By Alan Bean
Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements. Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston. Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.
The questions couldn’t be avoided. If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers? Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right.
Nothing new there.
Let me tell you everything I know about an amorphous movement that goes by a multitude of names: The Reconstructionist Movement, Dominionism or, more recently, the New Apostolic Reformation. (For the most part, I will use the generic term “Dominionist” to describe this diverse movement.) Who are these people, what do they believe, how do they work, and most importantly, how might they impact the future of American religion and politics?
The central tents of Dominionism may remind you of a Harry Potter extravaganza complete with signs, wonders and a titanic struggle between good and evil; but the movement emerged from the conservative wing of American Presbyterianism.
Cornelius Van Til
The Reconstructionist movement is rooted in the theology of reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987). As a young man, Van Til was caught up in a major theological controversy in 1929 that prompted a cadre of professors at Princeton Theological Seminary to create the ultra-orthodox Westminster Theological Seminary under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen. Van Til is best remembered as the father of Presuppositionalism, the idea that there is no neutral ground between Christians and non-Christians because Christian rationality springs from unique presuppositions about God and the Bible. Van Til believed that only Christian thinking could be described as truly rational because secular intellectuals reject the idea of divine revelation and must therefore conclude that life is ultimately meaningless. The Christian world is rational because it is the creation of a rational God. But you cannot begin with autonomous human reason and argue your way to God, Van Til taught; you must begin with the presupposition that God is perfectly revealed in the Bible. Begin with any other proposition, and you end with absurdity.
Rousas John Rushdoony
Van Til laid the theological foundation for Reconstructionism, but it took Rousas John Rushdoony to press presuppositionalism to its logical conclusion. The covenant between God and Israel portrayed in the Old Testament has been transferred to the Church. A student of Van Til at Westminster Seminary, Rushdoony believed that, as the new and true Israel, the Christian Church has a mandate for complete dominion over every facet of life: the physical universe, government, politics, public education, popular entertainment, there are no exceptions. Since there can be no neutral ground between believers and unbelievers, Rushdoony taught, Christians cannot cooperate with unbelievers in any serious endeavor. While a measure of shared leadership might be necessary in the early stages of the process, Christians must ultimately assume the reins of leadership.
If you want to hear Rousas Rushdoony at the height of his powers, watch this clip from a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers. In Rushdoony’s view, the Old Testament law must limit and replace secular law (a view known as “theonomy”). In Rushdoony’s turgid prose, “The purpose of Christ’s coming was in terms of the creation mandate… The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfill “the righteousness of the law” (Rom. 8:4) . . . Man is summoned to create the society God requires.”
Although Rushdoony is primarily known for fleshing out the implications of Van Til’s presuppositionalism, he was also deeply influenced by the John Birch Society. With Christians at the helm, America will rid itself of democracy and government as we know it will vanish. Politically, Rushdoony was a libertarian theocrat, a curious mix of religious orthodoxy and small government conservatism.
Few have had the patience to wade through his massive Institutes of Biblical Law, but Rushdoony’s logic has gradually transformed popular conservative Christianity. An outspoken critic of public education, Rushdoony became the patron saint of the home schooling movement. When Christian parents send their children to public schools, he said, they deliver their own flesh and blood into the hands of the enemy. Without home schooling and Christian schools, the values of Christian parents couldn’t be passed down through the generations. Without Christian families there could be no Christian church.
As anyone who has tried to make it clear through from Genesis to Revelation realizes, the Bible reads more like a conversation than an internally consistent word from God. How, for instance, do we get from the radical humility and pacifism of Jesus of Nazareth to the economic vision of the John Birch Society and the Talmudic vision of the Institutes of Biblical Law?
The Bible is a confusing life-guide until somebody transforms a riotous conversation into a logically consistent monologue. To take dominion over the world you must first take dominion over America. To take dominion over America you must take dominion over the American Church. To take dominion over the Church you must take dominion over the Bible. Taking dominion over the Bible means taking dominion over Jesus. In the world of Dominionism, Jesus is only allowed to speak when his words are consistent with the biblical worldview Rushdoony et al have identified. If there is an apparent disconnect between Leviticus and the Gospels, Dominionists read the Gospels through a Levitical lens. Rousas John Rushdoony reasoned like a Pharisee.
Once Christians gained control of the political machinery in America, Rushdoony asserted, the criminal justice system would be transformed beyond recognition. Jails would only be used to hold suspects for brief periods pending trial. Prisons would largely disappear. Property crimes would be resolved through a process of financial restoration coupled with a version of indentured servanthood indistinguishable from slavery. Most felonies, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality and heresy, would warrant either the death penalty or, if the magistrate was in a compassionate mood, lifelong servitude.
Homosexuality is abhorrent to Dominionists. It matters little whether homosexual behavior is an expression of choice or biology; it is counter to the biblical worldview and must therefore be rejected. If God calls it an abomination, that’s what it is.
Finally, and most significantly, Rushdoony regarded democracy as a convention utterly at odds with biblical Christianity. The group with the most votes does not and must not speak for God. America could only be truly Christian, Rushdoony believed, when ruled by a religious aristocracy.
In recent years, Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Gary North, has carried the torch for the Reconstruction movement. A big fan of “the Austrian school”, North styles himself as an economist in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. Like his father-in-law, North can discuss the execution of homosexuals without a hint of embarrassment.
North’s small government take on Christianity is rooted in principles which should be familiar if you have stuck with me this far. He wanted to replace secular libertarianism with biblical libertarianism. New Deal government programs are the attempt to usurp the messianic work of Christ.
The messianic State is a crude imitation of a religion of redemption. It makes the State the healer and, ultimately, the savior of all mankind. This messianic religion is what the early church battled theologically and risked martyrdom to oppose. Christians refused to toss a pinch of incense onto the altar symbolizing the genius of the emperor. For that seemingly minor resistance to State power, they were thrown to the lions. Both sides knew the stakes of that contest. Christianity was a dagger pointed at the heart of the messianic State. It still is.
An outspoken critic of pluralism, North wasn’t afraid to spell out the social and religious implications of Dominionism. “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant – baptism and Holy Communion – must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel. The way to achieve this political goal is through successful mass evangelism followed by constitutional revision.”
North’s influence has been waning since his prophecy of a Y2K apocalypse failed to materialize. In recent years, North’s bellicose take on Dominionism has been outpaced by the Dominionist musings of C. Peter Wagner, a former church growth guru at the eminently respectable Fuller Theological Seminary in Anaheim, California. According to Wagner, the New Apostolic Age began in 2001 when the lost biblical offices of Prophet and Apostle were restored.
C. Peter Wagner
If Rushdoony-North type Reconstructionists grew out of southern white racial resentment and ultra-conservative Presbyterian scholarship, C. Peter Wagner’s take on Dominionism grew out of an odd relationship with a laid-back California neo-Pentecostal named John Wimber. Unlike Rushdoony and North, Wimber was virtually unschooled in Christian theology when he started converting fellow-hipster’s in the mid-1960s. He just opened his Bible and expected to experience the “signs and wonders” he encountered there-in. When the charismatic Wimber met C. Peter Wagner, the nerdy church growth specialist, a strange kind of religious alchemy took place that eventually brought Charismatic and Pentecostal churches into the Dominionist camp. Wagner’s teaching is less rationalistic than Rousas Rushdoony with far more emphasis on the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
Wagner has systematized Wimber’s belief that every Christian should be able to “do the stuff” (to use Wimber’s phrase): healing the sick, raising the dead, speaking in tongues, prophesying in the spirit and casting out demons. This has been particularly true, in Wagner’s view, since God changed the religious rules in 2001 and reinstituted the long-lost prophetic and apostolic offices.
Wagner says he coined the phrase “New Apostolic Reformation” to describe a paradigm shift emerging in the Third World, particularly in Africa and Latin America. He sees Dominionism as a global phenomenon, not a particularly American reality. Wagner posits three waves, or major moves of the Spirit that have transformed American Christianity: The First Wave was the Azuza Street revival in San Francisco (1906-1915) that created American Pentecostalism; the Second Wave was the charismatic movement of the 1960s which impacted both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches; and the Third Wave was the Vineyard movement he co-founded with John Wimber. Even more dramatic moves of the Spirit have been taking place in the Third World.
Wagner speaks of the “seven mountains” over which Christians must take dominion: Business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion. Wagner calls this the “7-m Mandate”. But he objects to the term “theocracy”, at least as it is normally defined.
The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its functional religious equivalent. Everyone I know in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back to Constantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.
Wagner’s embrace of Pentecostalism puts him at odds with traditional reformed Reconstructionists in the Rushdoony mold. Wagner places special emphasis on the work of exorcism. “There are satanic strongholds over countries and communities; there are strongholds which influence churches and individuals . . . These fortresses exist in the thought patterns and ideas that govern individuals . . . as well as communities and nations. Before victory can be claimed, these strongholds must be pulled down, and Satan’s armor removed. Then the mighty weapons of the Word and the Spirit can effectively plunder Satan’s house.” (See Matthew 12:29)
Wagner’s view that the Roman Catholic veneration of saints is “bringing honor to the spirits of darkness” has been particularly controversial.
Dominionists of all stripes focus much of their attention on the peculiar calling and mission of the United States of America. In this view, the United States once was, and must once again be, a Christian nation. It follows, therefore, that the Founding Fathers must have been evangelical Christians instead of children of the Enlightenment. American democracy has been shaped by the Bible and the Christian Church.
Mainstream historians willingly admit that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was essentially a Dominionist Theocracy, but that’s about where it ended. Before the church can take dominion over the American government, therefore, it must take dominion over American history.
A former chair of the Republican Party of Texas, David Barton has little formal training as an historian. Still, his historical musings on the origins and nature of American democracy have become so influential that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee recently suggested, half seriously, that all Americans should be forced to read Barton’s work—at gun point if necessary.
Barton doesn’t advertise himself as a Dominionist but he is closely allied with the movement. The Founding Fathers were all evangelical Christians, Barton contends, so the American Constitution is consistent with Christian dogma. The First Amendment may appear to place a wall of separation between church and state, but this is an illusion. According to Barton, the Framers merely intended to make it impossible for states to give official recognition to any particular Christian denomination (say, the Baptists or the Episcopalians), but a generic form of non-sectarian Christianity is the heart beat of American democracy.
In Barton’s historical reconstruction the Founding Fathers function as religious heroes with a dominionist agenda. America was founded by Christians, for Christians, and will only be true to her own calling if Christians are returned to their original place of authority.
Although the first generation of Reconstructionists was aligned with ultra-right (and often racist) organizations like the John Birch Society, younger men like Barton have a heart for racial reconciliation. In fact, Barton (along with fellow Texan Alice Patterson) argues that Republicans, not Democrats, were the true friends of civil rights. Barton and Patterson cannot understand why African Americans consistently vote for the party of slavery and Jim Crow. The argument makes sense so long as you ignore the Republican Southern Strategy and the dramatic defection of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party following the passage of civil rights legislation in the early 1960s.
Throughout his work, Barton zeroes in on isolated facts that support his Dominionist project while ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Regarded as a misguided amateur by genuine historians, Barton’s version of American history is wildly popular with his target audience.
A Manichean Worldview
There are no shades of gray in dominionist thinking. Those out of step with the biblical worldview are in league with the antichrist. Dominionists inhabit a demon-filled world straight out of Medieval Europe. Jesus cast out demons and so must we. Mainline Protestant scholars like Walter Wink have interpreted the biblical language of spiritual warfare in metaphorical terms, but there is nothing metaphorical about C. Peter Wagner’s demonology.
Originating in Zoroastrian Persia in the third century BCE, Manicheans were deeply influential in the Christian Roman Empire, particularly between the 3rd and 7th centuries. In Manichean cosmology, Satan (the Spirit of Darkness) enjoys almost as much power as the Creator God (the Spirit of Light). The Manichean world is divided more-or-less evenly between the children of darkness and the children of light. The children of light draw strength and inspiration from the Spirit of Light and the innumerable angels arrayed on the side of goodness; the children of darkness are in league with the Spirit of Darkness and his host of devilish demons. The earthly struggle between good and evil is part of a cosmic battle for spiritual supremacy. (Think Lord of the Rings or Star Wars and you get the basic idea.)
Dominionists reject strict dualism. In their vision, God will ultimately conquer. But while the spiritual battle rages, every person is arrayed on one side of God or Satan. Dominionists are willing to form short-term alliances with fellow conservatives, but their long-term vision leaves no room for compromise. This belief that ideological opponents are complicit in deep spiritual evil inspires a ruthless, take-no-prisoners approach to politics.
Alice Patterson, a Texas Dominionist, has described the Democratic Party as “an invisible network of evil comprising an unholy structure” released by Jezebel (a wicked Baal-worshipping queen of Old Testament infamy). “I saw Jezebel’s skirt lifted to expose tiny Baal, Asherah, and a few other spirits,” Patterson reports. “There they were–small, cowering, trembling little spirits that were only ankle high on Jezebel’s skinny legs.”
Is Patterson speaking metaphorically? Not really. As she sees it, the Democratic Party is “an invisible network of evil comprising an unholy structure.” That’s Manichean thinking.
Dominionism and the End Times
Reconstructionists like Rousas Rushdoony and Gary North are on the losing side of a fight over the millennium that has divided American evangelicals for over a century. Reconstructionists are postmillennialists; that is, they believe that Christ will not return until the kingdom of God is established on earth. They reject the idea that the Church will be “raptured” up to heaven and believe that the “great tribulation” described in various places in the New Testament, anticipated the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s temple, 66-70 CE.
This gets complicated, so bear with me. Most evangelicals believe that Christ will one day establish his kingdom on earth; but they disagree on the when and the how. Will Christ return after the seven-year Tribulation period mentioned in the Bible, or will the Church be raptured up to heaven immediately prior to the Tribulation? Will Christ return once his followers have established an earthly kingdom (“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), or will the Second Coming usher in the earthly kingdom?
The late 19th century was a time of great optimism and imperial triumphalism. Many missionaries believed they were ushering in the last days by converting the nations of the world to Christ. The leaders of the Social Gospel Movement thought they were replacing the kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom of God and of his Christ. Although most American Protestants were fuzzy on End Times issues, the general tenor of the times was postmillennial—first we establish the kingdom, then Christ returns.
After the horrors of the First World War, social gospel enthusiasm was gradually eclipsed by Roosevelt’s New Deal and the modern missionary movement split along theological lines. A new breed of missionary was more interested in inter-faith dialogue than in old-school conversion. The goal of Christianity, in this view, was overcoming injustice and creating bonds of understanding in this world—in liberal religious circles, heaven was losing its luster and hell was viewed as a medieval embarrassment. Liberal Christianity had no patience for end times speculation.
Not everyone agreed, of course. Those committed to a stout version of heaven and hell and a conversionist model of evangelism were increasingly drawn to a stark premillennial vision. In this view, mere humans didn’t stand a chance against the satanic powers afoot in the world. When Christ returned in glory, with no assistance whatsoever from the Church, things would be put to right. But before Christ can return, the true Church will be raptured up to heaven while the balance of humanity suffers the horrors of the Great Tribulation. After seven years of colossal suffering, Christ will return with his Church to establish his millennial reign. According to dispensational premillennialists, the Law of Moses will be in effect during this millennial reign.
At the turn of the 20th century few evangelical Christians were postmillennialists; as the 21st century dawns, premillenialism has become the default evangelical take on the apocalypse.
But change is in the wings. Premillennial Christianity is inconsistent with political activism. Since the world is a sinking ship, evangelism is the only proper occupation of the Church; all else is vanity and chasing the wind. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth did much to popularize this view in the 1960s. More recently, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series has captured the imagination of a new generation.
Belief in an “any-moment rapture” creates a sense of urgency. If the trumpet could sound at any moment, there is no point in kicking the God question down the road—it’s now or never. Culture war animosities will be settled soon enough (in this worldview, the end is always at hand); the true Church will be snatched up to Jesus and liberals of all stripes will face the full fury of Satan.
Premillenialism was perfectly suited to a world in which secularism was flourishing and conservative evangelicals saw themselves as a small and vilified minority movement. Dominionism is tailored for an age when the conservative movement waxes strong and liberals are on the defensive; an age in which the culture war seems winnable.
C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation stakes out an end times position somewhere between Rushdoony postmillennialism and Hal Lindsey premillenialism. The Great Tribulation is imminent, Wagner asserts, but the Church will not be raptured up to heaven before the shooting starts. Instead, true Christians will emerge from the time of troubles in a position of full dominion.
Leaders within the Christian Right have agreed to disagree on the vexed subject of eschatology. Pre-tribulation Premillenialism remains the doctrine of choice for most conservative evangelicals, but this option is rapidly losing steam while enthusiasm for the post-tribulation premillenialism of the New Apostolic Reformation is growing rapidly.
In old-school Hal Lindsey premillenialism, you know the tribulation is at hand when all the Christians disappear. In Wagner’s eschatology, the tribulation comes unannounced; in fact, it may already have begun. This explains why dominionists are increasingly inclined to see the transition to Godly rule as the kind of violent cataclysm you would expect to see in the heart of the Great Tribulation. This doesn’t mean that the folks attracted to the New Apostolic Reformation Wagner describes are preparing themselves for the big showdown, but the emotional temperature of the dominionist movement is clearly on the rise.
C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation is formidable because it combines the scholarly rigor of the Reformed Tradition (think John Calvin, Scottish Presbyterianism and the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) and the organizing acumen of Southern Baptists with the fire and fury of Pentecostalism. The narrative arc of American Dominionism is rising, which explains why a savvy Texas politician like Rick Perry would hitch his star to the movement.
Dominionism and Social Reality
Dominionists believe that only Christians with a biblical worldview have a mandate to rule. Dominionist leaders realize, however, that most Americans are uncomfortable with this assertion. To succeed, it is necessary to confine your attention to the segments of American life where Dominionist ideas have a chance of success. But even within conservative organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Republican Party of Texas, Dominionists soft-sell the more controversial aspects of their program while emphasizing the bits that resonate with a wide audience.
Dominionism is a leavening agent within the religious right. The Response, a high-profile call to prayer and fasting sponsored by Texas Governor Rick Perry, was dominated by Dominionist leaders. This was something new. In the past, Dominionists were happy to have a seat at the conservative evangelical table.
Some Dominionist concepts have become standard within the religious right: the idea of a clearly definable “biblical worldview”, the conception of America as a nation founded by and for Christians; the demonization of the public school system; the assumption that free market capitalism is a biblical concept, a rejection of the theory of biological evolution; and a visceral antipathy to homosexuality and the gay rights movement.
While certain aspects of the Dominionist agenda sound like standard conservatism, theorists in the tradition of Van Til, Rushdoony, North, Wagner and Barton have given a coherent theological foundation to a diverse and unwieldy movement.
Have conservative evangelicals embraced the Dominionist agenda? That’s not the right question. The Christian Right sees itself as a beleaguered and persecuted minority clinging desperately to the foundational truths that have made America great. Religion has been forced out of the public schools, out of the courtroom and out of politics. Conservative evangelicals do not see themselves as radicals intent on subverting an open society; they are the guardians of a rich and God-ordained tradition that has been tragically eroded by secular humanism.
Rhetoric aside, religious conservatives are not primarily concerned with taking dominion over American society; they just want to pass on their values to their children. Religious conservatives get involved in politics to make the world safe for conservative religion. They want their children educated in Christian schools by Christian teachers who can be trusted to teach biology without reference to evolution and to teach human sexuality with a strong emphasis on abstinence prior to male-female marriage. Christian conservatives look out on a world with rising levels of teen pregnancy, high rates of drug abuse, and little emphasis on marriage as a lifelong covenant and they want something better for their kids.
Conservative evangelicals (like most Americans) long to live in a consistent, homogeneous world that reinforces their values and beliefs. They don’t want to deal with skeptical sociology, theology and biology professors who insist on introducing new and alarming paradigms. They don’t want to think about gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights or immigrant rights. While Dominionist aspirations resonate with many religious conservatives, the short-term (and primary) project is to create a gated Christian community that provides K-college educational opportunities, recreational outlets, a political party and even professional associations that are identifiably and predictably Christian. What happens to those on the secular side of the cultural divide is of minimal importance.
The Republican Party hasn’t sold its soul to Dominionism, but Dominionism is the most influential brand of popular religion on the market today and politicians are beginning to take notice.
Dominionism as a strategy for change
It is helpful to distinguish between Dominionism as a strategy and Dominionism as an ideology. The Manichean aspects of Dominionist thinking produced the zero-sum, winner-take-all, organizing philosophy that was effectively employed in the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. More recently, this strategy has been seen in the campaign to place Christian Right people in positions of control of the machinery of state politics.
Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, the twin architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, have always been tight-lipped about their political and religious affiliations outside the Southern Baptist Convention. Nonetheless, the revolution they launched in the late 1970s was rooted in Dominionist assumptions. SBC moderates were regarded as a cancer that must be excised from the body by any means necessary. The fundamentalist faction understood that the convention president appoints the members of the Committee on Committees which appoints the boards of the six denominational seminaries. By winning the presidential election ten years in a row, even by narrow margins, men like Patterson and Pressler knew they could transform places like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY or Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX into indoctrination academies teaching a single and consistent biblical worldview.
A similar strategy has been employed in the world of school board and precinct politics, particularly in conservative states like Kansas and Texas. Hard ball politics won’t work unless you are working with a reasonably friendly constituency. So long as 51% of voting members will back a Christian Right candidate, the no-compromise strategy can be remarkably effective. The Manichean assumptions characteristic of Dominionist thought enable an almost shocking ruthlessness. In a battle between the children of light and the children of darkness, little thought is spared for the emotional trauma experienced by the 49% who lose. Employing this philosophy, the religious right has successfully taken control of the Texas State Board of Education and the grassroots machinery of the Texas Republican Party.
A Case Study: Dominionism in the Platform of the Republican Party of Texas
It is safe to assume that most Texas Republicans have never heard of Dominionism, Reconstructionism, theonomy, or the New Apostolic Reformation, but the party platform is largely consistent with Dominionist assumptions.
America is repeatedly described as a Judeo-Christian nation, founded by religious patriots. “We urge the Legislature,” the platform reads, “to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents.” This suggests that David Barton’s Reconstructionist history should receive more attention in the classroom.
But a soft version of Dominionist thinking is only part of the mix. Excluding illegal immigrants and their children from the benefits of citizenship is an overarching concern in the Platform, an issue reflecting traditional American nativism more than the agenda of the New Apostolic Reformation. In this connection, the document appeals to the jingoism of Teddy Roosevelt instead of the Bible.
America is a country of immigrants, we should insist that any immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilate himself/herself to the United States. He/she shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else. This is predicated upon the fact that the person is in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance. Anyone who says he is an American but something else also, isn’t American at all. We have room but for one flag, the American Flag. We have room for but one language here and that is the English language. We have room for but one sole loyalty and that is loyalty to the American people. (Teddy Roosevelt, 1907)
The quotation comes from Roosevelt, but it wasn’t written in 1907 when he was president but in 1919 (three days before he died) in a letter to the President of the American Defense Society. Teddy neglected to say that America has room for only one color, but in 1919, that was simply assumed.
Neo-Confederates were also allowed to register their displeasure with the trend toward political correctness in Texas. “We call for restoration of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution that were removed from the Texas Supreme Court Building.” The Plaques were removed in the dead of night in 2000 in response to complaints from the Texas NAACP.
In a similar vein, the Platform makes repeated reference to Texas as a “Sovereign People”, the principle of states’ rights is frequently asserted, and hate crime legislation is denounced.
Although these not-so-subtle hints at nativist and racist preferences don’t reflect a clear Dominionist influence, it must be remembered that Dominionism has always grown best in soil well fertilized by white racial resentment. A Christian-only program dovetails nicely with English-only and (implicitly) white-only sentiments.
Still, the emphasis of the document reflects the traditional premillennial support for the nation of Israel, a policy “based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.” Dominionists generally believe that the covenant blessings once given to Israel have been transferred to the Christian Church and therefore place far less emphasis on the politics of the Middle East.
When the Platform of the Republican Party of Texas turns to educational policy, Dominionist influence is explicit. The document strongly favors alternatives to public education including Christian schools, home schooling and charter schools. It urges the elimination of property taxes for the purpose of funding schools “and to shift the tax burden to a consumption-based tax.” The Platform applauds the work of the State Board of Education, a body largely dominated by religious conservatives, and urges that the influence of the Board be extended.
Consistent with Dominionist thinking, the Platform asserts the rights of the family unit to be free from government intrusion. “The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, and property.”
But this rhetoric generally occurs within arguments for small government. For instance, “We encourage government to divest its ownership of all business that should be run in the private sector and allow the free market to prevail.”
While most Dominionist leaders argue for small government, they are hardly alone in this respect. Dominionist theory grew up in a social context heavily influenced by opposition to New Deal social engineering. Dominionists are clearly influencing conservative politics; but conservative political views have influenced Dominionist thought from the beginning.
It is difficult to overstate the influence of radical small government conservatism on the Platform. Not only does the document argue in support of free markets and privatization, it calls for the elimination of the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the minimum wage, and opposes American involvement in the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Every form of gun control is rejected out of hand with the exception of gun laws applying to felons.
Still, this anti-government, pro-family position can receive a distinctly Dominionist twist. “The Republican Party of Texas supports the historic concept, established by our nations’ founders, of limited civil government jurisdiction under the natural laws of God, and repudiates the humanistic doctrine that the state is sovereign over the affairs of men, the family, and the church.”
The Platforms take on the First Amendment also reflects Dominionist influence. “We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state.”
Dominionist thinking is also evident in the Platform’s repeated condemnation of homosexuality and support for traditional marriage. “We are resolute that Congress exercise authority under the United States Constitution and pass legislation withholding jurisdiction from the Federal Courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage . . . We support legislation that would make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple and for any civil official to perform a marriage ceremony for such.”
The Platform opposes the legalization of sodomy and denounces the practice of homosexuality in the strongest terms and the justification for this view (though not the view itself) suggests Dominionist influence. “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.”
Dominionist thinking didn’t create the homophobia on display in the Texas Republican Platform, but it provides theological reinforcement for traditional bigotry. If God’s law condemns homosexual behavior we must second the motion (even if we would rather not). Consider Rick Perry’s take on homosexuality, for example. “I can sympathize with those who believe sexual preference is genetic,” he writes. “It may be so, but it remains unproved. Even if it were, this does not mean we are ultimately not responsible for the active choices we make. Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.”
The Platform of the Texas Republican Party shows the influence of Dominionist winner-take-all intolerance. Rather than calling for amicable relations between ideological opponents, the Platform anathematizes Republicans who refuse to embrace the new orthodoxy. “We support the withholding of campaign contributions,” the document concludes, “to organizations or campaigns including the Republican National Committee . . . which support candidates who do not support the principles of the 2010 Texas State Republican Platform.”
Veterans of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention will recognize the tone. In the post-takeover SBC, once anti-creedal Baptist churches, pastors, associations and seminary professors were asked to sign off on a “Baptist Faith and Message” doctrinal statement that endorsed the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible while denying pastoral ordination to women. In this way, the children of darkness were separated from the children of light.
Is Rick Perry a Dominionist?
There is no way of knowing what Rick Perry believes in his heart of hearts, but the Texas Governor has unambiguously identified himself with leaders of the Dominionist movement. Does this mean he would appoint Dominionist preachers to his cabinet if elected? No. Why expose a fledgling administration to attack from both right and left when there is no political upside?
But Perry’s passionate embrace of Dominionist demagogues tells us that one of the savviest conservative politicians in America thinks Dominionist ideology (at least in its Lite form) could provide the key to political victory in 2012. Since Dominionist ideology originated within the context of traditional American conservatism, politicians like Perry can fire up the religious base without appearing to have diverted from recognizable Tea Party orthodoxy. As a practical matter, Dominionism is a theological justification for conservative politics.
Perry’s identification with the super stars of the Dominionist religious circuit also presages an uncompromising political stance in sharp contrast to Barack Obama’s meet-me-in-the-middle approach. If Rick Perry believes he can win the support of 51% of likely voters he won’t care a fig what the other 49% thinks of him. The educated elites can scoff all they want; in fact, Perry will invite their sneers. They work to his advantage. Like all true culture warriors, Perry is a Manichean who can hardly conceal his disdain for the children of darkness. This approach has worked in Texas, but will it work on a national stage? We shall find out shortly.