Christian Dominionism Is Not A Myth
August 21st, 2011
On August 14, Michelle Goldberg sounded the alarm about the close ties that two GOP candidates for president, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have with extreme elements of far-right Cristianism known as Dominionism. Today, A. Larry Ross responds with a well-intentioned, but ultimately hopelessly informed counterargument that “Christian Dominionism is a Myth.” Ross’s argument rests on this crux:
Although her well-intentioned article may resonate in the echo chambers of her fellow East Coast media elite, Goldberg misapplies a broad label that few, if any, evangelicals use or with which they identify.
Ross identifies himself as “a lifelong evangelical who understands the foundational tenets of belief in the doctrine of love, according to the principles of Jesus in the Great Commandment and the Sermon on the Mount.” I take him at his word. I think that description applies to almost all who identify as evangelicals — as well as almost all who identify as mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Mormon. Which means that it doesn’t really tell us much. And if the particular individuals that Goldberg discussed held themselves to that relatively simple and expansive definition, then there would hardly be any cause for alarm. But they don’t. And instead of understanding what they do believe to be equally essential articles of faith, Ross dismisses the entire phenomenon as ghosts dreamed up by the “East Cost media elite” (his words; how’s that for misapplying broad labels?) to pump more excitement into cable news channels:
Most Americans today consume news less for information than for validation, and gravitate to media outlets that reinforce opinions and a worldview they already embrace. Despite today’s proliferation of 24/7 news networks and social-media platforms, as everyone retreats to these silos of validation, we seem to have lost our public square, or at least the former civility of it.
Sojourners president Jim Wallis has observed that network-television viewers need to hear the collegial, respectful discussions among marquee leaders with opposing views that take place in network greenrooms moments before they aggressively attack and demonize each other in heated debates broadcast on point/counterpoint news programs.
But in discussing Dominionism, Goldberg doesn’t misapply anything. To the very point that Ross misses, she is actually applying a label to identify a theology that few, if any, evangelicals use or with which they identify, and she applies it specifically to that exceptionally tiny minority for whom the label does applies. These are not the people within the broad spectrum of Christianity, nor are they even those within the outer ten percent of its fringes. We’re not talking about the Pat Robertsons, the Joel Olsteens, the Albert Mohlers or the Rick Warrens. No, we’re talking about people who are far, far more fringe than anyone whose name immediately comes to mind whenever most people think of Christian Evangelicalism. And that is exactly Goldberg’s point. And when Goldberg says, “If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional,” that advice applies to mainstream Evangelicals as well. I suspect most of them don’t understand Dominionism either. Ross certainly doesn’t appear to.
Pretending that the so-called New Apostolic Movement and Seven Mountains Theology don’t exist or that those influenced by the Kansas City Prophets have not gained influence among particular presidential candidates here at home and political leaders abroad doesn’t make them go away. Granted, these are probably not the kind of people Ross runs into in his church, his friends and colleagues’ churches, or in any other circles he hands with. But just because they can’t be found under Ross’s bed or alongside him in the pews — or in Wallis’s greenroom sojourns — doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And when they are identified as close advisers credited for a big win in Iowa, or when they act as main speakers and moderators at a huge televised rally for a candidate’s benefit, the proper response is to ask hard questions of what they want for the country, not whistling and quickly walking away.