Exploring the Influence of Dominion Theology and Christian Reconstructionism in American Politics
Why am I so concerned with movements such as dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionism? And why should you be, too — even if you’ve never heard those terms before?
The answer to that question becomes more clarified when put into the context of the intersection of American religion and politics. In the 2016 presidential election, a majority of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump (81%, according to most polls). This was true despite the obvious reality that as a presidential candidate, and then later as president, Trump himself stands for virtually everything evangelicals have long claimed to repudiate: lying, marital infidelity, racism, misogyny, sexual assaults against women, illegitimate and cheating business practices, and so forth. On the face of it, then, evangelicals in particular should have disavowed him both as a candidate and their president. But this is far from the case.
Undeterred by his coarse and boorish behavior, that evangelical majority not only continues to support him wholeheartedly, the vast majority of them plan on voting for him again in 2020. Although most of them wish he wouldn’t be so brazen wielding his Twitter bully pulpit, on the whole they’re extremely happy with the changes he’s made, policies he’s instituted, and conservative judges he’s appointed in record numbers. From their point of view, he’s a “Cyrus figure” appointed by God himself to shake up the establishment. Trump is the “politically incorrect president” hard at work draining the Washington swamp — and more crucially, delivering on his campaign promises to uphold their religious liberties, which they believe have been under assault for decades now. Trump was their man who would not only defend America’s Christian heritage, he’d see to it that the future America would be unmistakably Christian.
Perhaps even more concerning than the evangelical vote and continued support, there’s an even more alarming trend happening currently: a number of key dominionists, along with many evangelical leaders and Christian Right organizations, have made significant inroads into the Trump administration. Have a look at the members of Trump’s “Evangelical Advisory Board” if you don’t believe me. Right now, today, these influential leaders are advising him on major policies — and in return go out and provide public religious cover for him.
The major question, of course, is this: Why should they engage in this type of activity, especially when Trump is so clearly not exactly a shining example of a Christian leader? For the dominionists, at least, the answer is straightforward: Donald Trump is helping them to achieve their vision of dominion over the world. It’s a transaction in which both sides “win”: they help to deliver a great number evangelical votes for Trump, and he in turn will stay in office in 2020, where he will continue working hard to advance their agenda.
A second reason for concern is that dominionist movements such as Christian Reconstructionism provide the Christian Right with the ideological, theological and biblical warrant for advancing their political agenda in the United States and abroad. On a populist level, although the garden-variety Trump-supporting evangelical may be largely unfamiliar with the key tenets of dominionism, a great many of their talking points have filtered into mainstream churches.
On this basis a great many evangelicals simply repeat their arguments and points, without possibly being aware of their origins. Moreover, a great many of the Christian Right organizations either deliberately obfuscate, or at least do not openly admit anywhere in their literature that they espouse any of the tenets of Christian Reconstructionism or dominion theology — but the connections are nonetheless there, once you know the language.
Tracing the Influence of Dominion Theology
Al Dager, in an article entitled “Kingdom Theology” on the Banner Ministries site, makes this precise point when he states: “Dominion Theology is not an easily delineated segment within the Church, but rather a loose networking of autonomous sub-movements that have different approaches to their attempts at establishing the Kingdom of God.
The central doctrine of all, however, is that Jesus cannot or will not return to the earth until the Church has taken control of at least a significant portion of human government and social institutions. Whether this incorporates belief in a worldwide theocracy, or theonomy, or the subjugation of individual secular states to the authority of the Church depends upon the particular brand of Dominion Theology one holds.”
But what exactly is dominion theology? Frederick Clarkson, in a study of dominionism on the Political Research site entitled “Dominionism Rising,” offers up the following helpful overview when he explains: “Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. The term describes a broad tendency across a wide swath of American Christianity.”
But regardless of the fact that they are either unaware of, or deliberately obfuscating their connections to dominionism, the Christian Right is hard at work advancing its agenda politically — and have been for many decades now, certainly since the 1940s.
But what exactly is the agenda of both dominionists and Christian Right organizations? It can be identified in at least three aspects: they are first of all seeking to get Christian (or at the very least, conservative) politicians installed at every level of public offices, from low to high. Second, there are a great many Christian Right and dominionist organizations that are seeking to influence current political leaders to vote their way, and advance their particular religious agendas. Finally, they are working extremely hard to get average Christians, from all walks of life and levels of society, to vote for their “approved” political candidates.
How exactly have they managed to accomplish this last aim? In terms of reaching that “typical evangelical” sitting in a church pew somewhere, one major avenue taken by dominionists is to appeal to their sense of patriotism. Sarah Leslie, in an article from the Discernment Research Group website entitled “Dominionism and the Rise of Christian Imperialism,” illustrates how the connection between dominionists and “patriotic American evangelicals” has been made:
“Patriotic dominionists, most of whom are not Reconstructionists, teach that political action will advance the kingdom of God in America. Using the vehicle of Christian media, they have taught evangelicals for the past three decades that America is a Christian nation and needs to return to its roots. Almost every evangelical in the pew has been influenced in one way or another by this sect. [emphasis mine].
Patriotic dominionist leaders and their organizations have been closely interlocked financially and politically with the conservatives from the political Right. The secular conservatives purport to uphold morality, which appeals to evangelicals. The combined force of conservatives and evangelicals flexes its political muscles in Washington. One of its most powerful leaders is James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
Patriotic dominionism was widely disseminated through the activities of Jay Grimstead, founder of Coalition on Revival (COR). From its earliest inception COR managed to successfully bring together key leaders from all three dominionist sects, including the Reconstructionists, to promote the most ruthless doctrines of dominionism.”
Leslie points out that one of the major talking points of Christian Reconstruction and dominionism that has filtered into the mainstream evangelical American church is the notion that “America was originally a Christian nation.” This revisionist history not only is a favored argument of dominionists and Christian Right leaders, it’s also a valuable tool to appeal to the patriotism of the typical evangelical. For example, research by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, in a 2018 Washington Post article, indicates that “Voters’ religious tenets aren’t what’s behind Trump support; rather, it’s Christian nationalism — their view of the United States as a fundamentally Christian nation.” They go on to state that “The more someone believed the United States is — and should be — a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump.”
At the end of the day, regardless of the particular ideology behind each movement — dominionist, Christian Reconstructionist or Christian Right — their goal is clear: they believe wholeheartedly that Christians should be running the world. A favorite verse is Proverbs 29:1, which states: “When the righteous rule, the people rejoice.” On this basis, dominionists argue that the world will not only be a better place if Christians ran the show, in some cases they believe that Christ won’t return until they establish his kingdom on earth first. Regardless of the particular ideology, all camps are currently working incredibly hard to advance this concept, which ultimately traces much of its origins to Christian Reconstructionism and the various streams of what has become “dominion theology.”
But do we really want Christians in charge of the world?
On paper, it would seem like a theocracy would usher in an unbelievably prosperous, healthy and mutually beneficial utopian society. At its core, dominion theology has this sort of argument to justify its agenda, as the verse from Proverbs maintains: “If Christians were indeed running the world, everyone would benefit and be incredibly happy and content!”
In theory, it sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with a God-ordained system of governance, with laws that benefit all of humanity — since of course, they originate with their Creator, who knows what is best for everyone. It has all the makings of a utopian society, rather than a dystopian one. No one wants to live in a place like the fictional Gilead from A Handmaid’s Tale, surely?
If the dominionists have their way, however, life may well soon start to imitate art.
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