In the summer of 2011 several journalists and bloggers wrote about the obvious dominionist views, history and involvements of several major Republican politicians -- notably Religious Right favorite, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Dominionism (generally the idea that Christians of the correct sort, should dominate all aspects of society, including in politics and government) has been the main ideological engine of the Christian Right for decades, and continues to be more the case rather than less. We should not have been surprised when the journalists and bloggers who had been writing about these things were the subject of a high profile smear campaign -- some of us by name, others of us by implication.
This profoundly animating, theocratic ideology cuts both ways for the Religious Right and aligned politicians. Dominionism has benefited the movement -- which aspires at once to religious transcendence, cultural control and political power. But it is also controversial, even within evangelicalism, and rightly concerns people who believe in such basic civic values as respect for constitutional democracy, religious pluralism and separation of church and state -- not to mention reproductive rights and LGTB civil rights.
I mention this because denial about dominionism -- which in its way is as preposterous and pernicious as denial about climate change -- and the accompanying smear campaign, may very well repeat itself. Major Republican figures like Rick Perry and Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), each have significant dominionist entanglements that may very well work both for and against them going into 2016. And they are probably not the only ones.
As I look back, it was an extraordinary spectacle. The smear campaigners included (among others) columnists Ross Douthat at The New York Times; Michael Gerson at The Washington Post, Charlotte Allen at the Los Angeles Times, Mark Pinsky at USA Today, and Lisa Miller at The Washington Post. Even liberal evangelical leader Jim Wallis piled on. It was an obviously choreographed effort to silence critics and journalists. Among the many things that happened, bloggers and journalists responded to the smear campaign with devastating critiques of the smear mongers -- Fred Clark (no relation) and Peter Montgomery, to name a few. Among the many responses by my Talk to Action, colleagues, Rachel Tabachnick continued to demonstrate the reality and significance of dominionism, and I pointed out that mainstream Christian ministers have been writing about the dangers of dominionism for years.
If past is prologue, elements of the punditocracy will get wound up and sprung on us as they were in 2011. Indeed, Chip Berlet pointed out that we saw pretty much the same smeary mix of personal attacks and denialism in 2005.
He also wrote a detailed essay in an effort to at once, explain dominionism, and rebut those who were either misunderstanding or mischaracterizing our work. It may come in handy. Here are excerpts from a shorter version:
Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have all flirted with Christian Right Dominionism, but there's lots of misinformation about just what that means.
Dominionists want to impose a form of Christian nationalism on the United States, a concept that was dismissed as eroding freedom and democracy by the founders of our country. Dominionism has become a major influence on the right-wing populist Tea Parties as Christian Right activists have flooded into the movement at the grassroots.
At the same time, legitimate questions have been raised about whether or not potential Republican presidential nominees Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin have moved from a generic form of Christian Right Dominionism toward the more totalitarian form know as Dominion Theology.
Clueless journalists and crafty Christian Right pundits have mocked the idea that Dominionism as a religiously motivated political tendency even exists. Scholars, however, have been writing about Dominionism for over a decade, some using the term directly, and others describing the tendency in other ways.
Dominionism is a broad political impulse within the Christian Right in the United States. It comes in a variety of forms that author Fred Clarkson and I call soft and hard. Fred and I probably coined the term "Dominionism" back in the 1990s, but in any case we certainly were the primary researchers who organized its use among journalists and scholars.
Clarkson noted three characteristics that bridge both the hard and the soft kind of Dominionism.
Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.At the apex of hard Dominionism is the religious dogma of Dominion Theology, with two major branches: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology. It is the latter's influence on the theopolitical movement called the New Apostolic Reformation that has been linked in published reports to potential Republican presidential nominees Perry, Bachmann or Palin. All three of these right-wing political debutantes have flirted with Christian Right Dominionism, but how far they have danced toward the influence of hard-right Dominion Theology is in dispute. It would be nice if some "mainstream" journalists actually researched the question.
Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, believing that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.