In one year USAmericans will elect the next President of the United States. Many anarchists, Christian radicals, Catholic Workers, New Monastics and others practicing anti-empire Christianities with community-oriented power nexus will say, “So what?” After all, fewer Americans are getting a piece of the (apple) pie, every 80 minutes a veteran takes his own life, and the prevailing winds have blown the spirit of revolution from the Middle East to North USAmerica in a post-colonial dream spiritually conceived in the Mary-minds of third wave feminist theologians, wherein Arabs and Muslims break the power of totalitarianism and spread freedom and democracy to USAmericans! An election? Just a choice between two evils. So what?
I too am unsatisfied by the choice between elite big business military leaders. Yet I worry that some of us (and I put myself in this camp) have sometimes mistaken the entrenched, systematic, psychopathic malevolence of USAmerican politics for being so equally distributed that we’ve treated the tepid choice between “two evils” as being no choice at all. As we prepare for the coming election (or don’t- Election? Harrumph!) it may be of use to eavesdrop on the prayers of those others unabashedly proclaiming Christ Jesus.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after. World conquest.
That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish.
~Excerpt from The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action,
by former executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, George Grant.
“America is full of good people, but something dark is loose” Michelle Goldberg warns in the introduction to her book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism 1. Goldberg’s thesis is that there is a powerful- and greatly underestimated and misunderstood- contingent of Christians in the United States who view the state as just one of the domains to be brought under the control of (their brand of) Christianity. She writes to dispel what she believes to be a myth of this movement’s location in an irrelevant fringe, perhaps somewhere in a rural farming community or suburban strip mall 2.
According to Goldberg, this movement has several key characteristics: 1. It views the Bible and the Christian faith as providing guidelines for every area of society; 2. It views the United States as foundationally a Christian nation; 3. It sees this Christian foundation as being under siege; 4. It is in a “battle to take the land- to “gain political power in order to subsume everything- entertainment, law, government, and education- to Christian [fundamentalism]”3; 5. It has managed to wage this battle without alerting the notice of those who would oppose its viewpoints- either by use of counter-cultural institutions nearly invisible to liberal USAmericans or by intentionally deceiving the wider public of their religious, political, and cultural motivations.
In each chapter of Kingdom Coming, Goldberg outlines a different arena in which Christian nationalists are at “battle”: the legislature; the family and the so-called “homosexual agenda”; the influence of science on society and law; the competition for federal funding for charitable programs; sex education and contraception availability; and the court system. For this reader, Goldberg’s most compelling and important arguments are made in shedding light on this movement’s fifth characteristic; that it has managed to wage these battles without alerting the notice of those who would oppose its viewpoints- either by use of counter-cultural institutions nearly invisible to liberal USAmericans or by intentionally deceiving the wider public of their religious, political, and cultural motivations.
One area of weakness in Kingdom Coming is a lack of precise definitions for the theologies, movements, and terms, which Goldberg seems to use interchangeably; a second edition would be benefited by a glossary. Nonetheless, readers can extrapolate that according to Goldberg, “Christian Nationalism” is the belief that the United States was at its foundation a Christian nation and ought to be restored as such, that “Dominionism” is the belief that Christians have a right (and a duty) to rule every area of society, even legislating the lives of non-Christians in Christian terms, and that “Christian Reconstructionism” is a theology which calls upon Christians to “reconstruct” every arena of society (including law, education, family, and entertainment) according to a fundamentalist reading of the Bible.
The rise of Christian Reconstructionism, is rooted in postmillennialism, a belief that the second coming of Jesus will be preceded by a 1000 year era of Christian reign worldwide. Unlike premillenniallism, which claims that Jesus’ return necessitates no condition other than the will of God, postmillennialism calls followers to create the conditions in which Jesus will return; “In preparation of the second coming of Christ, godly men have the responsibility to take over every aspect of society” 4. Readers may point out that the number of postmillennialists in the United States is quite low; in fact most Evangelical Christians identify as premillennialists. However the agenda of dominion has spread beyond its postmillennialist roots. Many premillennialists have become deeply influenced by a revisionist reading of USAmerican history. They view the United States as being foundationally a Christian nation, specially blessed by God for being as such and in peril until it returns to the safe haven of the imagined ideal society of the puritan colonialists. Believing themselves to be living in a dangerous state of God’s disapproval – “proven” by the idea that God removed His special protection from the U.S. to allow the September 11th 2001 attacks and other tragedies to occur – this once apolitical base has been galvanizing for action since the 1970s.
As premillennialists moved outward from their 1950s era separatism, they did so having developed highly effective institutions assisting believers through homeschooling alternatives to secular public education, right-wing political training, and Christian media. In 1984 the Coalition on Revival (COR) was founded to connect the pre and postmillennialists in mutual mission. According to the COR website, this mission is “to help the Church rebuild civilization on the principles of the Bible so God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven” 5. Whatever end-time theologies held by members of this movement, the drive for dominion “sees Americas triumphs as confirmation of the truth the Christian religion, and America’s struggles as part of a cosmic contest between God and the devil. It claims supernatural sanction for its campaign of national renewal and speaks rapturously about vanquishing the millions of Americans who would stand in its way” 6.
In her introduction, “Taking the Land,” Goldberg writes of dominion oriented political organizations which reframe (or even obscure) their religious agendas to the general public. For example, founded in 2004, Generation Joshua has trained and paid the travel and living expenses of hundreds of homeschooled children volunteering in right-wing political campaigns. Director Ned Ryun – “a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and the homeschooled son of a Kansas congressman Him Ryun” – is politically savvy enough to know that their candidates will be discredited in mainstream forums if their platforms are articulated on biblical terms alone. Thus, he teaches young campaigners first “a firm, solid biblical worldview, and then… how to communicate that in terms that the other side accepts” 7. As of 2006 all but one of their candidates had won their races.
This reframing might seem mundane; which politician doesn’t finesse his agenda to be more broadly appealing to voters? Yet it might seem more urgent to the liberal urbanites to whom Goldberg writes if they understand that the ideologies among the Generation Joshua winners such as Tom Coburn (R-OK), (who has called for the death penalty for abortionists) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) (who would like to ban gays and unmarried pregnant women from teaching in public schools) are polar opposite to their own. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, which “[specializes] in this kind of dispersed political warfare,” is even more alarming. Again, from Goldberg’s introduction: “Christian Coalition manuals urged candidates to keep their religious agenda quiet until after they were elected. Supporters would learn who the local Christian Coalition candidates were through voter guides distributed at evangelical churches, but the general public was often in the dark” 8.
In her fourth chapter, “The Faith-Based Gravy Train,” Goldberg reveals the widely unknown doctrinal foundations of President George W. Bush’s “Conservative Compassion” platform. While many have heard this term, few have understood what it really means. According to Goldberg, it is not as is often assumed, a sugary (and perhaps meaningless) political slogan; Compassionate Conservatism is the stance that the current social safety net (made up of a mix of government run welfare programs, private agencies, and faith-based organizations) ought to be replaced by private, Christian agencies. This right-wing Christian doctrine is perhaps best championed by Marvin Olasky – “one of the chief behind Bush’s faith-based initiative” – in his books, Compassionate Conservatism and The Tragedy of American Compassion.
While faith-based charity is as old as faith itself, Olasky’s vision would do away with secular options, forcing social service workers as well as service recipients to fit into a fundamentalist Christian worldview. Under the Bush administration, billions of dollars were diverted from secular social service agencies to “sectarian religious outfits” 9. The danger of this resource diversion goes beyond the fact that these agencies often do not employ, or even treat, those who do not ascribe to their theological values. These agencies benefit from a lack of oversight with regards to measures for success in treatment and professional etiquette and in fact often set their own standards which differ widely from their secular counterparts.
The lack of “evidence-based” treatment practices in many of these facilities, Goldberg says, is no mistake: “Evidence doesn’t mean the same thing for the Christian nationalists as it does for others. After all, they’ve already rejected materialistic naturalism – they’ve already rejected science – as a basis for knowledge” 10. In chapter 5, “AIDS Is Not the Enemy,” Goldberg quotes Pam Stenzel, once member of Bush’s task force on abstinence education to the Department of Health and Human Services at the Reclaiming American for Christ conference in 2003 regarding whether her sex abstinence program worked: “You know what?” she said, “Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex…” What is her job? “To tell kids the truth!” “I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!” The enemy of the faithful according to Stenzel is not AIDS, HPV, unplanned pregnancy, or even teenage sex: “My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy.” “Of course,” Goldberg adds, “Stenzel isn’t just teaching her child” 11; during Bush’s first term, the federal government spent almost one billion dollars on “chastity” programs and 30 percent of school based sexual education programs taught abstinence only.
Most USAmericans, though Christian, are not Christian nationalists and would find political subterfuge and the allocation of government resources to unproven or even dangerous “services” abhorrent. Goldberg explains that by using terms like “Compassionate Conservatism,” and working through organizations like the Christian Coalition, Christian nationalists have been able “to communicate on two levels, with a vague anodyne message for most Americans, and a more precise, coded one for the evangelical right” 12.
What is the future of this influential movement? Interestingly, Goldberg (without apparently noticing so) describes a shift in the Christian nationalist movement into what Harvey Cox would call the “Age of Spirit.” In chapter two, “Protocols of the Elders of San Francisco: The Political Uses of Homophobia,” she details the use of ecstatic worship of voters in Ohio against same sex civil unions. Rapturous dance and healings were paired with sermons against the so-called “homosexual agenda;” one pastor cried out, “I see the Holy Spirit anointing you as you vote for life, as you vote for marriage, as you vote for the pulpit” 13. Yet it seems that for Goldberg the nuances between Christian fundamentalism and Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity are irrelevant. She argues that that the coalition of Christian nationalists – mobilized by the virulent and reactionary teachings of widely influential men such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and D. James Kennedy – continues to broaden beyond the wooden churches of austere protestants who view themselves as the new puritans to the lush, ecstatic worship of Pentecostals and the suburban pedestrianism of boxy megachurches.
In this analysis, the idea that one type of USAmerican fundamentalism might be dying is beyond the point: the virulent aims of Christian nationalism have infected a broad spectrum of Christianities and those with political training have succeeded in placing disproportionate numbers of their ranks in positions of power so that their political ideologies would live on beyond the relevance of any single fundamentalist brand or institution.
An aside: When in the 1950s, M. King Hubbert announced his theory of Peak Oil (the peak and subsequent decline of oil production) the decline of oil production in the United States seemed inconceivable. This was because production was about to peak: it was within a few decades that USAmerica was producing more than ever before and, as Hubbert rightly predicted, than ever again.
Was then the George W. Bush era of Goldberg’s analysis “peak Christian nationalism”? Was it the high point of power, influence, and efficacy for Christian nationalists? Did the election of President Obama along with the rising tide of a new generation of political participants indicate that in certain key “domains” Christian nationalism have lost their grip? Or three years later, and in the midst of terrible malcontent, are the powers of Christian nationalism back on the rise? And how will the tea party movement continue to help shape political dis/course? Only time will tell. Whether the radical elements of the Republican Party – such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry – ultimately win the nomination, their rise to a measure of legitimacy on the national stage points to their profound movement-based power. This is a power we must understand if we are indeed to participate in shaping our country in the years to come.