Questioning the Candidates on Dominionism

By The Intersection | August 25, 2011 1:20 pm

By Jon Winsor

Questions about Dominionism and national politics are now moving out of the muckraking exposés and the religion pages and into elite journalism. Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air devoted most of its air time to journalist Rachel Tabachnick on the topic of Dominionism. Now, NY Times Chief Editor Bill Keller is going there as well:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York… Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ…

In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes… I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning…

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire.

Keller lists some of his questions in his op-ed (which you can read here).

Tuesday, conservative columnist Michael Gerson defended the conservative field from the criticisms on Dominionism, saying (sarcastically):

The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of Shariah law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any subscriber to The New Yorker. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth…

Many have become unhinged by the interpretive power of a simple idea. In the case of Dominionism, paranoia is fed by a certain view of church-state relations — a deep discomfort with any religious influence in politics: Even if most evangelicals are not plotting the reconstruction of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, they nevertheless want to impose their sectarian views on secular institutions. It is a common argument among secular liberals that the application of any religiously informed moral reasoning in politics is a kind of soft theocracy. Dominionism is merely its local extension. [My emphasis.]

But Bill Keller and others have been rightly asking what kind of reasoning? There shouldn’t be anything wrong with asking common sense questions about what someone’s “religiously informed moral reasoning” is:

Asking candidates, respectfully, about their faith should not be an excuse for bigotry or paranoia. I still remember, as a Catholic boy, being mystified and hurt by the speculation about John Kennedy’s Catholicism — whether he would be taking orders from the Vatican… And of course issues of faith should not distract attention from issues of economics and war. But it is worth knowing whether a candidate has a mind open to intelligence that does not fit neatly into his preconceptions.

This echoes what some of the exposé writers have been saying about Dominionism as a political phenomenon. Here is an excerpt from Sarah Posner’s piece at Slate:

The commenters who have jumped on the [New Apostolic Reformation] frequently overstate the size of its following… Most chilling, though, is the willingness to engage in what’s known in the Word of Faith world as “revelation knowledge,” or believing, as Copeland exhorted his audience to do, that you learn nothing from journalism or academia, but rather just from the Bible and its modern “prophets.” It is in this way that the self-styled prophets have had their greatest impact on our political culture: by producing a political class, and its foot soldiers, who believe that God has imparted them with divine knowledge that supersedes what all the evil secularists would have you believe.

In this way, Dominionism may be a prominent example of a certain dangerously Manichaen way of thinking. And you may not even need Francis Schaeffer or Dominionism to think that way–or even participate in a movement with Dominionist roots.  For instance, you could subscribe to Cleon Skousen’s strain of Mormonism. (See this article on the “Tea Party’s artist” John McNaughton, who was influenced by Skousen, and this one on Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck).

Gerson is right that the public could seize on a “simple idea” about Dominionism, but that misses a critical point. In a complex, modern nation such as ours, it’s crucial for us to know how a candidate thinks–as Keller implies, whether they can think open-mindedly and empirically about important questions. If they’re trapped in dogma, or they toe the line for a certain passionate constituency trapped in dogma, voters need to know that before they cast their ballots.

Comments (11)

  1. Mike H

    Alternate headline not proposed by Bill Keller in 2008: I Demand the Media Closely Question Barack Obama About The Depths of His Purported Christian Faith, The Influences He May Have Received While in a Religious School in Indonesia, and His Beliefs About Rev. Wright’s Conception of God

  2. Johan Fruh

    @Mike
    From what I understand… the democrats don’t have a tendancy in letting their religion guide their political agenda. Whereas the republicans do.
    Is this correct?
    If so, it explains asking such religious oriented questions to futur republican politicians, because it would give a good idea of what they have in store…

    The republicans bring it on themselves. They’re the ones promoting religious ideas so vigourously.

  3. Jim Mauch

    One can question our president’s policy decisions but anyone who thinks the our president is operating with a secret religious or nonreligious agenda needs to have a serious reality check. What next, do you want to see his birth certificate — again!

  4. kirk

    Here is the most comprehensive run-down of the danger that is Rick Perry available from the Austin Chronicle (who brought the world SXSW)

    http://www.austinchronicle.com/rick-perry/

  5. vel

    @Mike, funny how the media did do this, and that Obama did say that he didnt’ agree. now, please do show where the Tea Partier types have renounced the theocratic desires of their religions. Surely a “good Christian” as yuorself wouldn’t bear false witness? :P

  6. Mekhong Kurt

    @Mike H, okay. Now let’s look at those schools — he went to two, not just one — in Indonesia. One was a public school open to all faiths, though of course the dominant religion among the students was (and remains) Islam. Further, the *other* school he attended was a CATHOLIC one, a point invariably swept under the carpet by those who question the President’s faith.

    If I believed for a second that President Obama’s faith was a danger to this country, I certainly would be howling far and wide. I most certainly DO believe that Perry’s, in particular, is a “clear and present danger.” I’m not going to go so far as to say he himself is a Dominionist or Christian Nationalist, but he certainly is very closely allied with some of the chief architects and proponents of that thread of thought, which identifies seven “mountains in national life — not just government — they seek to dominate, which they believe isn’t just their God-given *right* duty their God-ordered DUTY. In short, they seek a Christian theocracy that looks very much like a Christian version of sharia law, as practiced by the Taleban and to an extent, in Saudi Arabia (a considerable extent, I might add).

    I singled out Perry because he is currently a front-runner — though I realize that could change — making him possibly the most like candidate to win the GOP’s nod. I personally would prefer Romney out of the current declared candidates, and his religion isn’t something I view with alarm, or even much care. Bachmann will, I ferv ently hope, be seen as eminently UNqualified to be President.

    Unless President Obama gets some wins in his corner, some significant ones — improved unemployment figures top the list, of course — he could be in real trouble next fall. And if Perry is the GOP’s candidate, it’s downright frightening to contemplate him having his finger on the nuclear trigger. He might (or might not, granted) do little or nothing to advance the domestic agenda of the Christian Nationalist/Dominionist movements — but I have zero difficulty imagining him to decide something such as, “To hell with the Iranians. Nuke ‘em — they’re a bunch of godless heathens anyway. Let ‘em glow in the dark.” And I’m quite serious about that.

    My hope is that as his background and record in Texas — his REAL one, not the fictional one he peddles — is brought out into the cold, clear, merciless light of day, he’ll be seen as the potentially dangerous disaster he has been — and would be as President. BTW, I’m Texan, and yes, I voted for him early on — but stopped when I realized what a snake oil salesman he really is.

  7. Mekhong Kurt

    nor’s Texas swagger will carry over to the national stage, but he certainly is a gifted campaigner and astoundingly effective campaign contributions fund-raiser in the context of Texas. If it does carry over, unless President Obama gets some major pluses in his column — especially concerning jobs — he’ll be very vulnerable, or potentially so, come election day — and it’s quite conceivable he could lose to Governor Perry, whom the late, great Molly Ivins bestowed the moniker “Governor Good Hair” long ago. (Lordy, how I miss her biting, hard-hitting insights!)

    I can’t say Perry IS an actual believer in Dominionist theology, but he sure sleeps around with a lot of them. I genuinely fear a Perry presidency. While he might not be able to do much to push Dominionism forward on the domestic scene, he sure could, as The Mann= with His Finger on the Nuclear Trigger, wreak all sorts of serious havoc on the world stage. Sick to death of those damned Iranians? “Nuke ‘em!” Perhaps not with major megaton ICBM’s, but more surgical nuclear air and missile strikes. (Taking out, say, “just” a third of a city instead of the whole kaboodle.) And the far evangelical Christian Right that buys into Dominionism would cheer loudly from the sidelines. After all, he would be carrying out “God’s will” by exterminating those evil heathens. (Never mind the small Christian and Jewish communities in Iran that would go up in smoke, too — “collateral damage,” as our military is pleased to call it.)

    At least in the case of Michele” of the Mad Eyes Bachmann is, I think (and fervently hope) is beginning to get exposed for the fraud she is, so her particular “submission theology” and apparent love affair with Dominionism don’t represent the existential threat to the Republic that Governor Perry does. She shouldn’t be in Congress at all, let alone in the White House. (Remember her call to subject everyone to McCarthy-era loyalty backgrund investigations? Or, more comically, her many example of fact-free history?)

    Anyone inclined to give benefit of the doubt to Governor Perry on this front is well-advised to do some serious research. Yes, Texas is a whole lot better off than much of the rest of the country, but that’s of little credit to our (I’m Texan) constitutionally weak governor, though Perry has proven a true master at making end runs around constitutional limits on his gubernatorial power. How did he “balance” or bienniel budget? — largely by using the EVIL, FILTHY FEDERAL LUCRE he so loudly damns at every turn. When the bagmen arrive from Washington, he mocks and demeans them from the steps of the state Capitol building — then, off-camera, arranges for them to sneak around to the back door of his rented Governor’s mansion (since the real one is being repaired after a major fire) in the dead of night to slip the mullah into his hands. “Job growth?” Yeah, right. Much of that “growth” was in public-sector jobs saved by that same dirty money from inside the Beltway. Another huge swath of it has been in minimum-wage “McJobs,” often part-time, temporary, benefit-free, or some combination of those. It also helps that the military is a major employer in the state.

    He’s a crony capitalist, too. For instance, he set up a state-funded innovation fund to attract companies to relocate to Texas or open up satellite branches there — a move I initially applauded. But then he turned around and gave away barrels full of money to cronies who promptly took the dough, drove their companies into bankruptcy– and walked away scot-free. (Think of something along the lines of Enron.) Some thoughtful Texas conservatives — the real deals, not frauds like Perry — remain deeply disturbed by that expansion of state intrusion into the private sector; they see the innovation fund — which is really a public eqquvalent of privbate venture capital — as disturbing, especially coming from a man who claims to make government as invisible and inconsequential in our lives as possible.

    Perry is a perfect example of the “Parody Republican” so many Republicans have become, beginning at least with President Reagan’s ascendency in 1981, and more markedly in the last decade or so. A Republican today wouldn’t even be allowed into President Lincoln’s presence, they’re so alien to what he stood for.

    I used to vote for Republican candidates and causes 70%-80% of the time, but my faith has been pretty much destroyed as the party has veered further and further off towards Planet Bizarro. It’s not that I’m impressed with President Obama’s record thusfar, though I do think he has made some significant achievements. I’m not, and in some ways, I find him at lest worrisome, such as his persecuting whistle-blowers in the federal government — “Bush II Lite,” if you like.

  8. Mekhong Kurt

    I think I’ve posted two different, but similar, comments here, for which I apologize. I got mixed up by having a LOT of tabs open. Maybe the moderators will intercept the second one and not let it appear, which is fine with me.

    One post script, however: Sinclair Lewis warned us that when fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a Bible. I will add what Lewis couldn’t know, since he died long ago: “his name well could be ‘Rick Perry’.”

  9. Avattoir

    “what a snake oil salesman he really is”

    To me, he comes across more like that marvelous portrayal by Robert Preston in the The Music Man, of the character Harold Hill: handsome, exuding confidence (the “con” in ‘con artist’ and ‘con game’ is a diminutive for “confidence”), compelling, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ready come-backs, cure-alls, and superficially pithy platitudes; the most dangerous example yet – more even than Ronald Reagan, because he’s got the part down so well, he doesn’t need to memorize his lines, he can extemporize, and because he comes toting a bible and a gun – of the flag-wrapped fear monger Halford Luccock spent his career speaking and writing about.

  10. Avattoir

    “snake oil salesman”

    con artist

    Henry Hill in The Music Man, as portrayed by Robert Preston: handsome, vigorous, preternaturally confident, compelling.

    That which Halford Luccock spent a career speaking and writing out against.

  11. Donna Halper

    What irritates me is that Rev. Wright’s words were taken out of context and he was then painted (very effectively) by the right-wing and then the mainstream media as an anti-American extremist. Okay fine, the guy got bitter as he got older, but he served his country in the military and had a long record of community service, so the sudden depiction of him as a radical puzzled me. (Btw, I have no dog in this fight– I’m Jewish, and never would have gone to his church, but I do believe in fact-checking, and too often, righties are masterful at ripping something out of context, a la Shirley Sherrod, and then trashing the person unfairly.)

    What also irritates me is the media double standard. Perry is ON RECORD as saying the nation needs to come to Jesus. Yet the media gave him a free pass on that, whereas Obama has relentlessly been hounded about his alleged Muslim ties. I find it scary that a candidate believes only Christians are welcome in his America, and the fact that the media are not probing this is shameful.

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