifically accurate information such a course should contain (and, I might add, that my own parents taught me). Instead, it is an indoctrination into an entire religious culture wherein females are prized for their virginity, while males are praised for their aggression and dominance.
Again, this has become a huge battleground, and I believe that it stems from the same belief that Christians must take dominion over education, and wield its power in the service of Christianity.
A final way the goal of dominion over education plays out is in the homeschooling movement. (And in some cases, like Doug Wilson, church schools.) Not all homeschoolers are Dominionists, but many are, and homeschooling is viewed by the founders of Reconstructionism to be a necessary means of raising the Dominionist army. For many, it is an assertion of power over their children, who owe absolute obedience, even as adults.
The final “mountain” is “arts and entertainment.” Allow me a moment of annoyance here that the two are always lumped together. But anyway, this is the area in which Dominionism has skipped over Marx’s first step in history and gone straight to farce. Dominionists have been big on both control of arts and entertainment and on the creation of their own brands. Any of us ex-Fundies can testify about the belief that all “rock” music (meaning any musical style originating with brown skinned people) was demonic. And the “don’t ever step into a movie theater” thing. And the “modern culture is all evil” thing, for that matter. So yes, cultural isolation and control has always been a Dominionist goal.
The more laughable part, though, has always been the attempts to make “Christian” movies and other entertainment. Fortunately, CCM has moved beyond its Strypyr days. And beyond the days before that. We can always look back on the worst album covers of all time, though. But I think the modern “Christian movie” culture has been the worst. From Fireproof and its toxic advice for abused women to the comically bad God’s Not Dead series, which stereotypes atheists and generally fails to pass even a cursory reality test. (Kudos to the author of this post for noting “This, of course, is when it becomes abundantly clear that no one involved with writing this movie has ever taken Intro to Philosophy. Or ever been to college. Or anywhere near a college. I don’t even think they’ve watched “Saved By The Bell: The College Years.”) It’s just plain embarrassing, I must say. It isn’t aided by the fact that those Christian artists (and there are plenty) who are actually thoughtful tend to get expelled for failing to toe the line.
So there you have it, the mountains of Dominionism. This leads me to what I believe is the central problem with Dominionism and its influence on Evangelicalism.
Dominionism views the Kingdom of God as being fundamentally about power and control, not love and service.
This is, in my view, the fundamental (and Fundamentalist) problem. Because Dominionism in any of its forms views the Kingdom of God as power over and control of those outside the faith, it will inevitably express itself as attempts to control institutions and people. That’s why those who buy into the Dominionist philosophy will never be content to live their lives the way they believe is right and let others do the same. Instead, they must control the sexual behavior of others, have only their prayers prayed in school and government; why their holy book should be given priority as a “science” textbook, and why ultimately a Dominionist utopia would “deny freedom of religion to the enemies of God” as Gary North puts it.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The longer I live and the more I read the teachings of Christ, the more convinced I am that American Evangelicalism doesn’t really have any intention of listening to Christ or following his teachings. He wasn’t the right type of messiah. They are still looking for a Kingdom of political power where those who disagree with Christians will get their just desserts. They want Christ to come and kick some gay and atheist BUTT!
But that isn’t the view of the Kingdom that Christ presents to us. His is the “upside down” kingdom, where the first are last and the last first. Where the greatest isn’t the one with power and dominion, but the one who serves. Where how one is judged will depend not on whether one enforces God’s laws, but whether one does good unto the least of them.
This is the reason that at one point, Christ makes one of the most shocking statements of all time:
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
In the aftermath of my Cruz post, I had a discussion with a friend about whether one could be post-millennialist without being dominionist. I believe it is possible (although perhaps rare.) Many of the Quakers past and present would qualify. (Although I looked up Quaker eschatology, and it is far from simple or uniform…) I think the Quakers do, however, offer one vision of the Kingdom that is a refreshing alternative to Dominionism. After all, it was the Quakers who worked on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves find freedom. Quiet service, doing good to the oppressed, loving without attempting to control.
It’s quite a contrast to the current state of Evangelicalism in American, isn’t it?
In the next part, I want to look at the specifically American manifestations of Dominionism:
These derive in significant part from Dominionist ideas, but they also draw in a false view of history and a romanticized view of ancient times.
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Before you comment, please read my Comment Policy.
In particular, I will not be accepting any Dominionist/Reconstructionist talking points or political endorsements.