By Frederick Clarkson | 24 August 2016
Dominionism has been an evolving movement for a half century. Fed by two main streams, it has become a roaring current, tearing through American public life. It has advanced far more rapidly and on a scale far greater than its early proponents imagined. This has been facilitated by far too many of us who clung to an attitude that ‘it can’t happen here’ and the consequent denialism that dominionism is much of a threat or even exists. Thus we have been handicapped in our efforts to cobble together much of an agreed upon common body of knowledge and terms to go with it, reducing our capacity to have much in the way of coherent strategic conversations. Plus the subject is so emotionally fraught.
That’s why I spent the past few months crafting a revised, refreshed and updated retelling of the story of dominionism that seeks to incorporate what we have learned over the years, so that we can better understand what it is and is not about — the denial and pooh poohery not withstanding. The result is a just published story in The Public Eye magazine, which specializes in taking the long view of the Right in long form. The magazine has been covering dominionism since 1992, followed by major stories in 1994, 2005, 2007, 2013, and 2015. I’m glad to have been able to contribute Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight to this body of work.
Here are a view of excerpts:
In June 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a private meeting with conservative movement leaders to plot his political future. Attendees afterwards cast him in the role of Ronald Reagan, who’d lost the 1976 Republican presidential nomination to Gerald Ford but led a conservative comeback in 1980 that made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. The thinking was that Cruz did well enough in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries before losing to celebrity billionaire Donald Trump that he could plan to run again in 2020 or 2024. “He was with kindred spirits,” said Brent Bozell, the conservative activist who hosted the meeting, “and I would say most people in that room see him as the leader of the conservative movement.”
The rise of Ted Cruz is a singular event in American political history. The son of a Cuban refugee and evangelical pastor, Cruz was raised in the kind of evangelicalism-with-a-theocratic-bent that has come to epitomize a significant and growing trend in American public life. That is, dominionism: a dynamic ideology that arose from the swirls and eddies of American evangelicalism to animate the Christian Right, and become a defining feature of modern politics and culture.
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. People who embrace this idea are referred to as dominionists. Although Chip Berlet, then of Political Research Associates, and I defined and popularized the term for many in the 1990s, in fact it had (along with the term dominion theology) been in use by both evangelical proponents and critics for many years.
In many ways, Ted Cruz personifies the story of dominionism: how it became the ideological engine of the Christian Right, and how it illuminates the changes underway in American politics, culture and religion that have helped shape recent history.
Deliver us from Hillary
Dominionism now appears to be a permanent feature of politics at all levels. For three presidential elections in a row, dominionist politicians have played prominent roles. Following Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin in 2008, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in 2012, and the remarkable run of Ted Cruz in 2016, dominionists are among the most prominent politicians in the country and enjoy significant public support and acceptance as a legitimate part of the political mix.
While Senator Cruz’s campaign was supported by … most Christian Right leaders, there was always a Plan B as well. One NAR prophet said God had told him in July 2015 that he will use Donald Trump to “expose darkness and perversion.” Donald Trump also enjoyed significant support from other Christian Right figures, notably 7M theorist Lance Wallnau (who also sits on the board of an NAR political arm, the Oak Initiative).
Wallnau sought to explain the paradox of evangelical Christians supporting Trump from early on even though he didn’t seem like a good fit. Trump, as has been much discussed, was a longtime supporter of abortion and LGBTQ rights, a thrice-married philanderer, a failed casino magnate with ties to organized crime, and someone whose Christian credentials were dubious at best. Nevertheless, Wallnau suggested that God could use Trump to achieve his purposes even though he was a flawed vessel. Wallnau recalled the story of Cyrus, the King of Persia in the biblical book of Isaiah who, as had been earlier prophesied, freed the Jews who had been captive in Babylon for 70 years, and helped to build the temple in Jerusalem. God used the pagan Cyrus, as Wallnau put it, as a “wrecking ball” for his purposes. Wallnau thought God would use Trump to challenge “an increasingly hostile anti-Christian culture” and “deliver us from Hillary.”
Frederick Clarkson is an independent author and journalist.
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