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Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D.

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Dominionism? What Dominionism?

Posted: 09/14/11 06:16 PM ET

Some in the Christian right have a memory problem. If I was diagnosing it, I would call it amnesia or maybe denial. They have forgotten who they are and whence they came.

Christian reconstructionist Gary North has no such amnesia. He has been a fellow traveler with the Christian Right since the early days. In 2007, North wrote:

As a swing vote, the Christian Right can sometimes affect the outcome of the well-orchestrated, thoroughly entertaining Punch and Judy show that Americans call national politics. Prior to 1976, when Jimmy Carter openly campaigned as a Christian -- the first Presidential candidate to do so since William Jennings Bryan -- the Christian Right did not exist. I say this as a minor player in the construction of the Christian Right.

I was able to wheedle my way into the speaker's line-up at the three-day public meeting at which the Christian Right came into existence, the National Affairs Briefing Conference, held in Dallas in late summer, 1980. The Establishment did not note its existence, and its historians still don't, but that was where Ronald Reagan told 13,000 new converts to politics, "You can't endorse me, but I endorse you." Those words served as a kind of political baptismal formula -- infant baptism, I might add: babes in the woods.

Those current Christian right pundits who say that dominionism -- various forms of the belief that Christianity and biblical law should form the basis for civil laws which apply to everyone -- doesn't exist are either unaware of their heritage or have selective memory. Reconstructionists (they believe Old Testament law should be the law of the land for all) have been on board in various ways all along, especially as a part of the move toward Christian schools and home schooling.

North notes that the father of Christian reconstructionism, Rousas J. Rushdoony, was also vital as a foundational figure in the Christian education movement, writing in 1982, he said,

R. J. Rushdoony has gained his reputation among the fundamentalist world primarily because of his commitment to Christian education. He is chosen by defense attorneys again and again to testify in the courts around the nation. He has developed a philosophy of Christian education which is not neutralist. He sees education as the imparting of a comprehensive world-and-life view to the children of deeply religious parents. Whenever a church compromises this perspective-whenever the pastor says that Christian education is one option among many -- it has, in principle, lost its case. But when parents and pastors stand firm, and declare that they are conscience bound to put their children in a private Christian school, the courts frequently decide in favor of the parents. Parents, in short, are not neutral. (p. 22, emphasis North's)

Given the growth and prevalence of Christian and home schooling, it is hard for me to understand the amnesia of evangelical leaders for dominionism in the movement. There is currently one reconstructionist group, Exodus Mandate, who believes all Christians should home school their children or send them to a Christian school. They have had success in getting the Southern Baptists to consider providing an exit strategy from the public schools.

Maybe one reason non-reconstructionists miss the dominionism in their midst is that the Christian reconstructionists have not ever been happy or total team players. They view the mainstream as inconsistent and in North's words, intellectually schizophrenic.

Whereas many evangelicals believe they are simply loving their children and exercising their religious and parental rights by home schooling or sending their kids to a Christian school, the Christian Reconstructionists seek something more. North, in characteristic fashion, is upfront about it:

So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God's law will be enforced. It will take time. (p. 25)

Reading North's manifesto, some outside the evangelical world might suspect that there is some Christian reconstructionist command center somewhere on alert. In that place, dominionists are primed, waiting until the time is right, to give the signal to all the home and Christian schooled people, now in sleeper cells, to "get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God." All you enemies, you know who you are.

Reconstructionists reading this might sigh and say, "if only."

Most evangelicals think that the construction of a Bible-based society sounds good but get squeamish about the rest of the mandate -- denying "the religious liberty of the enemies of God." For the most part, evangelicals feel on the defensive, just wanting to protect religious liberty rights they feel (sometime correctly, sometimes not) are under attack. However, at that point, reconstructionists, like North, accuse the queasy evangelicals of schizophrenia. According to the reconstructionists, you can't bring American "back to God" if you exclude the aforementioned "enemies of God" from the reach of God's law. They must also be subject to Old Testament teaching, which includes, among other things, the death penalty for acts of blasphemy, Sabbath breaking, homosexuality, etc. Although America all the way back to God is the end game, short term "tactics" involving the Christian right are needed to get there. Using Christian education as an illustration, North wrote in 1982,

As a tactic for a short-run defense of the independent Christian school movement, the appeal to religious liberty is legitimate. Everyone who is attempting to impose a world-and-life view on a majority (or on a ruling minority) always uses some version of the liberty doctrine to buy himself and his movement some time, some organizational freedom, and some power. Still, nobody really believes in the whole idea. Politics always involves establishing one view of the "holy commonwealth," and excluding all other rival views. The Communist Party uses the right of free association to get an opportunity to create a society in which all such rights are illegal. The major churches of any society are all maneuvering for power, so that their idea of lawful legislation will become predominant. They are all perfectly willing to use the ideal of religious liberty as a device to gain power, until the day comes that abortion is legalized (denying the right of life to infants) or prohibited (denying the "right of control over her own body," after conception, to each woman). Everyone talks about religious liberty, but no one believes it.

The defense of Christian education today is therefore schizophrenic. The defenders argue that there is no neutral education, yet they use the modern doctrine of religious liberty to defend themselves -- a doctrine which relies on the myth of neutrality in order to sustain itself. As a tactic, it is legitimate; we are jockeying for power. We are buying time. But anyone who really believes in the modern doctrine of religious liberty has no option but to believe in some variant of the myth of neutrality. Those who have abandoned the latter view should also abandon the former. (p. 24-25, emphasis North's)

No wonder people outside of evangelicalism are nervous about the concept of dominionism. I am an evangelical and I am nervous about it. Not all evangelicals are dominionists who want to remove religious liberty, but one does not have to go too deeply into the evangelical waters to find some who do. Bryan Fischer of the mainstream evangelical group American Family Association clearly believes the Constitutional protections of religious liberty were written for Christians only. Just because Fischer doesn't work for the American Dominionist Association doesn't mean he isn't advocating dominionist beliefs. He who has eyes to see, let him see.

Observers in and outside of evangelical circles who are raising concerns about a resurgent dominion mandate within the ranks are right to do so. Evangelicals who make light of the concerns are either engaged in damage control or suffering from amnesia. Presidential candidates who wrap themselves in dominionists (e.g., Rick Perry's The Response prayer meeting) but claim not to be themselves should expect questions about what their religious beliefs mean for public policy. And since Christians have amnesia or are in denial about it, expect the questioning from mainstream media to get more focused. I will be listening.

 

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