Tag Archives: dominionism

Conservative Ecumenism and Dominionist Politics

In the May 2015 issue of the Atlantic, Ross Douthat asked “will Pope Francis break the Church?” By this he meant, will the current Pope’s activities push conservative out of Roman Catholicism or cause deep controversy. Douthat asked many important questions, but his analysis breaks down within the North American context. Though very informative on papal politics and it’s relation to progressivism, Douthat misses that, within this context, conservativism often leads to denominational de-evolution. A proper amount of progressive utopianism is needed to keep any religion alive.

A common talking point of more conservative minded individuals is that the “creeping liberalism” of mainline Protestant denominations is a source of evangelical revival and mainline diminishment; thereforethe remedy to the decline of membership within mainline protestant denominations is for them to increase their political conservativism, for example regarding issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and homosexuality.There is some truth to this, mainline denominations are indeed losing large portions of their membership to conservative evangelical churches, but it does beg deeper examination. This analysis forgets to include the opposite variable into the equation. Namely, the influence of political conservativism on denominations.

Why is it relatively easy for many conservative non-denominationalists to change their home church in the blink of an eye? Many denominations have lost their doctrinal specifics in favor of appealing to the evangelical subculture, canonizing the Benham Brothers and Tim Tebow as examples of true Christian character and upholding the Duggar family as the ideal Christian household. Effectively, when many individuals leave their old mainline denomination for an overwhelmingly Republican evangelical congregation they have already been de-denominationalized. The novel doctrines of their old faith have already been put onto the backburners and conservative political culture has already been made the vehicle by which faith is expressed.

Consider the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition. Despite having a history well entrenched into the Midwestern landscape, the Methodist context of the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition is slowly eroding. A 2012 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that revealed that Holiness-Wesleyans have some of the lowest retention rates in the entire country rang alarms at my mother’s church; to the point that the pastor preached about it on Sunday. He was concerned that other Christian faiths, according to the study, were more successful in sustaining their existence, so he chastised the entire congregation for not reciting the Nicene Creed enough during services.

From personal experience, one of the leading causes of this are that many are de-denominationalized by their own denomination’s culture; then they jump ship and join evangelical churches dominated by conservative politics. Functionally speaking, there is already little difference between the two; most Wesleyans treat novel doctrines such as Entire Sanctification with a passing glance and there is no hope of reconstructing the Methodist-Episcopal approach to faith. In aesthetic, theology, and daily life, the shared culture of the Religious Right allows individuals to chuck the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition and other Christian traditions for the seemingly more ecumenical evangelical churches that attract members from multiple denominational backgrounds, including that of the Catholic Church. When denominational specifics are disregarded, often the Religious Right replace what is missing.

We must realize that the North American Religious Right serves as an ecumenical movement between conservatives within numerous denominations. The very notion of traditionalist Roman Catholics getting along with Southern Baptists or historically black denominations with socially conservative leanings co-operating with denominations with a history of white supremacy is living proof of this. The success of individuals such as Jerry Farwell and Paul Weyrich is that they surpassed previous denominational feuds to create a new voting bloc, one centered on getting social conservatives into public offices. Weyrich, a Byzantine Catholic, Republican strategist, and founder of ALEC, was successful in helping the Republican Party appeal social conservatives across denominational lines and thereby creating a new identity; one that put the culture war in the middle of the conservative identity. To quote his 1990 speech to the University Club of DC, “our agenda will effectively polarize the political debate and expose the left-wing agenda as the product of a fringe element hostile to our culture and our civilization.”

Of course, Farwell and Weyrich drew upon many sources to construct their worldview. They merely mainlined already existing notions within Christian dominionism. Christian dominionism is the belief that God desires Christians rise to power in civil systems so that the nations will be governed by biblical law. The people who adhere to its ideas are particular groups of conservative, politically active Christians who believed in having dominion, which meant a takeover, in the social civic and governmental spheres.  It starts off with emphasis of being Christians first and then live out the political implications of that. The most influential form of dominionism is Christian reconstructionism.

Christian reconstructionism arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), to proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or “Biblical Law,” is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth. Dominionism, specifically reconstructionism, started out as a view being primarily held by small group of theologically conservative scholars and pastors, at the level of being of a sub culture. It also supports the idea of theocracy and social hierarchies. Its potent ideas about having dominion over social, civil and governmental spheres, having the Bible being the governing text for all aspects of life, and constructing a revisionist Christian and world history that explaining that history is predestined from creation until kingdom of God in on earth became very attractive to far right Christians that need a framework for their worldviews. Being a decentralized, covert movement of ideas led to a creation of networks and coalitions of churches across various denominations that are influenced by dominionism and its framework as well as various networks of Christian think tanks such as the Christian Coalition, and Operation Rescue.

What makes dominionism powerful and attractive to those Christians who are the on right was it gave some form of internal logic and narrative to how can their politics be a means to manifest Kingdom of God on Earth. It can also gave of a type of rationale and framework to justify the belief that they can control the principalities and powers to stop whatever is considered ‘evil’ or ‘ungodly’ if they are in the position of political and social leadership on their terms without examining the inherent merit of their politics. For instance, Frances Schaffer and his theological work advocated on how to do social action informed by a Christian worldview when the issue of Roe vs. Wade came about. His theological work from the 60s to the 80s was deeply influenced by Christian dominionism. His work sparked a renewed interest in political activism among various conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. In spite of Schaffer’sintelligence and cultural engagement,  some of his work plays on the reinforcing the problematic dichotomy between the secular and the religious, the implicit assumption of some political views being more “Christian” than others by default without examining the merits, and very limited understanding of sociopolitical and economic thought and theory. Through Christian dominionism, the Christian right got the intellectual and theological framework to mobilize. It also indirectly catalyzes other Christians from other denominations who are distraught the changes within their denominations to participate in the culture wars.

 

Despite how sincere we may be, ecumenism is a two edged sword. Many join politically conservative evangelical churches precisely because they view it as a means of getting around denominational in-fighting. Douthat is right that Pope Francis is a test to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, but let’s not forget that conservativism in the States has been breaking mainline denominations ever since the rise of the Religious Right due to its ecumenical character, cutting across worlds by creating a common conservative political discourse.

 

 

Xeres Villanueva wears many different hats between a budding entrepreneur, a comrade and a social activist for various social justice issues. She worked with InsideOut Community Arts as a mentor, an art education organization dedicated to empower middle school students. She was involved with various groups, past and present, such as Asian Pacific American Student Organization, Gay Christian Network, St. Monica Catholic Community Gay and Lesbian Outreach, Food Not Bombs and Stop the Traffik. Xeres is currently a part of network of social justice thinkers and practitioners called Asian American Pacific Islanders Christians for Social Justice and Jesus for Revolutionaries.
She also wrote an Oral Oratory speech “Living Miracle”, which won the 2005 Spirit of Hope Award. She takes delight in reading, cooking, and watching live music performances.

POLITICS Editor Nathan Lewis Lawrence is a biracial graduate student, world traveler, and jujitsu enthusiast from Lancaster, Ohio. He received his bachelor’s degree in Security studies from Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio and received a M.A. in Peace and Conflict studies at the Department of International Relations at Hacettepe University. Currently, he attends the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. Check out his personal blog Taming Cynicism.

Photo description: The image is of two flags, the American flag, red/white/blue and the Christian Nation/Dominionist flag, white with a blue square, and a red cross inside of it. Photo found on Flickr. 

Christian Politics From The Underside

Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (TX) announced his candidacy for president. A lot of the members of the media were freaking out because Cruz was filmed “preaching to the choir” so to speak at Liberty University.  While peers and colleagues displayed shock, at the utter terror of yet another Texas theocrat in the White House, as for me, I shrugged it off; it’s just what I am used to here in the Lone Star State. There have been a number of columns and think pieces out there that have scrutinized Cruz’s every words, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. Instead, I just wanted to place this particular essay in context, the anxiousness of liberals, conservatives, and apolitical concerning the fragility of the U.S. American political arrangement. It is fragile in that this particular social contract, the U.S. Constitution is exists as a contested reality.  As a governing, human-made instrument, it, the U.S. Constitution is a living document in need of updating from time to time at the minimum, and at the maximum perhaps its utter annihilation which the document itself points toward as a possibility.

I do not wish to discuss Ted Cruz as a politician any more than I have to, but to briefly go back to refer to him as a symbol, in both the media’s fear-mongering as well as many Christians’ uncritical reception of his Tea Party politics is something to be less than desired. Cruz, if I may take a metaphor from Nerd culture (Scott Pilgrim Versus The World), represents our American past; his candidacy is a symbol of America’s League of Evil Exes, each unique and bringing their own history of political disasters.

#1. The Very Thin Line Between Church and State: Of all the Exes that haunt the U.S. the most, perhaps the biggest scare crow that we see used in the media and even in Christian circles is the Church-state separation. The Founders were a religiously diverse group of Deists, Free Masons, Unitarians, and Protestants. Part of their common experience as white men under the tyranny of Great Britain is the King serving as both political leader and Defender of The Faith. The Founders took a quite ambiguous stance on religious freedom, opting to allow the states to do as they pleased (a few states had state religions) while the Union as a whole disallowed for such a thing. At the same time, enslaved Africans were denied religious freedom, the freedom to assemble, and other rights as such that were granted to them the Creator.

#2. Fundamentalism: There have been a number of comparisons of Ted Cruz with the campaign of Pat Robertson in 1988. Many religious conservatives will inevitably bring about this charge. Pat Robertson is portrayed on his worst as that looming figure of cultural backwardness that white moderates wish to escape. Pat Robertson losing in the primaries is seen as a political failure to some, given that short-sighted analyses of politics sees it only as a win-win, sum zero game. However, failed attempts to fly can galvanize political bases (in this instance, conservative evangelicals) and since everyone loves a loser, some  can turn what seems like a moment of defeat into a defining moment of prestige. Robertson’s 700 Club remained successful, and grew in the 90’s and continues on today

#3. Texas. Perhaps it’s the fact that Texas has such great weather or so so so many megachurches here, but the national media’s fascination with Texas as exotic gets annoying. Texas gets vilified as the home to the worst elements of what extremist right wing politics has to offer, and never gets any credit for having had an abolitionist leaning president at its founding or the home of the late Barbara Jordan.

#4. Corporate Greed : Many politicians have been exposed as the puppets of the Koch brothers, and yes everything is terrible. The country was founded on first and foremost the economic interests of white male land-owners. Oligarchy is as American as baseball.

#5. The Irrelevancy Of Church History, American or Otherwise: At the center of contemporary debates on Christian involvement in politics, many Christians have made the Roman Emperor Constantine the Girardian scapegoat for making Christian imperialism possible. One such post was featured by a guest on Kurt Willem’s Pangea Blog on Patheos. While the post made the point of making Christian politics a matter of Christology, a matter I plan to attend to shortly in this piece, I want to take issue with NeoAnabaptists pointing the finger at Constantine. Philosopher Cornel West is also guilty of using the category of Constantinian Christianity in his work too, especially in Democracy Matters: Winning The Fight Against Imperialism. There are a couple of problems with naming Constantine and this “Constantinization” of Christianity. First of all, if we go by the historical records, Constantine did not convert to Christianity until a little while before his death. He is not an example of a Christian ruler, for a Christian needs to be a part of a community of faith, living a life of discipleship. This gets me to my other point: it is more likely that modern USian Christians in politics are looking to Robert E Lee, Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon as their models rather than Constantine. Can one honestly look at World History, let alone, Church History, and say that Constantine was coercing Christ-followers within the early Church to follow him? We like to imagine that the early church was this nice, pure, hegemonic (ideologically) body which did not struggle with issues such as violence and political engagement. The fact is, the reason why Church fathers such as the apostle Paul and Tertullian were writing letters were because their fellow Christians had to be persuaded of their positions; we just do not have access to all of the early Christian literature do to them getting lost or burned in some purging. Blaming Constantine is popular and may seem insightful, but it’s just not rational in the US context.

*editor’s note: keep a look out for a forthcoming essay to address Christianity, political movements, and political orders, “The Politics Of The Holy Spirit.”

#6. Race: The very last of America’s League of Evil Exes, and the leader very much like Gideon in SPVTW is the history of American racism. Every time you hear someone ask, “Where are the Birthers asking for Cruz’s birth certificate” There is RACE. Every time Cruz discusses his proposals for “border security” coded with racist dogwhistles. There is RACE. When one looks at the fact that just something over 600,000 people voted for Ted Cruz, you can be sure: there is RACE.

In many reflections about the political life of Christians in the U.S., members of the dominant culture will find a myriad of ways to avoid discussions of race. They may come up with the general sense of loss they feel concerning the culture wars with the sexual revolution as the reason behind the fall of Western civilization. Or perhaps it is the fault of MTV, moral relativism, and John Locke? John Stuart Mill? Any number of Enlightenment philosophers? In post-Christendom Christianity, there are sincere groups of believers who want The Church get back to an evangelical or Catholic or Anglican or Mormon conservative version of Christianity. Within these claims of historic orthodoxy, there is a certain identity politics of exclusion involved. Who we imagine in the past as orthodox and faithful determines who we determine in the present as faith-less and reprobate. It is no coincidence that there is a current Renaissance of slave-holding Jonathan Edwards and his hyper-Calvinism. Claims to historic orthodoxy in the U.S. American context is used as a marker of Western Gentile cultural hubris. This artificial quest in the USA for evangelical protestants to be “orthodox” is in all probability an overcompensation for being brought up in an overdeterming, heresiological reality: RACE.

*editor’s note: I plan on expanding on this idea of orthodoxy, heresy, and racial identity in a forthcoming essay, “Historic Orthodoxy and Symbolic Blackness” *

One such examples is the aforementioned article from Pangea blog is a case in point when it comes to persons striving for private possession of classic Christianity and its spirit. The argument is that it is Constantine’s low, Arian Christology that leads to his belief in his own violent, gory lordship. As I mentioned before, this line of argumentation can only be held as true if it is based on the pretense that Constantine was a disciple prior to his death-bed baptism. Unless NeoAnabaptists can show evidence other than the fact that Constantine did a few favors for early Christian communities (Constantine also gave state benefits to non-Christian religions as well), there is no reason to assume that the Emperor can be considered a model for Christian politicians and activists. To the contrary, what we are left with is being emplaced on this soil within a history of displacement: settler colonialism and enslaved African persons, and the political traditions of majoritarian politics. Majoritarian politics as I have argued once before is the zero-sum game between at least two political factions. The thing about majoritarian political structures is that they are built in such a what to keep the majority population, the dominant culture, in power. Critical Race theory as common sense should inform us as such. The trap of idolizing majorities rather than pluralities and consensus renders us incapable of seeing other political possibilities. The so-called “orthodox” even in retreat have consumed a failure of theo-political imagination as they are incapable of transcending the prevailing political system.

It is quite inadequate for Christian thinkers to point backwards to the early Christological debates and Constantine. What that sort of rhetoric does is derail discussions about concrete political realities into abstract conversations that have for the most part been settled through Ecumenical Councils. This brand of derailing in the name of Christological orthodoxy permits Christians from experiencing genuine lament and repenting of past and current social sins. Appropriating the work of Juergen Moltmann, this Christology is also a refusal to dialogue with Jesus’ Jewishness while shaping Christ in the image of the Occident. A Christology that is in dialogue with Judaism is most likely to be a Christology that is politically engaged, one that is centered on being de-centered by our Neighbor and oriented towards the Outsider.

Inward-looking libertarians and NeoAnabaptists alike are living out a problematic, escapist fantasy, of moving towards some 21st century form of monasticism: that is, Christians from the dominant culture understand Christian participation in politics as one of wielding influence in the political order. This current order however is built off of the backs of enslaved Blacks and over the dead bodies of First Nations. This order would not be possible without genocide, rape culture, and anti-Black racism. The Sexual Revolution did not find its way in the libertine youth culture of the 1960’s; it has its roots in the subjugation and sexual exploitation of People of Color.

Constructive proposals for improving the body politics must do more than just blaming the Baptists (I am looking at you, Rod Dreher) for society’s ills. James Cone argues in Black Theology And Black Power that just as alien forces can possess human beings to lift up evil racist structures, so too does the Triune God inspire human beings to resist evil: “there is only one response: fight it!” This calls for Christians to transition from discussions of Christology to a politicized Pneumatology. The Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity is of the utmost importance to Christian political thought. We must join M. Shawn Copeland in understanding tradition as “that one who yearns to incarnate Tradition in daily living and to witness to and struggle for its transforming power for in the world.” So for Copeland, the Holy Spirit, in other words, was meant and is meant for the Body. Embodied praxis is the Spirit’s mission. This is why the practice of Baptism by Immersion points to our reality as citizens of the New Creation, a political society consummated by the Seven-Fold Spirit of Creation. Faithful social justice warriors seek to live into a baptismal reality, being immersed in the love of Three Equal Persons perichoretically sharing in each others’ life in mutuality. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the traditions of the One, Holy Apostolic, Catholic Church in faith as a gift of divine providence. Because only the Church can incarnate universal love as the presence of Christ here on Earth, all claims of Whiteness’ universality must be invalidated as false, and must be resisted. With the early Black Christians on these shores we sing, “Did not my LORD deliver Daniel?,” and with our Black Catholic sisters and brothers, we can whisper, “Didn’t my church canonize Perpetua?”

Photo description: drawing of “Ted Cruz: The Crusade Begins” by Mike Licht; Ted Cruz as an Early Church Icon, with a red, white and blue tea kettle for the Tea party

Charisma Magazine, Islam, & Racist Op-Eds #CancelTheCrusades

Why Gary Cass Is Absolutely A Fascist

Trigger Warning: White Supremacy, Islamophobia, Orientalism

Recently as “not a reflection on the views of Charisma Media,” Charisma Magazine published an opinion piece entitled, Why I Am Absolutely Islamaphobic (do not link edition linked)  [update: Charisma has deleted the post, here is the Google cached: here and here is the original author’s post on his site here ] where the “Reverend” Gary Cass advocated for the complete elimination of all human beings who are from Arab countries (Cass’ phrasing, not mine).  Time to rebuke each argument Mr. Cass gives.

Opening Paragraph:

“I confess: I’m “Islamaphobic,” but for very good reasons.

My fear is not an irrational fear based on uniformed prejudice; rather it’s an historic, clear eyed, informed, rational fear. ISIS is doing to American journalists what every true follower of Muhammad wants to do to you and yours—subjugate or murder you. They believe they have been given a mandate by Allah (Satan) to dominate the world.

Fourteen years of history, both ancient and modern (i.e. the 1 to 1.5 million dead Armenians at the hands of the Muslim Turks in 1915) tell us that Muslims are deadly serious about their infernal goals. Now we get to watch their violent, demonic fanaticism on YouTube videos.

History shows that when Muslims get the power and means to subjugate and behead Christians, Jews, et al, they do it. Why? “

I confess: I have a phobia of Euro-Centric Christianity. My fear is not an irrational fear based on uninformed prejudice; rather it’s an historic, clear eyed, informed rational fear. Police Departments empowered by U.S. Congress are doing to black and Latino U.S. citizens what every true follower of White Supremacist Churchianity wants to do to you and yours- subjugate or murder you. They believe they have been given a mandate by White Supremacist Godhead to dominate the world.

Four hundred years of history, both ancient and modern (between 1885 and 1908, the Butcher of Congo, Leopold II of Belgium murdered an estimated 13 million Congolese persons) tell us that White Supremacist are deadly serious about their nefarious goals. Now we get to watch their violent, demonic rationalism on television.

History shows that as White Supremacists have remained in power and maintained the means to subjugate and murder People of Color, the poor, et, al., they do it. Why?

Next Paragraph:

“Conversion. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Muslims turn from Satan (Allah) to Christ? But, I agree with Phil Robertson: This is not biblically doable. Why? God has a plan and he revealed it at the birth of Ishmael, the father of the Arabs.

“The Angel of the Lord said … He [Ishmael] will be an ass of a man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:11-12). The Arab Muslims are God’s sworn enemies and are ordained by God to be against everyone.”

First of all, Cass is making a reality tv show star a biblical authority? I guess that’s what happens when any Christian celebrity can have devotional bibles made in their honor. Quoting other persons who are devoted to a White Supremacist God should come as no surprise. “Reverend” Cass insists that his racist eisegesis is the correct reading of Genesis 16. I beg to differ. First off, Cass is reading rather subjectively his racist views into the Bible. Rather than having Christ at the center, Cass has placed Europe as the locus of Scripture, and displaced actual biblical truth to the margins. In fact Ishmael really is not the focus of the conflict between Sarah and Abraham, rather it is the presence of Hagar. As I argued in my post Ishmael & Immigration: A Postcolonial reading of Genesis 16:

“First, let us start with Ishmael’s mother’s name: Hagar. Hagar resembles the Hebrew term hager, meaning “resident alien” “stranger” or “sojourner.” In the context of Genesis 15:13, whereby God promises Abraham’s offspring will be “ger” or aliens in a foreign land for 400 years is a reminder for the Jew in exile that part of their covenant with YHWH entails justice for the resident alien. Fast forward to Genesis 20 , and Abraham himself is considered a “ger” (20:1; 21:23; 21:34), and receives hospitality and compassion from Abimelech king of GERar. This treatment should be seen in stark contrast to Sarah’s banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. Finally, Clare Amos, whose article “Genesis” I am depending upon in the translation of the Hebrew noun “ger,” suggests that Genesis 16:12 is fraught with ambiguity, and that it really does not have to mean that Ishmael “would live at odds” with Isaac’s children. She prefers to hold this reading in tension with another possible translation that Ishmael would live “alongside his brothers.” This allows us to understand the image of Isaac and Ishmael burying Abraham in Genesis 25:9, in Hebron [the city where David begins his reign as king, btw], as a kind of closure. 

Cass’s Third Paragraph on Deport All Muslims Now? I recommend you go back and read my post linked on Genesis 16.

Cass’s last paragraph, his call for genocide reads:

The only thing that is biblical and that 1,400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense. Christian Generals Charles Martel in 732 and Jon Sobieski in 1672 defeated Islamic Turks and their attempts to take the West. Who will God raise up to save us this time? Will God even intervene or turn us over to the Muslims for turning against Him?

Either way, we must be prepared for the increase of terror at home and abroad. This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down.

Cass goes back and forth between using Arabs, Muslims, and Radical Islam interchangeably. One could call this lazy writing, but the author does not even care about distinctions at this point. So, I will call it what it is: racism. It is very important to note, as other have on Twitter, that what Cass is doing is not calling or practicing Just War/Self-defense. Just War is about having to maintain peace, not escalating violence. He asks, “Now the only question is how many more dead bodies will have to pile up at home and abroad before we crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus’ Name?” Cass is calling for the Final Solution for people based on their ethnicity and religious orientation. He is committing himself to the sin of Haman, the infamous Agagite and genocidal politician described in the book of Esther. The New Testament is clear: Christ has reconciled Jew and ALL Gentile nations, that EVERY tribe and nation will make up what Cass called “the indestructible Church”, and that it is the Triune God’s will for ALL persons to repent and be saved. May the Church raise up women and men in the spirit of Esther to resist and condemn voices such as those at DefendChristians.Org.

For other perspectives, read Fred Clark’s Charismanews.com goes full on Hutu radio and David Hayward’s Charisma News, Islamophobia, Jesus, and Guns