Michelle Goldberg has written a lot about the alleged dangers to democracy posed by the crypto-proto-totalitarians who gather inside America’s evangelical churches week by week (you know, the kind of people who close emails with “God bless” or “Blessings”.)
She recently returned to her well-rehearsed thesis—one she admits is perceived by some as “outré” and, well, a bit “paranoid”—alleging in the Daily Beast that GOP presidential nomination contenders Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are theocrats-in-waiting and under the influence of something called Dominionism.
The two candidates, she writes, are “deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism.”
Goldberg links Bachmann to Christian philosophers R. J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer, as well as to Truth in Action Ministries, and warns that while George W. Bush “eroded the separation of church and state, the GOP is now poised to nominate someone who will mount an all-out assault on it.”
Hmmm. I’ve been an evangelical all my life. I’m involved in the pro-life movement and have (on my own time) given to and worked for candidates such as Pat Robertson (1986-87 GOP presidential nomination run), Mike Huckabee, and many others. I’ve worked for almost 20 years at Coral Ridge Ministries, now Truth in Action Ministries, the media outreach founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy. I’ve also read the complete works of Francis Schaeffer.
Even so, I had never even heard the term "Dominionism" until 2005 when a Christian Science Monitor reporter asked me about it in connection with our Reclaiming America for Christ conference.
The reason I was so clueless is because, as Joe Carter explains in First Things, it’s a label used exclusively on the left. Berkeley-educated sociologist Sara Diamond, the author of several critiques of Christian civic engagement, including Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right, invented the term in the 1980s.
Dominionism, Carter explains, is a term “never used outside liberal blogs and websites. No reputable scholars use the term for it is a meaningless neologism that Diamond concocted for her dissertation.”
It is, however, a handy way to smear evangelicals like Bachmann and Perry who bring biblically informed moral convictions into public debate.
It was also a charge thrown at Dr. D. James Kennedy, the late founder of Truth in Action Ministries and the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. He told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2005 that “the Christian view of morality and of life is one that should prevail in America.”
And that, he said, was not a matter of theocracy but democracy—something achieved by civic engagement.
“Let’s be open about this,” he told Gross. "We have people who are secular and humanist and unbelievers who are constantly supporting in every way possible other people who share those views. And I don't object to that. That's their privilege. And I think that Christians should be allowed the same privilege to vote for people whom they believe share their views about life and government. And that's all I'm talking about."
The simple fact is that the impulse to “dominion” is present in every politically engaged group or movement. We all want our agenda to prevail. It is only Christian social conservatives, however, that are attacked for what is standard operating procedure across the ideological spectrum.
The truth is that dominionism is a sham charge—one reserved for Christians on the right.
Those on the evangelical left like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo get a free pass. Somehow they pose no threat to democracy when they invoke Scripture for their favored public policy solutions—nor do the politicians with whom they are linked.
Campolo, a voluble 76-year-old liberal, has helped launched the “red-letter Christians” movement, which claims a moral agenda based on the words of Christ, often shown in red in many New Testaments. He is also a friend of Bill Clinton’s and served as a “spiritual advisor” to the President during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
In his book, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics, Campolo refers to the “more than 2,000 verses of Scripture that call us to express love and justice for those who are poor and oppressed,” and states that red-letter Christians “promote legislation that turns biblical imperatives into social policy.” In other words, he and his movement want to make biblical norms binding law in America.
Jim Wallis, a friend of Barack Obama’s, dashed off a glowing foreword to Campolo’s book and also wrote God’s Politics, in which he argues from Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus for proposals often similar to those advanced by liberal Democrats. Wallis speaks, for example, of the biblical duty politicians have to “uplift the poor.”
All this has somehow escaped the attention of Michelle Goldberg.
But isn’t the endorsement of “God’s politics” and the promotion of “legislation that turns biblical imperatives into social policy” the very definition of dominionism?
Not, it seems, when those biblical mandates are congenial to the aims and aspirations of the left.
Given their politics, it’s not likely that Campolo and Wallis will ever come under Goldberg’s scrutiny. Nor will the politicians with whom they are linked: Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. We will not soon see an article in which she attacks President Obama and his Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton, for being “deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism.” Not going to happen.
John Aman is Director of Communications at Truth in Action Ministries, formerly Coral Ridge Ministries.
Publication date: September 6, 2011