I have previously written on the topic of Dominionism and then subsequently on a specific “brand” of Dominionism in the past. After reading an interview between Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches and Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania called Beyond Alarmism and Denial in the Dominionism Debate I felt compelled to write a big, huge monstrosity of an article outlining the main Christian Dominionist “sects” in America as best I could. For clarity. And apparently because I am masochistic nerd that likes to do research. So I am just going to roll into this and touch on the basics of these Christian theological movements, explain how they fit into Dominionism, and make connections where appropriate, outline distinctions, and correct some misconceptions. This will be broken up into a series of separate articles otherwise you, my faithless readers, may become bored. They will be posted as follows and the distinctions will hopefully become apparent as you read them.
Part 1 A Primer on Christian Dominionism and Dominion Theology
There may be subsequent additional posts beyond those listed above and Part 1 will act as a “table of contents.” Keep checking back here and I’ll link to this list. No matter how long this series of articles may be they are—admittedly—superficial. To treat any one of these topics and groups with anything less than a book or even a series of books is only skimming the surface. Go forth and read for yourselves. Post links in the comments. Start your own blog. Write a book! Also, if anyone reading this feels I am in error please point it out in the comments. I make no claims to expertise. After all, theology is a convoluted mess on its own. Mixing it with politics is even worse.
I would also like to reiterate, per the Talk2Action article by Rachel Tabatchnik and as I have said in previous posts that Dominionism is not some secretive, veiled conspiracy. Despite the duplicitousness and cowardice of some its leaders in denying its existence; it is out in the open. The majority of Americans just simply do not pay attention, do not care, or are not willing to confront Christian extremism. The “mainstream” media shies away from investigative and critical journalism that involves religion in general, but especially American Christians. Even when superficially critical stories of religion are aired Christians—of all stripes—cry persecution and exhibit their innate martyr complex. At this point that tactic has been extraordinarily successful in scaring off most people from really investigating, evaluating, and educating on these groups and their movements, let alone religion. It’s really quite amazing.
The bastards have a Jedi Sith mindtrick.
So what then is Dominionism?
Part 1: Dominionism, Dominion Theology, and Theonomy vs. Theocracy
“Dominionism” is the religious belief that Christians are mandated to influence and control the government (more accurately over everything) based on God’s Laws within the Bible manifested as political philosophy and subsequent machinations. In short; Christian laws and people should be present within facet of the culture and “secularism and pluralism” should be eradicated. There is a central belief that Christians are inherently superior to secular and non-Christian laws and people.
There are three overarching beliefs of Dominionism. They are:
- Christian Nationalism: The belief that the Unites States of America is a Christian Nation and was explicitly founded as such. This whole “Separation of Church and State” concept is a trick by godless, liberal secularists working for Satan. Probably Marxist Nazi Islamic Atheists.
- Christian Religious Supremacy: Obviously they do not hold other religions, or the lack thereof, in high regard. Christianity is the only true religion. The rest are evil, wicked, and infected with demons sent by Satan to corrupt. This belief in corruption extends to other sects of Christianity that do not share in their beliefs.
- Christian views on Biblical law should be reflected in or usurp secular American law: This could range from something fairly innocuous like a vague wish to return to idealized 1950’s Americana to a complete theocracy; in which Biblical laws are carried out to the point where homosexuals, adulterers and blasphemers are stoned to death.
It is best to think of these beliefs on a spectrum. Christians that hold these beliefs have varying levels of what I’ll call “severity” as to how this worldview should be accomplished and carried out. The following section is from my Dominionism in the 21st Century post:
In his article The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy - Part Two, Chip Berlet states that it is "a tendency among Protestant Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists that encourages them to not only be active political participants in civic society, but also to seek to dominate the political process as part of a mandate from God."
Berlet divides the Dominionists into two subgroups:
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 the Christian Reconstructionists, but it has a growing number of adherents in the leadership of the Christian Right.
I think many, if not most people in the Christian Right movement during the recent cultures wars fit into the Soft Dominionist movement as described above and they would not have an objection to this description. While in direct opposition to secularism and liberalism, they are still basically within mainstream America. Not that they aren't a threat, but at this point we are used to them.
The Hard Dominionists, however, are a major threat to the United States of America, its Bill of Rights, the Constitution, education, science, and our tradition of secular government. Some would balk at this notion, but the point is they do not see the United States of America as having always been a secular nation. They would balk because they see the nation as having always been a nation created by God and has since been undermined and overtaken by liberals, socialists, atheists, homosexuals, etc. We are the enemy and we should be destroyed. It is God's will. Think about that mindset for moment. Does that sound like you want these people anywhere near the leadership of our country?
What I was trying to emphasize in this older post, and I now understand even better than when I first wrote the above, is that Dominionism describes the political philosophy and machinations that many conservative Christians hold, but there are varying degrees in which their goals and methods would go. Obviously, not every Christian is a “Dominionist.” In some respects it is not that useful a descriptor for groups and especially individuals. Your typical Sunday morning, church-going granny could be labeled a “Dominionist” if asked certain questions, but what does that really tell you? Not much. Granny probably wouldn't even know what you are talking about if you asked if she was “Dominionist.”
This doesn’t mean I am falling into the trap of dismissing Dominionism, its leaders, and their threats to liberty. Far from it. All I am saying is that those of us (antitheists, atheists, freethinkers, secular humanists, agnostics, and some progressive Christians) that oppose these ideas and movements need to know what—exactly—we are talking about. An example of an incorrect notion of the Dominionism can be found on RationalWiki (which I love). Dominionism is not “also called” Christian Reconstructionism (I am happy to report that RationalWiki has updated their page since I first wrote this article). Christian Reconstructionism is a type of Dominion Theology. The easy answer to why this has become a common point of confusion is that Christian Reconstructionism has been around for a few decades and had been a kind of progenitor for the Christian Right movement that gained momentum in the 1970’s and 1980’s. More on that later. This may seem like nitpicking, but there are significant differences between some of these groups and, in fact, they (various Dominionist and non-Dominionist Christian theologies) find the others heretical, dangerous, or fake. Of course they do...
We are used to people that believe America was founded as a Christian nation, that Christianity is “The Way”, and that America's laws should be based on the Bible. That is par for the course. The real challenge is to place these beliefs on a spectrum from the mistaken and annoying to unmitigated threats. As far as groups and beliefs to keep our eyes on...we need specifics. Let’s dive in and drill down.
Whereas “Dominionism” is the descriptor for the political beliefs and the goals of some Christians; “Dominion theology”, as the name implies, is a specific set of religious beliefs. It is the religious basis of the movement that influences or “mandates” the political side. This mandate is inspired by and interpreted from a passage in Genesis.
And God blessed them [Adam and Eve] 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." —Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
One of the reasons I started to look into this topic in more detail was that I have seen various different definitions of Dominionism or confusing the different theological beliefs within Dominion Theology. Many writers state that all Dominionists believe that Jesus didn’t fully defeat Satan while on the cross and therefore it is up to the Church to defeat the forces of evil so Jesus can return. I have found that to be true of the Kingdom Now theological adherents (Part 3), but I am not sure that the Christian Reconstructionists (Part 2) believe this. Not exactly anyway. For example, using the two main “branches” of dominionism I will discuss in this series how we can see the slight theological similarities and differences.
Christian Reconstructionism = Kingdom of God on Earth was established at the crucifixion, but it is incomplete. It is progressing and Jesus will return at the culmination of a Christian world.
Kingdom Now Theology = The Church needs to create Kingdom of God on Earth so Jesus is able to return.
While the differences are subtle, they have implications for how these theologies manifest in the people that follow them. While Christian Reconstructionists still have to work at making the world Christian, the Kingdom Now Theologists believe they have a greater role in this due to their beliefs in the charismatic power. This is just one example. I am not going to dive into the plethora of incorrect information. Much of the confusion originates from other Christians who are critical of Dominion Theology and find it heretical (and secular writers have often cited these writings) . They have a tendency to...misrepresent for their own theological underpinnings.
Conversely, a major theological theme shared by these groups is that God lost control of the Earth to Satan after the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. I use this core belief as the central definition of Dominion Theology. It is as follows: Dominion Theology is the belief that Christians are mandated by God to reclaim dominion from Satan’s control, in order to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth for the eventual return of Jesus Christ. To be clear, this is my interpretation of everything that I have read from secular critics, religious critics and the Dominionists themselves. It removes specific beliefs of particular groups that are are mistakenly applied to the whole or that do not perfectly align with others. I welcome a discussion in the comments if anyone disagrees or has a better core theological belief for them.
Within this definition is contained some significant information about the worldviews of the people that adhere to them. First, it is representative of the good/evil duality of an Abrahamic religious universe. Nearly everything that has happened since Adam and Eve were to have bitten the apple has been the work of the devil. This world we live in, anything “worldly,” is Satanic. It sets up everything external to Biblical teaching as wrong, bad, or evil. Science? Satanic. Secularism? Satanic. Religious Pluralism? Satanic. Homosexuality? Satanic. Public Schools? Satanic. No-theocratic government? Satanic. It is a wholly insular worldview that is perfectly suited to protect the meme of religion.
Secondly, within this definition is the simplest premise of Dominion Theology’s eschatology (End Times beliefs). While there are differences between the groups they all share the belief and goal that the Earth must be prepared for the (post-millenial) return of Jesus Christ. This is not related to The Rapture, by the way. Dominion Theology largely disavows that concept.
So how does Dominion Theology instruct Dominionist political agenda? A word from a leader in one of the movements:
Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society. In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings. It says in Revelation Chapter 1:6 that He has made us kings and priests - and check the rest of that verse; it says for Dominion. So we are kings for Dominion. - C. Peter Wagner (emphasis added)
I emphasized the two sentences to point out the theme. The Dominion they wish to seek is to establish their brand of Christianity as the ultimate authority on Earth and they will accomplish this by taking over society. The “head and not the tail” reference is from Deuteronomy stating “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be beneath...” (Deuteronomy 28:13 NASB) noting that God will bless His people and they shall rule over the Earth (provided they keep the Covenant). This is a clear catchphrase or battle cry for Dominionists. Aside from Genesis 1:28, this may be one of the best Biblical passages to describe their mindset. They are commanded to rule the Earth under God’s law.
Theonomy vs Theocracy
We need to define a few things here for clarification since these two concepts are often confused. Actually, I would venture a guess that they aren’t confused so much as mistakenly thought of as the same thing.
- Theonomy: God’s Law. The state of an individual or society that regards its own nature and norms as being in accord with the divine nature. (via dictionary.com)
- Theocracy: government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. (via Merriam-Webster)
This is a necessary distinction especially in light of the splitting of hairs that Dominionist’s have begun to do when defining their goals as more and more media attention has brought them into the light. If we wanted to get into a strictly theological debate about what this means we could go on and on, ad nauseum. In short, theonomy is the Christian opposite of the concept of autonomy. There is no “self” as the basis for ethics. Just Divine Will. Only God’s Laws, as they are revealed in the Bible, are the basis for ethics. These “laws” should be used as the basis for civil law. In my opinion, theonomy is to theocracy as Dominion Theology is to Dominionism. One is a theological concept regarding basic personal and universal worldview and one is the political application of that worldview. Now, it can be easily argued that theonomy, since it is a “law system” applied to civil law is political and that would be correct as well. However, the point here is that one is required for the other to exist. Theocracy is not going to happen without theonomy. As mentioned above, this is relevant since Dominionist (especially Christian Reconstructionists) have attempted to muddy the waters with theological speak of theonomy as if it doesn’t have an end game.
The Bible gives the foundation for a true theocracy as a bottom-up, grassroots effort that begins in the hearts of the people. It can never be imposed from the top down.…We can deceive ourselves into thinking that the people of the United States would be willing to echo the sentiments of the desert-wandering Israelites, accepting the terms of God’s covenantal rule, or we can get to work locally, making change at the top inevitable. Voting for this sort of top-down change without doing the hard work of the bottom-up is exactly the sort of theocratic thinking that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris accuse Christians of having. We need a theonomic revolution in the hearts of the American people (and the rest of the world), not a theocratic one. Politics and presidents can’t save us, only Jesus can. And when the Church serves her true King in obedience and action, the theocracy will come—not through elections, but through people—one heart at a time.
Theonomy, drives theocracy. Many observers and writers view Dominion Theology as a subset of Dominionism with the differing types of specific theologies nested underneath. This concept works only in the sense that “Dominionism”, as a term, is useful to denote the similarities and act as a catch-all, umbrella term. My problem with this however, is that it puts the cart before the horse. Dominionist political action does not drive the theology. Theology drives the “mandate” for political action. In the next several posts I will continue with primers on movements within the movement and how the varying religious beliefs influence their political actions.
To end Part 1 I will leave you with this.
While most Dominionists would say they favor the U.S. Constitution, and merely seek to restore it to the original intentions of the founders, in fact, their views are profoundly anti-democratic. The Dominionist worldview is not one based on the rights of the individual as we have come to know them, but on notions of biblical law...Indeed the Dominionist movement and its allies in Congress are actively seeking to eviscerate the capacity of the federal courts to protect the rights of all citizens. Developing a coherent understanding of the ongoing role of Dominionism in the dynamic growth of the Christian Right movement will be integral to any effective counter strategy in this, one of the central struggles of our time. Political Research Associates "The Rise of Dominionism"