And, what does religion (of all things) have to do with it?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably noticed that we, as a society, as a people, as a family are fiercely divided, emphasis upon fiercely. Recounting the depth and degree of hostility, anger, fear, vitriol and animus, one toward another, is unnecessary because it is so overt. We all know the division is chasmal, the emotional temperature boiling, and the apparent prospects of reconciliation bleak. Where, one might justifiably ask, has the reason gone? Into what abyss has the dialogue, mutual respect, and empathy so necessary for a healthy society vanished? And, why is religion exacerbating, even creating, the very conditions it was designed to ameliorate?
Wait! Did I just ask a rhetorical question? Did I just suggest that the cause of our division and dysfunction is religion? Yes, yes I did. Let me explain.
While often supposed to be political in nature, our divisions are actually caused by our religious differences, I think. Our vastly diverse interpretations of, and understandings of the role that religion should play in a society, more specifically in the governance of that society, seems to be the basis upon which we so vociferously feud. For Christians there exists a wide expanse of beliefs about the degree of influence religion should exert within or over a society, ranging from little to none other than perhaps inspirationally, all the way to the establishment of a complete Christian caliphate. How we frame the relationship between ‘The Great Commission’ and good citizenship determines and directs our attitudes, our behaviors, our ideals and ideologies, our choices, our relationships, and our activism, or lack thereof. Both of the aforementioned positions represent the extremes, from passivity to militancy, but both are present within the Christian ethos, and one of them is growing in scope and scale, in adherents and devotees, even, surprisingly, among Catholics. Therefore, it warrants some scrutiny. Which one is spreading like kudzu? Well, to be sure, we are not fruiting pacifists.
Christians in large, and ever growing numbers want the United States to be a Christian nation, a quasi theocracy. They believe America was founded as a theocracy, and should return to its theocratic origins. Based upon the particular belief many Christians hold about God’s prophetic design for America, they are highly motivated to establish (or re-establish) the US as a christian nation. They believe that God ‘set apart’ the US for a divine, prophetic and eschatological purpose and that the US must be a ‘Christian’ nation so that God’s purpose for his creation can be fulfilled. The kingdom of God, they believe, must find its fulfillment in the United States of America so that the kingdom reign of Jesus can advance to other nations of the earth. And, then Jesus can return to rule over the remnant, the precious few who will remain faithful. The theological term for that belief, or set of beliefs is dominionism. It is dominionist theology that gives rise to Christian nationalism, and to the certitude of those who hold those views that any person, or any group, or any institution, or any organization, or any entity that disagrees with them is deceived by, beset with, if not overtaken by, evil. In their belief system, as dualistic as it may sound, everything in life can be reduced to the conflict between good vs. evil, the godly vs. the diabolical. On a cosmological level that is true, but as an incarnational people we must allow for repentance, redemption, reformation, and renewal.
But, before I go too far it would be helpful, here, to define our terms.
Dominionism: aka Christian Reconstructionism Dominionism is the theocratic idea that Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of all political and cultural institutions. It celebrates Christian nationalism, believing that the United States once was, and should be again a Christian nation. Thus, dominionism promotes christian supremacy, privilege, and power. Viewing other religions as unequal and inferior, dominionism marginalizes non christian citizens. Further, dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe 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.
One of the now ubiquitous heralds of dominionism is Gary North. His words concisely explain this theocratic impulse:
“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty,” Christian Reconstructionist theorist Gary North declared in 1982, “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.”
North believes that the Constitution generally, and specifically the proscription against religious tests for public office included in Article 6, are “legal barrier[s] to Christian theocracy.” He envisions a day when biblically correct Christians gain enough political power to be able to amend the Constitution to limit access to the franchise and civil offices to “communicant members of Trinitarian churches.” Gary North, “The Myth of Pluralism”
Christian Nationalism: Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. America is defined by its “Anglo-Protestant” past and that we will lose our identity and our freedom if we do not preserve our cultural and religious inheritance. Christianity Today, 2021
Patriotism: Quite simply, love of country.
The Christian Right: It is a religious coalition with political aims that is mainly comprised of evangelicals and conservative Catholics. The coalition unites around common causes such as anti-abortion activism, opposition to the rights of LGBTQ people and sex education classes. They also speak out in favour of the promotion of prayer in schools and the teaching of creationism (or intelligent design), the fight against euthanasia and the safeguarding of what they call religious freedom.
The agenda of the Christian right can be summed up essentially as promoting the idea of a Christian nationalism in which the establishment of Judeo-Christian “values” is the foundation of the country’s law.
To achieve its objectives, the Christian right has adopted what is called a “dominionist” strategy, where Christians are called to exercise power and dominate the world, according to their interpretation of a passage from the book of Genesis (1:26-28).
This idea is framed in terms of “social transformation” and presented as the Seven Mountains Mandate. The Conversation, International Academic Journal
Theology v Religion: Simply stated, one can define theology as the “study of God’s truth,” and religion as “the practice of God’s truth.” Theology is concerned with what people believe, while a person’s religion refers to one’s conduct—how they behave. It is orthodoxy v orthopraxy.
Dominionists are at war with evil, and, as well, with those who they believe are being used, exploited, deluded and manipulated by evil, or who are intentionally in concert with evil. The primary battlefield upon which they have chosen to fight this cosmic war is politics and government. (Identified as 7 Mountain Dominionism, there are 7 institutions in society that they believe constitute the entire theatre of combat, each of which must be subdued and Christianized: education, religion, family, business, government, entertainment, and media.) God, they believe, raised them up to fight for America against an unseen enemy specifically upon these 7 societal mountains, and he raised up a mighty warrior on their behalf whom he anointed, ordained, and ‘mantled’ to engage and defeat the evil that so pervades all strata of society, especially government. The means and methods of this warfare need not be particularly Christian because the goal is to promote, preserve, defend and advance Christianity. War is messy. And, God’s chosen vessels have not always been portraits of probity, anyway. So, in this war, character and virtue, integrity and decency, meekness and gentleness are irrelevant. The attack of Jan 6 on the capital is an example of that principle.
The societal, and personal implications of that theology are enormous. And, I think, devastating. Dominionists sincerely view those who disagree with their theology, eschatology and nationalistic fervor as naive to evil at best, or complicit with evil at worst. Certainly obstacles to God’s plan for Christian domination. In the case of institutions such as government, media, all the sciences, the medical establishment, education, other religions, the judicial system, the military (its leadership), technology, law enforcement (FBI, CIA, capitol police), churches (non dominionist), politicians (non aligned regardless of party), entertainment, family, and business dominionists believe that those spheres of culture have already succumbed to the forces of evil and are being used by the devil to thwart God’s prophetic purpose for America. Dominionists, and by extension Christian nationalists, believe that they must destruct these institutions so that they can construct God’s kingdom on earth, and rule it, hold it, advance it and hand it to Christ when he returns. (That is post millennial eschatology) They further believe that the US is the foundational nation (cornerstone) in the building blocks of that universal kingdom.
As chilling as all of that sounds, dominionists, many of whom do not even know that they are espousing an ideology/theology of supremacy, are quite good people at heart. There are, to be sure, radical, violent, and militaristic dominionists, but for now those extremists represent a fringe element. The overwhelming majority of dominionists are decent, loving, generous and faithful, albeit highly politicized people. As such, I decided to listen to them, to read the literature they are reading, and to give attention to the sermons they hear in their churches. I eliminated Q-anon conspiracy blurbs because not all dominionists are Q adherents. (They are vulnerable, I think, to conspiracy theories, but are still reasonable.) My exploration raised many questions for me, and I assume for you, as well. And, I drew some conclusions. Below I posed questions that I had, and ones you might have, too. Based upon my research I offered answers that I think reflect dominionist thinking and theology. The Q&A format is presented in no particular order and is not intended to be a comprehensive representation of ‘all’ dominionist thought. But, I hope it is a fair and broad reflection of this theology.
Q. What is the dominionist view of government?
A. Government is given to us by God and should reflect the dominionist/evangelical understanding of his nature and desires for humanity and all of creation. This is especially true of the US government since the US was essentially founded upon Christian laws and values for eschatological purposes. Where the government has strayed from those principles, it requires correction, and must return to its Godly foundation, or suffer the consequences of its defection.
Q. Why are dominionists so engaged in politics? At times, angrily, even violently.
A. In their view, America is in need of a spiritual revival, a return to a Christian God. The soil in which the fruit of revival will grow is the government. Without Godly government the harvest will not be produced, America will miss its prophetic destiny, and will be relegated to the waste bin of other once powerful empires. They are exercised because, to them, the stakes are so high.
Q. Why do dominionists dismiss the opinions of others?
A.Because others are so glaringly wrong. They are woke, deceived, sheep-like, brainwashed, propagandized, and frankly, foolish.
Q. Why do anti maskers utilize Nazi symbols (swastikas) when they protest mask mandates. Don’t they know how hurtful and offensive that is? Don’t they know it trivializes the extermination of 6 million Jews?
A. Yes, they know that. They use swastikas as a warning. They believe that the spirit that led to the rise of Nazism is the same spirit behind the mask mandates, and that the mandates are the ‘camel’s nose in the door of the tent.’
Q. Why won’t the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers listen to the science? Are they that selfish?
A. They believe that the scientists are lying about COVID, the vaccine, the infection rates and the death numbers. The scientists, they believe, are in league with big pharma, the deep state, and an international cabal aligned to rule the world. Compliance of the population is phase 1 of the cabal’s quest for control and masks require compliance. They are not intentionally being selfish. They are ‘the resistance.’ On a continuum they range from skeptical to suspicious to disbelieving to defiant.
Q. Why can’t I reason with people who hold views different from mine? Why do they become so angry?
A. They are not debating or arguing about your or their views on any particular issue. They may actually agree with you on many of them. Those issues are merely the vehicles used to express a far deeper vexation. Theirs is a theological urgency. Religion, by its very nature, is not reasonable. It is a matter of faith in the unseen. They are angry because they perceive a threat that you are oblivious to. They believe they can see what you do not, making you a significant, albeit ignorant, contributor to the problem, therefore, dangerous.
Q. Why do they hate gays?
A. They do not hate gay, trans, queer, or bisexual people. They believe that a nation that approves of and codifies those behaviors cannot be blessed by God. Quite the contrary, a nation that affirms those behaviors will be judged by God, a consequence they wish to avoid.
Q. Why is abortion the only life issue they talk about? What about the death penalty? What about hunger and starvation? What about bombing civilians? Are they pro-life or just anti-abortion?
A. They care about all the issues that pertain to life to varying degrees, but view abortion as foundational, because the unborn are first life. So, if you are wrong about the unborn, your judgement is questionable on everything that follows.
Q. Why do they admire Trump so much, a man who is so very flawed?
A. They acknowledge, but minimize or excuse his flaws because they believe God anointed him to save America from the diabolical forces destroying it. King David, they explain, was also flawed, but greatly used by God. Again, a theological mindset.
Q. If they are Christians, why are they so mean?
A. Christianity has a long and tragic history of brutalizing the ‘other’ in the name of God. Usually that has happened when people lost sight of and belief in the authentic teachings and person of Jesus. It is difficult to believe that turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, and overcoming evil with good actually produce change. Christians have often thought ‘they were doing God a favor’ by taking things into their own hands (or twitter feeds) and attacking, rather than blessing, their perceived enemies. This present period in Christian history, while not the horrors and sadism of the Inquisition, nonetheless shares too many similar sentiments.
Q. What is their end game? What do they want and why do they hate me for not sharing their enthusiasm for Trump, or other of their political heros?
A. They want a Christian nation because they believe God wants a Christian nation. The US has for decades been sliding into apostasy, immorality, and hedonism, in their view. It has become less and less what God intended and more and more what the devil orchestrated. They fully believe that Trump and others like him were sent by God to reverse the collapse of morality, and the inevitable economic and social catastrophe sure to follow. They do not hate you. Pity or exasperation are more descriptive because you do not appreciate the consequences of America’s moral decline. They believe that America’s spiritual revival will be inaugurated in the political arena. So, God raised up a media and business mogul and made him a politician. In rejecting Trump, you are rejecting God’s chosen vessel, and therefore, rejecting God.
Q. Why do they call everything socialism?
A. Without needing to know what socialism is, it is an easy target as it has been a long held threat ensconced in the American psyche. It sounds anti-democratic. So, labeling practically every public policy initiative as socialism may simply be intellectual laziness. Clearly, however, some existing and proposed government policies could accurately be characterized as socialistic. Some they would keep and enhance like Social Security and Medicare. Some they would discard or curtail like AFDC or Section 8 rental assistance.
Q. Why do they hate immigrants?
A. They do not hate immigrants. They actually have compassion for their plight, the truly desperate ones, that is. But, they do not believe that the US should have an open door (or border, in this case) policy. It is not a lack of mercy from them, however, as they wish they could help more. It is a mathematical and economic calculation. They also believe that Democrats want large numbers of immigrants added to the voting rolls for obvious reasons.
Q. Are they racists in disguise? For example, the resistance to voting rights, and the changes to voting accessibility appear to be directed against minorities.
A. They do not mean to be racist. And, most are not racist. They firmly believe, though, that the last election was stolen and that safeguards need to be built into the system. They also see the demographic makeup of the electorate changing and that causes no small degree of consternation, given their ethnocentric, anglo/saxon preferring theology. They support interventions that would slow the progress of the effects of that demographic shift, like gerrymandering, but believe that all eligible voters should have access to the process. Perhaps a bit grudgingly so, but they support the right to vote.
Q. What are they so afraid of?
A. Losing their American identity and culture and America losing its prophetic destiny. Although, they would strongly reject the notion that they are afraid. Motivated, not afraid.
Q. Are they willing to destroy our democracy in order to save it?
A. They would reject that notion, too. They believe that they are saving democracy. Many, if not all, of the corrupted institutions within the republic must be dismantled and rebuilt. It is true that they often seem like the man who discovered that his house had termites so he burned it down. But, they would say that they are exterminators, not arsonists.
Q. Why do they hate Democrats?
A. I think they would suggest that hate is too strong a word, but they deeply distrust Democrats who represent and promote so many policies that they deem unGodly. They seem convinced that if Democrats were left to their own devices they would destroy the country. Therefore, their visceral reaction to, and rejection of Democrats is intense, but does not rise to the level of hate. They contend.
Q. Are they White Nationalists?
A. Not exactly. But, the overwhelming percent of Christian Nationalists are white. That is why the theology is most often referred to as ‘white christian nationalism.’ Only a tiny fraction of minority individuals identify themselves as christian nationalists.
Q. Are we going the way of Rome and other once great empires, headed for destruction, unless we turn to Christianity?
A. Dominionists do seem to believe that theory, but history does not support it. Rome, after all, was by decree a christian nation when it met its demise, with the Pope the most powerful individual in the empire, and the Church its wealthiest institution. In the case of Rome Christianity did not prevent the empire’s collapse. It probably accelerated it. Many factors led to the eventual decline of all once formerly great and powerful empires.
Q. Are they correct? Should America be a Christian nation? Was it founded as such? Does America have a prophetic destiny? Should Christians assume dominion over every strata of society?
A. Well, they would declare a resounding Yes! to all of the above.
Q. Do I personally agree with them?
A. No. I believe that their entire foundational premise, that America was established as and must remain a Christian nation in order to fulfill an eschatological plan of God, is incorrect. It is historically in error. And, it is theologically in error. Dominionism does indeed animate their political activism, but is, I believe, Biblically unsound. In other words, I view their theological house as having been built on sand. Nations and empires do not have divine mandates. God’s people do. Nations host God’s people, and good nations provide liberty and resources sufficient to allow God’s people the unfettered ability to follow His will and his ways. A nation was not charged with the Great Commission. A people were. Disciples were. And, when Jesus returns we will not hand him a kingdom built by our own hands. We will hand him our crowns, earned through faithfulness, service, sacrifice and love. We are not here to rule, but to serve. “For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone, and to give his life as the ransom price for the salvation of many.” MK 10:45