Why We Must Take ‘Dominionists’ Seriously

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent day-long prayer-and-fasting rally in Houston has led to some interesting fallout. Commentators in the media are taking an overdue look at the extreme views of the groups that sponsored “The Response.”

Unfortunately, some are reaching a strange conclusion: These groups are so out on the fringe that we don’t need to worry about them.

Many of the organizations that sponsored “The Response” are extreme, all right. They are “dominionists” – that is, they believe only Christians of their stripe have the “true” religion and they should take dominion and govern based on their (narrow) interpretation of the Bible.

Sure, it’s tempting to dismiss dominionists as a marginalized lunatic fringe. After all, many of them do tend to take positions that are, to be blunt, really out there. For example, they would not only outlaw abortion, they would execute any woman who gets the procedure or doctor who performs one. They would also execute gays, adulterers, blasphemers and those who hold to “false” religions.

Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson argues that views such as this mean we don’t have take these folks seriously. He criticizes those who are sounding the alarm and writes, “Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth.”

Another approach is to insist that anyone who expresses concern about dominionism is attacking all evangelicals. Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller asserted recently, “Evangelicals generally do not want to take over the world. ‘Dominionism’ is the paranoid mot du jour.”

Let’s clarify a couple of things here. No one is seriously arguing that all evangelicals are dominionists who yearn to take over the world. That is a classic straw-man argument, and it’s easy to blow down. Nor are we arguing that dominionists are going to seize power next week and send your uncle to the gulag because he’s a Unitarian.

What we’re saying is that there is a significant strain of thought in the conservative Christian community that is actively hostile to church-state separation, pluralism, secular government, modern science, women’s rights, etc. This movement has been influenced by dominionist theology. It is politically active and influential, and people need to know about it.

Consider the attacks on legal abortion and the spate of bills targeting that procedure in the states. Consider the ongoing effort to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools. Consider the harsh attacks on gay people and the efforts to roll back the civil rights gains they have made. Consider the constant attempts to divert tax money from public schools and public services to private religious schools and “faith-based” social service agencies.

Also, remember that there was a time – not so long ago, really – when a candidate did not have to kowtow to right-wing fundamentalists to be considered a serious contender in the Republican Party.

How did all of this come about? It isn’t because dominionists took over. It’s because they laid the philosophical groundwork for Religious Right activism that energized millions of fundamentalist Christians. For a long time, these people believed politics was “worldly” and not their calling. When fundamentalist clergy decided to get political, the dominionists gave them the biblical basis for it.

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