Inside the Christian Right Dominionist Movement That's Undermining Democracy
Dominionists want to impose a form of Christian nationalism on the United States, a concept that was dismissed as eroding freedom and democracy by the founders of our country. Dominionism has become a major influence on the right-wing populist Tea Parties as Christian Right activists have flooded into the movement at the grassroots. At the same time, legitimate questions have been raised about whether or not potential Republican presidential nominees Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin have moved from a generic form of Christian Right Dominionism toward the more totalitarian form know as Dominion Theology.
Clueless journalists and crafty Christian Right pundits have mocked the idea that Dominionism as a religiously motivated political tendency even exists. Scholars, however, have been writing about Dominionism for over a decade, some using the term directly, and others describing the tendency in other ways.
Dominionism is a broad political impulse within the Christian Right in the United States. It comes in a variety of forms that author Fred Clarkson and I call soft and hard. Fred and I probably coined the term “Dominionism” back in the 1990s, but in any case we certainly were the primary researchers who organized its use among journalists and scholars.
Clarkson noted three characteristics that bridge both the hard and the soft kind of Dominionism.
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
- Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
- Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, believing that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.
At the apex of hard Dominionism is the religious dogma of Dominion Theology, with two major branches: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology. It is the latter’s influence on the theopolitical movement called the New Apostolic Reformation that has been linked in published reports to potential Republican presidential nominees Perry, Bachmann or Palin. All three of these right-wing political debutantes have flirted with Christian Right Dominionism, but how far they have danced toward the influence of hard-right Dominion Theology is in dispute. It would be nice if some “mainstream” journalists actually researched the question.
“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 religion scholar Bruce 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 most militant Dominion Theologists would silence dissenters and execute adulterers, homosexuals and recalcitrant children. No…seriously. OK, they would only be executed for repeated offenses, explain some defenders of Christian Reconstructionism. Even most Christian Right activists view the more militant Dominion Theologists as having really creepy ideas.
Much of the controversy over the issue of Dominionism is caused by writers who use the term carelessly, often conflating the broad term Dominionism with the narrow term Dominion Theology. Some on the Left have implied that every conservative Christian evangelical is part of the Christian Right political movement; and that everyone in the Christian Right is an active Dominionist. This is false. Some critics even state that the Christian Right is neofascist. Few serious scholars of fascism agree with that assessment, although several admit that if triggered by a traumatic societal event, any contemporary right-wing populist movement could descend into neofascism.