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

    Originally posted on Campaign to Defend the Constitution DefConAmerica

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