Michele Goldberg looks at the Christian dominionists who are the core support for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in a Daily Beast column. Here are some highlights:
Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn't optional.
Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America's most radical theocrats, it's long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid.
Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences. Writing about Bachmann in The New Yorker this month, Ryan Lizza spent several paragraphs explaining how the premise fit into the Minnesota congresswoman's intellectual and theological development. And a recent Texas Observer cover story on Rick Perry examined his relationship with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Dominionist variant of Pentecostalism that coalesced about a decade ago.
In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches. Think of it like political Islamism, which shapes the activism of a number of antagonistic fundamentalist movements, from Sunni Wahabis in the Arab world to Shiite fundamentalists in Iran.
Dominionism derives from a small fringe sect called Christian Reconstructionism, founded by a Calvinist theologian named R. J. Rushdoony in the 1960s. Christian Reconstructionism openly advocates replacing American law with the strictures of the Old Testament, replete with the death penalty for homosexuality, abortion, and even apostasy.
Rushdoony pioneered the Christian homeschooling movement, as well as the revisionist history, ubiquitous on the religious right, that paints the U.S. as a Christian nation founded on biblical principles. He consistently defended Southern slavery and contrasted it with the greater evils of socialism. . . . . "'Dominion theologians,' as they are called, lay great emphasis on Genesis 1:26-7, where God tells Adam to assume dominion over the animate and inanimate world," wrote the scholar Garry Wills in his book Under God: Religion and American Politics, describing the influence of the ideology on Pat Robertson. "When man fell, his control over creation was forfeited; but the saved, who are restored by baptism, can claim again the rights given Adam."
For believers in Dominionism, rule by non-Christians is a sort of sacrilege--which explains, in part, the theological fury that has accompanied the election of our last two Democratic presidents. "Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ--to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness," wrote George Grant, the former executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, which has since changed its name to Truth in Action Ministries. "But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice ... It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time ... World conquest."
One could go on and on listing the Dominionist influences on Bachmann's thinking. . . . In elaborating Bachmann's Dominionist history, though, it's important to point out that she is not unique. Perry tends to be regarded as marginally more reasonable than Bachmann, but he is as closely associated with Dominionism as she is, though his links are to a different strain of the ideology.
[M]embers of the New Apostolic Reformation see Perry as their vehicle to claim the "mountain" of government. Some have told Perry that Texas is a "prophet state," destined, with his leadership, to bring America back to God. The movement was deeply involved in The Response, the massive prayer rally that Perry hosted in Houston earlier this month. "Eight members of The Response 'leadership team' are affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation movement," ... . .
We have not seen this sort of thing at the highest levels of the Republican Party before. Those of us who wrote about the Christian fundamentalist influence on the Bush administration were alarmed that one of his advisers, Marvin Olasky, was associated with Christian Reconstructionism. It seemed unthinkable, at the time, that an American president was taking advice from even a single person whose ideas were so inimical to democracy. Few of us imagined that someone who actually championed such ideas would have a shot at the White House. It turns out we weren't paranoid enough. If Bush eroded the separation of church and state, the GOP is now poised to nominate someone who will mount an all-out assault on it. We need to take their beliefs seriously, because they certainly do.
Goldberg is correct that these people need to be taken seriously. Their ultimate goal is nothing less than dismantling constitutional government in the USA as we know it and replacing it with a "Christian" version of the regime now in control in Tehran. These people are very, very dangerous.