When I sat down to write this series, I knew I had to write a personal reflection because a helicopter view of the dominionism issue pales in comparison to the personal experience of it. Still, the first versions of this blog piece had too many elements. Too many other peoples stories. So I’m stripping it back and having a go at writing my experience of dominionism.
An experience I found crushing.
From the time I was 15, I studied a book called ‘In His Steps’ as part of a discipleship program I was in. The plot of this book involved the editor of a local paper who started to run it the way he believed Jesus would have – censoring certain ads, posting good news and omitting other stories – that sort of thing. That book began a movement that spawned millions of plastic bracelets that asked ‘WWJD? (What would Jesus do?).’ It had its upsides, sure. The very question should call us to a higher level of ethics, compassion and altruism. Right?
For my church, it began our slide into dominion theology. We just didn’t give it that name. I don’t know that we gave it a name at all.
I was 15 when I was introduced to the idea of taking over positions of influence for the cause of Christ. I was 30 when I started consciously questioning it. I was 32 before I gave it words, asking my husband in the quietness of our loungeroom whether the end justified the means. Here I am, 35, no longer going to a Dominionist church, and finally talking about it. And perhaps not a moment too soon.
It’s an interesting thing to reflect on. As a 15 year old who wanted to serve God to the best of her ability, I was a sponge. I soaked up all the teaching. However, in comparing notes with my husband, I realise that I always had reservations. But I felt strongly that if I did not participate, it would mean trouble for me somehow. I also knew that questioning authority was not the done thing in my church. It was dishonouring or rebellious and these things were snuffed out pretty hard. All my friends and family were in boots and all. If I wanted to be part of their lives, I had to be too. So I became a reluctant participant in the Dominionists efforts of my church.
It’s interesting – how you can justify some things to yourself when your entire life is wrapped up in it, when you know how difficult things will be for you if you raise your hand and say “Umm, I’ve got questions.” I certainly silenced my misgivings for a long time.
I absolutely know that not everyones experience will be like this. I’m only talking about mine. Even my husband’s was slightly different. He moved from our state’s capital to be part of this ‘rare true church.‘ If there was Coolaid to drink, he skulled it. Over time, the rose coloured glasses would shatter for him too. But the happy memories he looks back on from that time are not mine to share.
For years, the church (which my husband and I have moved on from) was involved in an international network with heavy Dominionist overtones. Catch cries like “What time is it? Its time to take over!”, “Dominion in every domain” and “Let’s go take the city” were met with songs about laying down our own ambition to serve the cause. We talked this. We sang this. We worked this.
Over time, I became aware that working out my salvation had become hard work – a fact that seemed at odds with Ephesians 2:8-9 “Salvation is by grace through faith and not of works, lest any man should boast” and 2 Corinthians 12:9 which talks about God’s grace being sufficient. I was hearing less and less of these scriptures, instead hearing constant reminders of how we must carry out our primary assignment or risk Gods grace being removed from our lives.
I now realise that second bit is unbiblical, and the truth I need to align myself with is that Gods love is the same no matter what. It would not change if I never attended church. It would not change if I was an utter failure at everything I attempted. Gods grace and His love never fails.
But my entire church, family and social community was so caught up in this movement that I dared not question it. My husbands natural interest in politics got swept into this, and the results of it were deeply uncomfortable for us at times. My natural desire to write, and write fiction, got swept into this. All of a sudden the hobby I’d taken up as a means of carving out some me-time in my crazy life was my ‘primary assignment.’ I was to conquer the mountain of arts and entertainment.
To me, it was more pressure, where I had only taken it up to escape the pressure that existed around me. Life had become relentless hard work. Salvation had become a curse. My only hope was a short life. But after four pregnancy losses, a fifth pregnancy finally survived beyond the seven week mark and I had to start asking what kind of life I wanted for my child. By virtue of this, I started asking what kind of a life my heavenly Father wanted for me.
That pondering turned out to be revelatory.
The Fruit of Dominionism
At the time I wrote my first novel, I was running a business, working full-time and serving on my church’s music and leadership teams. This meant that with meetings, bookwork, practices, Sunday services, and so on, I barely had time to myself. The business was a “kingdom” business I had entered with many misgivings. It turned out to be seven very difficult years. But it was in service of “taking the mountain of business and commerce.” I was working as a subcontractor in the education space, not just turning up to a job but trying to do my bit to ‘take the mountain’ of education. I was giving 120% in every aspect of my life and my adrenal system didn’t love this. I fell into exhaustion, constant migraines, and my battle with post-traumatic stress disorder became a complicated one to win.
When every action or inaction has eternal consequences, you can’t just take a sick day, can you? In fact, there are many things that fall by the wayside.
The wheels started to come off subconsciously as I started to look around and see exhausted people. A number of my friends were suffering with depression and anxiety. I myself was battling crippling fatigue. Many a lunch break was spent asleep, even asleep in my car if I was working out of town. But I brushed it off. It was too hard to think about.
Then I started writing my third novel. It was supposed to paint a picture of what it looked like when “the kingdom of God” was manifest on Earth – i.e. when Dominionism finally reached its peak and Christians had taken over everything. I didn’t like anything I could see in my minds eye as I listened to message after message searching for hints. So I looked to the Bible and found my answer in Romans 14:7 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
My Dominionist experience had been governed by a driving mandate to gain power and influence in order to bring the kingdom of God (ie. righteousness). But it had come at the expense of peace and joy. If life as a Christian was a three-legged stool – it was crazy wonky, having only one leg to hold it up.
After watching a documentary the lights came on. I didn’t want to live this life. I didn’t even want to write about it, because I didn’t like what I saw in my minds eye when dominionists took over. I was a fiction writer. I could create utopia if I wanted. But the clashes were too deep even for fiction.
Between October and November 2015, my husband and I quietly lost dominionism. If you know our personal story, you will also know we lost a lot more than just a bit of bad theology. But I won’t cover all of that here.
When we lost Dominionism, we also lost a sense of destiny and significance. To be honest, it was a painful loss. We had been told our family and church had national significance. Having entered this movement as youths, when we were idealistic and wanted to change the world, it had been a seductive belief, and there’s a risk our identity had been somehow built around it.
People ask me why someone would get involved in Dominionism. My answer is two-fold: 1) they may not realise they are, as this doctrine seduces you by degrees. 2) It is indeed seductive. If you are a Dominionist, you are not a normal person slugging it out in your job. You are destined for greatness. You have God on your side. You are, in a way, super human. You are destined to take over.
I see it now as a grandiosity, and inflated sense of self. But the point of Christianity is Galatians 2:20 – Christ living in and through us. There’s no greater example of humility and servitude than Christ.
Still, losing that grandiosity was painful. Imagine going from the Christian version of Sidney Bristow on Alias – superspy with a super destiny masquerading as a run of the mill office worker – to being an average Joe asking ‘What is the meaning of life?’
It took three years to get to where I am now. It took a lot of pain, a lot of tears, and a lot of sleepless nights. But where I am is happy, at peace with my faith, still grappling with my grief but happy. My three legged stool isn’t wonky any more because it isn’t just righteousness trying to hold the whole thing up. Peace and Joy are there too.
The Question of Powerlessness
Unsurprisingly, my husband and I have spent many a late night up talking about why we have gone on the journey we have. When it comes to Dominionism at least, I have a theory. Or rather a hypothesis, because obviously it is unproven (can you tell I work as a research writer?)
My theory is that another seductive thing about Dominionism is that it shields us from our own powerlessness.
The church used to be a fearsome and powerful institution. It was the measuring stick against which society sized itself up. To swear on the Bible was deep and meaningful. To sin was mortally wounding. The church lead the charge with social justice, with serving widows and orphans and trying to make the world a better place.
Somewhere along the line we lost that higher ground. The secular world now exhibits a greater dedication to social justice, and often finds the church as the thing that opposes it. Government hums along without needing the churches permission or looking to it for guidance in most instances.
Dominionism, to me, seems to have its roots in fear not love. If we fear losing our rights, fear losing our relevance, then Dominionism is the antidote. It tells us we are destined to forcibly retake the ground we have lost. That God demands it of us.
Yet the higher law we are supposed to live under is the law of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. Love-based faith, not fear-based activism.
Right now, at this point in my life, I do not live in fear of my powerlessness. I don’t, because my faith is in God who is all-powerful. I do not fear losing my rights. Because if I lose my rights, then I share in Christ’s sufferings, which according to my Bible means I’ll also share in His glory. I don’t need his glory. I am comfortable with not sharing his sufferings. But if I do, that’s ok.
It would be a light on the hill moment. It would be an opportunity to share a little light in a dark world. That would be ok.
I hear the persecution narrative from dominionists. But I don’t view Western Christians as persecuted. I’m happy to give that crown to our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters. There are places where the crown of persecution can be rightly worn.
It is not in a representative democracy where the worst persecution a Christian is likely to face is a deletable comment or an angry emoji reaction on Facebook.
It’s blunt. But it’s true.
I may have lost a lot, but losing Dominionism isn’t a thing I grieve. Three years on, I’m seeing purpose in my life again and I’m enjoying life that once again has peace and joy. I do believe that God has a plan for all of us. But I don’t think there’s anything grandiose in that. There is beauty in it for sure, though. And that is more than enough.
If you missed the rest of this series, then here’s the rest: