Dominionism is the alleged movement of politically active conservative Christians in the United States working toward either a nation governed by Christians or one governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.
The existence of a dominionist movement is challenged, particularly by those in the Christian Right, who generally avoid the label and see the characterizations as misleadingly implying that mainstream conservative Christians subscribe to Dominion Theology, a viewpoint held by a much smaller group of Christians explicitly advocating for a theocracy.
Although the term was coined and first used in the evangelical community, the terms dominionism and dominionist (when not referring to those subscribing to Dominion Theology) are almost exclusively used by journalists and bloggers.
Origin and usage of the term 
And God blessed [ Adam and Eve ] and God said unto them, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." —Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
In the late 1980s, several prominent evangelical authors used the phrase Dominion Theology (and other terms such as dominionism) to label a loose grouping of theological movements that made direct appeals to this passage in Genesis. Christians typically interpret this passage as meaning that God gave humankind responsibility over the Earth, but the distinctive aspect of Dominion Theology is that it is interpreted as a mandate for Christian stewardship in civil affairs, no less than in other human matters.
Dominion Theology 
Dominion Theology is a grouping of theological systems with the common belief that the law of God, as codified in the Bible, should exclusively govern society, to the exclusion of secular law, a view also known as theonomy. The most prominent modern formulation of Dominion Theology is Christian Reconstructionism, founded by R. J. Rushdoony in the 1970s. Reconstructionists themselves use the word dominionism to refer to their belief that Christians alone should control civil government, conducting it according to Biblical law.
Although many authors have described such influence (particularly of Reconstructionism), full adherents to Reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians. Dave Hunt, Hal Lindsey, and Thomas Ice specifically criticize Christian Reconstructionism from a Christian viewpoint, disagreeing on theological grounds with its theocratic elements as well as its Calvinism and postmillennialism. J. Ligon Duncan, Sherman Isbell, Vern Poythress, Robert Godfrey, and Sinclair Ferguson analyze Reconstructionism as conservative Calvinists, primarily giving a theological critique of its theocratic elements.
Dominionism as a broader movement 
In the early 1990s sociologist Sara Diamond and journalist Frederick Clarkson defined dominionism as a movement that, while including Dominion Theology and Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right In his 1992 study of Dominion Theology and its influence on the Christian Right, Bruce Barron writes,
In the context of American evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life, the distinguishing mark of a dominionist is a commitment to defining and carrying out an approach to building society that is self-consciously defined as exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of Christians, rather than based on a broader consensus.
According to Diamond, the defining concept of dominionism is "that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns". In 1989, Diamond declared that this concept "has become the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right" (p. 138, emphasis in original) in the United States. In 1995, she called it "prevalent on the Christian Right". Journalist Chip Berlet added in 1998 that, although they represent different theological and political ideas, dominionists assert a Christian duty to take "control of a sinful secular society."
In 2005, Clarkson enumerated the following characteristics shared by all forms of dominionism:
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once 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, insofar as they believe 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.
Essayist Katherine Yurica began using the term dominionism in her articles in 2004, beginning with "The Despoiling of America", (February 11, 2004), Authors following Yurica in this usage include journalist Chris Hedges  Marion Maddox, James Rudin, Michelle Goldberg, Kevin Phillips, Sam Harris, Ryan Lizza, and the group TheocracyWatch. This group of authors has applied the term to a broader spectrum of people than have Diamond, Clarkson, and Berlet.
A spectrum of dominionism 
Writers including Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson distinguish between what they term "hard" and "soft" dominionism. Such commentators define "soft" dominionism as the belief that "America is a Christian nation" and opposition to separation of church and state, while "hard" dominionism refers to dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionism.
Michelle Goldberg used the term "Christian Nationalism" for the former view, and Berlet and Clarkson have agreed that "[s]oft Dominionists are Christian nationalists." Unlike "dominionism", the phrase "Christian nation" occurs commonly in the writings of leaders of the Christian Right. Proponents of this idea (such as David Barton and D. James Kennedy) argue that the Founding Fathers of the United States were overwhelmingly Christian, that founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based on Christian principles, and that a Christian character is fundamental to American culture. They cite, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court's comment in 1892 that "this [the United States] is a Christian nation," after citing numerous historical and legal arguments in support of that statement.
Criticism of the term 
Those labeled dominionists rarely use the terms "dominionist" and "dominionism" for self-description, and some people have attacked the use of such words. Journalist Anthony Williams charged that such usage aims "to smear the Republican Party as the party of domestic Theocracy, facts be damned." Journalist Stanley Kurtz labeled it "conspiratorial nonsense", "political paranoia", and "guilt by association", and decried Hedges' "vague characterizations" that allow him to "paint a highly questionable picture of a virtually faceless and nameless 'Dominionist' Christian mass." Kurtz also complained about a perceived link between average Christian evangelicals and extremism such as Christian Reconstructionism:
The notion that conservative Christians want to reinstitute slavery and rule by genocide is not just crazy, it's downright dangerous. The most disturbing part of the Harper's cover story (the one by Chris Hedges) was the attempt to link Christian conservatives with Hitler and fascism. Once we acknowledge the similarity between conservative Christians and fascists, Hedges appears to suggest, we can confront Christian evil by setting aside 'the old polite rules of democracy.' So wild conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians — by any means necessary.
Joe Carter of First Things writes:
[T]here is no “school of thought” known as “dominionism.” The term was coined in the 1980s by Diamond and is never used outside liberal blogs and websites. No reputable scholars use the term for it is a meaningless neologism that Diamond concocted for her dissertation.
Jeremy Pierce of First Things coined the word "dominionismist" to describe those who promote the idea that there is a dominionist conspiracy, writing:
It strikes me as irresponsible to lump [Rushdoony] together with Francis Schaeffer and those influenced by him, especially given Schaeffer’s many recorded instances of resisting exactly the kinds of views Rushdoony developed. Indeed, it strikes me as an error of the magnitude of some of Rushdoony’s own historical nonsense to consider there to be such a view called Dominionism [sic] that Rushdoony, Schaeffer, James Dobson, and all the other people in the list somehow share and that it seeks to get Christians and only Christians into all the influential positions in secular society.
Lisa Miller of Newsweek writes that "'dominionism' is the paranoid mot du jour" (referring to the French for "word of the day") and that "certain journalists use 'dominionist' the way some folks on Fox News use the word 'sharia.' Its strangeness scares people. Without history or context, the word creates a siege mentality in which 'we' need to guard against 'them.'" Ross Douthat of the New York Times noted that "many of the people that writers like Diamond and others describe as 'dominionists' would disavow the label, many definitions of dominionism conflate several very different Christian political theologies, and there’s a lively debate about whether the term is even useful at all."
Other criticism has focused on the proper use of the term. Berlet wrote that "just because some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point does not mean we should abandon the term," and argued that, rather than labeling conservatives as extremists, it would be better to "talk to these people" and "engage them." Sara Diamond wrote that "[l]iberals' writing about the Christian Right's take-over plans has generally taken the form of conspiracy theory", and argued that instead one should "analyze the subtle ways" that ideas like Dominionism "take hold within movements and why".
Influences on the Christian Right 
Abraham Kuyper and the "cultural mandate" 
A common view among evangelical Christians holds that the granting of "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 includes a "cultural mandate" to influence all aspects of the world with Christian principles. Contrary to the theocratic vision of Dominion Theology, this view calls for Christians simply to "honor God as they promote truth and mercy and apply scriptural principles to the affairs of life."(p. 252) As formulated by Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the Dutch Reformed theologian (called the father of Neo-Calvinism) and prime minister of the Netherlands, the "cultural mandate" view teaches that all human endeavor, whether ostensibly sacred or secular, is part of building God's kingdom. Kuyper energetically applied Christian principles to the secular problems of his day, seeing his efforts as extending "common grace" to all people. However, Kuyper firmly rejected the idea that "dominion" could be taken to mean domination of Christians over others. Kuyper ranks as a founding father of the Christian Democratic movement, which remains an important political influence in parts of Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.
Francis Schaeffer 
The work of Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) provided an important underpinning for the rise of the modern Religious Right. Schaeffer, a follower of Kuyper's system of Neo-Calvinism, had founded L'Abri, a Christian community and study-center in Switzerland, in 1955. There he received evangelical Christians and others from many parts of the world, encouraging them that it was not only good but important for Christians to intellectually engage with and benefit from the Western cultural tradition (secular though it may be) of art, literature, philosophy, and the like.
In the 1970s Schaeffer began to travel more often to his native United States, where he saw a need to warn against what he saw as the cultural decay of American society. His book, film and lecture series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, co-authored with C. Everett Koop, toured Christian colleges and churches in the early 1980s. Panels of ethicists and scholars presented the films, fielding questions from audiences and raising the alarm that, through Christian inattention, Western Civilization had slipped its Judeo-Christian moorings, drifting into a "post-Christian era", under the sway of a secular civil religion that Schaeffer called "secular humanism". The landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade served as Schaeffer's iconic portrait of the radical cheapening of human life which he predicted must accompany this cultural shift, producing a culture increasingly bent on self-destruction. In his tract A Christian Manifesto, he called upon Christians to directly resist these influences in the public sphere, by means including civil disobedience.
Though Schaeffer's interests were primarily cultural and philosophical, his doctrine of engagement with the public sphere influenced a diverse spectrum of theological conservatives, including Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, John W. Whitehead, and others. Some of these founded political and legal organizations that ignited what has become known as the culture war.
Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism 
Rousas John Rushdoony (1916–2001) was the intellectual founder of Christian Reconstructionism, a postmillennial form of theocratic Dominion Theology. Most mainstream Christians reject Rushdoony's views and other forms of Dominion theology as quite radical.
According to Rushdoony and other Reconstructionists including Gary North and Greg Bahnsen, the idea of dominion drawn from Genesis 1:28 implied a theonomy ("rule of the law of God"), which would require all citizens to observe the strict Reconstructionist form of Christianity, and which would punish moral sins ranging from blasphemy to homosexuality with death. Rushdoony wrote that "[m]an is summoned to create the society God requires," "bringing all things under the dominion of Christ the King." A significant influence on Rushdoony and the theonomists came from Calvinist philosophers and theologians, including the presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987), though Van Til himself disavowed any entanglement of his work with political movements.
In regard to the influence of Reconstructionism upon the broader Christian Right, sociologist and professor of religion William Martin wrote,
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.' In addition, several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have endorsed Reconstructionist books. Rushdoony has appeared on Kennedy's television program and the 700 Club several times. Pat Robertson makes frequent use of 'dominion' language; his 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.' And Jay Grimstead, who leads the Coalition on Revival, which brings Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals, has said, '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.' He 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.'(p. 354)
Jeremy Pierce noted that many conservative Christians have been attracted to some of Rushdoony's ideas, such as that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, "without necessarily buying into the whole theonomist project."
Schaeffer and Rushdoony 
However, Irving Hexham, the Canadian sociologist of religion, questions whether scholars have adequately distinguished Schaeffer's views from theonomy, in describing both as "dominionism". Schaeffer never described himself as a theonomist, and explicitly rejected theocracy in A Christian Manifesto, writing that "[t]here is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns."
Jeremy Pierce, observing that "Schaeffer’s main influence in evangelicalism is in opposing anti-intellectualism and calling on evangelicals to think through their worldview and the worldviews of those around them," and that Schaeffer's legacy of "bringing evangelicals to care about theology, philosophy, and intellectual endeavor" is generally considered more significant than his political work, further observed that Schaeffer explicitly rejected the theonomist views of Rushdoony. Ross Douthat adds that "it seems rather strange to depict a writer who goes out of his way to critique the Constantinian settlement as a supporter of Christian 'dominion' over public life."
In a dialogue with Jeff Sharlet (who had called Schaeffer "Rushdoony's most influential student" and proceeded to link others influenced by Schaeffer — including LaHaye, Charles Colson, and Randall Terry — to Rushdoony in that way), Alan Jacobs noted that Schaeffer's career significantly pre-dates Rushdoony's, and that Schaeffer is chiefly significant for his cultural reflections, which have nothing to do with Dominion Theology. Jacobs also argued that Schaeffer could only be called Rushdoony's "student" in the weak sense that he read his works very late in his career and agreed with some of his ideas (particularly in Schaeffer's A Christian Manifesto), and that their disagreements over fundamental issues far outweighed their synergy.
See also 
- Christ of Europe
- Christian Patriot movement
- Christian Reconstructionism
- Christian right
- Dominion theology
- First Amendment
- Liberation theology
- National Catholicism
- New Apostolic Reformation
- Separation of church and state
Notes and references 
- McVicar, Michael J. (2013). "'Let them have Dominion:' 'Dominion Theology' and the Construction of Religious Extremism in the US Media". Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 25 (1): 120–145. doi:10.3138/jrpc.25.1.120.
- Barron, Bruce A. (1992). Heaven on earth?: the social & political agendas of dominion theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-53611-1.[page needed]
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- Diamond, Sara (1998). Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right. New York: Guilford Press. p. 213.
- Ortiz, Chris (2007). "Gary North on D. James Kennedy". Chalcedon Blog. Chalcedon Foundation. Retrieved 6 September 2007.
- Hunt, Dave 1988. Whatever Happened to Heaven? Harvest House.
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- Isbell, Sherman 1997. "The Divine Law of Political Israel Expired: Part II and Part III”. Retrieved 6 October 2007.
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- Godfrey, W. Robert 1990, "Calvin and Theonomy," in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey eds., 299–312, (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1990).
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- in the United States. In her early work, Diamond sometimes used the term dominion theology to refer to this broader movement, rather than to the specific theological system of Reconstructionism.
- Barron, Bruce A. (1992). Heaven on earth?: the social & political agendas of dominion theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan. p. 14. ISBN 0-310-53611-1.
- Diamond, Sara. 1995. "Dominion Theology." Z Magazine, February 1995
- Chip Berlet, "Following the Threads," in Ansell, Amy E. Unraveling the Right: The New Conservatism in American Thought and Politics, pp. 24, Westview Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8133-3147-1
- Clarkson, Frederick. 2005. "The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation." The Public Eye magazine, Vol. 19, No. 3, (Winter)
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- Stanley Kurtz (2005-05-02). "Dominionist Domination: The Left runs with a wild theory". National Review Online. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
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- The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 3-4.
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- Hexham, Irving, "The Evangelical Response to the New Age," in Perspectives on the New Age, edited by James R. Lewis & J. Gordon Melton, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1992, pp. 152–163, especially p. 322 Note 16.
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- Citizens for a Righteous Society
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