By Rob Boston
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent day-long prayer-and-fasting rally in Houston has led to some interesting fallout. Commentators in the media are taking an overdue look at the extreme views of the groups that sponsored “The Response.”
Unfortunately, some are reaching a strange conclusion: These groups are so out on the fringe that we don’t need to worry about them.
Many of the organizations that sponsored “The Response” are extreme, all right. They are “dominionists” – that is, they believe only Christians of their stripe have the “true” religion and they should take dominion and govern based on their (narrow) interpretation of the Bible.
Sure, it’s tempting to dismiss dominionists as a marginalized lunatic fringe. After all, many of them do tend to take positions that are, to be blunt, really out there. For example, they would not only outlaw abortion, they would execute any woman who gets the procedure or doctor who performs one. They would also execute gays, adulterers, blasphemers and those who hold to “false” religions.
Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson argues that views such as this mean we don’t have take these folks seriously. He criticizes those who are sounding the alarm and writes, “Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth.”
Another approach is to insist that anyone who expresses concern about dominionism is attacking all evangelicals. The Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller asserted recently, “Evangelicals generally do not want to take over the world. ‘Dominionism’ is the paranoid mot du jour.”
Let’s clarify a couple of things here. No one is seriously arguing that all evangelicals are dominionists who yearn to take over the world. That is a classic straw-man argument, and it’s easy to blow down. Nor are we arguing that dominionists are going to seize power next week and send your uncle to the gulag because he’s a Unitarian.
What we’re saying is that there is a significant strain of thought in the conservative Christian community that is actively hostile to church-state separation, pluralism, secular government, modern science, women’s rights, etc. This movement has been influenced by dominionist theology. It is politically active and influential, and people need to know about it.
Consider the attacks on legal abortion and the spate of bills targeting that procedure in the states. Consider the ongoing effort to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools. Consider the harsh attacks on gay people and the efforts to roll back the civil rights gains they have made. Consider the constant attempts to divert tax money from public schools and public services to private religious schools and “faith-based” social service agencies.
Also, remember that there was a time – not so long ago, really – when a candidate did not have to kowtow to right-wing fundamentalists to be considered a serious contender in the Republican Party.
How did all of this come about? It isn’t because dominionists took over. It’s because they laid the philosophical groundwork for Religious Right activism that energized millions of fundamentalist Christians. For a long time, these people believed politics was “worldly” and not their calling. When fundamentalist clergy decided to get political, the dominionists gave them the biblical basis for it.
Such was the birth of the Religious Right. Over the years, some Religious Right leaders have conceded that the Christian Reconstructionists, a leading school of dominionist thought, were essential to their way of thinking. They admit that movement founder Rousas J. Rushdoony and his acolytes paved the way for the merger of right-wing religion and politics that is today so common.
The results of this are being felt in school boards, county commissions, state legislatures and in Congress.
We at Americans United refuse to shut our eyes to this. We refuse to pretend that those of us who oppose the theocratic schemes of the Religious Right “just don’t get” conservative evangelicals. We are well aware that many evangelicals reject the thinking of men like Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Chuck Colson. But we are also aware that millions of others align themselves with the Religious Right agenda. They believe their crabbed interpretation of the Bible gives them the right to run other people’s lives – and we are determined to stop them.
Religious Right groups are fond of talking about “worldviews.” They imply that worldviews are in conflict, and they are right to a certain extent. The Religious Right has a worldview anchored in the 13th century when church and state were one. Activists in this movement continue to be at war with religious diversity, secular government, church-state separation, religious freedom, intellectual thought and much of modern life.
Many other Americans hold to a different worldview – one based on tolerance, religious pluralism, individual rights and the idea that our laws should not be based on religion. These two ways of looking at the world are definitely in conflict, a conflict that, in America, is increasingly reflected in the political arena.
Dominionists played a key role in bringing us to this point. That’s the real story that some in the media either just don’t get or willfully choose to ignore.