How We Coined the Term "Dominionism"
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 05:00:47 PM EST
[Updated Sept. 1, 2011]

A recent note from Sara Diamond read “something circulating to the effect that Sara Diamond  invented the term 'dominion theology?' I've fended off a couple of  reporters re a quote in the New Yorker.” Sorry Sara, Fred Clarkson and I are partly to blame.

In the 1980s Sara Diamond researched how the small Christian Reconstructionist theological movement was significantly influencing the much larger and more diverse sociopolitical movements called the Christian Right. She did not, however, coin the term "Dominionism." When Diamond wrote about the influence of "Dominionist thinking" on the Christian Right she was referring to the ideas of the Christian Reconstructionist movement.

It was Fred Clarkson and I who began urging the use of the term "Dominionism" to describe the broad group inside the Christian Right influenced by Christian Reconstructionism and other forms of "Dominion Theology." At the time we were trying to find a way to explain to a general audience the difference between the terms "Theocracy" and "Theonomy."
Let me explain in a chronological way.

In her 1989 book Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond  discussed how the Christian Right had been significantly influenced by Christian Reconstructionism and two of its major theologues: Gary North and the  late R.J. Rushdoony. The term “Dominion Theology” was already in use to describe Christian Reconstructionism.

Diamond, who would earn her PhD for her dissertation on  right-wing social movements in the United States, explained that "the  primary importance of the [Christian Reconstructionist] ideology is its role as  a catalyst for what is loosely called 'dominion theology.'"

According to  Diamond, "Largely through the impact of Rushdoony's and North's writings,  the concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to 'occupy' all secular  institutions has become the central  unifying ideology for the Christian Right." (Spiritual Warfare, p. 138, italics in  the original).

Fred Clarkson, the late Margaret Quigley, and I read Diamond’s  1989 Spiritual Warfare, and began  talking about what we should call Christian Right socio-political movements  influenced in some way by Christian Reconstructionism. Margaret and I had used  “Theocracy” for the broader concept while Fred used “Theonomy,” to describe  Dominion Theology. We agreed it was too confusing.

Diamond  began writing  articles on the Christian Right for the Humanist and Z Magazine. In a series of  articles and book chapters Diamond expanded on her thesis. She called  Reconstructionism "the most intellectually grounded, though esoteric,  brand of dominion theology," and observed that "promoters of  Reconstructionism see their role as ideological entrepreneurs committed to a  long-term struggle."

In 1992 author Bruce Barron warned of a growing "dominionist  impulse" among evangelicals in his book Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion  Theology. Barron, with a Ph.D. in American religious history, is also an  advocate of Christian political participation, and has worked with conservative  Christian evangelicals and elected officials. Barron is smart, courteous, and  not someone you would debate without doing a whole boatload of homework.  Disrespect him at your own risk.

Barron was worried by the aggressive, intolerant, and  confrontational aspects of Dominion Theology; and was especially concerned that  these ideas had seeped into the broader Christian evangelical community.  Dominion Theology is not a version of Christianity with which Barron is  comfortable.

In his book, Barron looks at two theological currents:  Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now, and explains that "Many  observers have grouped them together under the more encompassing rubric of  'dominion theology.'" Christian Reconstructionism evolved out of the writings  of R.J. Rushdoony; while Kingdom Now theology emerged from the ministry of Earl  Paulk.

"While differing from Reconstructionism in many ways,  Kingdom Now shares the belief that Christians have a mandate to take dominion  over every area of life," explains Barron. And it is just this tendency  that has spread through evangelical Protestantism, resulting in the emergence  of "various brands of 'dominionist' thinkers in contemporary American  evangelicalism," according to Barron.

I later met Barron when lecturing in Pennsylvania (I think it was Pennsylvania)  and we had a cordial conversation in which we agreed it made sense to reserve the term Dominion  Theology for the most hard-core theocrats. We also agreed that not every  evangelical was in the Christian Right and not everyone in the Christian Right  was a Dominionist. But keep in mind that back then some people were using the term "Dominionist" as synonymous with "Dominion Theology.

In December 1992 Margaret & I wrote “Theocracy and White  Supremacy: Behind the Culture War to  Restore Traditional Values,” for the Public  Eye Magazine.

Fred Clarkson and I had numerous and lengthy conversations  on this subject between 1992-1995.  We  tossed around several terms and ways to accurately, fairly, and respectfully  describe the tendency we could see in action inside the Christian Right.

In his thoughtful 1993 study "A Reformed Approach to  Economics: Christian Reconstructionism," Edd S. Noell explains the nuts  and bolts of how the Christian Reconstructionists view economic theory through  the lens of Biblical law. Noell is an Associate Professor of Economics at  Westmont College, and has done his homework. According to Noell:

The teachings of Christian Reconstructionism have  been increasingly influential in recent years for evangelicals advocating  social policy in various mainline denominations and independent churches. They  have also induced a fairly strong and at times quite critical reaction both  within and outside the Reformed community; among the sobriquets given to  Reconstructionists are “ triumphalists ” and “the liberation theologians of the  right.” (Bulletin, Association of Christian Economists, Spring, 1993,  pp. 6-20) http://www.gordon.edu/ace/pdf/NoellS93.pdf


In 1995 with Diamond’s permission I combined some of her  articles into a chapter in Eye’s Right!  Challenging the Right Wing Backlash. The title of the chapter was “The  Christian Right Seeks Dominion: On the Road to Political Power and Theocracy”

Diamond published Roads  to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and  Political Power in the United States in 1995. It was a masterpiece of  sociological social movement theory.

Somewhere between 1989 and 1995 some of us started to use  the term Dominionism, especially after Roads  to Dominion came out.  It seemed that  for the Christian Right the influence of Dominion Theology had paved the path  for their “road to dominion.”

William Martin is the author of the 1996 tome With God on  Our Side, a companion volume to the PBS series of the same name (Martin and  I were both advisers to the PBS series of the same name). Martin is a  sociologist and professor of religion at Rice University, and he has been  critical of the way some critics of the Christian Right have tossed around the  terms "dominionism" and "theocracy." Martin has offered  some careful writing on the subject.

According to Martin:

It is difficult to assess the influence of  Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely  radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves  from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One  undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, 'Though we hide their books  under the bed, we read them just the same.'

According to Martin, "several key leaders have  acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists.” The late Christian Right  leaders Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy “endorsed Reconstructionist books"  for example, noted Martin. Before he died in 2001, the founder of Christian  Reconstuctionism, R. J. Rushdoony, appeared several times on Christian Right  televangelist programs such as Pat Robertson's 700 Club and the program hosted  by D. James Kennedy, writes Martin.

"Pat Robertson makes frequent use of 'dominion'  language" says Martin. Robertson’s book, The Secret Kingdom, “has often been cited for its theonomy  elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential  campaign, he said he 'would only bring Christians and Jews into the  government,' as well as when he later wrote, '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.' "

Martin also pointed out that Jay Grimstead, who led the  Coalition on Revival, “brought Reconstructionists together with more mainstream  evangelicals.” According to Martin, Grimstead explained “'I don't call myself  [a Reconstructionist],” but “A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible  is God's standard of morality . . . in all points of history . . . and for all  societies, Christian and non-Christian alike. . . . It so happens that  Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.”

Then Grimstead added, “there are a lot of us floating around  in Christian leadership--James Kennedy is one of them--who don't go all the way  with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible."

Fred Clarkson wrote Eternal  Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy in 1997. Fred  continued writing about Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism, including  an article in the Public Eye magazine: "The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation" in 2005.

I have credited Diamond with popularizing the concept that  there was a dynamic involving Dominion Theology and the broader Christian  Right.  So Diamond popularized the idea  that seeking “dominion” was an important social movement dynamic inside the  Christian Right. 

So arguably Fred Clarkson and I developed the term  “Dominionism” in a series of conversations that stretched over several years.  Fred and I began to use the term "Dominionism" in speeches and interviews to describe the broader tendency as distinct from "Dominion Theology." It is possible  that Barron used it in print before we did.   Fred might know, but this is my version of reality. I expect Fred has a  different version.   The Rashomon Effect.  If we didn’t create the term Dominionism, Fred and I certainly have been the primary progressive activists to urge other writers to use it. But the scholarly concept was originated by Sara Diamond, who makes no  claims on crafting the terms “Dominion Theology” or “Dominionism.” So please stop calling her and asking for an interview. She prefers her privacy.

Let's choose our language carefully, but let's recognize  that terms such as "Dominionism" and "Theocracy," when used  cautiously and carefully, are appropriate when describing troubling tendencies  in the Christian Right.




Display:
This was by best recollection after doing some document research
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 05:14:41 PM EST
Thanks for the good summary history, Chip. Brings back memories of a lot of head scratching about finding useful descriptive terms generally, and this one in particular.  Here are some additions to the story. I'll add more as recollections arrive.

For all of the hoo ha on the Right and among those who are worried that they don't like the sound of the word dominonism and what it might mean for their preferred political candidates, the actual story is pretty straightforward.

I will add that many evangelicals were wise to and critical of dominion theology and dominionism long before us progressive scholars and journalists began to notice.  Over time, I think we all learned from one another.  I learned a great deal from such books as Dominion Theology:  Blessing or Curse? by Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Multnomah Publishers, 1988 and Vengeance is Ours:  The Church in Dominion, Sword Publishers, 1990.  I was first exposed to Christian Reconstructionism by Rodney Clapp's February 20, 1987 feature article,  "Democracy as Heresy" in Christianity Today. Later, there were articles by among others, Rob Boston whose "Thy Kingdom Come," in Church & State, September 1988 was perhaps the first article in a non-evangelical journal about Christian Reconstructionism.  Although new to some contemporary writers, obviously these these subjects have been much reported and discussed for many years, and not just on the Left.  And then, there are the speeches, sermons, books and articles by influential dominionists themselves.  

Now regarding the terms terms dominionism and dominionist;  yes, we encouraged their use in ways we hoped would be fair and accurate ways of referring to this dynamic and multidimensional religious-political movement.  And indeed, these terms seem to have generated no controversy until many years later.  Reconstructionist and Latter Rain-influenced figures such as Pat Robertson were all talking about dominion, and what it meant in the area of government and politics. It is logical to describe as "dominionists" those who were (and are) serious about "taking dominion" not just in theory but in contemporary political practice, and implementing their particular notions of religiously based laws over a religiously plural society.  That some people use the term too expansively and derisively is no different than how terms for any other major category of religious or political thought are used and abused. The term "liberal" for example, can be too broadly as well as mis-applied, and with the right kind of sneer attached it can also become an epithet or even a term of demonization.  

Whatever we may think of a particular group or ideology, we have tried to use terms that fairly and accurately reveal meaning, rather than smear groups and individuals. We also have a long and public record of opposition to unfair labeling and demonization tactics.

While it is likely that I used the term in any number of settings before, as far as I can recall, my first published use of the term dominionism was in my 1994 essay in The Public Eye:  Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence.  This essay was carefully sourced, but the magazine's practice at the time was to publish end notes separately and make them available on request.  I referenced the books by House and Ice, and Dager in that essay; as well as Rodney Clapp's article. I incorporated most if not all of my Public Eye piece into my 1997 book Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy adding material and broadening the analysis.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 09:26:39 PM EST
Parent

I had forgotten most of this.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Sat Sep 03, 2011 at 10:05:39 AM EST
Parent
I was mistaken in saying that Rodney Clapp's 1987 article in CT was my first exposure to Christian Reconstructionism. It would be fair to say that it was the first time I saw a feature article that sought to explain CR and how it fit in the wider world of evangelical Christianity. And in that sense, it was very helpful.

When I worked at Interchange Research Center in the mid-80s, I recall reading several books by Gary North, notably Backward Christian Soldiers:  An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction, which was published in 1984. I was slowly becoming aware of what CR was and how it fit in the bigger picture, but it was a long term learning experience, in part because the movement itself was and is so publicity shy.  

I also recall attending parts of the 1986 Coalition on Revival gathering in Washington, DC, and discussing the role of Christian Reconstructionism with Sara Diamond and others in attendance.

Finally, now that I have had a few moments to look back, Bill Moyers did a broadcast segment on his show in 1987, which featured interviews with Rushdoony  and another prominent and unapologetic CR, Joseph Morecraft. I quoted from that segment in Eternal Hostility.  

I will no doubt eventually recall more details of my own learning, and the development of the term dominionism. But as I mentioned above, it was in many ways an obvious term to describe a wide swath of people who take the idea of taking dominion seriously and who were and are taking urgent political action based on that idea.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Sep 04, 2011 at 04:37:32 PM EST
Parent





When I use the word Dominionism I make sure it is known that it covers a multitude of groups with many similar ideas and doctrines but they are not synopic in all things. And I recommend they read up on it here and several other places. It was after seeing the movie in 1990, then reading the book by Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" that got me to start researching and finding that the novel isn't far fetched at all.

by Nightgaunt on Thu Sep 01, 2011 at 11:04:13 PM EST
Sorry that was how you got into looking at this stuff.  Thanks for the comment, though.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Fri Sep 02, 2011 at 01:51:34 PM EST
Parent


http://news.yahoo.com/hot-issue-campaign-trail-theology-070610355 .html An excellent article on how theology is not just viewed, despite what author Anne Rice might say about it on Amazon.com's forums, as an irrelevant exercise in soggy abstracts by polemicists of all stripes. While church goers turn their noses up at it, the world outside their four walls is paying more attention to it than they can possibly imagine much less appreciate. Sobering news for the church and society in the last days ..

by rev rafael on Sat Sep 03, 2011 at 01:52:22 PM EST

I've been waiting 22 years (so far) for her next book.

by Pierce R Butler on Sat Sep 03, 2011 at 08:25:15 PM EST

There is no "Final Battle of Armageddon".

There is no expected "rise into the air" to happen.

There is no "final battle" just constant battle till every person has converted, became enslaved or is dead before their White Jesus will return to fill the empty thrones and rule over them and a pacified converted world. They are exempted from the Holy Laws because they are on a mission from their deity to do what ever is needed to win. Nothing less. In the mean time country-by-country they wish to take over and run the way they think it should be which would mean in a religious way. Very harsh, but then bodies are less important than souls---isn't it to them? The GWOT with the largest military on the planet is a prime instrument for them. Along with the heavy influence of US culture. Though a culture they want changed fundamentally. - GWOT for Global War on Terrorism

by Nightgaunt on Tue May 17, 2016 at 05:27:39 PM EST


Excellent points shared on the term "Dominionism" and write my business paper. Pat Robertson indeed use a lot of this word, now I know the really terminology and the meaning of this word. Thank you.

by Richard Guiness on Sun Nov 06, 2016 at 09:04:05 AM EST


WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (3 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (4 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (5 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (0 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (4 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (6 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (7 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (21 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (4 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (8 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (5 comments)
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 (3 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 (4 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 (3 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 (2 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 (13 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 (5 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 (7 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 (2 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 (2 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 (2 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.