Welcome to the first in the series on “dominionism.” I’m starting to think that when I first named this blog, I should have named it “Woke Christianity” instead of giving it my name. But here we are, and I guess that’s the aim – talking about how Christianity can be conscious, examined, responsible, relevant and always reflecting Jesus. That’s why we have to talk about dominionism.
It’s a sneaky little doctrine that slipped its way into many churches. Up until about 5 years ago, I didn’t know I was a dominionist. I just was. I had taken for granted many elements of my faith, packing them into my metaphorical bag of beliefs without stopping to check whether they were right, relevant, Biblical, helpful or even asking the all-important question “what would Jesus think about this?”
Dominionism is the belief that Christians belong in and should pursue power and influence in the seven domains of society. These domains are said to be media, government/politics, education, economy/business/commerce, religion, arts/entertainment and family. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be delving into the scriptural arguments for and against dominionism, its role in modern politics, its fruit, and my own personal experience with dominionism. As tricky as it is, I’ll try to keep these topics separate.
Today’s topic: What is this stuff and where does it come from?
Dominionism and the NAR
Dominionism is fruit of the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) movement that started in America. That in itself is a fascinating little topic, as no one really claims membership to the NAR overtly. They are known by their theological markers – such as the belief that God is restoring church governance through returning the ‘lost roles’ of the apostle and prophet. It is essentially a fifth house within Christendom “distinct from Catholicism, Protestantism, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy.” It is estimated to be the fastest growing movement in Christianity today, and it grows by “recruiting pastors of independent congregations and nondenominational churches” among other methods .
Big names in the NAR include C. Peter Wagner, Todd White, Randy Clark, Rick Joyner and Bill Johnson. Significant theologies include spiritual warfare, apostolic governance, dominionism, theocracy, supernatural signs and wonders, extra-biblical revelation and relational structures.
The issue of relational structures is a bit of a concerning one for me. It can mean (in some cases) no formal structure, grievance procedure or checks or balances in place for a person to gain the title of apostle or prophet. This leaves it wide open for people with lots of charisma to ascend to positions of power even if their doctrine and credentials are poor, and potentially makes it difficult for these people to be held accountable if their doctrines/prophecies stray into concerning territory. Cults of personality may develop (notice I said “may”not “will.”). How does someone gain the title of Apostle or Prophet? This varies from church to church. It may range from self-proclamation, to recognition of a gift, to some sort of ceremony.
Again, it may not be concerning in every instance. But the potential in such systems is that when a person wears the title of apostle or prophet, their words can be taken as infallible. Followers may build their lives around these words without question. Beliefs and doctrines may be added without scrutiny, by virtue of extra-Biblical revelation supposedly granted to these apostles and prophets who ‘govern’ NAR churches. Now, the Bible actually warns us against extra-Biblical revelation (Revelation 22:18-19, Proverbs 30:5-6, Deuteronomy 4:2). But that’s a topic for another day.
There’s no list or sign-up sheet for an NAR church, and they are unlikely to list dominionism among their core beliefs. This is a movement neck-deep in nuance and subtlety. You’ll need a bit of discernment to spot it.
Dominionism is sometimes called “7 Mountain Dominionism” or the “7M Mandate.” This drive towards Christian domination of the 7 domains uses some tactics that are innocent and others that are less so; varying from mastery of ones own craft, to spiritual warfare or subtler/sneakier methods to dominate or stack organisations or movements. It is perhaps best summed up by this quote (cited in ):
“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ—to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness,” wrote George Grant, the former executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, which has since changed its name to Truth in Action Ministries. “But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice … It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time … World conquest.”
In other words, they believe that Christians must occupy and subdue the world as God’s stewards of the earth. When I read these type of quotes, its hard not to recognise it as a call to arms, a certain militance in the stance taken by hard-line adherents to this belief. It’s an ‘us or them’ mindset, and with the call to action is a colonial type “conquer or be conquered” attitude.
Whats the Problem with Dominionism?
I remember watching “The Handmaids Tale” and discussing it with a friend. The plot might seem shocking to some, and even for me the ceremony stuff is a bit imaginative, but it was otherwise very reminiscent of the ultimate goal of Dominionists – a complete takeover of society by the Righteous. With Trump at the helm of America and a number of dominionist/NAR sorts around him, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me at all.
But contrary to how I used to think, I don’t believe that to be a good thing. Why? There are a few deeply concerning factors to be considered. Analysts Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson offered up these three points on Dominionism/Dominionists. The comments are focused on the USA, but with this particular theology spreading, pop any old country in there and you’ll get a good fit. They said :
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
- Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
- Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing biblical principles.
Berlet and Clarkon’s points are poignant for a few reasons. There could be whole theses devoted to the topic of democracy, especially representative democracies like Australia and the USA. But the core takeaway is this: we all live here. We all belong here. The idea of a covert take-over of any democracy would involve squashing the rights of others who share it. That’s not okay with me. That shouldn’t be okay with us.
This does not mean that Christianity has no role. It means that we have to play nice with the other kids, while letting our light shine (to quote the cliché). I’d rather attract people to my faith than demand they adopt it. I’d rather be the carrot than the stick. Dominionism has the potential to be all stick.
As to the topic of religious supremacy, Australia’s current Prime Minister (Scott Morrison, an evangelical), said in his maiden speech: “Australia is not a secular country—it is a free country. This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society .”
He was speaking about secularism. But the same could be true for Christianity. One trend I’ve noticed recently is that of Islamophobia. For Christian dominionists, freedom of religion seems to be synonymous with only their religion (or their stream of it). The right of Muslims to practice theirs is the topic of many an irate Facebook post. The truth is any citizen should be free to practice their religion as long as it exists within the boundaries of the laws of that country and does no harm to others. Likewise, the laws of the land should not ban legitimate practices of faith.
Michelle Goldberg wrote this of Dominionism :“In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches. Think of it like political Islamism, which shapes the activism of a number of antagonistic fundamentalist movements, from Sunni Wahabis in the Arab world to Shiite fundamentalists in Iran.”
Mic drop, Ms. Goldberg. We can’t point an irate finger at Islamic fundamentalism while denying the harm done by Christian fundamentalism. She also points out something rather concerning: Dominionism has its origins in Biblical reconstructionism, which harks back to a guy named Rushdoony – a prolific and influential totalitarian. Yep. You read that right. Totalitarian. Why would a free-will giving God anoint totalitarianism as His preferred form of government? It is counterintuitive at best.
While it is certainly more obvious in America, there are strong indications that dominionism has reached Australian shores. ABC journalist Chrys Stevenson wrote this of the Australian Christian Lobby, while examining their potential dominionist tendencies :
Dominionism goes beyond Christians exercising their democratic right to be politically active. Dominionists aim to dominate the political process – to exercise “a disproportionate effect on the culture.”
Lyle Shelton is the son of Ian Shelton, pastor of Toowoomba City Church, a “transformation” ministry which grew out of the now defunct Logos Foundation, a cultish group closely associated with dominionist and reconstructionist theology.
Apparently, Shelton Snr joined Logos in the early 1980s when Lyle was in his pre-teens. When the group folded in the wake of its leader’s sexual indiscretions, it was resurrected by Shelton in the guise of the Toowoomba City Church. Shelton Senior’s vision is for Toowoomba to become:
“a transformed city where all the spheres – sport/arts/leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law/police/judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, education – … come under the lordship of Christ.”
Compare this with the words of the late American dominionist, D. James Kennedy, from the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, and it becomes clear that Shelton and Kennedy sing from the same hymn book – although, perhaps, on different scales:
“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors – in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”
“From local parents and citizens associations to regional councils, from our previously secular state schools to state government departments and even within Parliament House, Canberra, this particular clique of evangelical Christian extremists is working quietly but assiduously to tear down the division between church and state, subvert secularism and reclaim this nation for Jesus.”
Christians are certainly charged with the Great Commission. They are certainly charged with being salt and light, representatives for Christ on Earth. I have no issue with that. The issue is not in the spread of Christianity per se. Its in the methods used, and the nature of the drive beneath dominionism. The scriptural clashes are a plenty, and a matter for next weeks blog. For now, the important thing is this – Dominionism is a thing, its here, and it is usually covert and militant in its nature. We’ve met Islamic Fundamentalism. Its out there. So too is Christian fundamentalism and this is one way it manifests.
A Question of Motivation
Dominionism may seem attractive on the surface, as it tells its followers they are destined for power and influence – seductive promises indeed. But dig deeper. Use your imagination. Or just use Margaret Atwood’s if you can’t be bothered coming up with the plot yourself. Totalitarian theocracy is a Kim-Jong Un meets Commander Waterford kind of nightmare.
If it’s not abundantly obvious by now, I am a deeply conscientious, deeply devout Christian. I’m also anti-Dominionism. But does that mean that Christians can’t occupy positions of power or influence within the 7 domains of society? No! In fact, I don’t think we can avoid it. The idea of the 7 domains is that everything is covered. I work in media and communication. I should be free to do my thing and rock at it. I have friends who all live and work within these seven domains. If we want to earn an honest living, we can’t avoid this.
But the question is always motivation. I work where I work because I believe I can make a positive contribution, and because I enjoy it. I have friends who are upper level managers. They do what they do because they are good at it, because they like it, or because it pays well (lets be honest!). We should be able to contribute positively and live out our faith conscientiously. We should never have to, or desire to, live out our faith in a sneaky, subversive way or in a way that seeks to subdue others and take away their rights.
Dominionism has, at its heart, the subduing of other forces (i.e. people, and their opinions) to get to the top and then rule from there. Yet Jesus Himself was not militant. His followers were not militia. They served. They lifted the downtrodden. I don’t see any example of Him taking what was His by force, or by subduing another person or their rights. His was a life that drew crowds by attraction, not by demand.
And herein lies the inherent problem with dominionism.
There will be time when the tide turns against Christianity. I can’t deny that there are some ideologies held by my fellow Christians that don’t stand up well to public debate. The tide has turned against such ideas. But the parable of the bushel talks about letting our light shine in a dark world. It doesn’t talk about taking that light and setting stuff on fire because you want it all to shine too. I think they call that arson. Legitimate Christianity should be positive. And until such a time as it is outlawed, it should be practiced overtly. If there is a reason to hide your faith, or to sheild your faith-related activities from the eyes of the wider community, I’d have to question why.
We should all be free to, and perhaps obligated to, contribute to society in a positive way. Does Dominionism facilitate that? Tune in next week when we take a Biblical look at it.