How We Coined the Term "Dominionism"
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.
How We Coined the Term "Dominionism" | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
How We Coined the Term "Dominionism" | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)