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Rampant Denial About the Threat Posed By Christian Dominionists, Perry and Bachmann

High-profile attacks on progressive reporting about Christian dominionism speak to the power of truth-telling.
 
 
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Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction, at least as perceived by members of a culture removed from a particular truth. Today's strange truth is the fact of the Christian dominionist influence on the beliefs of right-wing evangelicals, and in particular, on the worldviews of Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas gov. Rick Perry, two top-tier contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

Dominionism, an academic term for a strain of evangelical Christianity that mandates believers to take over the institutions of society in order to implement God's law on earth, flows from the theology of Christian Reconstructionism, whose proponents see as their ultimate goal the reconstitution of biblical law as the law of the land. Although usually less literal than Reconstructionism in its interpretation of God's law, dominionism can vary from sect to sect in its severity. A common thread in the fabric of many right-wing evangelical sects, dominionism is nonetheless generally viewed as exotic by those mainstream media journalists who dare to describe it in their coverage, while progressive reporters see it a danger to the body politic.

Then there are the deniers, such as Lisa Miller, Newsweek's religion editor, who stepped forward on the Web site of the Washington Post to reassure readers that all this talk of dominionism and the GOP is just a paranoid fantasy of the left.

A Victory for Progressives

Believe it or not, for progressive reporters, Miller's high-profile denial is something of a victory, for it means the work of investigative journalists for progressive publications is making its mark on the more mainstream outlets, as when the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza echoed Sarah Posner's reporting for Religion Dispatches in his profile of Bachmann, or when Michelle Goldberg built on the dogged research of Rachel Tabachnick (writing here for AlterNet) and others for her Daily Beast piece on dominionism's claim on both Perry and Bachmann.

"Some on the left seem suspicious that a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world," Miller wrote at the Post's "On Faith" site. Then she went on to say, parenthetically, "Some extremist Christians leveled a similar charge against Barack Obama in 2008, that he was the antichrist aiming to take over world governments."

To equate dominionism with "a firm belief in Jesus" does a disservice to all those Americans who firmly believe in Jesus, but who also firmly believe in the separation of church and state. To deny the pervasive influence of dominionism on the professed faith of many -- perhaps most -- on the religious right is to reveal a breathtaking ignorance of American evangelical theology as it has evolved over the past 40 years.

And to equate the fact, proven by diligent reporters and by the theological writings of right-wing religious leaders, of the impact of dominionist ideology on Republican politics with the malevolent, racist fantasy of Obama as anti-Christ should really be a firing offense at any publication whose credibility rests on the conveyance of factual information. But I expect that Miller will keep her job.

Not Just a River in Egypt

As I wrote last week, media people tend to deal with the religious right and its belief systems in one of two ways: either through the lens of exoticism (as if the reporter were an anthropologist visiting some strange and primitive culture), or through denial, because the truth is just too awful and jarring to the worldview of the well-educated, rational reporter. For journalists in the latter category, the America of the religious right is just not the America they know, nor is it the one they care to know.