Around that time, NPR did an interview with the leader of one such group, the New Apostolic Reformation. The link above will take you to the full radio discussion, and includes a transcript that covers most of it. This is a basic summary of the organization and its head.
A new charismatic Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and Jesus’ return is becoming more of a presence in American politics. The leaders are considered apostles and prophets, gifted by God for this role. Several apostles affiliated with the movement helped organize or spoke at Rick Perry’s August prayer rally, The Response.
The international “apostolic and prophetic” movement has been dubbed the New Apostolic Reformation by C. Peter Wagner, who has become one of its leaders. He describes himself as the first person who noticed the movement, gave a name to it and started writing books about it. He was, until recently retiring, the president of Global Harvest Ministries. For 30 years, he was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Missions.
As to be expected from that introduction, these folks are a bit loopy. Consider some of the highlights of the interview:
On the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan being connected to the emperor of Japan having sex with the sun goddess
“That happened many, many years ago, and that created a spiritual atmosphere over Japan which was an atmosphere ruled by the powers of darkness. The sun goddess is not a very nice lady. The sun goddess is a power of darkness, which is headed up by the kingdom of Satan. And so the sun goddess wants natural disasters to come to Japan. Sometimes the hand of God, which is more powerful, will prevent them. And when he decides to prevent them and when he doesn’t is far beyond anything that we can predict.”
“But in this case, God could have prevented that tsunami and the destruction, but he didn’t. He just took his hand off and allowed these natural forces to work. And one of the background pieces of information is Japan is under control of the sun goddess.”
As we talk, in Oklahoma City there is an annual meeting of a professional society called the Apostolic — called the International Society of Deliverance Ministers, which my wife and I founded many years ago. … This is a society of a large number, a couple hundred, of Christian ministers who are in the ministry of deliverance. Their seven-day-a-week occupation is casting demons out of people. And they have professional expertise in this and they happen to meeting — to be meeting right now. My wife is one of them. She’s written a whole book called How to Cast Out Demons. And I don’t do that much. Once in a while when I get in a corner, I might. But that’s — that’s been her ministry. And so I’ve been very, very close to that for years. We’ve been married for 60 years.”
On people in American politics being possessed by demons
“We don’t like to use the word possessed because that means they don’t have any power of their own. We like to use the word afflicted or, technical term, demonized. But there are people who — yes, who are — who are directly affected by demons, not only in politics, but also in the arts, in the media and religion in the Christian church.”
On demon identification
“Sometimes they know. Sometimes the demon has identified itself to the person. Sometimes you can tell by manifestations of superhuman, unhuman behavior. Sometimes you can tell by skilled deliverance ministers. My wife has a five-page questionnaire that she has people fill out before she ministers to them. So she asks the kind of questions that a medical doctor would ask to find out, to diagnose an illness. So she actually does diagnostic work on people to discover not only if they have demons, but what those demons might be.”
A disproportionate about of his attention seems to be on demons, whose exact nature is disturbingly vague. I’m quite certain the criteria for being identified as “demonic” or “demon-possessed” are quite flexible, making for a convenient way to identify cultural and ideological competitors as being the agents of ultimate evil. Case in point:
On spiritual mapping to cast demons out of cities
“When you talk about demons over cities, we’re talking about what — sometimes what we refer to as territorial spirits, and they’re more high-ranking spirits in the hierarchy of darkness and they’re more powerful and they require different approaches, and it’s not as easy as commanding them to leave in the name of Jesus. So sometimes there has to be repentance, sometimes there has to be — there has been bloodshed in that city that needs to be repented of, there has been idolatry in the city that has ruined the land. There’s been immorality that needs to be repented of, and there are several social things that people really need to acknowledge that they’re bad and repent of them and ask forgiveness. … There are certain individuals in our whole movement that have special gifts for doing that, and they’re helping lead the way in weakening the power of the spirits. We don’t believe we can kill demons and sometimes we don’t believe we can completely get ’em out, get ’em away from a city, but we can reduce their power. We can bind them, and then we can move strongly with the kingdom of God into the city.”
Perhaps the only thing more disquieting than this medieval superstition is the authoritarian structure of the organization, which is actually quite characteristic of most religious institutions.
On what it means to be an apostle
“In terms of the role of the apostle, one of the biggest changes from traditional churches to the New Apostolic Reformation is the amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals. And the two key words are authority and individuals — and individuals as contrasted to groups. So now, apostles have been raised up by God who have a tremendous authority in the churches of the New Apostolic Reformation.”
On the role of the prophet
“God has chosen certain people from the church to have the gift of prophecy. And it says in the Old Testament in the Book of Amos that God does nothing unless he first reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets. So that’s a very key role. It hasn’t been recognized by the church very much up until the New Apostolic Reformation, but we recognize the role of prophet.”
Notice the lack of qualifiers for what constitutes either an apostle or a prophet. As in most religions, anyone can claim to be chosen by the divine, and can thus attribute their own whims as those of a higher power. This is a dangerous recipe for abuse and manipulation – when you can claim legitimacy from an invisible and untestable source, anyone can take advantage. Authority should always justify itself and be accountable in some way.
So how does this mentality bode for the group’s view on government?
On what he means when he describes the NAR’s mission as taking dominion overbusiness, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion
“In terms of taking dominion, we don’t — we wouldn’t want to — we use the word dominion, but we wouldn’t want to say that we have dominion as if we’re the owners or we’re the rulers of, let’s say, the arts and entertainment mountain. What we strive to do and our goal is to have people in the arts and entertainment mountain who are committed to the kingdom of God, so therefore, we use the adjective there — kingdom-minded believers — and our goal is to try to have as many kingdom-minded believers in positions of influence in the arts and entertainment mountain as possible. And the reason for that is, to help bring the blessings of heaven to all those in the arts and entertainment mountain.”
On dominionism and acquiring leadership positions in government
“We believe in working with any — with whatever political system there is. In America, it’s democracy and working with the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of the government, the way they are, but to have as many kingdom-minded people in influence in each one of these branches of government as possible so that the blessings of the kingdom will come.”
There isn’t much that’s out-of-step with the mainstream Christian Right. Despite their radical views on other matters, the NAR seems to be typical of most evangelical groups (even the demonology might not be that far off). In fact, if you read or listen to the rest of the interview, Wagner discusses topics homosexuality, Islam, and the coming of Jesus in a relatively tame way. So what’s the big deal about Dominionism?
Well, the NAR represents just one element of the broad Dominionist movement, and its overall goals are for less savory. A group called Tal to Action provides a much more in-depth account about what this unusual Christian movement is about. Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, Frederick Clarkson.
Dominionism is a broad political impulse within the Christian Right in the United States. It comes in a variety of forms that author Fred Clarkson and I call soft and hard. Fred and I probably coined the term “Dominionism” back in the 1990s, but in any case we certainly were the primary researchers who organized its use among journalists and scholars.
Clarkson noted three characteristics that bridge both the hard and the soft kind of Dominionism.
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe the United States once was, and should 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, believing 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.
At the apex of hard Dominionism is the religious dogma of Dominion Theology, with two major branches: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology. It is the latter’s influence on the theopolitical movement called the New Apostolic Reformation that has been linked in published reports to [former] Republican presidential nominees Perry, Bachmann or Palin. All three of these right-wing political debutantes have flirted with Christian Right Dominionism, but how far they have danced toward the influence of hard-right Dominion Theology is in dispute. It would be nice if some “mainstream” journalists actually researched the question.
“While differing from Reconstructionism in many ways, Kingdom Now shares the belief that Christians have a mandate to take dominion over every area of life,” explains religion scholar Bruce Barron. And it is just this tendency that has spread through evangelical Protestantism, resulting in the emergence of “various brands of `dominionist’ thinkers in contemporary American evangelicalism,” according to Barron.
The most militant Dominion Theologists would silence dissenters and execute adulterers, homosexuals and recalcitrant children. No…seriously. OK, they would only be executed for repeated offenses, explain some defenders of Christian Reconstructionism. Even most Christian Right activists view the more militant Dominion Theologists as having really creepy ideas.
It sounds like pretty scary stuff, but because there’s a lot of overlap between Dominionism and the broader Christian Right, it’s hard to say how many Christians actually believe in any of this, let alone actively participate in such groups. It could very well be a minority small enough to merit little attention or concern. But the fact that some presidential hopefuls may have been influenced by this kind of thinking is pretty disturbing, especially since it goes beyond mere attaining power within our democratic system.
Advocates of Dominion Theology go beyond the democracy eroding theocracy of Dominionism into a totalitarian form of religious power called a “theonomy,” in which pluralistic democracy and religious tolerance are seen as a problem to be solved by godly men carrying out God’s will. Karen Armstrong calls Christian Reconstructionism “totalitarian” because it leaves “no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom.” Matthew N. Lyons and I call Christian Reconstructionism a “new form of clerical fascist politics,” in our book Right-Wing Populism in America, because we see it echoing the religiously based clerical fascist movements that existed during World War II in countries including Romania and Hungary.
According to Fred Clarkson:
Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God’s covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband “submits” to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God’s laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called “theonomy.”
Christian Reconstructionists believe that as more Christians adopt Dominion Theology, they will eventually convert the majority of Americans. Then the country will realize that the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are merely codicils to Old Testament biblical law. Because they believe this is God’s will, they scoff at criticism that what they plan is a revolutionary overthrow of the existing system of government. Over the past 20 years the leading proponents of Reconstructionism have included founder Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and Andrew Sandlin. Kingdom Now theology emerged from the Latter Rain Pentacostal movement and the concept of Spiritual Warfare against the literal demonic forces of Satan. It has been promoted by founder Earl Paulk as well as C. Peter Wagner, founder of the New Apostolic Reformation movement.
For many, President Obama and the Democratic Party are among these “demonic forces.” This has real world consequences.
It certainly does – almost any ideology that is driven by absolute and unempirical dogma will cause great harm to society. Zealotry that isn’t constrained by real-world consequences or rationality can wreak all sorts of havoc. In this case, Dominionists aren’t satisfied with simply electing pious people into office and passing laws based upon Christian values. They want to completely supplant secular civil society with a despotic and patriarchal brand of theocracy, one which will extend into all areas of society, and which should never be questioned or resisted.
Religion scholar Bruce Barron explains that “unlike the Christian Right, Reconstructionism is not simply or primarily a political movement; it is first and foremost an educational movement fearlessly proclaiming an ideology of total world transformation.” According to sociologist Sara Diamond, Christian Reconstructionism spread the “concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to `occupy’ all secular institutions” to the extent that it became “the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right.”
I can imagine that many non-Dominionists would sympathize with these views as well. After all, anyone with a belief system that claims moral preeminence would prefer that it apply to everyone. Nothing promotes certainty and self-righteousness more than believing that the most powerful being imaginable is backing you up.
Even so, are any of these objectives resonating with the quarter or so of Americans who identify as evangelical right-wing Christians?
It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, `Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.’
Martin reveals that “several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists.” The late Christian Right leaders Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy “endorsed Reconstructionist books” for example. Before he died in 2001, the founder of Christian Reconstuctionism, R. J. Rushdoony, appeared several times on Christian Right televangelist programs such as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the program hosted by D. James Kennedy.
“Pat Robertson makes frequent use of `dominion’ language,” says Martin. Robertson’s book, The Secret Kingdom, “has often been cited for its theonomy elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential campaign, he said he `would only bring Christians and Jews into the government,’ as well as when he later wrote, `There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.’ “
Martin also pointed out that Jay Grimstead, who led the Coalition on Revival, “brought Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals.” According to Martin, Grimstead explained “`I don’t call myself [a Reconstructionist],” but “A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God’s standard of morality…in all points of history…and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike….It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.”
Then Grimstead added, “there are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership–James Kennedy is one of them–who don’t go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.”
In other words, let’s not jump the gun on assuming that every conservative Christian has totalitarian sympathies (at least not in the area of governance). Indeed, it’d be no different than the way many of them accuse secular liberals of seeking to impose a tyrannical form of social engineering.
Even if this group is serious in its intentions and influential, there’s no reason to assume that they’ll actually succeed in reorganizing society around their extreme form of theocracy – I have far more faith in the integrity of the political system and the reasonableness of the American public.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary of it. I’m sure many Christians would be just as opposed to Dominionist doctrines and aims as any secularist like me. It’s a good reminder of the importance of being well-informed and rational, especially as it pertains to ideologies that purport to alter the way people are governed.
If anyone is interested, you can read more about Dominionism from authors Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, Frederick Clarkson. The first of them also did an excellent exposé on the podcast Point of Inquiry.
Decide for yourselves: is this stuff a real threat, or are scholars – and myself – being too alarmist?