Pity the poor pundits who have staked their professional reputations on dominionism denial. Like their analogues in the climate denial industry, and the media conveyor belts of denialist opinion, we have seen the likes of Ross Douthat, Lisa Miller, and Michael Gerson variously claim that dominionism is a myth; its significance is wildly exaggerated; or that those of us who write about it are trying to paint all evangelicals with a broad brush.
The Centers for Disease Control may need to launch an epidemiological investigation should members of this august company become disoriented in the face of actual journalism. Fortunately, we can save the CDC the taxpayer dimes it would take to learn what those in the throes of a contemporary strain of the vapors already know: One of their own, veteran religion writer and co-founder of BeliefNet Deborah Caldwell has authored a story at The Huffington Post that attributes the shutdown of the federal government (at least in part) to Christian Reconstructionism -- AKA dominionism.
But before we discuss this remarkable development, let's do a quick look back:
Much has been written about dominionism and its variants for three decades -- by me and by many others -- as a driving and unifying ideological element of the Christian Right.
Two years ago last summer, a media barrage was leveled at those of us who had been writing about dominionism over the years. The dominionist views, background, and associates of GOP presidential contenders Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), were getting some serious media attention. Readers of the smear articles were variously told that dominionism did not exist; or that if it did exist, its adherents were few; but that in any case, everyone should go on about their business, nothing to see here.
Rachel Tabachnick, currently a Fellow with Political Research Associates, but then one of the main targets of the smear campaign -- got the best revenge, however, in publishing a major essay in The Public Eye magazine: Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation. The piece discussed, among other things, the New Apostolic Reformation's roots in and advocacy of dominionism -- making it very hard to deny (although I have no doubt that some will continue to try). (Columnist Bill Berkowitz wrote about this important work, here.) Check out an excerpt from Tabachnick's essay, below.
In the United States, among the most significant and far-reaching parts of the NAR infrastructure is its “prayer warrior” networks. Today, all 50 states have a network under the authority of a statewide apostolic leader. The prayer warrior networks regularly distribute guides in preparation for elections, “educating” participants on political issues. They also sponsor training events and conferences and serve as a link between individuals and various NAR ministries.And here we are, just two years since the season of the smear, and Deborah Caldwell writes that the "leaders of a little-known far-right movement called Christian Reconstructionism" have been planning to topple the federal government for decades and were deeply involved in the government shut down. Caldwell accurately reported that their goal is "to eradicate the U.S. government so that a theocratic Christian nation emerges to enforce biblical laws."
Calls for prayer, especially public displays of prayer and repentance, are the movement’s most vital organizing and energizing tool. One of the NAR’s most influential institutions, the International House of Prayer (IHOP or IHOPKC), is headquartered in Kansas City and organizes 2,000 people (staff, students, and interns) to maintaining prayer sessions that are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to its mission statement, IHOP “is committed to praying for the release of the fullness of God’s power and purpose, as we actively win the lost, heal the sick, feed the poor, make disciples, and impact every sphere of society—family, education, government, economy, arts, media, religion. IHOP claims that its volunteers work fifty hours a week “as they go from the prayer room to the classroom and then to ministry outreaches and works of service.” Lou Engle is part of IHOP’s leadership team and IHOP’s founder, Mike Bickle, was part of Peter Wagner’s original Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders. Bickle’s work in Kansas City has been the model for more than 400 more “houses of prayer” in the U.S.
To date, the most highly publicized of NAR’s calls to prayer or “solemn assemblies” took place in Houston in the summer of 2011. Texas Gov. Rick Perry aggressively promoted it at a time when he was a leading contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The rally attracted 30,000 people and was broadcast to churches around the world. Several familiar figures from the Christian Right appeared on stage with Perry and leaders of the NAR. The result was that apostles and prophets who had for years remained under the radar were suddenly subjected to scrutiny from the media, including an interview with me conducted by Terry Gross on the NPR program Fresh Air.
Exposed to this scrutiny, NAR’s leaders publicly distanced themselves from some of their more radical ideology. Webpages were removed and websites were amended to explain that the NAR’s apostles are either not Dominionists, or that the term simply means to gain influence in society. Peter Wagner himself granted two unprecedented interviews with mainstream media outlets in October 2011. He explained to Terry Gross, for example, that the NAR respected religious pluralism and that Dominionism was not about ruling: “In terms of taking dominion, we don’t—we wouldn’t want to—we use the word dominion, but we wouldn’t want to say that we have dominion as if we’re the owners or we’re the rulers of, let’s say, the arts and entertainment mountain.”
Compare that explanation with what Wagner said about Dominionism at an NAR conference in 2008: “Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society. In other words . . . what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings. It says in Revelation Chapter 1:6 that He has made us kings and priests—and check the rest of that verse; it says for dominion. So we are kings for dominion.”
The magazine Charisma, owned and published by a former member of Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles, published an issue of articles about the growing influence of Pentecostals within American politics. Charisma attributed the negative press to “anti-Pentecostal bias” and the Left’s demonization of “any high-profile leader who takes a stand for Christian values.” Writing for the Washington Post, Lisa Miller quoted the head of the largest evangelical public-relations firm in the nation: “You would be hard-pressed to find one in 1,000 Christians in America who could even wager a guess at what dominionism is”—though knowing the definition of Dominionism is hardly relevant to following the lead of apostles in religious and political activism.
After Rick Perry’s campaign for president began to visibly collapse, interest in the NAR waned, and it was back to business as usual.
That's right -- laws out of the Book of Leviticus prohibiting adultery, homosexuality, and abortion, with penalties including death by stoning.Caldwell adds:
The key leader of this movement is Gary North, founder of the Institute for Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas. He's a long-time associate of Ron Paul, intellectual godfather of the Tea Party movement -- the very people responsible for Congressional deadlock over the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate.
Paul and North go way back. North served on Paul's first congressional staff in 1976, and North describes himself as Paul's "original staff economist." Earlier this year, Paul announced plans for a curriculum for home schoolers that will teach "biblical" concepts. The director of curriculum development for the program? Gary North.
And what of the connection between this group and Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who almost singlehandedly created the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis?
Cruz is the son of Rafael Cruz, a Texas pastor who directs Purifying Fire Ministries. According to a biography page for the True the Vote summit in April 2013, Rafael Cruz became active in politics during the 1980 presidential campaign, joining the Religious Roundtable, founded in 1979 to involve conservative Christians in politics. "The Religious Roundtable was a Judeo-Christian organization that mobilized millions of Christians all across the United States and helped elect Ronald Reagan," Cruz said. "It was a precursor of the Tea Party, even before the Moral Majority."
What to make of all of this? For the last few weeks Tea Party-leaning members of Congress have been described as "kooks" and "crazies" by the Washington establishment, liberals, moderate Republican leaders, and the media. The name-calling might be satisfying to those who oppose the Tea Party, but it's entirely untrue. These are people who are patient, determined, deliberate, and rational.
That last sentence can be hard for many to take seriously, I know. There are plenty of people on the Christian Right who say crazy sounding things. But I would invite people to consider that at least some of this is crazy only in the sense of crazy like a fox. Caldwell is spot-on in concluding that the people who have crafted this movement are "patient, determined, deliberate, and rational."
This being the case, Caldwell may very well have given the Guardians of the Conventional Wisdom the vapors. Serious reporting in this area seems to have that effect on some people. Although Caldwell and others (such as Rachel Tabachnick and Bruce Wilson) are right to surface this hidden-in-plain-sight element of the contemporary rightwing populist movement that shut down the government for more than two weeks -- this subject remains one of the most significant underreported as well as misreported stories of our time.