The Open Letter Response to Christianity Today: Dominionists, Arise!
If you follow in any way the American evangelical support for Donald Trump, then you can’t have missed the recent drama that consumed everyone’s attention shortly before Christmas. On the 19th of December 2019, Christianity Today (CT) published an article by editor-in-chief Mark Galli entitled “Trump Should be Removed from Office.” This article ignited a firestorm of controversy, and within a short time of the article appearing, CT’s website crashed due to the high volume of traffic of people wanting to read the article.
For the first time, it was felt, a prominent evangelical voice had finally spoken out about the damage that Christian support for Trump had done. Some argued that it was too little, too late; and of course, those who do support Trump immediately pushed back.
Mere days after the original article appeared, on the 22nd of December, nearly 200 evangelical leaders published an open letter to CT. These prominent leaders protested Galli’s article as “offensive” and “dismissive” of their point of view — and that of the millions of evangelicals who also support Trump.
Later that same day, this open letter of protest in turn prompted CT’s president and CEO, William Dalrymple, to respond by posting a piece defending Galli. Dalrymple’s article was entitled “A Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President.” Darymple claimed that far from attempting to be divisive, Galli’s article was intended both to “plant a flag” and “set a table” for further dialogue. Whether or not any respectful dialogue indeed takes place remains to be seen.
The Dominion Theology Connection
Whether or not you agree or disagree with Galli, Dalrymple or the signatories of the open letter is immaterial to the point I’d like to make here, which (as far as I’m aware of to date) nobody else has done. A critically-overlooked factor in this entire debate is as follows: many of the nearly 200 signers of the open letter to CT are known to advocate dominion theology.
Specifically, not only do many of the signatories belong to the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement, several are well-known, outspoken proponents of the “7 Mountains Mandate” of dominion theology. This teaching mandates that Christians not only should, but indeed must “climb the 7 mountains” of cultural influence: government, arts and entertainment, media, education, business, family, and religion. Once all 7 of the mountains are conquered — with Christians installed at the top of each — then Jesus can (or in some cases, must) return to earth to install his perfect kingdom.
Merely a quick scan of the list of individual signers immediately reveals a startling list of prominent dominionist speakers, authors and key leaders, such as: Cindy Jacobs of Generals International; former politician Michelle Bachmann (R-Min); Pastor Bill Bolin of Floodgate Church; Dr Lance Wallnau, author of God and Donald Trump; Anita Christopher and Dr Yolanda McCune of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network; Rev. Mark Gurley of the Michigan Oak Initiative; Rachel Dennis of Awaken the Dawn; Pastor Kris Valotton of Bethel Redding; Brian and Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music; and Pastor Paula White-Cain of City of Destiny Church (and Trump’s main spiritual advisor), and so on.
Dominion Theology and the Religious Right
Perhaps more puzzling is the fact that the letter includes multiple names of key conservative evangelical leaders who would not typically be associated with dominion theology — a teaching that mainstream evangelicals would most likely disavow. This includes key figures, such as: Dr James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Gary Bauer of American Values; former Governor Mike Huckabee of My Faith Votes; and Anthony Verdugo of the Christian Family Coalition, to name but a few. Also included on the list are a great many leading evangelical pastors, many of whom are not affiliated with dominion theology.
So what is the connection with this group of signatories and the more extreme dominion theologians named above? Admittedly, most (if not all) the signers fall on the more conservative end of the political spectrum; does this explain their shared support for Trump? If that were the case, why then would such Religious Right figures such as Falwell Jr., Perkins, Bauer, Huckabee or Dobson align themselves with known dominionists? Surely their theology doesn’t align…? Additionally, much of the NAR and dominion theology crowd espouses a more Pentecostal, charismatic version of Christianity, which most conservative or fundamentalist Christians would disavow. So why are these two seemingly disparate groups partnering together?
Importantly, the open letter claims that “we are not theocrats” — in other words, they say that they have no interest in setting up an earthly kingdom over which God rules: a theocracy. However, if one examines much of the teachings of dominion theology, this claim is highly dubious. Nonetheless, there are many signers of the letter on both sides who agree that Christians should be involved in government; and in fact, many of the signatories currently serve on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory board. Is this the connection between the two groups? At the end of the day, both groups may have different tactics and methodologies, but both are involved in heavily influencing not just the Trump administration, but also have a massive influence upon many levels of government.
Examining the Open Letter
I believe that the answer to this conundrum can be found by taking a closer look at the open letter itself. In its disavowal of Galli’s original article, the writers claim that they are not on the “far right” of evangelicals, as they believe Galli (unfairly) painted them. They go on to state to the contrary:
“Rather, we are Bible-believing Christians and patriotic Americans who are simply grateful that our President has sought our advice as his administration has advanced policies that protect the unborn, promote religious freedom, reform our criminal justice system, contribute to strong working families through paid family leave, protect the freedom of conscience, prioritize parental rights, and ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including through our support of the State of Israel. We are not theocrats, and we recognize that our imperfect political system is a reflection of the fallen world within which we live, reliant upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is freely given to sinner and saint, alike.”
Unpicking the Loaded Language
My argument is that when the above paragraph is understood through the model of psychiatrist Dr Robert Jay Lifton’s notion of “loaded language,” the true purpose of the open letter becomes much clearer. Lifton argued that cults, or groups with undue influence, use “loaded language” — in other words, phrases and concepts that many people use, but only the “in-crowd” of the group understands. Using esoteric in-house language, key words are “loaded” with the ideology of the group or the leader — just like empty containers filled with a certain substance chosen by the group or leader. Only those in the know, the “in-group,” understands the use of code-words or jargon, the true meaning of which “outsiders” perhaps would not understand. In short, although they use common words, they in turn pour their own hidden meaning into them.
Unpicking the loaded language of the above paragraph reveals the use of code-words or insider jargon. Speaking from their lofty point of view as Trump’s evangelical advisors, they admit that they are quite happy that Trump has “sought their advice” – of course they are. But they humbly refer to themselves merely as “patriotic Americans” doing their civic duty, as “Bible-believing Christians.” However, I believe that both the phrases “Bible-believing Christians” and “patriotic Americans” are examples of loaded, or coded, language.
For example, when they say “Bible-believing Christians,” implicit in that statement is a particular view of the Bible: the Spirit- inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word of God. The basic argument is as follows: “God said it, so if it offends you, don’t be angry with me. It’s in the Bible.” Many evangelicals, for example, frame their pro-family, anti-LGBTQ argument this way. This stance fits another of Lifton’s categories of cults, that of “doctrine over person.” One can take refuge in what the group’s doctrine states, and thereby exalt the doctrine over another person’s feelings or emotions. What the other person feels is of no consequence: “I’m only speaking the truth.”
A second example of loaded language is the use of the phrase “patriotic Americans.” These code words mean they are investing the phrase with a well-known revisionist history of America promoted by such dominionists as David Barton of Wallbuilders (who co-wrote a book with Jim Garlow of the org “Well Versed,” who also signed the open letter).
This revisionist history, widely promoted by Barton, follows a well-known Christian nationalist line that proceeds as follows: “Originally, America was founded as a Christian nation, intended by our staunchly believing forefathers to be established on Judeo-Christian principles. America has since lost its way, falling into corporate sin by allowing the encroachment of secularism, atheism, ‘kicking God out of the squares and public schools,’ allowing abortion and same-sex marriage, pluralism, and multitudes of other sins. However, by repenting as a nation for these corporate sins, America can regain her status as God’s covenant nation — and be blessed once again.”
Dominionists frequently cite such biblical texts as 2 Chronicles 7:14 as biblical warrant for such a needed outcome: repentance and prayer as a nation, expressing sorrow for allowing such evils as abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth, will return America to a place of God’s blessing originally once enjoyed in the past. America will someday resume its exalted status as “the shining city on a hill” from which the light of the Gospel will shine to the rest of the world, thereby transforming nations. This is a line frequently cited both by dominionists, as well as those key leaders on the Religious Right, as the cure for America’s spiritual sickness — and the ushering in of God’s kingdom.
Advancing Key Policies
Finally, the letter gives away the game completely by revealing the ultimate reason so many evangelicals not only voted for Trump in 2016, but continue to support him as President. Not only that, a huge number plan to vote for him again in 2020, arguing that they face an “all-or-nothing” scenario in terms of their own religious freedoms should Trump lose (or be removed from office via impeachment, as Galli’s article advocated).
Listing the “accomplishments” the Trump administration has achieved since he took office reveals not only why they voted for him in the first place, but why they continue to support him. Just look at the following list, taken from the above paragraph, of “promises kept,” an agenda for which evangelicals have long lobbied the government, but had been unable to achieve in such stunningly quick fashion.
The letter argues that Trump’s administration has advanced policies that:
- “Protect the unborn” — by which they mean abortion. Uniting both dominionists and Religious Right leaders is this issue of abortion as a “national sin” preventing America from being blessed by God.
- “Promote religious freedom” — by which they mean “promoting white Christianity.” But this religious freedom doesn’t extend to other religions. For example, many dominionists and Religious Right leaders share a major aversion to Islam, viewing it as a “false religion” bent on destroying everything for which they as Christians stand.
- “Reform our criminal justice system” — by which they mean the Trump administration’s appointment of a record number of conservative judges to Federal courts. They are exceedingly ecstatic about the SCOTUS appointments of both Gorsuch and Kavanagh, seeing these last two as an eventual win to overturn Roe v Wade in the courts.
- “Contribute to strong working families through paid family leave” — when they say “family,” or “pro-family,” this is loaded language for “one man, one woman, monogamous heterosexual marriage.” In other words, these are code words for an anti-LGBTQ agenda, on which both sides agree: homosexuality, like abortion, is a national sin for which America must repent corporately to ensure God’s blessings.
- “Protect the freedom of conscience” — similar to “religious liberty,” this phrase is code for “the freedom to practice Christianity according to one’s own private dictates.” Orgs like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Pacific Justice Institute (whose founder, Brad Dacus, signed the open letter), fight court cases representing Christians who feel that the government has overreached into their private lives and denied them their religious rights.
- “Prioritize parental rights” — by which they mean the legal protection of Christian parents to home-school their children, force their minor children to attend their church (despite what the child may want), and also to discipline them in ways they believe are consistent with a “biblical worldview” (which often includes corporal punishment).
- “Ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including through our support of the State of Israel” — this final one is a big one. Both dominionists and Religious Right figures agree: America’s support for Israel is critically important. Not only does it a) align with their reading of biblical prophecy — the end-times scenario of Armageddon takes place in Israel, followed by the return of the Messiah, b) Trump’s support for Israel means that God will bless America, as promised to Abram in Gen. 12.3: any nation that blesses Israel will be in turn blessed by God.
Support for Israel
This final point explains how the signers of the open letter to CT can set aside their doctrinal differences, and both dominionists and conservative evangelicals come together. The diverse nature of signers of the letter include such pro-Israel, but diverse orgs as: pastors Mario Bramnick and Pasqual Urrabazo of the Latino Coalition for Israel, together with Juan Rivera of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition. Both orgs encourage Hispanics to pray for and cultivate relationships with Israel.
A third pro-Israel org is Schindler’s Ark, a Christian Zionist foundation founded by Rosemary Schindler Garlow that puts together trips to Israel, and also promotes relationships between Jews and Christians. (Incidentally, her and her husband Jim Garlow, both signers of the letter, are the SoCal presidents of Christians United for Israel, CUFI, the largest evangelical org supporting Israel in the United States).
More pro-Israel evangelical entities who signed the open letter include: former governor Mike Huckabee of My Faith Votes, which devotes a section on their website to exploring their support for Israel; pastor Michael Vinson, pastor of the CA-based Canyon Hill mega-church, which is decidedly pro-Israel; Dave Donaldson of CityServe, who is an associate of Vinson’s; Pastor Becky Keenan, founder of One With Israel, an evangelical pro-Israel org; and finally, Gary Bauer of American Values, whose site has a section explaining their pro-Israel stance.
Space does not permit me to expand on this final point in more detail, but suffice it to say that the signers of the letter have been ecstatic over two decisions demonstrating Trump administration’s support for Israel. First, he removed America from the Iran nuclear deal, and second, he made the controversial 2018 decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Both were hugely popular among American evangelicals. At the event honouring the move of the US embassy, major evangelical leaders, such as pastors Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in CA, and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, both spoke in praise of Trump’s decision; dominionists present at the ceremony included politicians Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann.
Pro-Israel fundamentalist preacher, Rev John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in Houston, in his closing prayer, encapsulated the reason that both dominionists and conservative evangelicals were happy about Trump’s controversial decision. Not only did it “prove” beyond all doubt that Jerusalem was indeed the capitol of Israel — regardless of the fury it caused in both Palestinians and Arabs alike — more importantly, it aligned with biblical prophecy. Hagee summed it all up nicely with his closing prayer at the ceremony when he stated: “Jerusalem is where Messiah will come and establish a kingdom that will never end.”
Ever since it became clear that a majority of white evangelicals (81%) voted for Trump in 2016, and have continued to support him throughout his increasingly troubled presidency, much has been written attempting to explain this apparent phenomenon. Why would Christians, who claim to stand for truth, integrity, morality, and leaders of virtue support such an obviously deeply flawed figure such as Trump? In their view, character and integrity of public leaders is hugely important. So why the disconnect?
In no way can it be argued that Trump embodies truly any value evangelicals claim to stand for: it’s well established that he is a serial liar and adulterer, a proud boaster about sexually assaulting women, a crooked businessman who cheated on his taxes, declared bankruptcy multiple times, refused to pay his subcontractors, and on and on.
But the truth is that the evangelical support for Trump has been a very long time coming. Peter Montgomery makes the case that the Trump presidency, and concurrent evangelical support for him, has been a long time in the making. Montgomery points out that “Conservative Christian leaders are nursing a more-than-half-century grudge against the federal courts for rulings on school desegregation, separation of church and state, abortion, equality for LGBT people and more.”
Furthermore, what they saw as their decades-long plight was exacerbated by 8 years of the Obama administration. Dominionists and conservative evangelical leaders alike argued throughout his tenure that there was a ceaseless “war on religious freedom” and their cherished Christian values. They had long yearned for a candidate to right all of Obama’s many wrongs.
In the runup to the 2016 election, therefore, both camps rallied behind Trump, since they viewed him as the best candidate to enact their agenda, reversing Obama’s policies on contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond their moral outrage, they view these horrific activities as “corporate sins” that block God’s blessings to America, and stop the nation from being a “light on a hill,” extending salvation to all nations, and establishing the kingdom of God. Appointing numerous conservative judges has been a huge boon to their cause; add to that Trump’s pro-Israel stance, and there you have it.
The open letter to CT, therefore, reveals exactly that line of logic — and explains exactly why they will continue to support Trump going forward. Literally, in their view, the stakes are incredibly high, all-or nothing; Christians literally have “no choice” but to vote for Trump in 2020, according to Stephen Strang, founder of Charisma magazine.
In the words of the 7 Mountains dominionist Dr Lance Wallnau, Trump is “God’s man,” divinely ordained by God “for such a time as this”. Trump is viewed as a Cyrus figure, prophetically foretold prior to his candidacy. Just as King Cyrus allowed the exiled Jews to leave Persia and return to Israel, Trump’s presidency functions in the same way. His divine destiny is to lead persecuted believers “out of the captivity of 8 years of the Obama administration” and into a glorious future — taking dominion over the various mountains of cultural influence, thereby bringing about the kingdom of God.
Therefore, as long as Trump continues to advance their agenda as listed in their open letter, it will not matter what he does or says; it will never sway their fervent support for him.
Follow me on Twitter @MindShift2018, and catch the MindShift podcast on iTunes, PodBean, Spotify or Stitcher. I’ve done 2 episodes exploring dominion theology, and have more planned for 2020.