Michele Bachmann Dodges Question about Dominionism from Christianity Today
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Nov 24, 2011 at 05:29:38 PM EST
Last summer, elements of the mainstream media were flummoxed by how to report on the religio-political views of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry who were involved with dominionism and dominionists.   Those who had reported on this were accused of, among other things, lumping all evangelicals together and of grossly exaggerating the depth and breadth of the concerns.  There was even a bit of Jew-baiting thrown-in for good measure.  The false accusations soon extended to everyone who has ever written about dominionism, the claims variously being that its a made-up term, that hardly anyone believes it anyway, and that lefty writers are politically motivated in raising these things.  An AP story reported on the controversy rather than the issue -- effectively pooh poohing the entire matter.  

Then, just when her campaign was all but dead, Michele Bachmann rolled-out a new book titled Core of Conviction:  My Story.  The book description states:  

Michele Bachmann is one of the most compelling leaders in America. But despite all the magazine covers and cable television stories, most people don't know who she really is, where she comes from, or what she believes. So she decided to tell her own story and let the reader decide.

But when Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, gave Bachmann the opportunity to to clarify her core convictions -- and to set the record strait regarding her relationship with the world of dominionism -- she dodged the question.

But before we get to CT's direct question and Bachmann's dodgy answer,  let's scroll back to last summer and fall when Michele Bachmann was unexpectedly riding high in the GOP presidential polls, and and political reporters rightly delved into her background.

Controversy about Bachmann's alleged dominionist views stemmed from the nature of the law school Bachmann attended in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and her relationship with her law school mentor, a theocratic professor named John Eidsmoe.  

According to Ryan Lizza's rather devastating August 15th profile in The New Yorker: "Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives," Lizza wrote, "whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.  Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared."

In the article, Lizza matter-of-factly discusses how Bachmann has acknowledged the profound influence the books and films of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer.  Lizza describes Schaeffer as a "dominionist" thinker.  He goes on to report on how Bachmann attended the Oral Roberts University's Coburn School of Law shortly after its founding in 1978, when such dominionist figures as Herb Titus and John Whitehead were teaching there along with Eidsmoe.  The small school published a journal that often presented the views of Schaeffer and seminal Christian Reconstructionist thinker, R.J. Rushdoony.  Lizza reported:

At Oral Roberts, Bachmann worked for a professor named John Eidsmoe, who got her interested in the burgeoning homeschool movement.  She helped him build a database of state homeschooling statutes, assisting his crusade to reverse laws that prevented parents from homeschooling their children.  After that, Bachmann worked as Eidsmoe's research assistant on his book "Christianity and the Constitution," published in 1987.

Eidsmoe explained to me how the Coburn School of Law, in the years that Bachmann was there, wove Christianity into the legal curriculum.  "Say we're talking in criminal law, and we get to the subject of the insanity defense," he said.  "Well, Biblically speaking, is there such a thing as insanity and is it a defense for a crime? We might look back to King David when he's captured by the Philistines and he starts frothing at the mouth, playing crazy and so on." When Biblical law conflicted with American law, Eidsmoe said, O.R.U. students were generally taught that "the first thing you should try to do is work through legal means and political means to get it changed."

"Christianity and the Constitution" is ostensibly a scholarly work about the religious beliefs of the Founders, but it is really a brief for political activism.  Eidsmoe writes that America "was and to a large extent still is a Christian nation," and that "our culture should be permeated with a distinctively Christian flavoring."  When I asked him if he believed that Bachmann's views were fully consistent with the prevailing ideology at O.R.U. and the themes of his book, he said, "Yes."  Later, he added, "I do not know of any way in which they are not."

Journalist Michelle Goldberg reported in  profile of Bachmann in the Daily Beast in June:

At Coburn, Bachmann studied with John Eidsmoe, who she recently described as "one of the professors who had a great influence on me." Bachmann served as his research assistant on the 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, which argued that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy, and that it should become one again. "The church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God," Eidsmoe wrote. "In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy."

In the wake of the Bachmann profiles and analogous articles about Rick Perry and his relationship to the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), we witnessed a deluge of punditry and major media reporting seeking to downplay or deny the role of dominionism in the personal and political lives of Perry and Bachmann.  Writers were smeared individually, and by implication, all of us who have written about this general subject.  The campaign had its desired effect, and the reporting on this dimension of the background, backers, and beliefs of candidates Bachmann and Perry has pretty much stopped outside of the web sites that routinely report on the Religious Right.  

But what then, does Bachmann really believe?  In what ways or to what extent does Bachmann share the "Biblical worldview" of Eidsmoe, Rushdoony, and Schaeffer?  These men's views are not monolithic of course, but all are dominionist and have been in the mix of significant influences on Bachmann's thinking as well as that of her other teachers.  These relationships raise fair and important, if unexplored questions about this Republican presidential contender.

That's what makes the following exchange between Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Bachmann published in Christianity Today so interesting.  The reporter's question gets at this, but Bachmann completely evades it and there is no follow-up.  In fairness, Bachmann does this with most of the questions, but this one is particularly striking because she is busy promoting a book titled "Core of Conviction:  My Story."

Have you followed any discussions on what some people call "Dominionism?" For instance, in the New Yorker profile of you, there were connections made between you and Rousas John Rushdoony, someone who has called for a pure Christian theocracy.  If the people want government to do something that goes against teachings in the Bible, should the President and Congress side with the people or the Bible?

No, I haven't followed that. I am not ashamed of my faith at all, and it guides me in what I do.  But as President of the United States, I also stand and answer to the people based on the Constitution of the United States. That's what would guide me as President.  The people elect the President, and we need to listen to the people and what their will is.   At the same time, we're a constitutional republic, and if the people want something that is not in accordance with the Constitution, it's up to the President and the people's representatives to explain why something is unconstitutional.  For instance, Obamacare has the individual mandate that forces every American as a condition of citizenship to purchase a product or service even if they don't want to.  That's never happened before, that's unconstitutional.

We owe CT a debt of gratitude for committing an act of journalism by asking Bachmann about dominionism, even though Bachmann didn't answer the question and even though the pack has apparently moved on.    

Frank Schaeffer, Jr., has repudiated his father's religious and political movement, and also his father's Calvinist religious beliefs. Frank Jr. is now a member of the Greek Orthodox church.

by khughes1963 on Sat Nov 26, 2011 at 07:57:35 PM EST

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