On one of the online forums I frequent, a user posted a link to Katherine Yurica’s article “The Despoiling of America” to open the forum up for some discussion. For people whose impression of Christianity are televangelists with bad makeup jobs and who have seen bits and pieces of what is often termed Religious Right propaganda, the conclusions of these kinds of investigative reports seems quite plausible. However, for those who are willing to do fact checking and investigate beneath the surface, it becomes quite clear that Dominionism is the creation not of the Religious Right and its fringes, but of progressive secularists looking to portray a caricatured scare-crow of Christianity in the worst possible light. At the risk of making a “thou doth protest too much” post, here is a basic outline of my concerns about this theory of Dominionism.
First, it is important to note that the term ‘Dominionism’ is practically non-existent in Evangelical literature. This is the case in my own rather sizeable library at my home which includes a diverse swath of theological thought - Dominionism is not at all a part of the broader Evangelical conversation. The same can be said for my church’s library, the library at Dallas Theological Seminary, and even the collections at the McDermott library on the secular campus of the University of Texas at Dallas. It is readily apparent that Dominionism is by no means an active discussion in Evangelical discourse, contrary to the claims of alarmists who claim it has an overwhelming influence in Evangelicalism. In my investigations, it is quite clear that the term ‘Dominionism’ was created by people who wanted a new boo-word to tar politically active Christians with, in addition to the popular F-word (Fundamentalist). After the 2004 Presidential election in the United States, theories about a Dominionist conspiracy being responsible for the re-election of George W. Bush have gained a great deal of traction at the popular level, but the use of the term ‘Dominionist’ is all but non-existent prior to 2000.
Second, Dominionism is nothing short of a massive conspiracy theory, on par with the belief that the Tri-lateral Commission or Council on Foreign Relations is working behind the scenes to pull all the strings to control world governments. For people who want to believe that the conspiracy is real, it is impossible to convince them that their notions are often false or at least wildly overblown. The theory is so convincing to some people that no evidence can be brought to bear that would convince them that it is false (i.e., the theory is not falsifiable). People who today are given to believe Dominionism would in the last generation been given to Lyndon LaRouche, or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion two generations ago. The scare today is that these Fundamentalist Dominionist Reconstructionist Theocrat Boogey-men are nefariously trying to take over government, and if left unchecked will lead to a new McCarthyism or possibly something worse. Whipping people up into a fear frenzy is a favorite tactic of propaganda, something which people who promote the Dominionism conspiracy theory have mastered. Stanley Kurtz recently commented on this:
“The notion that conservative Christians want to reinstitute slavery and rule by genocide is not just crazy, it’s downright dangerous. The most disturbing part of the Harper’s cover story (the one by Chris Hedges) was the attempt to link Christian conservatives with Hitler and fascism. Once we acknowledge the similarity between conservative Christians and fascists, Hedges appears to suggest, we can confront Christian evil by setting aside ‘the old polite rules of democracy.’ So wild conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians — by any means necessary.”
Kurtz sees the Dominionist conspiracy theory as an excuse to permit Jacobin political action. Note that Stanley Kurtz goes on to discuss Kathryn Yurica’s article posted above in further detail in his editorial in National Review Online (worth a read).
Third, Dominionist conspiracy theorists seek to find ways to tie people and organizations together into a tight web of sinister activity the go beyond the bounds of credulity. This article does this exact thing by dredging up R. J. Rushdoony, a long discredited and marginal voice within Protestantism and a favorite whipping boy of Dominionist conspiracy theorists. An excessive amount of time is spent discussing Pat Robertson, who despite having a very popular following through his 700 Club in the 1980s, today enjoys only a small margin of his former popularity in no small part due to his own senility. Some varieties of this theory will also link Fred Phelps, the founder of an ostensibly Baptist church that most Evangelicals consider to be nothing more than a family cult - and a litigious one at that. The attempt to link Neo-conservatism and Leo Strauss (a prominent Jewish thinker who, after intellectual struggles with liberalism articulated views that would later become Neo-conservatism) is another ad hoc linkage, since Neo-conservatism has serious incompatibilities with Evangelical Christian thought.
One of the favorite boogey-men and whipping boys of the Dominionist conspiracy theorists is Francis Schaeffer, in no small part because he has written a number of books that were influential in Christian thought in the late 20th century, making him an excellent target for radical quote mining. It seems odd to me that a man who lived with his wife in a small cottage in Switzerland who regularly invited the young and often strung-out riff-raff of 1960s Europe to stay in his home - literally living out the example of Jesus Christ on a daily basis - could be demonized as a major political conspiracist. But, all one has to do is dishonestly present his life and work and you have great fodder for a new conspiracy theory.
Even the writings of Paul are not immune to quote mining, as a verse in Romans 13 that refers to the state’s right to have a standing military and a police force and that Christians are to submit to the state’s rule is cleverly twisted (in part by abusing the King James translation of the passage) to sound as if it were a call to Jihad. Katherine Yurica’s paper, if anything, misses a real political hot spot: The political activities of the Unification Church (Moonies) and Sun Myung Moon are, for the moment, either ignored or neglected at present by those promoting the Dominionist conspiracy theory. But, I expect that given time even this will be folded into the conspiracy theory, giving the aura of credibility to the whole.
The choice of persons which are linked to this alleged theocratic conspiracy are also self-serving. Individuals such as Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis are never linked with this huge theocratic conspiracy, even though they have written significantly more political thought and continue to have a disproportionately large influence upon Christian political thought. Why are they not added to the ranks of the most radical Dominionists? Quite simply, because the people who believe the Dominionism conspiracy theory find the left-leaning politics of Campolo and Wallis palatable and give them a free ride to say whatever they like.
Fourth, among individuals promoting the Dominionism conspiracy theory, there is lack of adequate academic credentials and a paucity of peer-reviewed publications. I did a search for the Curriculum Vita or credentials for Joan Bokaer and the other speakers for the Theocracy Watch, as well as for other individuals promoting Dominionism conspiracy theories. The website for Theocracy Watch lists no real credentials for Joan Bokaer and I have been unable to find any Curricula Vita for her. I searched through the archives at the University library for any peer-reviewed articles or mainstream publications by Joan Bokaer and turned up a square nothing. Perhaps I was searching for the wrong things I thought, so I spoke directly with librarians at the research desk, who gave me some more suggestions of other searches to try but still with no luck. As best as I have been able to determine, Joan Bokaer in particular has no academic credentials at all. Other individuals associated with Theocracy Watch and other websites often have graduate and doctoral degrees, but in fields incongruous with careful and rigorous analysis of this phenomena. I found that the doctorates and masters degrees were in fields such as literature, communications, and journalism. This fact doesn’t disqualify what these individuals have to say, but rigorous investigations performed by individuals with backgrounds in sociology, political science, and theology are entirely absent.
Consider for a second that on the library system at the University of Texas at Dallas, a simple search on ‘evolution’ turns up hundreds of thousands of articles instantaneously. A search for the name of an evolutionary biologist such as ‘H. Allen Orr’ immediately turns up dozens of articles available instantaneously with the click of a mouse. But when the results for ‘dominionism’ turn up literally no articles whatsoever (which I am surprised, I expect it to turn up at least a small handful), and the only references to ‘dominionist’ are from Rolling Stone magazine, it makes one wonder whether this idea has any respect in academic circles. Even if the searches turn up no results, one would expect that a list of academic publications on the subject would be available on one of the websites promoting the conspiracy theory of Dominionism - but I have to date found no such bibliography. There is simply no substantial academic engagement with Dominionism in the standard peer-reviewed journals.
Fifth, there is a revolution happening within Evangelical Christianity in the western world. It has taken on many different names - the post-modern church, the emergent church, the emerging conversation, the missional church, and so on. It is not limited to the United States, but is happening in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere. My own theology and philosophy have been very deeply shaped by the discourse that is happening within this movement in Western Christianity. One of the goals of this blog is to share information about this movement and discuss fairly both its strengths and its weaknesses.
One of the websites promoting the conspiracy theory of Dominionism is the progressive website Talk To Action. When the website found out about the emerging church movement, several of the regular posters became excited about the possibility that there could be a huge break within Evangelical Christianity and that the new generation might be given to a progressive political outlook. One poster noted that “The evangelical world is often portrayed as a monolithic force, but it is actually a very diverse and complex grouping of Christians who range politically all over the map [Imagine that! –michaelh]. It is true that a majority of evangelicals voted for Bush in the last election, but it is important to be aware that a growing number of evangelicals are criticizing the Christian Right.” There were posts copying snippets of interviews in the The Door magazine (The Door’s religious satire is a personal favorite of mine) with Donald Miller, interviews with Brian McLaren from Time magazine and the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Maybe there could be a chink in the armor of the Religious Right when new voices are saying things like “God isn’t a Republican”?
While there is certainly a broad open-mindedness on the part of emergents on political matters, it is too soon to say how that this will play out in the future. What is strange to me is that the emerging Christians are quickly becoming the new darlings of websites like Talk to Action that see the emerging conversation as a means of breaking the alleged Dominionist lock on Christianity, despite the fact that the new generation of emerging Christians are in no small part shaped by positive influence of the thought and life of Francis Schaeffer, who is still considered to be one of the biggest boogey-men of Dominionism.
In summary, the Dominionist conspiracy theory is difficult to substantiate, but there are plenty of people who are given to accept it at face value. Many people with progressive politics are already given to thinking bad things about those nasty people on the Religious Right - and when given a conspiracy theory like this, they want to believe it is true. In the words of Eric Hoffer, they become true believers. I expect that as people investigate the allegations of Dominionism and find most descriptions inadequate, softer variations of the Dominionist conspiracy theory will emerge that emphasize the fact that Dominionism is not how Evangelicals actually think about their faith. But for these same individuals the bulk of the theory will be too good to dismiss entirely, and they will assert that even though Evangelicals generally do not hold to the ideas ascribed by the Dominionist conspiracy theory, that certain key leaders of the Religious Right do hold to the ideas that have come to be regarded as Dominionism.
Exactly how the average Evangelical Christian should respond to these alarmist theories depends on the individual situation. If I encountered a person in my daily conversation who espoused these theories, I would probably ask certain questions to see why it is that they believe the way they do. Sometimes I encounter people who will engage in vitriolic attacks against Christians purely on the basis of their perceived politics - people who are angry at Christians, but are using their political views as a billy-club to beat Christians with. The first thing is to avoid taking the attack personally and allow the grace of Christ to give the strength to withstand the attack. After they have had a chance to rant and have calmed down, then an attempt can be made to open a dialogue with the individual. The Christian can loving try to determine what the source of the anger is, and instead of giving into discussions about politics, can speak directly to the experiences and hurt that led to the attacks in the first place. It takes a great deal of patience and grace to withstand an attack, and a great deal of sensitivity and empathy to begin to peel off the layers and find out what the underlying issues are. But in the end it is better to make a friend than attack an enemy.