Getting the Low Down on Dominionism
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Nov 25, 2016 at 04:17:59 AM EST
A refresher on dominionism will probably come in handy over the next little while. -- FC

I am pleased to report that the task of getting the low down on dominionism may be becoming easier for scholars, journalists and activists. There have been four important works of scholarship published in the past year that taken together, are a game changer in what is becoming a sprawling (and often tendentious) conversation across the past half century and across much of our religious and political culture.

I recently published a long form article on the roots and influence of Christian dominionism, and the culture of down playing and denial that limits discussion of and understanding of this movement that powers so much of our politics in the 21st century.  The best efforts of the obscurantists notwithstanding, the movement has evolved as has our our understanding of it.

One of the challenges facing all of us who write about these things is finding a usable definition.  To help us get there, with the support of my colleagues, I updated the short definition:


Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. The term describes a broad tendency across a wide swath of American Christianity. People who embrace this idea are referred to as dominionists.

Reasonable people may define it differently. and that's ok as long as we continue to remind ourselves that reasonable discussion of these matters requires reasonable and clear definitions so we don't engage in endless rounds of food fights with word salad.

But that said, dominionism denial and pooh poohery is now going to be more difficult to get away with, thanks to four works of scholarship published in the last year, that feature dominionism as a major theme. I draw on three of them in my article.  They should be considered required reading for anyone serious about this subject.


Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God's Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press; Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press;  and John Weaver, The New Apostolic Reformation: History of a Modern Charismatic Movement, McFarland & Company.

When I wrote my piece, I was not aware of a fourth such book: Far Right Fantasy:  A Sociology of American Religion and Politics, Routledge, 2015. Author James Aho is a professor emeritus of sociology who has published number of books across his career.   My purpose here is not to review the book, although like the above mentioned, it certainly merits that kind of considered discussion. It is a short, accessible analysis of hard to understand movements that have a more profound impact on our society than many of us are prepared to acknowledge.  

In Far Right Fantasy,  Aho critiques several elements of the American far right, including dominionism, and how they interact. In so doing, it underscores why it is not only important for us to understand dominionism but to develop our capacity to apply that understanding to contemporary politics and culture.

and paladins of pooh poohery are probably unprepared for the next time dominionism threatens to become a matter of public debate.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Sep 04, 2016 at 09:02:09 PM EST

If you were to recommend starting with one of these four books, which one would you say, please? Thank you.

by MLouise on Mon Sep 05, 2016 at 11:13:45 AM EST
I think if one were going to tackle the four, Aho's book is a brief, accessible, comprehensive place to begin. Perhaps because he is a retired professor who has been writing about these things for decades.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Sep 18, 2016 at 07:32:48 PM EST

Ed Kilgore, one of my go-to sources for all things political, posts about the possible "death" of the Christian right: d-the-death-of-the-christian-right.html?mid=fb-share-di

by trog69 on Tue Oct 11, 2016 at 08:21:13 PM EST
I haven't read the article, but I hope he wasn't being serious.  Nearly every name I've heard so far on Trump's team is one that has crossed our radar for one reason or another - either from being overtly dominionist themselves, or espousing cherished dominionist viewpoints (such as Haley's hostility to unions and the right to unionize).

Unless we get a miracle, they've won.  The only question is how long before the masks start coming off.  We see them for who they are, most people don't - yet.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Nov 25, 2016 at 11:18:26 PM EST

The one possibly genuine hopeful sign in the article is that the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is now headed by Russell Moore, who has some major disagreements with the Christian nationalism of his predecessor, Richard Land.  For more about this, see also  this article by Emma Green in The Atlantic (Aug 4, 2015).

by Diane Vera on Sat Nov 26, 2016 at 01:05:36 AM EST

You inserted a space into the URL.  Here is the corrected URL: d-the-death-of-the-christian-right.html

by Diane Vera on Sat Nov 26, 2016 at 01:07:48 AM EST

is something i hear pretty often... that Christians are more suited to run the show.  You know the spiel: more honest, more ethical, more moral, more connected to reality, better able to understand the consequences of actions, and so on.  You know the things that are claimed by them in comparison to the things they say about non-Dominionists and non-Christians in general.

Never mind that the evidence is to the contrary - at least for those of a more fundamentalist persuasion (I would place the dominionists far to the right of fundamentalism in the religious ideology spectrum - far more ideological than most fundamentalists.)  It's easy to send a dominionist into a screaming fit in many venues around here - just start insisting that the atheists and pagans you've met were more ethical and even moral than most of the Christians you've known (TRUTH).  Fact is, they think that is illogical.  After all, Atheists don't believe in God so they don't have a panopticon to fear (and thus coerced into being obedient).  

They cannot comprehend someone being ethical because they choose to be, or someone 'naturally' being of an ethical or moral nature, without the Big Bad Policeman in the Sky to force the behavior on them.

Their thinking is that the rest of society is unfit to make their own decisions and incompetent to make decisions that affect others.  Thus Christians MUST be the ones making decisions for the world (and reap the rewards for doing so).  After all, we "don't have the Holy Spirit and thus can't understand the Bible and OBEY it!".  If we can't understand the Bible, then we don't understand God's laws for humankind - that's how the reasoning goes.  Thus we are thought not competent to make decisions.

The ones I've encountered often cringe away from "Christians rule the world".  They know how it sounds.  They just insist that they'd be better at it than anyone else - and we shouldn't have the right to disagree.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Nov 25, 2016 at 11:38:49 PM EST

I ran into this article today, and I think it more than captures the essence of the attitudes of the people we oppose. -isnt-problem

Even the author seems to miss an important point - that a significant number of the people he's talking about believe that they must "Take over the WORLD for Jesus!" and that the things he talks about are being exported around the world.  The sad fact is that Americans in general have been programmed to look the other way whenever the people they taught were always the "Good Guys" did evil and wicked things.  "Christians cannot be terrorists!"...

My response to that is and has been ... "tell that to my poisoned kitties, look at the remains of my shop and think about that assertion, and try to tell that to people like Darla Kay Wynne and David Mullins and all the others who have suffered at the hands of Bible Pounders".  "No True Scotsmen" is a fallacy.  THAT is why we are loosing.  We're fighting head-on against propaganda and thought control!

You'll run into these attitudes everywhere, like one expressed in the heading of a blog entry (to which I've replied) - that "Science" needed "a kick in the teeth" (and other assertions in the person's rant).  The nasty attitude extends to anyone with a "college education".  Problem is, this scientist and the ones I know all would agree with the writer's basic premise, and I said so - and that the real problem he was complaining about was because the bean counters (management and head office) were looking at the bottom line only and neglecting things like quality and marketability - and not thinking about long-term survivability.  (I also mentioned that the training we received was illustrated using the very points he blamed us for and directing attention to the ones truly responsible.)

We can hope that change will occur and people will wake to what they've been taught (and learn to question authority).  It's not that likely to happen, unless we find the "Magic Key" that unlocks the circular reasoning planted in their heads (and said key is different for each person and difficult to find)!

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Nov 27, 2016 at 04:08:50 PM EST

Our Founders, for all their flaws, inconsistencies and contradictions understood that govt ruled by religion is a bad thing. They had seen and were aware of their past and the past of Europe and on other continents how it turned out after the fighting an the dictatorship that followed. We have those now who ignore all that and would rather be ruled by their Holy Books as law and the conception of freedom of the individual is wrong and that too much freedom can and does exist in need of their yoke to curtail.

I understand that Dominionism is a rather broad term of overlapping variations of religious control. Once they figure out their disagreements pale next to the rest of us and our differences they can be very deadly. Though for the moment they use and misuse our own govt in their favor. That including poking full of holes, the wall of separation they decry as "un- American" and work to rewrite history to fit the present they want to make. (Presidents of both parties are involved including President Obama) They wish to control every aspect of our lives, and that human life doesn't mean so much when they fervently believe there is a here after and resurrection for judgement. So as long as they believe they are absolved from any more sins they have freedom of license to violate every one of the commandments they claim they hold so dear. And for what they see as a good cause. Their persistence shows it is a long range idea and as they fixate upon it they will continue and may win. Though Trump doesn't evince any interest in religion they supported him, and their VP covers that part very well. In fact they will want to impeach Trump and replace him when they are ready. Then things can really get scary. (Trump has practically promised to cross the line.)

It is amazing how many in the Corporate MSM try to hide it. Whether they really believe that the Reich Wing is harmless or too small and has fragmented or they consciously know it and want it and are doing their part. Regardless, the ends are the same. For them the only good things to come out of the 21st century are better weapons and means of surveillance for their coming Holy American Empire.

Those 4 books I will have to seek out now. To have a clearer picture of the complexities therein of the greatest force to ever threaten what remains of our raggedy old Republic that is in dire need or re-ordering and to clear out the corruption making equipment that has developed. The Plutocrats may let it happen, they may need them to act at their time it is hard to know. But one thing I do know is that setbacks will not stop them. Especially since they won! But it isn't over yet, and I am not counting the Eggs of Antioch just yet.

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