Dominionism is a totalitarian movement within Christian evangelicalism that aims at taking over the centers of power—law, culture, government and the like—and establishing a dictatorship. Once having gotten power, Christian Dominionists would then impose their religious practices on the rest of America. Two leading Republican candidates for the American presidency either embrace Dominionism, or have made alliances with it. Michelle Bachmann, a leading Republican candidate for President, is a lifelong adherent of this movement; and Rick Perry, presidential candidate from Texas, has formed a working alliance with a particularly fervent network of Dominionists as he seeks the Republican nomination.
Michelle Bachmann studied at the Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University, which teaches law based not on the Constitution but on an extreme rightwing interpretation of evangelical Christianity. She cites Dominionist thinkers as influences, such as John Eidsmore, David A. Neobel and Francis Schaefer, who once advocated the violent overthrow of the government if abortion is not made illegal. Francis Schaefer’s son, Franklin, has recently gone public with a series of extremely insightful articles warning of Dominionist influence in the Bachmann campaign.
Rick Perry, presidential candidate from Texas, is making common cause with the New Apostolic Reformation, an extremist group with a background in Pentecostalism, whose “prayer warriors” are also fanatical Dominionists. According to public statements of people in this group, Sarah Palin’s Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska, is part of this network; Palin herself was “anointed” by Kenyan Apostle Thomas Muthee.
At an August 5th “prayer and fasting event” in Houston, Texas, leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation appeared standing next to Rick Perry, and the event was broadcast on the NAR station “God TV,” located in Jerusalem. Although the Apostles package their Dominionism as “transformational” rather than totalitarian, the NAR literature makes it clear that non-Christians and Christians that don’t conform to their fundamentalist brand of Christianity will be suppressed as Satanic.
Few Americans know much about Dominionism, and Perry might figure he can detach from them if they become too much of a focus of media attention. In the meantime, Perry’s friends in the NAR are a single-minded cadre who believe that God is using them to eradicate evil. Such disciplined troops can help Perry in the primaries, especially in South Carolina, where the New Apostolic Reformation network is strong, and where Perry is likely to face his toughest competition from Bachmann.
Although their numbers are relatively small, Dominionists have profoundly influenced Christian evangelicalism in the last three decades. The Religious Right arose partly because of simple opportunism, as such figures as Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell realized that they could ride the new popularity of Christian evangelicalism to fame and fortune. But a second and more important reason was the influence of Dominionism—the idea that conservative evangelicals should seek political power, and once in power impose their beliefs on others.
The use of coercion has marked Michelle Bachmann’s public life. Since she believes public education is “godless,” Bachmann once started a charter school in which she tried to impose her beliefs on non-Christian students. (She was forced off the school’s board of directors by other parents.) Likewise, she wishes to impose her anti-choice approach to reproductive rights not by winning people over with moral and religious arguments, but by using government to dictate her ideas. Early in her legislative career, she sought to publicly display the Ten Commandments, not by building consensus for them, but by simply trying to pass laws to make such display mandatory.
Bachmann has adopted many secular beliefs in order to win power. One dirty little secret of today’s Dominionist-influenced Religious Right is that they have adopted the extreme economic ideas of Ayn Rand, a hedonistic atheist who believed in replacing religious symbols with the dollar sign. (Indeed, Rand demanded that her followers put a dollar sign on her grave.) Furthermore, the Religious Right has tapped into a very old—if heretical—Puritan idea that profit is a sign of God’s grace. But for many Bachmann supporters, money seems to be less about God than an idolatrous substitute—like Ayn Rand, they seem less inclined to worship the Almighty than the Almighty Dollar.
Above all, Bachmann knows she can’t compete without money from the corporate upper class.
Bachmann and other Dominionists—and increasingly, the entire Religious Right—use anti-government rhetoric to attract economic conservatives. But they attack only that part of government that administers the safety net—Social Security and Medicare—along with health and public education. The military and police powers of government they rarely mention, partly because they would need them to establish their evangelical dictatorship. Behind Bachmann’s libertarian, anti-government rhetoric—like that of the Tea Party generally—is a determination to use government to dictate conservative beliefs to America, and ultimately to institute their brand of rightwing Christian fundamentalism as America’s state religion.
The Dominionists will never succeed in imposing their unholy theology on America, but they are, sadly, in a position to create an enormous amount of trouble. For one thing, most of them want a religious war against Islam in the Middle East, and will join with the neo-cons in supporting virtually any military adventure contemplated by the Israelis; and since their beliefs are the antithesis of democracy, they are usually quite secretive about their true intentions. In any case, it is hard not to see this movement as one more indication of a precipitous decline of American Christianity. A majority of American Protestants could now properly be called evangelicals, and as such, they are too often exposed to the fanatical Dominionist-oriented Religious Right in their churches and denominational media. The central idea of the Religious Right, that they are justified in using the state to impose their ideas, is Dominionism writ large.
The result is an obsession with Jesus’ death instead of his teachings, a hatred of science and critical thought, and an addiction to masochistic conspiracy theories in which evangelicals are always the victims. Above all there is an insistence on coercive political power to regain the cultural influence rightwing Christians are losing. So instead of the Sermon on the Mount, we are now confronted by well-funded conservative evangelicals promoting a sinister vision of America as a corporate autocracy, with Dominionists as Gauleiters of a totalitarian state religion.
This recalls the prescient words of novelist Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America,” he wrote in 1935, “it will come wrapped in the flag, and carrying a cross.”
Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation.