Of the seven mountains in the Dominionist doctrine, none seems to possess the magnetism of politics. The reasons, I’m sure, would be as diverse as Dominionism’s adherents. One can only speculate why. Perhaps it’s because to conquer the mountain of business, you need to be a good business person. At the end of the day, your empire proves you. To conquer the mountain of music, you have to be a brilliant musician AND have the good luck to get noticed and signed. To conquer the mountain of education, you have to be smart, educated and bloody hard-working. In every other mountain, its your talent, dedication, hard work and results that prove you.
Politics has a different pull. Work the room. Get the votes. Influence the men at the top. Then you can say you’ve conquered. You can claim to be a power broker, or an important vote or voice, even if you never actually succeed in politics. It’s a different game entirely, lit up with personalities, promises and ultimately the seductive pull of power.
I promised in the teaser video that I’d talk about Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Dominionism. Here’s the scoop – I don’t actually believe Trump or ScoMo are Christian Dominionist’s. I believe they are men who are playing to a niche of interested people – something any politician knows how to do. But around these men are political structures. That’s where the game play happens and that’s where Dominionism hides. Like I’ve said previously, this isn’t a doctrine with a sign up sheet. No one is going to waltz into a political party and announce “I’m a dominionist and I’m here to take you over!” Its far more nuanced than that.
The US Example
Really, there’s no better place to look at political Dominionism than America. As mentioned before, Rushdoony has widely been credited as the father of Biblical Reconstructionism, and from that springs Dominionism. Rushdoony was born in 1916 and died in 2001, so the doctrine itself is only something that really sprung up over the last 100 years. If you take a glance across history, separation of church and state isn’t really a thing we’ve had since Constantine. The two have been quite intertwined, so its only in the recent past as the church lost its clout as the moral compass of society that we have seen this fight for power in the political arena.
I’ll reflect more on that in my next post – how we might react to losing that place.
Over the last century, there have been a few significant moves that have spurred the Dominionist movement forward. Arguably the first was Billy Graham. In many ways, he was a standard-bearer for evangelicalism in the 1900’s. Towards the end of his lifetime, he stated that one of his regrets was that he got too involved in politics. In an interview with Christianity Today in 2011, he said “I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
The great irony is that, by the time he made that statement, the horse had bolted on Christian ministers seeking influence in politics. Perhaps it had bolted too far for many to turn their ear to Graham’s reflection.
But let’s fast forward until now.
Somewhere, someone (I hope) is writing a thesis on this stuff. You just can’t condense it into a blog post. While I would love to read such a thesis, writing it is not my jam. So here’s the pop-culture, layman version of American politics and Dominionism in the Trump era. There are better historians, for sure. But here goes.
The scoop is this: The ‘anointed one’ was never Trump. Before he wore that title, Ted Cruz and to a lesser degree Ben Carson did. Carson was a famed Christian and surgeon amid a crowded field that had a few other conservative draw-cards. Many pastors, leaders and members of the Christian right rallied around him and pinned titles upon him, such as “God’s man” for America. But he bowed out of the race on March 4 . That was okay though, because Ted Cruz still stood – a stoic conservative with a wide Christian following. He too could be called “God’s Man” for America. I watched from my couch in Australia as the proclamations and prophecies effortlessly shifted. No one stopped to question whether the prophets had been wrong in word or intent when the Cruz bid for the Presidency was over on May 3.
While undoubtedly both men had their faults, both were legitimate men of faith. I could see the Christian connection.
Then. Came. Trump.
I wondered how on Earth the Christian Right could support such a man. This was Donald “Grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump. Since then, he has done some things that should at the very least raise an eyebrow if they fail to turn a stomach. His treatment of refugee families and children is infamous for its cruelty. His installation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court Bench was shrouded in scandal over the sex assault claims. The alleged victim was shamed. The judge was installed. When Trump was interviewed about the whole thing, his big wrap statement was “It doesn’t matter. We won.” I could go on. But time simply would not allow.
Currently, his public and personal empire is heading deeper into the mire when it comes to legal scrutiny. His personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has been jailed. A number of investigations are underway putting the Trump-Russia connection under the microscope, and Florida democrats want an investigation into Trumps cabinet over the Epstein Case. Several investigations are in process. Yet large portions of the Christian Right remain largely unwavering in their support of Trump.
How? It’s mind-blowing. I’ve heard (or read) a good many people say something along the lines of “He is God’s man for America, because he is surrounded by so many Christians.” (Read more on that here!) Does it matter that he appears to have a trivial approach to the law and ethics? Apparently not. In fact, the American Right appears to have no problem “rewriting their code of ethics” to support the guy (according to this article by Randal Balmer which lays it all out!)
Truth-bomb, friends: Trump is a businessman. He knows a target market when he sees one. Say the right thing, and you lock up the target market. That doesn’t mean he is listening. It just means he looks like he is. But you know a tree by its fruit.
I see a problem here. We can be so flattered by the idea that someone in power is listening to us, that we neglect to take a second look and see whether they actually are. We should be asking serious questions about which way the influence flows when it comes to Trump and the Christian Right.
Many a political commentator has offered insight into how Dominionists have had their claws in team Trump. (Check out this and this if you need more info, or this if you want info into the Dominionist tag attached to VP Mike Pence!) But here is my question: if the best Christian Dominionism can offer up is a thrice married Businessman with a dubious attitude to women, the law, human rights and ethics (who looks like a raging narcissist if you ask me), then shouldn’t we be putting the righteousness, intent and discernment of the whole Dominionism movement under a little more scrutiny?
When we fall for the allure of power and influence, and desert the idea that it all starts and ends with Jesus, we can switch off the conscience that should send up warning signals, and tell ourselves that the end justifies the means. If families are ripped apart, if sexual assault is trivialised, if women are belittled and made a joke – then the end does not justify the means. And that list is just a start.
Look, in a representative democracy, all creeds and faiths should be represented in government. Thus, it is to be expected that Christians would be involved. But dominionism is more militant than just democratic involvement. Its a call to war, a war that does not respect the equity and diversity of the world around us, or the free choice God granted to all. It is a war that seeks to aggressively retake the reigns. Who cares who gets squashed on the way? As an egalitarian Christian woman, I’m all for faith and Christianity where it is faith in and (attempted) imitation of Christ. I’m not for subjugation of people groups or belief systems that do not profess my creed. I don’t think God is either. Because He sent His Son as a baby, who grew up to die for the sins of the world. He did not send him to a palace. He sent him to a stable. But here we are, 2000 years later, trying too hard for the palaces.
Is Dominionism moving onto Australian soil?
I have to preface this section by saying I’ve always been a conservative voter. I’ve held membership in conservative parties. I’ll probably err on the side of conservative politics for a long, long time.
But here’s the kicker: I’ve also been a Dominionist, I just didn’t know it until I wasn’t one anymore. There might not be much on the public record about political Dominionism in Australia yet, but as the spread of the doctrine reaches across the seas, there are breadcrumbs to suggest that this movement is gaining momentum here.
I see four problems with this:
- Dominionism may sound appealing to Christians on face value, but there are Biblical scholars who call it a heresy, saying it’s at odds with the example of Christ and that there is no Biblical basis for it. This should serve as a red flag, and cause us to delve a lot further into the motivations for it before we allow it on our pulpits alongside the message of salvation. A lot of harm can be done when we stray from where God wants us to be and throw our efforts into the quest for power instead. (Read more on that here)
- There are legitimate conservatives who are involved in politics, and a strong political system needs constructive debate from all sides in order for balanced and fair policies to be written into law. If the Dominionism movement gathers momentum, it is possible that good natured conservatives with a mind for civic service will get tarred with a Dominionist brush and the baby will be cast out with the bathwater. Given the tendency for Dominionism to take on a militant “here to take over” nature, it is natural that it would reap such opposition. We need legitimate conservatives in a balanced, well-functioning political system. We don’t need clandestine takeovers of established parties by people engaged the political equivalent of a pseudo-holy war.
- Even within in Dominionism, I have to acknowledge that there is a continuum. On one end we have good-natured (perhaps naïve) Christians who may have a somewhat misguided idea of Dominionism as spiritual servitude. They may get involved thinking this is what God wants of them. Good intentions meet bad doctrine but they aren’t bad people. On the other end we have people who are militant in their intent, crafty in their methods, and have their eyes on power. This, to me, is the more dangerous end of the continuum. Where each individual sits may change according to their own set of ethics, their read of the Bible, their circle of influence or their gumption when it comes to pursuing power.
- My final concern is that the lack of discernment I see in the American Dominionist Movement may be echoed in the Australian effort. People at either end of that continuum may be caught up, thinking they have gained the ear of the people in power, but in actual fact they may purely be a number in someone else’s game.
So that’s my personal thoughts on it. Lets look at the Aussie reality.
Following the Breadcrumbs: Dominionism in Australia
While conservative politics has been alive in Australia for a long time, the word ‘Dominionism’ hasn’t really featured much on the public record. At present, the most you’ll get is links to Lyle Shelton of Australian Christian Lobby fame. (Read more here and here). Predictably, Shelton denies the allegations. While it is completely reasonable for a special interest group to have a lobby to campaign for its interests, let’s just remember that rule number one of Dominionism is kind of like rule number one of fight club: Don’t talk about it.
I didn’t hear about dominionism first in the news. I heard about it first from a pulpit. It was a guest preacher, an itinerant whose name I can’t remember. But his flash Powerpoint presentation mapped out the seven domains of society and built people up with the idea that their destiny, their God-given place, was at the top.
How exciting! We weren’t the only church who heard it, and I’m absolutely sure he wasn’t the only man who preached it. Years later, I was involved in an international network of churches who espoused this doctrine. We stood together, inspired by the message of our divine assignment and sang songs that asked “What time is it?” The answer: “Its time to take over.”
The message of Dominionism has slipped its way into churches, but its unlikely to slip its way into headlines for a long time yet. It is clandestine. You won’t hear of someone walking into a political party and saying “I’m a Dominionist and I’m here to take over.” That’s a large red tick in a box marked ‘entitled weirdo.’ Nor will you read headlines like “Dominionist faction does blah blah.”
Still, we have had a couple of headlines that should raise the eyebrows of the discerning.
Headline number one was Cory Bernardi’s “Australian Conservatives” merging Christian micro-party “Family First.” The latter had long existed on the political scene, but failed to gain much traction outside of their own home state.
Cory Bernardi is a staunch Catholic and a legitimate conservative. I very much doubt he is a Dominionist. But he sure has given Christians a logical place to go with their political support. It was a smart move in terms of votes, but Heaven only knows how discerning he is when it comes to recognising the Dominionism in his own ranks. Simply by virtue of its branding, the Australian Conservatives could well be a beacon that attracts Dominionists like moths to a flame.
More recently, whispers of factions within the Liberal Party have rumbled along. These rumours reached fever pitch at the last leadership spill when PM Malcolm Turnbull was ousted, the guy who kicked the leadership spill into motion couldn’t muster the votes and neither could the popular Party deputy. The person left standing at the end of it all was Scott Morrison – the Steven Bradbury of Australian politics.
Christians cheered. And that’s fair enough.
The jury is out on whether he is a Dominionist or just simply a pentecostal. A bit over two months ago, Awakening Australia happened. It was a Christian mega-conference that attracted crowds to an arena in Victoria. ScoMo chimed in, and again Christians cheered. The term “God’s man for Australia” was one I heard thrown around.
But when I heard ScoMo’s address to the Awakening Australia conference, I just heard a guy who knew how to speak to his target audience. It would be easy to see a Christian on the stage and think that the hand of the Almighty God has intervened in Australian politics and thus we should put our full throated support behind the man and herald him as the saviour of Australian politics. But be discerning.
Is the Christian right really influencing ScoMo, or are we switching off our watching eyes and our listening ears because he wears the brand “Christian”? I haven’t heard much Christian discourse on ScoMo’s refugee policy, or even kickback over his tasteless comments on Pamela Anderson.
The guy is a politician. Plain and simple. But the energy of Dominionism is to surround such people, bend their ear and influence their decisions, so the best political commentators could do right now would be to watch what happens in the membership and administration that surrounds the Liberals.
On a state level, the finger pointing continues after a conservative obliteration at the voting boxes in Victoria (especially for the Liberal Party). As the political columnists piece together the wreckage, we are starting to see an interesting picture. MP Mary Wooldridge took aim at a “small but dominant” group of right wing conservatives in the party’s membership. That’s a big breadcrumb.
More sensationally, the text message scandal featuring Marcus Bastiaan shows the same man who has been accused of branch stacking, targeting conservative churches in his recruitment drives (presumably to bolster his factions numbers), privately denigrate Catholics and ethnic groups in the State Party to his friends. (More on that here)
The scandal has caused widespread outrage, and the predictable cries of innocence from those involved.
Where’s Dominionism in all of this? It was Wooldridge’s use of the term “dominant conservatives” that raised my eyebrows. The message of the seven mountain ‘mandate’ may have softened the ground for someone like Bastiaan to sweep into churches and bolster faction numbers, or Bernardi to hold up a banner called “conservatism” and watch the membership forms roll in.
Once again, it’s important to know the difference between a legitimate conservative, and someone who knows how to take advantage of naive and/or ambitious and power-hungry dominionists and use them for their own ends.
Perhaps this is what Bastiaan is? Perhaps this is what Trump is? Time will tell what Morrison is.
It is my belief that good people get caught up in Dominionism for a variety of reasons including those mentioned in my dot-point list above. How this promise of power effects each individual will vary. Thus we can’t call them completely self-serving. Some will be. Others won’t.
But again, we must judge a tree by its fruit. Eventually, good natured individuals getting caught up in Dominionist pursuits will likely become disenfranchised by the inevitable revelation that, unless they go full Frank Underwood and sell their souls, they are simply a number and a set of hands being used for someone else’s political gain.
I’m a proud Christian. So I have to ask a simple question: no matter what the motivation, is Dominionism good for Australia? I feel sad for the good people who get caught up, who give their time and effort for a cause they aren’t naturally interested in, or become disillusioned because they are being used. If feel nervous when power-hungry Christians use the Dominionist heresy as a reason to chase down power and influence, thus dragging the good name of Jesus through the mud.
But when we look up from the individual to the collective effect, the result is concerning. Rather than Dominionism being a positive thing for Australian politics, it seems like the best it has offered the Liberals is an eye-watering defeat on a state level, a splintered party with warring factions, and a trail of wreckage in the office of the Prime Minister.
Dominionism is certainly here in Australia, a burgeoning movement but still here. While I will always believe that in a representative democracy, the Christian voice should be heard, I also believe that we need to abandon this idea that we should “take back the mountain of politics” – because in a representative democracy all voices are equal, but Dominionism hides a militancy and intent that seeks to silence the voices that do not agree.
A balanced and upfront approach is what is needed, not a clandestine effort at a takeover.
Next week I’ll be offering up a very personal reflection on why I’m not a Dominionist anymore. Make sure you don’t miss that.