On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) launched the first in a series of articles about “Hate In God’s Name,” an examination of what it calls “Dominionism,” a Christian ideology which inspires terrorism as deadly as the radical Islamic terrorism of the Islamic State (ISIS). While the SPLC article focused on groups responsible for domestic terrorism, it warned that this Christian ideology is widespread, and linked to a source which used Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as the key example of Dominionism.
“Much like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, right-wing terrorists — who often refer to themselves as “Soldiers of Odin,” “Phineas Priests,” or “Army of God” — are inspired by their interpretations of religious concepts and scripture to lash out and kill in God’s name,” the SPLC’s Daryl Johnson wrote.
Johnson discussed FBI standoffs with extremist groups like the white supremacist Covenant, Sword, and Army of the Lord (CSA) in 1985, the armed white supremacist at Ruby Ridge in 1992, and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas in 1993. Were Johnson merely discussing such extremist groups, his article might have been revealing and unproblematic. But he did not stop there.
“According to Frederick Clarkson, a Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, ‘Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.’ This is similar to fears over Muslim extremists attempting to invoke Sharia Law in America,” Johnson wrote.
In that very article Johnson cited (published by Political Research Associates, a group whose tagline is “challenging the right, advancing social justice”), Frederick Clarkson pointed to Ted Cruz as the predominant example of “Dominionism.”
“The son of a Cuban refugee and evangelical pastor, Cruz was raised in the kind of evangelicalism-with-a-theocratic-bent that has come to epitomize a significant and growing trend in American public life,” Clarkson wrote. He warned that Dominionism “arose from the swirls and eddies of American evangelicalism to animate the Christian Right.”
According to Johnson at the SPLC, “Dominion theology calls for Christians to assert God’s dominion over all mankind, including their communities, secular politics and American society to achieve the fulfillment of their Messianic expectations — to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
In some isolated cases, as with the Branch Davidians, this is partially true. The link to Ted Cruz is a rather large stretch, however — and Johnson does nothing to alert the reader that Clarkson’s message about Cruz is a stretch.
Johnson also quoted Genesis 1:26-31, where God directs Adam and Eve to “fill the Earth and subdue it,” as a scriptural basis for Dominionism. He added, “Dominion theory teaches that Jesus has commanded his followers to begin building the Kingdom of God in modern day, by incorporating the doctrine and principles of the Christian faith into the political establishment with the ultimate goal of creating a Christian nation.”
Such goals are radical and fringe, and the Christian Right is not motivated by the ideology of making God’s kingdom come to Earth via political means (Jesus Himself explicitly forbade any such idea, in multiple ways).
Adopting a common SPLC tactic, Johnson defined Dominionism in a way that tarnishes mainstream Christians with the label.
“First, Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation,” Johnson wrote. He cited Political Research Associates writers again, who wrote, “In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.”
“Second, Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity,” Johnson added. “Lastly, 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.”
Finally, Johnson set out to tarnish the Christian Right by connecting some of their real political goals with radical positions they do not advocate. “More radical orthodox Dominionists reportedly advocate the abolishment of civil rights, labor unions, public schools and any laws with which they disagree,” he wrote. “In addition, they favor withdrawing U.S. citizenship from non-believers, as well as the removal of women from the workforce.”
“Further, they believe federal, state and local government should eventually be replaced with a Christian theocracy, thus empowering religious institutions to run every aspect of the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government,” the SPLC writer warned. “Their ultimate goal is the creation of a Judeo-Christian nation where the only legitimate voice is Christian.”
Even that final sentence is problematic — if so-called Dominionists want a Judeo-Christian nation, they could not also want to silence Jews to make “the only legitimate voice” a Christian one.
Johnson’s presentation of Dominionism not only has a clear leftist slant, but it unfairly tars conservative goals and principles. The Right to Work movement, for instance, does not seek to “abolish labor unions,” but to make sure that no worker is forced to join a union or pay dues to a union that advocates for political causes with which he disagrees. Similarly, the School Choice movement does not wish to “abolish public schools,” but rather to open up the school system to a competitive free-market approach.
Finally, the United States was indeed founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and the founders were religious men who divided the national government from churches in order to preserve the churches. Most of the states had an established church at the time of the founding, and Sundays were considered a day of rest until the 1940s.
The very first law of the United States was the Northwest Ordinance, which declared, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” The Enlightenment which inspired America’s founding was not anti-religious — far from it.
Finally, as for the concern that “Dominionists” — like Ted Cruz — “do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity,” this is blatantly false if applied to the Christian Right.
The pro-life movement has brought together Roman Catholics and Protestants of all stripes (along with secular pro-lifers), while religious freedom issues have seen Catholics and Protestants defending one another.
Indeed, Ted Cruz himself has allied with another staunch conservative, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is Mormon, a member of a religion which evangelicals like Cruz tend not to even consider Christian. Even Muslim reformer M. Zudhi Jasser has supported Cruz, something that should be impossible if Cruz really were a Dominionist.
The idea that the mainstream Christian Right shares an ideology of religious supremacy to the destruction of civil law is preposterous. Rather, Christian conservatives support the Constitution as grounded in Judeo-Christian principles.
Finally, the biggest rebuke to the SPLC’s claims comes from Jesus Himself. Jesus, a man claiming to be the Jewish Messiah — prophesied to bring God’s kingdom on Earth — stated over and over again, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
When asked whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asked for a denarius, a Roman coin, pointing out that Caesar’s likeness is on it. He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In this passage, Jesus called on His followers to give their ultimate allegiance to God (as they are made in God’s image), but to pay taxes to Caesar, honoring the worldly authority.
As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, Christians are to acknowledge the civil authorities, and to work the best they can to achieve peace within them (Jeremiah 29). They should live in the world, but not be of the world, and they seek to make things better for everyone.
In Christian theology, Jesus will come again and establish His kingdom on Earth, but that is not for Christians to bring about. Jesus Himself said no one knows the day or the hour when He will return.
Dominionism — if indeed it is a coherent ideology and not something cooked up in the minds of crazed liberals illogically terrified of evangelicals and their supposed “Handmaid’s Tale” agenda — is antithetical to Christianity, and the vast majority of Christians are nothing close to Dominionist.
Naturally, the SPLC’s Johnson argued that his articles should “not be misconstrued as an assault against Christianity,” but rather as “an exploration of the links between violent right-wing extremism and its exploitation of Christianity.”
The problem is, by citing scripture, by twisting mainstream conservative positions, and by quoting an article describing Ted Cruz as a Dominionist, Johnson has indeed attacked mainstream Christian conservatives.
The SPLC is infamous for doing this. It lists Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministries, the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on its list of “hate groups” along with the KKK.
Indeed, the group’s branding of FRC as a “hate group” inspired a terrorist attack in 2012, when Floyd Lee Corkins II tried to kill everyone in the organization. He pled guilty to committing an act of terrorism and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He later testified to the FBI that he intended to move on to other groups after decimating the FRC, and that he targeted these groups because they were listed as “anti-gay groups” on the SPLC website.
This past summer, James Hodgkinson opened fire at a Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, nearly killing Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodgkinson had “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had repeatedly attacked Scalise as a white supremacist, even after he apologized for giving one speech to a white nationalist organization (and was attacked as a traitor by former KKK leader David Duke).
Just last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) cited the SPLC, comparing an organization on its list of “hate groups” to the genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. CNN, NBC, and ABC have parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” designations (which compare mainstream Christian and conservative groups to the Ku Klux Klan). CNN even posted the group’s “hate map,” which inspired a terror attack in 2012.
The SPLC claims to be a nonpartisan nonprofit organization monitoring “hate groups,” but it really is a Left-wing defamation organization. An SPLC spokesman even declared that his organization’s “aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely.”
At least three of those targeted by the SPLC have filed lawsuits against it: Christian nonprofits Liberty Counsel and D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, who the SPLC called an “anti-Muslim extremist” for visiting a strip club for his bachelor party.
In fact, in labeling the Ruth Institute (RI) a “hate group,” the SPLC cited the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. This lead RI President Jennifer Roback Morse to argue that if the SPLC were to be consistent, it must brand the Catholic Church itself a hate group.
The SPLC may pretend that its series of articles on “Dominionism” is an honest look at “right-wing extremist” ideology, but its political slant is apparent, and the fact that this same organization lists mainstream Christian groups as “hate groups” should destroy any credibility it has in addressing Christian theology.