Ford's "Dominionist" Prayer - a firsthand account
Lauren Sabina Kneisly printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 10:03:48 PM EST
Bumped over from the diaries -- ed

SusanG's diary on Daily Kos last night singing Gerald Ford's praises as having allegedly kept his faith and his political acts separate finally crossed some threshold that pushed my partner, Mike Doughney and I, into commenting. We wrote for the first time about an event we were present for where Ford threw the full weight of his status as Former President behind one of many key groups in the Biblical American, or what some might term the "dominionist", youth movement; by personally appearing at Teen Mania's "Stand Up" event in Michigan, back in 2000.

This diary, then, are some of the details of that, and unlike almost most every other piece of writing I've seen since Ford's death, this is based on a first hand experience, it reflects an event that happened almost 7 years ago, not during the 1970's.

This has been exceptionally difficult for me to write out, the gravity of what we saw and how to bring information forward; ourselves, holding to some value of civility even as we have seen incredibly uncivil things. But ultimately, I think it's critically important to look at Ford's 'legacy' in light of his actual actions. So at this point, I'm just going try to write 'what I know', while incorporating some quotes from my partner, Mike.


By way of introduction, I'll use a little of what Mike wrote last night:

The organization that created the event, Teen Mania Ministries, is the same one now running the "Battle Cry" campaign, which kicked off its series of stadium gatherings last spring with a provocative display at San Francisco City Hall that they framed as a response to the gay marriages that had been performed there. It seeks to recruit young people as so-called "culture warriors" creating friction and divisiveness around the usual topics over which they obsess, all with the alleged goal of recruiting teenagers to church youth groups.

This is what Ford was doing in his twilight years: a full participant in being put forward as an example of "Godly leadership" at an event like this, eventually being used to further these cultural and political conflicts, and the agendas of dominionist leaders, now and in the future. This "Battle Cry Campaign" of Teen Mania has evolved to have an explicit political component, and it's tied in with all of the usual suspects (Falwell, Robertson, Colson, Haggard, Santorum and Brownback just to name a few). Ford's presence there was used to legitimize Ron Luce and Teen Mania; Ford was part of the process by which the organization has grown and launched its latest campaign.


Unlike so many of the Ford diaries that paint the man as pure evil or pure saint, this is a diary about Ford as entirely human, complete with human failings. Unlike so many that assume Ford left Washington for the greener (or whiter) pastures of Vail, and the desert in California, and had no real recent history thereafter other than being man about town, perhaps mentions here and there of some rounds of golf, raising money for the completion of the national cathedral, and his heart treatments last August, no, this diary focuses upon Ford's actions in the year 2000.  It's a first hand account, a story of how a man who politically claimed to be pro-choice, queer friendly, pro-stem cell research etc ended up becoming the embodiment of validation at an event with thousands of teenagers, for much of what he personally assumedly would have disagreed with; a personified validation for an anti-abortion and anti-Queer youth movement that we will likely be feeling the effects of on into the future.

It's a story of how what may have been one man's personal religious quest can result in a very public 'fatal' misstep that ultimately, for me at least, outweighs any previous stance the man may have taken.

Many writers may focus upon Ford's openness to Queer participation in society, his support for stem cell research, his pro-choice position, others focus upon his role in the rise of Rumsfeld and Chenney, his veto of the FOIA, the mess that was the ending of America's Vietnam war, his dogged attempts to impeach Stevenson, and most importantly Ford's pardon of Nixon - thus ensuring there would never be any consequences, a precedent that has echoed down through the years. No, Ford the man himself, like so many christians, is nothing if not a bundle of contradictions.

But it is his christianity that provides a consistant thread through both his time and office and afterwards. And so it is Hunter S. Thompson's words about Ford, oft repeated over the last few days, that I find a necessary backdrop to begin my own personal story about Ford in the year 2000:

"Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."

Ford was a man deeply concerned about the predisposition of his own soul (also see Time magazine's piece on Ford's participation in bible studies), and when push came to shove that to my mind at least became the man's greatest weakness, because in the end, concern about the state of his soul in relation to his god may have been precisely the motivation that led Ford to stand on a stage in the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of teens and act as validation for so much of what he himself claims to had disagreed with politically in his life.


In April of 2000, my partner, Mike Doughney and I were in Michigan again. We were there, as a part of our ongoing 'work' as what might be termed 'oppositional researchers'.

We had been focusing in on what we've come to term the Biblical America movement (our definition) "the social movement that seeks to use their interpretation of the Bible as the sole basis of all governance and social interaction") was teaching its kids. (The BA movement is actually one of three strands in what we're labeling a 'braided cord'- BA, neo-cons, and anti-individualist/pro-'coporate'ism- i.e. groups over individuals.) By the time we reached Pontiac, we had already spent several years looking at youth events and Teen Mania events in particular.

A year earlier, in 1999, we had also come to the Silverdome for what many have called the largest christian teen gathering in history, Teen Mania Ministry's "Day One", with an estimated 70,000 people.  Day One was a turning point, including its own christian pre-emptive war language years before Iraq war. Day One's pre-emptive war was called for by Teen Mania head, Ron Luce- "We must either fight or become slaves". (See our Acquire the evidence page about that speech to get the flavour of it). It's a strong rejection of peaceful chrisitianity and peaceful christians themselves, in favour of warlike christianity.)


So, back to the year 2000, we're once again at the Pontiac Silverdome, for a second Teen Mania 'national event,' this time entitled "Stand Up" which will include many speakers over the course of a weekend. Sessions are held Friday evening, Saturday morning, and afternoon, with a finale held Saturday evening. Over the course of those many hours, language and concepts are methodically redefined and there is a great deal of expectation setting. The finale of the Saturday night event will be Ford and Ron Luce. Pat Robertson was another, earlier featured speaker that final night. Robertson's speech is a whole 'nother topic, for another day.

While the previous year's "Day One" had been a mass spectacle of its own sort, the final evening, the emotional climax of Stand Up featuring Gerald Ford, was a spectacle we have not quite seen the like of before or since. When it came time for Ford to come out on stage the audience was at an emotional peak. They had spent many hours listening to speaker after speaker, interspersed with worship sessions, and for many, very little sleep. But this wasn't going to be the entrance of just any speaker; it was going to be a grandiose spectacle. Accompanied by a color guard and regal music, Ford was brought to the stage in an electric cart, and presented with an award created solely for the occasion.


The heart of the Gerald Ford appearance was his leading the thousands of youth groups in what Teen Mania called "The Oath of the Unashamed" (video with full transcript, can be seen here.) It is a pledge that to some may appear relatively 'standard christian', but throughout the course of the weekend, much of the language contained within it had been redefined, such that by the time Ford led the kids in it, some were having a very specific experience, one translated through the experiences and language redefinitions of the last two days.

Yet even taken at face value without the specific Teen Mania-ized redefinition of language, the Oath that Ford read contains explicitly supremacist or 'dominionist' aspects, specifically the lines "I pledge my life recognizing I am no longer my own, belonging to God who has called me to lead the world." and "I make God's word the final authority directing my motives and actions."

"God... has called me to lead the world" and "God's word the final authority".

My partner, Mike has described these two lines far more articulately than I ever could:

Here are two lines that embody much of what Teen Mania teaches, and that have certainly come to the surface through their "Battle Cry" campaign. First is the notion of death to self, and its actual implementation: the radical personality change, central to all of Teen Mania's programs, that they put forward as absolutely necessary if one is to become a "follower of Christ." Second is the notion of their interpretation of "God's word" being the final authority, overriding secular law, and for that matter, all social convention; the basis of the so-called "culture war" that is now central to Teen Mania's latest campaign, with the slogan of their next round of stadium events, starting in March, now being "culture warriors unite."

Ford provided an imprimatur of legitimacy on Ron Luce and Teen Mania. He used his status as a former American President to both having 'lead by godly example' at the time and add that full weight of that to those two concepts, trying to ensure so called 'godly leadership' on into the future through another generation.


For more, explore our critical web site:
Acquire the Evidence
: on Ron Luce, Teen Mania Ministries and the "BattleCry" campaign


"Battle Cry Campaign" at Wikipedia


Teen Mania's own "Battle Cry" site to see the campaign Teen Mania is currently spearheading.

A permanent copy of this piece can be found here on our site.

This is exactly the kind of calm, thoughtful analysis, grounded in actual research, that helps us all who are trying to make sense of the politics of the religious right in its many manifestations. Well done!

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 01:17:56 AM EST
It's been about 6 years coming. Exceptionally difficult to 'get out' on 'paper'.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 01:21:30 AM EST
Just noticed this got front paged- I think I'm blushing- big thank you.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 01:23:04 AM EST
Some things take time to come to fruition, as all of us who have been down these research roads know all too well.  Your knowledge and care and dedication show.

Please do keep up the great work.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 01:31:01 AM EST

but unfortunately, there is relatively little appreciation there of the influence wielded by what you accurately term Biblical America.

This is a subject that deserves more than snarkfests. Thanks to you and Mike for your work.

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by kakymoq on Sat Feb 13, 2021 at 07:07:43 AM EST

(I'm going to add a comment I originally made over on the dKos diary- so that I'm more clear over here on TTA as well.)

"Dominionist" is not actually language I use often, or particularly enjoy, however, for the sake of trying to get a title onto this thing, and in the text, for the purposes of this piece, purely so people would understand what it was I was talking about, I used it- I'm a pragmatist.

The language Mike and I have spearheaded and tend to use is Biblical America- those advocating A biblical America- a different America, one that would use their interpretation fo the Bible as the sole basis of all governance and social interaction.

Biblical Americans are working to re-make America into their vision of a Biblical America.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 05:29:32 AM EST

You wrote that Ford's greatest weakness was his concern for his soul.  As a Christian who holds to a traditional (more or less) belief in heaven and hell, I'd say the "state of one's soul" and a personal relationship with my God is pretty important.  Liberal or conservative, being a committed young Christian is no easy task.  I suspect Ford's willingness to be rolled out in front of thousands of teens was to offer his testimony as an elder statesman who remained committed to his faith.  Based on his own previous words, I find it hard to believe that Ford was purposefully promoting fundamentalist theology.

I'm no inerrantist.  But most centrist or mainstream Baptists will tell you, our faith is rooted in the authority of the Bible as interpreted through the words and actions of Jesus.  To say that God's word is the final authority is not necessarily "dominionist" speak.  Millions of non-Fundamentalist Christians recognize and value the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice.  Many Christians (not just the fundamentalists) believe that God calls individuals to be good Christian Citizens which I believe includes being leaders in all that we do.  The prayer's words may mean one thing to Luce and another to Ford.  They do to me.  Remember, "evangelicalism" does not equal "dominionism."  At times however, we do share a common vernacular.  And while Luce can be considered a "dominionist" - Ford's prayer can not.  

by Big Daddy Weave on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 02:12:54 AM EST

Well let's start here, Big Daddy Weave said-

You wrote that Ford's greatest weakness was his concern for his soul.

what I actually said was this-

Ford was a man deeply concerned about the predisposition of his own soul,... and when push came to shove that to my mind at least became the man's greatest weakness, because in the end, concern about the state of his soul in relation to his god may have been precisely the motivation that led Ford to stand on a stage in the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of teens and act as validation for so much of what he himself claims to had disagreed with politically in his life.

Note what comes after "because". I am not saying that concern for one's soul is an inherent weakness, I'm saying that in Ford, it became an opening, into him, perhaps not unlike a chink in armor, that made it possible for him to end up standing on a stage, a personification of a stamp of legitimacy for the very things he himself rejected.

When concern for one's soul can be used back against an individual, getting them to act in ways deeply at odds with other parts of the personae then yes, it can viewed as a weakness, a way in.

Nor did I characterize Ford's appearance as pertaining to his testimony- christian or otherwise.  His appearance primarily served two key purposes; a passing a baton of 'godly leadership' to a new generation, and leading the audience in the oath. His role as a former president was in service to legitimizing, and increasing the group's social acceptability.

In my comments over on the dKos thread I made it quite clear, whether Ford was 'used' or fully aware of what he was doing and who he was doing it with ultimately matters little, the effect is unfortunately the same.

As for the "god's word the final authority" exactly as I said, out of context, parts of this "oath" may look very 'standard christian', it is only in full context, after many hours of redefinition that the full meaning of these words take on other character.

'God's word the final authority' from Teen Mania, must be taken in the context of another of their oft recited pledges- the "teenage bill of rights" of which, there are various versions that have been used down through the years. The version on their webpage, for example, is one of the more tame reitterations and it bears very little resemblance to the text's original unveiling at Day One back in 1999.

The original full 1999 version of the text we found on a page from contains inherent potential contradictions-

The statement

"We refuse to be led by those who are morally bankrupt. With this in mind, we commit to shape our society and world accordingly."

not far above point 8 in that pledge;  

"We will respect the authorities God has placed in our lives, even though some have character that we do not admire. We realize that all authority comes from God. We refuse to subvert our parents or other authority figures."

(This from a group that has sold a tape entitled "How to get your parents to do what you want." The cover of which depicts a large smiling teen holding two tiny assumedly 'parents' in her hands, 'Daddy on the left, holding car keys, 'Mommy' on the right, holding a wad of cash. )

All of this, the original teenage bill of rights must be taken two contexts, the December 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton four months before the original unveiling of the document, and the Columbine shootings that occurred four days before before the initial use of the document at Day One.

That tension, between refusal to be led by those "morally bankrupt" while promising to respect the authorities god has placed in their lives, is exactly the clarity the "'God's word the final authority'" statement is meant to add input to.

There are yet other versions, that I don't have at my fingertips at the moment, but there has been drift through time and reitteration over exactly what the nature of "Godly authority" is.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 07:01:04 AM EST

"How to honor your parents when they don't derserve it."

Again, visually, big teen, small parents.

And how exactly does this match up with "We will respect the authorities God has placed in our lives..." and "We refuse to subvert our parents"?

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by merpessentials on Mon Dec 28, 2020 at 04:44:26 AM EST

that the issue is not Ford's concern for his soul, but rather the opportunism of the ocasion. If the politics required it, or the paycheck was right, I have no doubt that Ford would promote a dominionist line and offer his implicit endorsement by association, just as he did in this instance. Even if you are correct that he did not intend his words to be dominionist, in the context of the ocasion, that is exactly what they become.

I hasten to add that this was not the first time he had done something like this. I wrote about one episode in 1996 where he was a headliner at an event sponsored by a prominent front group of the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon in Washington,DC.

All this may sound rather dissonant in the immediate aftermath of the remarkable eulogies of the past few days.  But I am certain that at least in the case of the Moon episode, Ford knew perfectly well who he was dealing with and why.

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by merpessentials on Wed Jan 06, 2021 at 08:58:12 AM EST

"God who has called me to lead the world".

To tell a teenager this is ridiculous - most teens need a reality check on their basic selfishness or self-dramatization. This phrase is the perfect one to recruit a teen to political activity.

Not to mention, not over-scriptural. Whatever happened to "service"?Oh. Tutoring other children or reading to the vision-impaired in an old folks' home is hardly contributing to a political agenda.

by NancyP on Thu Jan 04, 2007 at 10:58:14 PM EST

for the calm, reality-orientation of this.

And an 'amen' to Nancy's note.  This is a long way from 'being the change you wish to see' wisdom of Ghandi and unhelpfully feeds/misuses the self-centeredness that is the curse of adolescence.

by Don Niederfrank on Fri Jan 05, 2007 at 11:50:26 AM EST

Nancy caused me to think about bush and the way he wants to lead the world.

Maybe the dominionists are stuck in the adolescent stage?  They certainly have forgotten about servanthood.

A leader IS a servant, or is supposed to be (especially if that person claims to be Christian).  I see no evidence of service in bush or the repugs.

Regarding Ford- about all I remember of his term was Nixon's pardon.  If what I've read is correct, we're still paying for the fallout of that today.

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I was not aware Ford did such things. Big surprise. I was always assumed that he kept his faith and politic acts separately. I guess I was wrong. Didn't even realize about Teen Mania. Definitely before my time. Crazy what they have done to our country. Chris @

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See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (124 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (135 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (112 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (155 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (129 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (69 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (165 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (72 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (95 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (97 comments)

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