Christian Right in the US

A Social Movement Approach

Putting the Christian Right in its proper place in the political spectrum as a component of the broader U.S. Political Right is an important step in developing an effective response. This also allows us to evaluate the threat posed by domininionist and theocratic tendencies in the Christian Right. Some people see this better when presented in outline of chart form, so this entry in the series is constructed along those lines.

The Christian Right is a series of social movements with participants that have been mobilized into political participation through the Republican Party as part of a larger set of coalitions that include social conservatives, moral traditionalists, neoconservatives, militarists, etc. The Republican Party and the Christian Right, however, represent just a portion of the entire spectrum of the U.S. Political Right, so we provide a full chart of these sectors below.

The Christian Right plays multiple roles in the political system: as a social movement made up of people with shared grievances; a political movement with a specific set of electoral and legislation goals on the federal and state level; and a coalition partner in conservative politics.

Christian Right: Multiple Roles in Political System:

  • Social Movement
  • Political Movement
  • Coalition Partner

The Christian Right itself is made up of different sectors that exist in a coalition that may seem monolithic, but which actually has fracture points where wedge issues can be developed as part of an effective counter-strategy.

Christian Right: Multiple Internal Sectors:

  • Christian Conservatives
  • Christian Nationalists
  • Christian Theocrats

Within the Christian Right, it is primarily the Christian Nationalists and Christian Theocrats who pursue a type of dominionism that has theocratic aspects. The degree of dominionist authoritarianism varies by sector. Christian Reconstructionism is the major theopolitical ideology behind Hard Dominionism, but it is a subset of it. So there are nested subsets.

All Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats are also Soft Dominionist Christian Nationalists, but not all Soft Dominionist Christian Nationalists are Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats.

All Christian Reconstructionists are Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats and Christian Nationalists, but not all Hard Dominionist Christian Theocrats are Christian Reconstructionists.

Whew!

Degree of dominionist authoritarianism:

  • Soft Dominionist – Christian Nationalists
    • Hard Dominionist – Christian Theocrats
      • Christian Reconstructionist

Dominionists of all varieties can also have a complicated mix of attributes. These include the theology and style of religious practice; and the view of biblical End Times prophecy.

Theology and style of religious practice:

  • Protestant
    • Mainstream Protestant denominations (Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran)
    • Evangelicals
    • Fundamentalists
    • Charismatics
    • Pentacostals
  • Roman Catholic
  • Orthodox

View of biblical End Times prophecy:

  • Postmillennialists
  • Premillennialists
  • Amillennialists

The Christian Right is just one of several sectors that comprise the Political Right in the United States. The chart below shows where it fits, dividing the Christian Right into hard and soft dominionists. Christian Conservatives are the bridge between the Secular Right and the Dominionists and Theocrats, but it is a weak bridge. Christian Conservatives are listed in the Chart below as part of the Religious Right.

See: Chart of Sectors of the U.S. Political Right ]]]

This all may seem overwhelming at first, but in a nation where many people have elaborate systems for tracking sports scores or soap opera plots, it is a reasonable expectation that people who want to successfully challenge dominionists and theocrats can walk up the learning curve and appreciate the view from the top.

End Times, Conspiracism, & the US Right

The day after Christmas 2005, Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind Prophecy Club” sent out its daily e-mail message with a 2005 “Year in Review” summary The teaser stated: “Are we living in the End Times? Could events of today signify that the Rapture and Tribulation could occur during our generation? Five important Signs from 2005 say yes!”

  • Devastating natural disasters foreshadow the coming of Christ.
  • The Jewish population converges in Israel to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
  • A union between Europe and Iraq could set the stage for the emergence of the Antichrist.
  • Islamic extremists lash out with London bombings and France riots.
  • Putin consolidates power in Russia, as the empire rebuilds.

In the text that follows, we learn that “events in Russia are exactly what we should expect to see if we are nearing the end times….the rule of the Antichrist may not be too far behind…[the] Bible prophesies that the city of Babylon will be rebuilt as headquarters for the antichrist. Babylon lies on the Euphrates River, just 50 miles south of Baghdad.”

We also are told that “…continued tensions may make Israel ripe for a covenant with the Antichrist,” and that the “ancient Sanhedrin, the official legal tribunal in Israel…issued an official call to rebuild the temple [of Solomon in Jerusalem], an act that God’s Word predicts must occur before the return of the Messiah.”

Meanwhile, natural disasters may be “a foreshadowing of the overwhelming chaos that is to transpire during the tribulation, prompting many to repent before it’s too late.”

That last piece of advice is what the Left Behind series is all about. It is future narrative devoted to encouraging current salvation through a particular premillennial reading of the Bible. It’s not enough to be a Christian, you must embrace a narrow and specific version of Christianity. Otherwise, you are not just going to Hell, but you will be persecuted and maybe tortured and murdered as well.

That’s the basic theme of the Left Behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The 13 volumes have sold some 70 million copies, regularly hitting best seller lists. As pop theology, the messages of the series and the Left Behind Prophecy Club are troubling, but as popular political ideology, they are dangerous.

As part of its sales pitch for a subscription service, we are told that “The Left Behind Prophecy Club has the news you need to know” about:

  • Islamic Terrorism
  • Middle East Peace Process
  • The War in Iraq
  • Europe’s Power Struggle
  • Natural Disasters

The way these current events are woven into a discussion of Biblical prophecy creates frames of reference that help move people toward specific political viewpoints, not just concerning U.S. policies in the Middle East, but also about domestic issues.

Central to this process is a particular way of reading the Bible’s book of Revelation that establishes a timetable and sequence of events for the End Times and the Tribulations that are related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

According to polling by Barna research, “nearly nine out of ten evangelicals who believe in the end times (88%) maintain that is it very likely that Jesus will return during the last days, and 77% of born agains who believe in the end times indicated the same.”

Tim LaHaye has spent decades melding his conspiracy theory of history into the End Times beliefs of evangelicals. In his 1980 non-fiction book The Battle for the Mind, LaHaye added a conspiracist theme to the critique of secular humanism put forward by popular theologian Francis A. Schaeffer, a conservative Christian evangelical. LaHaye dedicated the book to Schaeffer.

In a chapter entitled “Is a Humanist Tribulation Necessary?” LaHaye writes that the “seven-year tribulation period will be a time that features the rule of the anti-Christ over the world.” LaHaye explains that this “tribulation is predestined and will surely come to pass.” LaHaye, however, describes another period of tribulations that he calls the “pre-tribulation tribulation.”

LaHaye, explains that the “pre-tribulation tribulation is:

“…the tribulation that will engulf this country if liberal secular humanists are permitted to take control of our government–it is neither predestined nor necessary. But it will deluge the entire land in the next few years, unless Christians are willing to become much more assertive in defense of morality and decency than they have been during the past three decades.”

According to LaHaye, adultery, pornography, and homosexuality “are rampant” and this is evidence of the warning by Schaeffer’s “that humanism always leads to chaos.” In the Left Behind series, LaHaye and Jenkins write about the spread of humanist moral relativism in the forms of the feminist movement, abortion, and homosexuality. The Left Behind series takes the conspiracist themes of LaHaye’s non-fiction books and spreads them through a huge audience.

The apocalyptic frames and conspiracist narratives in the Left Behind series are a form of “fiction explicitly intended to teach,” according to author Gershom Gorenberg, who warns:

“Inspiration is part of the appeal. Subliminally, so is the all-encompassing paradigm the books offer for understanding the world. Here’s how the global economy (which may have cost me my job or halved my retirement savings) works. Here’s what lies behind debate over abortion or foreign policy. Some people serve God, and some serve falsehood. Here’s why a believing Christian can feel left out: Today’s society is controlled by evil. And here’s why cataclysmic war between the forces of good and the axis of evil is inevitable.”

The LaHaye conspiracy theory about secular humanism provides a powerful theological justification for Christians to establish “dominion” over sinful secular society.

Biblical Prophecy & the End Times

Biblical Prophecy & the End Times are matters of belief for all Christians. For the Christian Right in the United States they play a role in support for aggressive US and Israeli military policies, the spread of illegal settlements into Palestinian land, and challenges to women’s rights, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights.

The theological differences among a variety of forms of Christian End Times beliefs complicate matters concerning Christian Dominionism–the idea that Christians are destined (and mandated) to control the governmental posts in the United States.

Dominionism spread when Christian Reconstructionists urged a broader range of Christians to embrace political activism no matter what their End Times calndar.

The three major sectors of Christian End Times beliefs are:

  • Postmillennialists
  • Premillennialists
  • Amillennialists/Preterists

Christian Reconstructionists are “postmillennialists” in terms of End Times beliefs. Generic Dominionists include both postmillennialists and premillennialists.

An excellent inventory of these beliefs put together by Christian activists who prefer one particular variety is at Ark Haven. While they consider beliefs that conflict with their own as forms of heresy, their research is excellent and they have strived to provide accurate and fair descriptions of the many different tendencies.

More on this is on the way. ]]]

Sectors of the US Christian Right

Crafting an appropriate response the the US Christian Right depends on what sector of the Christian Right we are criticizing:

Christian Conservatives – They play by the rules of a democratic republic, and so our response should be to develop better ideas and carry out better grassroots organizing campaigns.

Christian Nationalists – They erode pluralism, and we must defend separation of church and state, but also engage in a discussion of the legitimate boundaries when religious beliefs intersect with participation in a secular civil society.

Christian Theocrats – They want to replace democracy with an authoritarian theocratic society run by a handful of Christian men. They seek to supersede the Constitution and Bill of Rights with Old Testament Biblical law. We must oppose them and not give an inch in our defense of democracy against theocracy.

In the Christian Right, more leaders than followers have consciously embraced dominionist ideas. The tendency toward a “dominionist impulse,” however, has continued to become more widespread since the 1970s, making a discussion of theocracy not only legitimate, but necessary. Conscious or unconscious–dominionism is a real threat to democracy.

Christian Dominionism

How did Christian Dominionism Spread in the United States?

Christian Reconstructionism is a form of theocratic dominion theology. Its leaders challenged evangelicals across a wide swath of theological beliefs to engage in a more muscular and activist form of political participation. The core theme of dominion theology is that the Bible mandates Christians to take over and “occupy” secular institutions.

A number of Christian Right leaders read what the Christian Reconstructionists were writing, and they adopted the idea of taking dominion over the secular institutions of the United States as the “central unifying ideology” of their social movement. They decided to gain political power through the Republican Party.

This does not mean most Christian Right leaders became Christian Reconstructionists. It does mean they were influenced by dominion theology. But they were influenced in a number of different ways, and some promote the theocratic aspects more militantly than others.

It helps to see the terms dominionism, dominion theology, and Christian Reconstructionism as distinct and not interchangeable. While all Christian Reconstructionists are dominionists, not all dominionists are Christian Reconstructionists.

A nested subset chart looks like this:

  • Triumphalism
    • Dominionism
      • Theocracy
        • Dominion Theology
          • Theonomy
            • Christian Reconstructionism

The specific meanings are different in important ways, although the terms have been used in a variety of conflicting ways in popular articles, especially on the Internet.

A number of us who study these matters prefer to call Christian Reconstructionism a form of “Dominion Theology” while the broader tendency we call “Dominionism.” Some people call Christian Reconstructionism a from of religious neofascism.

In its generic sense, dominionism is a very broad political tendency within the Christian Right. It ranges from soft to hard versions in terms of its theocratic impulse. It has come to include both postmillennialists and premillennialists.

 

Fred Clarkson and I put it this way:

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 Christian Reconstructionists, but it has a growing number of adherents in the leadership of the Christian Right.

It makes more sense to reserve the term “dominion theology” to describe specific theological currents, while using the term “dominionism” in a generic sense to discuss a tendency toward aggressive political activism by Christians who claim they are mandated by God to take over society. Even then, we need to locate the subject of our criticisms on a scale that ranges from soft to hard versions of dominionism.

Ted Cruz, the Christian Right, and Dominionism

 

“The Christian Right wants to take dominion,” noted sociologist Sara Diamond, but it also wants to work within “the existing political-economic system, at the same time.” The broader the Christian Right stretches as an electoral coalition, the more obvious it becomes that some of its key leaders want a theocracy rather than a democracy. According to  Diamond, “Largely through the impact of Rushdoony’s and North’s [Reconstructionist] writings,  the concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to ‘occupy’ all secular  institutions has become the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right.”

The Table of Contents is arranged in the order of a study guide

Author Chip Berlet,curator of Research for Progress, was co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism and the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. He has researched Right-wing movements for over 30 years, and written numerous scholarly and popular articles and book chapters.

Table of Contents


Current Discussion of Christian Dominion in the 2016 election

Several current articles have raised the issue of Ted Cruz and “Dominionism.” And also on the different types of Christianity being represented by various Republican candidates.

The articles:
John Fea, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America” (COMMENTARY)

John Ward, “Rubio’s supporters are the future of evangelicalism. But will they vote?”

Warren Throckmorton, “John Fea on Ted Cruz’s Dominionism”

Still Misleading America About Thomas Jefferson
History News Network
by John Fea, 
February 7, 2016

Who is Larry Huch and What Does He Have to Do With Ted Cruz?
John Fea, February 6, 2016 

For evangelical voters, Rafael Cruz may be Ted’s best apostle
Jonathan Tilove, Austin American Statesman, July 31, 2015

Useful Reliable Background Information

Note that the information and analysis in this older articles may not represent the current views of the authros.

Michelle Goldberg

A Christian Plot for Domination?” Michelle Goldberg, 2001/08/14

Sarah Posner

The Christian right’s “dominionist” strategy, Sarah Posner, Salon, 2011 08/21

Frederick Clarkson

When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right, Frederick Clarkson, Report, Political Research Associates, 2016/01/12

The Rise of Dominionism
REMAKING AMERICA AS A CHRISTIAN NATION
2005/05/12, Frederick Clarkson, Report, Political Research Associates

Rachel Tabachnick

The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism

More on the Seven Mountains, comments provided by Rachel Tabachnick

The “Seven Mountains” concept is like a simplified and condensed version of the Worldview Documents of the Coalition on Revival. Several leading New Apostolic Reformation apostles were involved in the Coalition on Revival including C. Peter Wagner and Dennis Peacocke.

The Seven Mountains campaign was launched 2006/2007 by New Apostolic Reformation Apostles Lance Wallnau and Os Hillman. It built on the foundations of the internationally-promoted “Transformations” series of movies which facilitated the teaching of the New Apostolic Reformation’s version of spiritual warfare and spiritual mapping.

The launching of the 7 Mountains campaign included a movie and other media materials with the claim that a divine mandate had been given simultaneously in 1975 to Bill Bright and Loren Cunningham and revealed to Francis Schaeffer a few months later.

The movies and subsequent “Transformation” organizations around the world have been instrumental in shifting emphasis from saving souls to “taking territory.”

Since 2007 the 7 Mountains meme has spread far beyond the New Apostolic Reformation and its leadership. For example, it has been the focus of the National Day of Prayer and is the framework for organizations that are not explicitly New Apostolic Reformation.

http://www.7culturalmountains.org
This is Os Hillman’s site including version of 7 Mountains movie

http://www.amazon.com/The-Seven-Mountain-Prophecy-Revolution/dp/1599792877
Johnny Enlow wrote this widely used text on meaning of the7 Mountains.

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/wallnau-dont-say-dominionism-least-not-front-media

Following the 2011 media exposure, Wallnau and Hillman hastily hosted and publicized interviews denying that their7 Mountains mandate is about “dominionism” and warning their audiences to use terms like “influence” when speaking in public. Behind the scenes they emphasize the need for stealth. Hillman warns in his book Change Agent, “Kingdom solutions sometimes need stealth solutions so that the secular world can accept them.”

 

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Many articles on Dominionism and the Christian Right can be found on Talk to Action, especially by authors Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, Frederick Clarkson, and Chip Berlet.

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Background from within the
Dominionist Movements

“Let’s Take Dominion Now,” C. Peter Wagner

C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World

Following the brief period of mainstream press exposure in late summer and early fall of 2011, New Apostolic Reformation leaders tried to downplay what they meant by “dominion.” Most of the November 2011 issue of Charisma Magazine was dedicated to a response to the sudden media exposure, but after the spotlight was gone C. Peter Wagner wrote the following article:

“Why You Must Take Dominion Over Everything”

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Criticism from within Christianity

Deception in the Church

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Inside the Christian Right Dominionist Movement That’s Undermining Democracy

by Chip Berlet

Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have all flirted with Christian Right Dominionism, but there’s lots of misinformation about just what that means.

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 Ted Cruz, 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. Many articles on Dominionism can be found on Talk to Action, especially by authors Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, Frederick Clarkson. Several of the authors who pioneered the discussion of Dominionism have written for the Public Eye Magazine.

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.

Advocates of Dominion Theology go beyond the democracy eroding theocracy of Dominionism into a totalitarian form of religious power called a “theonomy,” in which pluralistic democracy and religious tolerance are seen as a problem to be solved by godly men carrying out God’s will. Karen Armstrong calls Christian Reconstructionism “totalitarian” because it leaves “no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom.” Matthew N. Lyons and I call Christian Reconstructionism a “new form of clerical fascist politics,” in our book Right-Wing Populism in America, because we see it echoing the religiously based clerical fascist movements that existed during World War II in countries including Romania and Hungary.

According to Fred Clarkson:

Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God’s covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband “submits” to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God’s laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called “theonomy.”

Christian Reconstructionists believe that as more Christians adopt Dominion Theology, they will eventually convert the majority of Americans. Then the country will realize that the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are merely codicils to Old Testament biblical law. Because they believe this is God’s will, they scoff at criticism that what they plan is a revolutionary overthrow of the existing system of government. Over the past 20 years the leading proponents of Reconstructionism have included founder Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and Andrew Sandlin. Kingdom Now theology emerged from the Latter Rain Pentacostal movement and the concept of Spiritual Warfare against the literal demonic forces of Satan. It has been promoted by founder Earl Paulk as well as C. Peter Wagner, founder of the New Apostolic Reformation movement.

For many, President Obama and the Democratic Party are among these “demonic forces.” This has real world consequences.

In 2006 former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris told thousands of cheering Christian Right activists that beating the Democrats in the upcoming elections was a battle against “principalities and powers,” which many in the audience would hear as a Biblical reference to the struggle with the demonic agents of Satan. Harris (who played “ballot bowling” in Florida to elect George W. Bush in 2000) told the audience at the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington DC that she had studied religion in Switzerland with the godfather of the Christian Right, theologian Francis A. Schaeffer. Her speech there, which I witnessed and wrote about, qualifies her as a Dominionist.

In 2004 Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, another Dominionist, oversaw the election apparatus giving his favored candidate George W. Bush a boost into the Oval Office.

Religion scholar Bruce Barron explains that “unlike the Christian Right, Reconstructionism is not simply or primarily a political movement; it is first and foremost an educational movement fearlessly proclaiming an ideology of total world transformation.” According to sociologist Sara Diamond, Christian Reconstructionism spread the “concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to `occupy’ all secular institutions” to the extent that it became “the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right.”

William Martin is the author of the 1996 tome With God on Our Side, a companion volume to the PBS series of the same name (Martin and I were both advisers to the PBS series). Martin is a sociologist and professor of religion at Rice University, and he has been critical of the way some critics of the Christian Right have tossed around the terms “dominionism” and “theocracy.” According to Martin:

It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, `Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.’

Martin reveals that “several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists.” The late Christian Right leaders Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy “endorsed Reconstructionist books” for example. Before he died in 2001, the founder of Christian Reconstuctionism, R. J. Rushdoony, appeared several times on Christian Right televangelist programs such as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the program hosted by D. James Kennedy.

“Pat Robertson makes frequent use of `dominion’ language,” says Martin. Robertson’s book, The Secret Kingdom, “has often been cited for its theonomy elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential campaign, he said he `would only bring Christians and Jews into the government,’ as well as when he later wrote, `There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.’ ”

Martin also pointed out that Jay Grimstead, who led the Coalition on Revival, “brought Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals.” According to Martin, Grimstead explained “`I don’t call myself [a Reconstructionist],” but “A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God’s standard of morality…in all points of history…and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike….It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.”

Then Grimstead added, “there are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership–James Kennedy is one of them–who don’t go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.”

So let’s choose our language carefully, but let’s recognize that terms such as Dominionism and Theocracy, when used cautiously and carefully, are appropriate when describing troubling tendencies in the Christian Right that are helping push the current political scene toward confrontation and intolerance.

What is Dominionism?

There are genuine differences of opinion about the concept of “Dominionism” in the United States.
But writers who claim there is no such thing as Christian “Dominionism” in the United States are playing word games.

When Michelle Goldberg wrote “A Christian Plot for Domination?” for the Daily Beast she chose her terms carefully. The subhead stated “Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry aren’t just devout—both have deep ties to a fringe fundamentalist movement known as Dominionism, which says Christians should rule the world.”

Within hours both critics and supporters of Goldberg’s thesis littered the Internet with posts that drew no distinctions among the Christian Right, Dominionism, and Christian Reconstructionism.

When the scholarly volume on the revival of religious fundamentalism edited by Misztal and Shupe was published in 1992, it discussed “Dominion Theology,” which Fred Clarkson and I call “Hard Dominionism.”

That same year Barron, Bruce Barron’s book Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology., was published.

Author Bruce Barron warned of a growing “dominionist impulse” among evangelicals in his 1992 book Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Barron, with a Ph.D. in American religious history, is also an advocate of Christian political participation, and has worked with conservative Christian evangelicals and elected officials. Barron is smart, courteous, and not someone you would debate without doing a whole boatload of homework. Disrespect him at your own risk.

Barron is worried by the aggressive, intolerant, and confrontational aspects of dominion theology; and is especially concerned that these ideas have seeped into the broader Christian evangelical community. Dominion theology is not a version of Christianity with which Barron is comfortable.

In his book, Barron looks at two theological currents: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now, and explains that “Many observers have grouped them together under the more encompassing rubric of ‘dominion theology.'” Christian Reconstructionism evolved out of the writings of R.J. Rushdoony; while Kingdom Now theology emerged from the ministry of Earl Paulk.

“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 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 distinction is crucial. Dominion theology (Christian Reconstructionism, Kingdom Now, and a handful of smaller theologies), has generated a variety of versions or “brands” of “dominionism” adopted by a number of leaders in the Christian Right who would not describe themselves as “dominionist;” and most certainly would reject the theological tenets promulgated by a “dominion theology” such as Christian Reconstructionism.

Beginning in the 1960s, and gathering force in the 1970s, the “dominionist impulse” rode along a wave of discontent among evangelicals and fundamentalists. They were upset with secular society, especially federal court decisions and government legislation and regulations they felt intruded too far into the personal–and religious–life. Their concern over social, cultural, and political issues involving pornography, school prayer, abortion, and homosexuality prompted participation in national elections since the 1970s.

This social movement of conservative Christian evangelicals was mobilized by the Christian Right, who joined with ultraconservative political operatives to take over the Republican Party. In this coalition, there are a wide variety of theological tendencies and disputes that are temporarily set aside in favor of organizing to achieve a specific political agenda. This coalition also sets aside disputes over how the End Times of biblical prophecy play out. This means that the primarily “postmillennialist” Christian Reconstructionists work on projects with the primarily “premillennialist” evangelical constituency of the Christian Right.

Open advocates of dominionism declare that “America is a Christian Nation,” and that therefore Christians have a God-given mandate to re-assert Christian control over political, social, and cultural institutions. Yet many dominionists stop short of staking out a position that could be called theocratic. This is the “soft” version of dominionism.

The “hard” version of dominionism is explicitly theocratic or “theonomic,” as the Christian Reconstructionists prefer to be called. For America, it is a distinction without a difference. According to Barron, “Unlike the Christian Right, Reconstructionism is not simply or primarily a political movement; it is first and foremost an educational movement fearlessly proclaiming an ideology of total world transformation.” Barron also “observed a discomforting triumphalism within dominion theology, especially its takeover rhetoric.” In this usage, “triumphalism” simply means when it comes to religions belief, it’s my way or the highway. One God, one religion, one folk, one nation–a Christian Nation–love it or leave it.

Barron notes that Christian Reconstructionism has “intellectual substance, internal coherence, and heavy dependence on Scripture,” and this has helped “Reconstructionist philosophy win a hearing in many sectors of the Christian Right.” For example, Barron found the “idea of Christian dominion, though with less emphasis on biblical law, has been echoed within the Charismatic movement, that segment of American Christianity identified by its free-spirited, demonstrative worship and its practice of spiritual gifts such as tongue speaking and prophecy.”

One well-known Charismatic preacher is Pat Robertson, who reaches millions of viewers weekly through his “700 Club” television program. “Robertson’s explicit emphasis on the need to restore Christians to leadership roles in American society mirrors what” Barron called, “a dominionist impulse in contemporary evangelicalism.”


Barron, Bruce. 1992. Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

Apocalyptic Millennialism

Apocalypticism: The belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. From a Greek root word suggesting unveiling hidden information or revealing secret knowledge about unfolding human events.

The dualist or demonized version involves a final show-down struggle between absolute good and absolute evil. In Christianity there are competing apocalyptic prophetic traditions based on demonization or liberation. Central to Christianity, the tradition also exists in Judaism, Islam, and other religions and secular belief structures. Believers can be passive or active in anticipation; and optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome. Sometimes used similarly to the term millenarianism.

Millennialism: A sense of expectation that a significant epochal transformation is imminent, marking either the end of a thousand year period, or signal its beginning, or both. Two major forms of millennialist response are passive waiting versus activist intervention. Can involve varying degres of apocalypticism. In Christianity, the idea that the Second Coming of Christ marks a thousand year period.

Apocalyptic Aggression: The merger of conspiracism with apocalypticism often generates aggressive forms of dualism. Apocalyptic Aggression occurs when demonized scapegoats are targeted as enemies of the “common good,” a dynamic that can lead to discrimination and attacks.

If premillennialists are waiting for the Rapture, why should they bother getting involved in secular politics?

In 1980 Tim LaHaye published a book, The Battle for the Mind, which amplified on the conservative Christian evangelical critique of secular humanism articulated by popular theologian Francis A. Schaeffer. The LaHaye book is dedicated to Schaeffer (1980, p. 5).

LaHaye writes in a chapter entitled “Is a Humanist Tribulation Necessary?” that the “seven-year tribulation period will be a time that features the rule of the anti-Christ over the world.” LaHaye explains that this “tribulation is predestined and will surely come to pass.” LaHaye claims there is another potential period of tribulation, however, that he dubs the “pre-tribulation tribulation—that is, the tribulation that will engulf this country if liberal secular humanists are permitted to take control of our government—it is neither predestined nor necessary. But it will deluge the entire land in the next few years, unless Christians are willing to become much more assertive in defense of morality and decency than they have been during the past three decades.”

LaHaye warns that adultery, pornography, and homosexuality “are rampant” and reminds readers of “Dr. [Francis] Schaeffer’s warning that humanism always leads to chaos” (1980, pp. 217-218).

More about Schaeffer and LaHaye:
http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/culwar.html

Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1980). Dedicated to Francis Schaeffer.

Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Public Schools: Humanism’s Threat to our Children, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1983).

Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Family, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1982).

Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, revised, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, [1981] 1982).

Francis A. Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1979)

Apocalyptic Millennialism:
An Overview

This was written in the late 1990s

What do the Heaven’s Gate suicides, the Weaver family shootout, the Branch Davidian conflagration, the Montana Freeman standoff, terrorism against reproductive health clinics, armed militias, theocratic sectors of the Christian Right, and attacks on gay rights have in common? The apocalyptic worldview in the US is greatly influenced by religious and secular interpretations of the prophecies in the Biblical book of Revelation about the coming of a new millennium. Fundamentalist Christians expect that the end of time is preceded by a cataclysmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. When evil is vanquished, true believers enter a Millennium of peace and harmony under God’s rule. This period marks the return of Christ.

The prophecies in Revelation have been adapted by many other spiritual and secular philosophers and movements. Popular culture, including films such as Rambo, Mad Max, the Terminator series, and Red Dawn, reinterpret the vision while obscuring its origins. The film Apocalypse Now and the TV series Millennium name the myth while secularizing and mainstreaming it as a paradigm. Law enforcement abuse of power against the Branch Davidian’s in Waco, Texas and other dissidents creates cascading echoes of apocalypse throughout the society.

The Heaven’s Gate group merged prophetic themes with the dynamic of manipulative demagoguery in the setting of a totalitarian group with a charismatic leader. Three roots of key prophetic visions in the Heaven’s Gate group came from:

  • The Christian Bible, especially the book of Revelation.
  • The prophecies of Nostradamus.
  • Science fiction.

Science Fiction

A common science fiction theme is the idea that more advanced life forms and beings with higher consciousness arriving from outer space will visit Earth and select humans for travel or transformation. Some of the ideas propounded by the Heaven’s Gate group seem borrowed from this genre. A typical example would be the book Childhood’s End by respected science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Many people in the UFO movement embrace these fictional ideas as fact.

The Prophecies of Nostradamus

Nostradamus was a sixteenth century prophet who utilized astrological charts and visions to write a pre-history of the world making predictions about world events centuries in advance. The language is obscure and ambiguous, with many published commentaries claiming to unravel their meaning. One major prediction was the arrival of a great comet. Examples of commentaries currently available include Henry C. Roberts (updated by Robert Lawrence), The Complete Prophesies of Nostradamus, 1994 (1947); Stefan Paulus, Nostradamus 1999: Who Will Survive [A Comet is Hurtling Toward Earth…], 1997; and Jean-Charles de Fontbrune, Nostradamus: Countdown to Apocalypse, 1985 (1983). A contemporary version of the comet prophecy is Tom Kay, When the Comet Runs: Prophecies for the New Millennium, published in February 1997.

The Christian Bible & the Book of Revelation

The roots of a remarkable number of myths, metaphors, images, symbols, phrases, and icons used by many mass movements are contained in the few pages of prophecy in Revelation. The themes in Revelation influence diverse current right wing movements such as the new Christian electoral right, Protestant and Catholic theocratic groups, survivalism, the patriot and armed militia movement, Christian patriot constitutionalists, and the Christian Identity religion.

While not all practitioners of Christian Identity embrace racism and naked antisemitism, many believe there are two races on the planet, with White Christians having a more advanced status eligible for the rapture. This is the view of Aryan Nations, for instance.

An offshoot of Christian Identity is Racial Dualism, preached by the late Aryan Nations supporter, Bob Miles, who believed that White Christians were seeded by an advanced alien race from outer space. The vast majority of practicing Christians reject these interpretations, and the First Amendment guarantees the right of fundamentalists Christians, and all spiritual and ethical movements, to hold their beliefs without interference. How to defend the right to hold beliefs while protecting society from actions that are harmful will be a challenge as we approach the new millennium.

There are six key ways the predictions of Revelation influence popular culture:

Omens and Signs of the Times

Revelation predicts the beginning of the end times will start a series of signs warning that judgment is at hand. Believers watch for the signs of the times and seek significance and meaning in natural events such as comets, meteorite showers, alignment of stars and planets, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, crop failures, etc. The Branch Davidians believed the end times were approaching and were studying the meaning of the seven wax seals on a scroll mentioned in Revelation.

Apocalyptic Doomsday Cataclysm

Revelation predicts the end times will include great apocalyptic tribulations and the wrath of God, causing much destruction including famine, natural disasters, and plague. Believers prepare for the chaos of these times in different ways. Some expect all is pre-ordained and they can do nothing but live out their fate, others prepare for the hard times ahead, collecting food and water, fortifying their homes, buying guns, and even moving into communities of other believers for mutual protection. This is the basis for the survivalist movement, and what motivated the Weaver family and the Montana Freemen to withdraw to isolated locations.

Subversion and Countersubversion

Revelation predicts the betrayal of humankind by a world leader who unites all nations in the end times before being exposed as Satan’s agent. There will also be a false prophet who spreads a global religion that supports the world leader. In response, believers look for treason and subversion, paying special attention to those who call for world cooperation and international intervention by groups such as the United Nations. The idea of a global communist menace was frequently seen as proof that the Antichrist was based in the Soviet Union…the evil empire. This is the basis for the Star Wars trilogy. It is also partly the basis for the Montana Freeman rejecting government authority, and is influential in many, though not all, armed militia groups.

Armageddon and Holy War

Revelation predicts a great final battle between good and evil with troops clashing on the plains of Armageddon in the Middle East. Some believers are preparing for this battle. Some have already fired the first shots. Reign and Rule

Revelation predicts the faithful will experience a millennium of living in God’s kingdom, the new Jerusalem. Some say Christ will return at the beginning to reign and rule, but others argue that the godly must reign and rule for one thousand years before Christ returns. Believers argue it is their duty to attack the forces of evil and clean up secular society to prepare for the return of the Lord. Much of the violence against reproductive rights clinics and attacks on gay rights is based on this interpretation. These ideas are called dominion theology, with its most theocratic and authoritarian version called Christian Reconstructionism.

Transcendent Ascension and Rapture

Revelation predicts that some of the faithful will be “raptured” by God in a transformational ascension into the heavens where they will miss some or all of the tribulations on earth. Some millennialist movements in the past have set the date for the rapture, and some have even sold their possessions and waited on mountaintops for the rapture to free them from their earthy bodies.

The Choice is Ours

The millennium provides an opportunity for society to engage in a process of renewal and reconciliation, as well as an opportunity for demagogues, bigots, paranoids, and charlatans to spread messages of division and destruction. If a totalitarian group turns outward its members can engage in scapegoating with the most extreme outcome being homicide. If a totalitarian group turns inward its members can engage in scapegoating with the most extreme outcome being suicide.

In a society where inequality and injustice is creating deep divisions and tensions, we need constructive ways to channel anger and alienation toward demands for social change rather than apocalyptic withdrawal or aggression.

In societies suffering from economic and social stress, backlash movements take several form: racial or ethnic nationalism; religious fundamentalism or spiritual alternative; and right-wing populism and conspiracist scapegoating. These forms can blend and interact.

The more we all discuss the issues of millennial expectation, apocalyptic thinking, and scapegoating, the more likely the outcome will be positive rather than negative.