Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy - Part Four

Putting the Christian Right in its proper place in the political spectrum as a component of the broader U.S. Political Right is an important step in developing an effective response. This also allows us to evaluate the threat posed by domininionist and theocratic tendencies in the Christian Right. Some people see this better when presented in outline of chart form, so this entry in the series is constructed along those lines.

The Christian Right is a series of social movements with participants that have been mobilized into political participation through the Republican Party as part of a larger set of coalitions that include social conservatives, moral traditionalists, neoconservatives, militarists, etc. The Republican Party and the Christian Right, however, represent just a portion of the entire spectrum of the U.S. Political Right, so we provide a full chart of these sectors below.

The Christian Right plays multiple roles in the political system: as a social movement made up of people with shared grievances; a political movement with a specific set of electoral and legislation goals on the federal and state level; and a coalition partner in conservative politics.

Christian Right: Multiple Roles in Political System

    •   Social Movement

    •   Political Movement

    •   Coalition Partner

The Christian Right itself is made up of different sectors that exist in a coalition that may seem monolithic, but which actually has fracture points where wedge issues can be developed as part of an effective counter-strategy.

Christian Right: Multiple Internal Sectors

    •   Christian Conservatives

    •   Christian Nationalists

    •   Christian Theocrats

Within the Christian Right, it is primarily the Christian Nationalists and Christian Theocrats who pursue a type of dominionism that has theocratic aspects. The degree of dominionist authoritarianism varies by sector. Christian Reconstructionism is the major theopolitical ideology behind Hard Dominionism, but it is a subset of it. So there are nested subsets.

All Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats are also Soft Dominionist Christian Nationalists, but not all Soft Dominionist Christian Nationalists are Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats. All Christian Reconstructionists are Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats and Christian Nationalists, but not all Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats are Christian Reconstructionists. Whew!

Degree of dominionist authoritarianism:

    •   Soft Dominionist - Christian Nationalists

        •   Hard Dominionist - Christian Theocrats

            •   Christian Reconstructionist

Dominionists of all varieties can also have a complicated mix of attributes. These include the theology and style of religious practice; and the view of biblical End Times prophecy.

Theology and style of religious practice:

    •   Protestant

        •   Evangelicals

        •   Fundamentalists

        •   Charismatics

        •   Pentacostals

        •   Mainstream Protestant denominations (Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran)

    •   Catholic

View of biblical End Times prophecy:

    •   Postmillennialists

    •   Premillennialists

    •   Amillennialists

The Christian Right is just one of several sectors that comprise the Political Right in the United States. The chart below shows where it fits, dividing the Christian Right into hard and soft dominionists. Christian Conservatives are the bridge between the Secular Right and the Dominionists and Theocrats, but it is a weak bridge. Christian Conservatives are listed in the Chart below as part of the Religious Right.



Corporate Internationalists--Nations should control the flow of people across borders, but not the flow of goods, capital, and profit. Sometimes called the "Rockefeller Republicans." Globalists.

Business Nationalists--Multinational corporations erode national sovereignty; nations should enforce borders for people, but also for goods, capital, and profit through trade restrictions. Enlists grassroots allies from Patriot Movement. Anti-Globalists. Generally protectionist and isolationist.

Economic Libertarians--The state disrupts the perfect harmony of the free market system. Modern democracy is essentially congruent with capitalism.

National Security Militarists--Support US military supremacy and unilateral use of force to protect perceived US national security interests around the world. A major component of Cold War anti-communism.

Neoconservatives--The egalitarian social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s undermined the national consensus. Intellectual oligarchies and political institutions preserve democracy from mob rule. The United States has the right to intervene in its perceived interests anywhere in the world.



Religious Conservatives Play by the rules of a pluralist democratic republic. Overwhelmingly Christian, with a handful of conservative Jews and Muslims and other people of faith. Moral traditionalists. Cultural and social conservatives.

Christian Nationalism (Soft Dominionists)--Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. America's greatness as God's chosen land has been undermined by liberal secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in schools. Overlaps somewhat with Christian theocracy.

Christian Theocracy (Hard Dominionists)--Christian men are ordained by God to run society. Eurocentric version of Christianity based on early Calvinism. Intrinsically Christian ethnocentric, treating non-Christians as second-class citizens. Implicitly antisemitic. Includes Christian Reconstructionists.



Patriot Movement (Regressive Populists)--Secret elites control the government and banks. The government plans repression to enforce elite rule or global collectivism. The armed militias are one submovement from this sector. Americanist. Often supports Business Nationalism due to its isolationist emphasis. Anti-Globalist, yet support unilateralist national security militarism. Repressive towards scapegoated targets below them on socio-economic ladder.

Paleoconservatives--Ultra-conservatives and reactionaries. Natural financial oligarchies preserve the republic against democratic mob rule. Usually nativist (White Nationalism), sometimes antisemitic or Christian nationalist. Elitist emphasis is similar to the intellectual conservative revolutionary wing of the European New Right. Often libertarian.

White Nationalism (White Racial Nationalists)--Alien cultures make democracy impossible. Cultural Supremacists argue different races can adopt the dominant (White) culture; Biological Racists argue the immutable integrity of culture, race, and nation. Segregationists want distinct enclaves, Separatists want distinct nations. Americanist. Tribalist emphasis is similar to the race-is-nation wing of the European New Right.

Extreme Right (Ultra Right)--Militant forms of revolutionary right ideology and separatist ethnocentric nationalism. Reject pluralist democracy for an organic oligarchy that unites the homogeneic nation. Conspiracist views of power that are overwhelmingly antisemitic. Home to overt neofascists, neonazis, Christian Identity, Creativity (Church of the Creator), National Alliance.

See the Chart at the PRA website

Chart is copyright 2005, Political Research Associates

This all may seem overwhelming at first, but in a nation where many people have elaborate systems for tracking sports scores or soap opera plots, it is a reasonable expectation that people who want to successfully challenge dominionists and theocrats can walk up the learning curve and appreciate the view from the top.

Ported from Talk to Action
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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy - Part Three

In the Christian Right, more leaders than followers have consciously embraced dominionist ideas. The tendency toward a "dominionist impulse," however, has continued to become more widespread since the 1970s, making a discussion of theocracy not only legitimate, but necessary. Conscious or unconscious--dominionism is a real threat to democracy.

Author Bruce Barron warned of a growing "dominionist impulse" among evangelicals in his 1992 book Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Barron, with a Ph.D. in American religious history, is also an advocate of Christian political participation, and has worked with conservative Christian evangelicals and elected officials. Barron is smart, courteous, and not someone you would debate without doing a whole boatload of homework. Disrespect him at your own risk.

I have discussed the Christian Right with Sara Diamond, William Martin, and Bruce Barron. The first three essays in this series are based on their work, reflecting a broad range of political and spiritual viewpoints. Along with my colleague Frederick Clarkson, it is authors Diamond, Barron, and Martin who built a firm foundation for the use of the terms dominionism and dominion theology.

Barron is worried by the aggressive, intolerant, and confrontational aspects of dominion theology; and is especially concerned that these ideas have seeped into the broader Christian evangelical community. Dominion theology is not a version of Christianity with which Barron is comfortable.

In his book, Barron looks at two theological currents: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now, and explains that "Many observers have grouped them together under the more encompassing rubric of 'dominion theology.'" Christian Reconstructionism evolved out of the writings of R.J. Rushdoony; while Kingdom Now theology emerged from the ministry of Earl Paulk.

"While differing from Reconstructionism in many ways, Kingdom Now shares the belief that Christians have a mandate to take dominion over every area of life," explains Barron. And it is just this tendency that has spread through evangelical Protestantism, resulting in the emergence of "various brands of 'dominionist' thinkers in contemporary American evangelicalism," according to Barron.

The distinction is crucial. Dominion theology (Christian Reconstructionism, Kingdom Now, and a handful of smaller theologies), has generated a variety of versions or "brands" of "dominionism" adopted by a number of leaders in the Christian Right who would not describe themselves as "dominionist;" and most certainly would reject the theological tenets promulgated by a "dominion theology" such as Christian Reconstructionism.

Beginning in the 1960s, and gathering force in the 1970s, the "dominionist impulse" rode along a wave of discontent among evangelicals and fundamentalists. They were upset with secular society, especially federal court decisions and government legislation and regulations they felt intruded too far into the personal--and religious--life. Their concern over social, cultural, and political issues involving pornography, school prayer, abortion, and homosexuality prompted participation in national elections since the 1970s.

This social movement of conservative Christian evangelicals was mobilized by the Christian Right, who joined with ultraconservative political operatives to take over the Republican Party. In this coalition, there are a wide variety of theological tendencies and disputes that are temporarily set aside in favor of organizing to achieve a specific political agenda. This coalition also sets aside disputes over how the End Times of biblical prophecy play out. This means that the primarily "postmillennialist" Christian Reconstructionists work on projects with the primarily "premillennialist" evangelical constituency of the Christian Right.

Open advocates of dominionism declare that "America is a Christian Nation," and that therefore Christians have a God-given mandate to re-assert Christian control over political, social, and cultural institutions. Yet many dominionists stop short of staking out a position that could be called theocratic. This is the "soft" version of dominionism.

The "hard" version of dominionism is explicitly theocratic or "theonomic," as the Christian Reconstructionists prefer to be called. For America, it is a distinction without a difference.

According to Barron, "Unlike the Christian Right, Reconstructionism is not simply or primarily a political movement; it is first and foremost an educational movement fearlessly proclaiming an ideology of total world transformation." Barron also "observed a discomforting triumphalism within dominion theology, especially its takeover rhetoric." In this usage, "triumphalism" simply means when it comes to religions belief, it's my way or the highway. One God, one religion, one folk, one nation--a Christian Nation--love it or leave it.

Barron notes that Christian Reconstructionism has "intellectual substance, internal coherence, and heavy dependence on Scripture," and this has helped "Reconstructionist philosophy win a hearing in many sectors of the Christian Right." For example, Barron found the "idea of Christian dominion, though with less emphasis on biblical law, has been echoed within the Charismatic movement, that segment of American Christianity identified by its free-spirited, demonstrative worship and its practice of spiritual gifts such as tongue speaking and prophecy."

One well-known Charismatic preacher is Pat Robertson, who reaches millions of viewers weekly through his "700 Club" television program. "Robertson's explicit emphasis on the need to restore Christians to leadership roles in American society mirrors what" Barron called, "a dominionist impulse in contemporary evangelicalism."

Who is a dominionist?

Barron argued that "in the context of American evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life, the distinguishing mark of a dominionist is a commitment to defining and carrying out an approach to building society that is self-consciously defined as exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of Christians, rather than based on a broader consensus."

Around World War II it was the sentiment of many evangelical Protestants in the United States that they needed to find a way to co-exist with an increasingly pluralistic society, and thus they began to self-identify as "evangelicals" to distinguish themselves from the more doctrinaire and intolerant wing of "fundamentalism."

Barron believes that the "all-encompassing agenda" of the dominionists "puts them at odds with those more moderate evangelicals who work for social change yet still affirm the pluralistic nature of a society in which all ideas--be they Christian or anti-Christian, derived from or opposed to biblical law--have an equal right to be heard and to compete for public acceptance."

So evangelicals can work for conservative social change without being "dominionist," and some can be our allies in building broad opposition to dominionism as an impulse in the Christian Right. This is aided in part by an intractable contradiction among practitioners of hard forms of dominion theology.

As Sara Diamond explains, ultimately, "Dominionist thinking precludes coalitions between believers and unbelievers...." This creates an irresolvable contradictory tension. "The Christian Right wants to take dominion," notes Diamond, but it also wants to work within "the existing political-economic system, at the same time." The broader the Christian Right stretches as an electoral coalition, the more obvious it becomes that some of its key leaders want a theocracy rather than a democracy. Hard-line dominionists want to overthrow the existing political-economic system and replace it with a theocracy. That's a real hard sell to most of our neighbors.

In the United States today, there is a struggle between democracy and theocracy--as Fred Clarkson so aptly puts it in the title of his book. This is obvious to many of us, perhaps, but it is largely being ignored by the mainstream media and most Christian evangelicals. This is a wedge issue that can only be effective if we learn how to distinguish among the many different theological, political, organizational, and other aspects of Christian belief and political participation. Using terms such as "dominionism" and "theocracy" in a cautious and careful way allows us to broaden the conversation, and broaden the coalition that seeks to defend the dream of democracy against the nightmare of theocracy.

Ported from Talk to Action
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Monday, December 12, 2005

The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy - Part Two

The term "dominionism" is used different ways by different people. When new terms are developed, that is to be expected. If we are to use words and phrases to discuss ideas, however, it pays to be on the same page concerning how we define those terms. This is especially true in public debates.

In her 1989 book Spiritual Warfare, sociologist Sara Diamond discussed how dominionism as an ideological tendency in the Christian Right had been significantly influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. Over the past 20 years the leading proponents of Christian Reconstructionism and dominion theology have included Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and Andrew Sandlin.

Diamond explained that "the primary importance of the [Christian Reconstructionist] ideology is its role as a catalyst for what is loosely called 'dominion theology.'" According to Diamond, "Largely through the impact of Rushdoony's and North's writings, the concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to 'occupy' all secular institutions has become the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right." (italics in the original).

In a series of articles and book chapters Diamond expanded on her thesis. She called Reconstructionism "the most intellectually grounded, though esoteric, brand of dominion theology," and observed that "promoters of Reconstructionism see their role as ideological entrepreneurs committed to a long-term struggle."

So Christian Reconstructionism was the most influential form of dominion theology, and it influenced both the theological concepts and political activism of white Protestant conservative evangelicals mobilized by the Christian Right.

But very few evangelicals have even heard of dominion theology, and fewer still embrace Christian Reconstructionism. How do we explain this, especially since our critics are quick to point it out?

The answer lies in teasing apart the terminology and how it is used.

Christian Reconstructionism is a form of theocratic dominion theology. Its leaders challenged evangelicals across a wide swath of theological beliefs to engage in a more muscular and activist form of political participation. The core theme of dominion theology is that the Bible mandates Christians to take over and "occupy" secular institutions.

A number of Christian Right leaders read what the Christian Reconstructionists were writing, and they adopted the idea of taking dominion over the secular institutions of the United States as the "central unifying ideology" of their social movement. They decided to gain political power through the Republican Party.

This does not mean most Christian Right leaders became Christian Reconstructionists. It does mean they were influenced by dominion theology. But they were influenced in a number of different ways, and some promote the theocratic aspects more militantly than others.

It helps to see the terms dominionism, dominion theology, and Christian Reconstructionism as distinct and not interchangeable. While all Christian Reconstructionists are dominionists, not all dominionists are Christian Reconstructionists.

In its generic sense, dominionism is a very broad political tendency within the Christian Right. It ranges from soft to hard versions in terms of its theocratic impulse.

Soft Dominionists are Christian nationalists. They believe that Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. They fear that America's greatness as God's chosen land has been undermined by liberal secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in schools. Their vision has elements of theocracy, but they stop short of calling for supplanting the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Hard Dominionists believe all of this, but they want the United States to be a Christian theocracy. For them the Constitution and Bill of Rights are merely addendums to Old Testament Biblical law. They claim that Christian men with specific theological beliefs are ordained by God to run society. Christians and others who do not accept their theological beliefs would be second-class citizens. This sector includes Christian Reconstructionists, but it has a growing number of adherents in the leadership of the Christian Right.

It makes more sense to reserve the term "dominion theology" to describe specific theological currents, while using the term "dominionism" in a generic sense to discuss a tendency toward aggressive political activism by Christians who claim they are mandated by God to take over society. Even then, we need to locate the subject of our criticisms on a scale that ranges from soft to hard versions of dominionism.

As I have written elsewhere, crafting an appropriate response depends on what sector of the Christian Right we are criticizing.

Originally posted on Talk2Action.org

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dominionism 101

A series of conferences and seminars focusing on the issue of “dominionism” are being held in New York City by the Graduate Center, CUNY and the New York Open Center

Dominionism is a term popularized by sociologist Sara Diamond. Those, like me, who study the Christian Right use the term to explain a political tendency that has mobilized tens of millions of conservative Christians into public political participation.

The two conferences held to date were extremely successful. Speakers included Karen Armstong, Joan Bokaer, Charles Stroizer, Jeff Sharlet, Frederick Clarkson, Esther Kaplan, Craig Unger, and myself. The wide range of expertise provided attendees with a broad range of issues related to dominionism: fear and rage in fundamentalist movements; dominionist influence on U.S. policies; the Bush administration’s promotion of theocracy; the relationship between elite fundamentalism and pragmatic dominionism; how to confront the religious right while respecting religious faith; and millennialist and apocalyptic influences on dominionism.

As you can imagine an incredible amount of information came out of these panels and discussions. So much so that I figured it would be worth compiling a mini-crash course on dominionism. Although oversimplified, the following is a summary of the basic definitions and explanations offered in the conference presentations.

  • Christianity is a religious belief system with two main wings in the United States: Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

  • Evangelicals are mostly Protestant, and they share a particular approach to Christianity.

  • Fundamentalists are generally evangelicals who practice a more doctrinaire, orthodox, demanding, and judgmental form of their faith. Many fundamentalists see the world in dualistic terms, with the forces of good battling the forces of evil.

  • Some Christians, especially evangelicals, declare they have been “born again” after an intense religious experience through which they come to accept the earthly power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Premillennial Dispensationalism is a particular theological timetable explaining prophecies in the Bible. This view is especially popular among evangelicals.

  • One version of Premillennial Dispensationalism suggests the clock has started ticking on the countdown to the approaching apocalyptic End Times and the Battle of Armageddon that pits Godly Christians against evil agents of God’s chief rival, the satanic Antichrist.

  • Some Premillennial Dispensationalists, especially those who are “born again,” also believe that at some point in the End Times they will experience the Rapture, an event during which devout Christians are swept up into a heavenly protective embrace while God punishes the sinners left behind on earth.

  • The Christian Right is a politicized social movement made up primarily of evangelicals and fundamentalists, many of who are premillennial dispensationalists, and a significant portion of whom are wound up with apocalyptic expectation and energy.

  • Dominionism is a political tendency that channels the apocalyptic religious energy of conservative evangelicals into participation in elections and legislative campaigns. Not all dominionists are alike, however; and there are three main branches:

    • Christian Conservatives – They play by the rules of a democratic republic, and so our response should be to develop better ideas and carry out better grassroots organizing campaigns.

      Christian Nationalists – They erode pluralism, and we must defend separation of church and state, but also engage in a discussion of the legitimate boundaries when religious beliefs intersect with participation in a secular civil society.

      Christian Theocrats – They want to replace democracy with an authoritarian theocratic society run by a handful of Christian men. They seek to supersede the Constitution and Bill of Rights with Old Testament Biblical law. We must oppose them and not give an inch in our defense of democracy against theocracy.

    There are more events planned, stay tuned to the Open Center’s website and of course the DefCon blog for more info.

    An edited DVD of Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right is now for sale through the NY Open Center. Call 212-219-2527 X 170 or email orders@opencenter.org

    Originally posted on Campaign to Defend the Constitution DefConAmerica

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