Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Apr 15, 2017 at 11:04:08 PM EST
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has been an ideological catalyst for the contemporary Christian Right.

That is one of the reasons why I am looking forward to reading the new book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.  The book has received mixed reviews according to a discussion of those reviews by Richard Ostling, a retired writer for the evangelical magazine, Christianity Today.   But in her new book, FitzGerald apparently discusses the theocratic dominionism of the late R.J. Rushdoony and the influential Christian Reconstructionist movement he led.  

This has apparently alarmed Ostling.    

Alan Wolfe, writing in The New York Times, stated:

    "FitzGerald includes a fascinating chapter on conservative Christian intellectuals. One of them, R.J. Rushdoony, developed a complicated theological system he called Christian Reconstructionism; he taught that "with God on their side, Christians had no need for majoritarian politics, or for compromise and accommodation to reach their goal," as FitzGerald puts it."

But Ostling writes that he

    " wary after learning that FitzGerald pays so much attention to figures like Rousas Rushdoony. His idiosyncratic theocracy scheme frightens the journalism natives, but is hardly representative of mainstream evangelicalism, or even of its most politicized segments."

This claim epitomizes one of the techniques of dominionism denial.  The use of the strawman argument:  Rebutting assertions that no one has actually made.

Ostling claims that Rushdoony is "hardly representative of mainstream evangelicalism."

Well indeed!

Rushdoony, Gary North and the other leading  thinkers of Christian Reconstructionism have long understood that their theocratic vision is profoundly radical, certainly revolutionary, and in no way representative of mainstream evangelicalism.  In fact, they would argue that mainstream evangelicalism is part of the problem: Insufficiently Christian at best, and come the theocracy, some mainstreamers might find themselves in the stoning circle following a conviction for heresy or apostasy.  Any fair minded person who has actually read Rushdoony and North et al, knows this.

In all my years of writing about this subject,  I cannot recall anyone who has ever claimed that Rushdoony and his colleagues are "representative of mainstream evangelicalism" (although I suppose there may have been some silly people who did.)  In any case, there is no indication that Frances FitzGerald has done so. But Ostling has not actually read the book. So how would he know?)

The Christian Reconstructionists are significant not because they are representative -- but because they are not.   The task of any serious outside observer who is not just out to score cheap political points or engage in defensive PR tactics, is to gauge not whether the Reconstructionists  are representative, but to discern the nature and extent of their influence.  This is no easy task, regardless of one's religious or political views, journalistic skills, or academic credentials.  Many who have studied the matter understand that Christian Reconstructionism and the broader dominionist movement have been essential to the development of the political movement we generally call the Christian Right.  And the significance of the reality of this can hardly be overstated.

I am looking forward to seeing how FitzGerald handles it.

A remarkable aspect of the story of theocratic dominionism has been the denialism that the existence and significance of this movement brings out in people.  (`It can't happen here', some seem to think.)  The leaders of theocratic dominionism generally take a very long view of politics and the gradual implementation of their ideas, and therefore have sought to keep their activities on the low down, so as to avoid being crushed by the rest of society-- lest they grasp what the theorists of dominionism have in mind.    This has mostly worked, thanks in considerable part to the complicity, (both witting and unwitting), of the denialists.

Three decades ago, Bill Moyers did a segment on Christian Reconstructionism -- which includes the only mainstream television interview with R.J. Rushdoony.  You can view a clip here.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 15, 2017 at 11:54:29 PM EST
Thanks for the link. The transcript contains more than the clip. I look forward to reading the book.

I suspect that many of these people are having a difficult time dealing with modern society. I am as well but my difficulty is dealing with those who don't embrace the equality and universality and modernity that we have obtained and are continuing to strive for. I don't want to retreat to a more primitive state.

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by johncity on Wed Mar 06, 2019 at 05:41:55 AM EST

that a lot of it has to do with the fact that most Americans were brought up in an environment of "Churches = GOOD people" - as in the association is automatic and anything that demonstrates otherwise is automatically suspect.  Even people who aren't Christian tend to think that (for instance) antisemitism is more of a political or individual thing rather than the result of deliberate church teachings because "It's a CHURCH, it can't be THAT BAD" (the very words I used to regularly get from liberal Democrats who otherwise are repulsed by everything the local dominionists stand for).  The idea of a church overtly teaching that a group of people are evil and must be eliminated (converted or destroyed) does not compute in their minds... because of the associations (and generations of propaganda) that have shaped the American mindset.  Ditto for doctrines that violate the very things the person they claim to follow actually may have said - possibly because of an actual lack of understanding of what IS in that book (and how it got to be there) - we need more GOOD Bible study to counter that issue.  

I suspect a lot more Americans use binary thinking than not, and nuance is foreign to them.  So they wrongly think anything negative-but-truthful about dominionists is painting all of Christianity as evil and therefore Dominionists MUST be the "good guys", because they're Christian.

Thus when they encounter someone who is typical for a group (such as a militant NAR type), but that person does not fit their stereotype (the good Christian), they think the person is an aberration or exception to the rule without considering that it could be actually typical for the entire movement (a subset of Christianity but not the entirety).  Stereotypes are very solidly anchored in this country and it takes a lot to rip the anchor free on the individual level, much less the national.

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