Dominionism and Democracy: Religious Right Radicals' Crowing Role in the Presidential Election Sparks a Debate over What Kind of America They Want

By Conn, Joseph L. | Church & State, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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Dominionism and Democracy: Religious Right Radicals' Crowing Role in the Presidential Election Sparks a Debate over What Kind of America They Want


Conn, Joseph L., Church & State


Texas Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry is a big fan of the Ten Commandments. In an interview with TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network in September, he cited the religious code as a good basis for public policy.

"I tell people that sometimes get their nose out of joint about me being a believer," said Perry. "I ask them, I say, well, which one of those Ten Commandments out there that's on the lawn of the Texas capitol bothers you so much? Which one of those is bad public policy? Which one of those is so onerous to how we as a people function?

"Those instructions are good guidance," he continued, "and, frankly, they're good values, they're good policy and at the end of the day, I happen to think, that's probably good politics."

Perry's comment didn't get much attention beyond the confines of the Robertson broadcasting empire, but it's one more example of the kind of rhetoric that has ignited a national debate about the role of the Religious Right - including its farthest fringes - in the 2012 presidential campaign.

In August, pundits and political pugilists were suddenly debating "dominionism" and its reach in American religious and political life.

Dominionism is the idea that conservative Christians have the right and the responsibility - to take dominion over all aspects of life, including the government. The term springs from Genesis 1:26-28, a biblical passage in which God instructs Adam and Eve to "have dominion" over every living thing on Earth.

This "dominion mandate" has been popular in certain fundamentalist circles for decades, but it leaped onto online debating forums in August in connection with Perry's Christian-fundamentalists-only prayer-and-fasting rally at Houston's Reliant Stadium. The Texas governor initiated "The Response" and then turned to the American Family Association and a host of Pentecostal religious leaders to organize it.

Many of these leaders are associated with something called the "New Apostolic Reformation," a Pentecostal movement that features end-times prophecy, spiritual warfare and a religious-political agenda that seeks to gain dominion over government and other centers of influence.

Also fueling the dominionism debate is GOP candidate Michele Bachmann's relationship with John Eidsmoe, who was a law professor at Oral Roberts University when Bachmann got her law degree there. Eidsmoe's books emphasize that Christians "must exercise dominion in the name of God" and that the world "must be brought under God's law politically, economically, and in every other way possible."

A recent New Yorker article quoted Eidsmoe as saying that ORU law students were taught that where American law and biblical law diverge, "the first thing you should try to do is work through legal means and political means to get it changed."

Reports such as these sparked a heated debate about whether dominionist thinking is an imminent threat to American democracy or a minor movement with little real influence.

Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller took the latter view, calling dominionism "the paranoid mot du jour." So did columnist Michael Ger-son, who opined that "dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth."

But other journalists took a much different tack. Adele M. Stan, writing for Alternet, called Miller's essay "insulting and ridiculous."

Observed Stan, "The Religious Right was born of a turn toward dominionism among a certain segment of the evangelical population in the 1960s."

So who's correct? Is the influence of dominionism something that Americans should take seriously? The answer is an emphatic yes. The concept in modern times was spawned by ultra-conservative theologians with relatively small followings, but the idea has spread far beyond those original boundaries.

Today two camps are the primary sources for overt dominionist thinking: the Christian Deconstructionists and the New Apostolic Reformation.

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