Dominion Theology in American Politics: The Radical Christian Right Under Spotlight (Part 1)

Submitted byRWMaster onSat, 11/26/2016 - 06:53

"And God said, Let us make (Christians) in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Genesis 1:26

In this series of articles, we shall be exploring the direct historical links between Dominion Theology, Dominionist tendencies in the American conservative Christian Right and the Civil War ideology of an elitist group of Southern Presbyterian theologians of the mid-nineteenth century who espoused what is termed the "Theological War thesis" of the American Civil War. We shall be exploring the significance of the wider application of the "Theological War thesis" of radical Christian Right groups in the United States, which posits an historical and ongoing conflict between the liberal Left and conservative Right, with reference to the radical political  leanings of Southern nationalist groups such as the League of the South.

Dominion Theology is a brand of Christian theology which derives its core mandate from a political interpretation of Mathew 28:18: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth," and from Genesis 1:28: "And God blessed them and God said to them, Be fruitful and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth…"

According to Rousas Rushdoony, leader and founder of the Christian Reconstructionist movement which espouses the most extreme form of Dominion Theology in the Christian Right, the word "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 implies theocracy (or more accurately what the Reconstructionists term theonony). Redemption, according to Rushdoony, restores man to the original purpose God intended for him, which is to exercise dominion as vicegerents of God. To that end, as stated by James Kennedy, God intends for Christians to "exercise dominion," "…our job is to reclaim America for Christ. As vicegerents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion over our neighborhood. or schools,our government…in short every aspect and institution of human society."

According to Bill Moyers, the Christian Right interprets "dominion" in political power terms thus, "…the radical religious right has succeeded in taking over one of America's great political parties. The country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican part (already) is and they are driving American politics, using God as a battering ram on almost every issue: Crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation…"

What today constitutes the Christian Right in the American polity is a broad spectrum which includes an extreme right which, as we shall see, includes certain groups with radical political goals, lurking, largely unacknowledged, in the background, but have been exercising an influence on the development of dominionist tendencies among less radical Protestant and Evangelical Christians far out of proportion to their numbers. Chip Berlet, in his article What is Dominionism? Palin, the Christian Right, and Theocracy, for instance, admits the primary influence of the radical right Christian Reconstructionist group whose core theological worldview derives its major input from the elite group of Southern Presbyterian theologians of the Civil War era who formulated the Theological War thesis of the American Civil War, an ideological interpretation of the Civil War as a "Holy War."

As William Martin, Professor of Religion at Rice University and author of With God on Our Side admits, leaders of the Evangelical Christian groups in the United States who profess what has been dubbed "soft dominionism" by the liberal Left,  for reasons, apparently, of deferment to currently dominant notions of political correctness, do not frankly admit the influence of  extreme Christian right groups, such as the Christian Reconstructionists. (An evangelical Christian leader is quoted to have said, "Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same".) Some Evangelical leaders, like Jerry Falwell and James Kennedy, have, however, openly admitted the influence of Christian Reconstructionist theonomy, endorsed their publications and openly associated with them. The Coalition on Revival led by Jay Grimstead provides platform for Christian Reconstructionists and Evangelicals to interact. Pat Robertson had hosted the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, Rousas Rushdoony, on his 700 club. He (Pat Robertson) holds views significantly close to Christian Reconstructionist theonomy. He is quoted as having written: "…There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world…"," and during his presidential campaign in 1988, he is quoted by the press as having  said, "…I will only bring Christians and Jews into government…"

The evidence in the pattern of utterances of mainstream leaders of the Evangelical Right is an underlying influence of radical right Christian groups such as the Reconstructionists.  What is worrisome to some observers is the fact that the Christian Reconstructionists have, since the 1990s, been going through a phase of religious ideological convergence and cementing of strong ties with the extremist Christian group the League of the South, whose ultimate goals go far beyond what ordinary Protestant and Evangelical Church members innocently conceive. Yet, the views of these radical groups have and continue to exert a clandestine but significant influence on Evangelical church leaders in a manner which suggests that success of the so-called "soft dominionist" Christian Right agenda may readily yield itself to hijack by extreme Right groups lurking in the background waiting for an opportune moment for radical political action.

Both Chip Berlet and Sara Diamond (in her book Spiritual Warfare) admit that the radical right group, the Christian Reconstructionists, introduced Dominion Theology to mainstream Christianity and injected into mainstream Evangelical Christianity the "soft" dose of dominionist tendencies whose more extreme or "hard" manifestations have become major source of concern to left-liberal Americans.

Prominent Evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Kennedy speak fervently of restoring the "original purpose of the founding fathers of the nation" for a constitutional system based on biblical law. For them the Massachusetts Bay Colony of early Puritan settlers with its religious discriminatory laws (only church members were allowed to vote and participate in politics) based on strict Calvinist theology was the ideal model. It would appear that Evangelical church members are being "clandestinely" influenced by the  Dominion Theological propaganda that America in its historical foundations is a Christian nation and that Christians need to do something to "return America to its roots,"  but only relatively few Evangelical Christians are aware of the full dimensions of the meaning of this "soft" dominionist propaganda.

The purpose of this series of articles is to explore the direct historical connection between Southern Presbyterian "Holy War" ("Theological War") ideologues of the American Civil War era and two major present day radical groups of the Christian Right, namely, the Christian Reconstructionists and the League of the South;  the ultimate purpose being to bring to light and focus attention on the full dimensions of the significance of an underlying "Holy War" ideology to Dominion Theology in American politics and to point to the potential threat it portends to global peace.

Read Part 2: Roots of Dominion Theology in American Politics: The Theological War Thesis of the American Civil War


Further Reading:

1. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement

2. A Christian reconstructionist primer

3. Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement

4. Sara Diamond: spiritual Warfare(1989)

5. Frederick Clarkson: The Rise of Dominionism–Remaking America as a Christian Nation

6. Sebesta and Hague: The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South

7. Chip Berlet: What is Dominionism? Palin, the Christian Right, & Theocracy

8. Sara Diamond: Dominion Theology:The Truth About the Christian Right's Bid for Power

JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus" (Read a Free Three Chapters Excerpt Here)

Unknown Object