Secularists are scaring themselves with a new bogeyman: Dominionists. That is their term for evangelicals and other conservative Christians, whom they are conflating with a tiny number of actual theocrats, which are probably fewer in number than members of the American Communist Party. I like Michael Gerson’s account:
Evangelicals, warned liberal theologian Albert Outler, “want a society ruled by those who know what the word of God is. The technical name for that is ‘theocracy,’ and their Napoleon, whether he likes it or not, is Jimmy Carter.” When Carter turned out to be less than Napoleonic, George W. Bush was identified as “the first prince of the theocratic states of America.” Bush, according to one entirely fictional account, was converted to “Dominionism” — a kind of Christian Wahhabism — by Assemblies of God pastors who provided him “explicit coaching.”
Now the heroes of the Tea Party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats. “If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry,” argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, “understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.” A recent New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza contends that Bachmann has been influenced by a variety of theocratic thinkers who have preached Christian holy war.
As befits a shadowy religious sect, its followers go under a variety of names: Reconstructionists. Theonomists. The New Apostolic Reformation. Republicans. All apparently share a belief, in Goldberg’s words, that “Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions.”
The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of sharia law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any New Yorker subscriber. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.
So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn’t attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is “common in Reconstructionist circles.”
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Bachmann is prone to Tea Party overstatement and religious-right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features Southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.
A friend of mine, Nancy Pearcey, was actually accused in the New Yorker of being a Dominionist thinker. See her response here.
Wanting a Christian influence in the society as a whole is not the same as wanting to impose a theocratic government. And it isn’t that the Bible says Christians should have dominion over non-believers; it says that human beings as a whole have been given dominion over nature. Christianity is not a matter of laws, as if people could be forced or legislated into being good or Christian or whatever. It is a matter of the Gospel, of forgiveness through Christ for not being good. All Christians, for all of their differences, know that. To say otherwise, to stir up the public against Christians, is religious McCarthyism.
UPDATE: Just today I came across some material on the New Apostolic Reformation movement. OK, as some of you commenters have been warning, THAT is something to be concerned about! I’ll try to post something on the NAR in the future. For now, I’m just saying that a number of people who are being accused of Dominionism are not Dominionists and are not connected to the NAR movement. I suspect that politicians who are being associated with them know nothing about their theology or their agenda but in fact are being used by these people. Meanwhile the secularist left is accusing ALL politically active Christians as being secret members of this cult. Just as many on the right a few decades ago accused all liberals and even moderates of being Communists. Not that there weren’t actual Communists or actual Dominionists. (By the way, the “Theonomists” tend to be Calvinist in their theology, though not all Calvinists are Theonomists. The NAR Dominionists are Pentecostal in their theology, though, again, not all Pentecostalists or charismatics are Dominionists. So Theonomists and Dominionists probably wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. But more on all of this as I unravel it.)