I’ve written about Christian dominionism before, especially as it relates to our current political situation here in America, but what exactly is it, and how can you tell if your church has gone dominionist or has dominionist tendencies?
What is dominionism?
First, we need to define dominionism. What exactly is it anyway? Basically, it’s a postmillennialist theology that was started by Rousas Rushdoony in the 1960s, with the publication of his tome, Institutes of Biblical Law. It has its roots in Calvinism, and is in fact Calvinism on steroids. It’s a form of theonomy, or theological totalitarianism, that teaches that God has mandated humans to prepare the world for Christ’s return by “christianizing” the “7 mountains” of society: government, family, media, education, religion, entertainment/arts, and business. They seek to do this by installing only Christians (specifically, dominionist evangelicals) into the top echelons of each of these seven “mountains” who will then work on changing them. One of the tasks of the people mandated to transform the “government” mountain is replacing the Constitution with Old Testament biblical (Mosaic) law. In fact, they’re busy doing this right now, which is why there are so many dominionist Christians in the Trump administration. Dominionists (and many “normal” evangelicals also) believe that Trump has been “anointed” by God as a “wrecking ball” to help bring about God’s kindgom on earth. Many people have compared dominionism to ISIS and the Taliban, two extremist factions of Islam that also don’t recognize the separation of religion and government and have made laws based on the Q’uran (sharia law) the law of the land in some Middle Eastern countries.
Dominionism isn’t a denomination. It’s an authoritarian theology that has infiltrated a variety of Christian denominations in America, mostly evangelical, fundamentalist, or pentecostal (you’re pretty safe from it if you’re in a mainline or liberal Protestant or Catholic church — for now). Dominionism has flown under the radar for years and has gone under several different names: New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), Manifest Sons of God, the Latter Rain movement (an early incarnation from the 1970s), Kingdom Now, Kingdom Theology, Joel’s Army, and other names. It’s actually a fascist and nationalist political agenda wrapped up in Christian piety. As a post-millennialist doctrine, it has a different eschatology from “normal” evangelicalism, which is traditionally pre-millennialist and therefore teaches that the Tribulation and Rapture will occur before Christ returns. “Normal” evangelicals (and mainline Christians who believe in the Second Coming) adhere to the biblical teaching that we have no way to know when Christ will return, and there is no way to “prepare” for it, since God’s kingdom is not of this world.
Dominionism is heretical for many reasons but mostly because it says Jesus can’t return until the planet is “Christianized.” For Americans, this means a installing a theocracy based on Old Testament laws. If that sounds a lot like radical Islam to you, that’s because it is. Their agenda is eventual world domination (dominion) and a One World Religion. This is unbiblical. We were never called to force certain religious beliefs on others, only to spread the Gospel. To force a religion on society by way of its laws negates the concept of free will. It also corrupts both the religion and the government. This is why the Founding Fathers were clear about the separation of church and state.
The Bible also never says that only Man can change the world for Christ. In fact, we cannot facilitate Christ’s return ourselves because we can’t even know when He is returning (Mark 13:32).
God’s kingdom, according to John 18:36, is not of this world. But dominionists believe it very much is and to be pleasing to God, the world must be changed to Jesus’ liking. Dominionism is also extremely authoritarian and very cult-like. Many survivors of spiritual or religious abuse came from churches that embraced tenets of dominionism and reconstructionism.
Here’s an excellent (and scary) description of dominionism from a political research website:
Dominionism has been working its dark magic within American evangelical churches, and even some charismatic Catholic churches. Now that it’s infiltrated our political system, it threatens the integrity of our Constitution and our freedom. Many of the current GOP in high level positions, and some members of Trump’s staff are actively trying to install dominionist doctrine into our laws. Here are 13 red flags to look for.
1. The church uses military imagery or language. This is a very visible and immediately obvious red flag of a dominionist church. Such symbolism indicates a church that has no respect for the separation of church and state — and even believes it is mandated to change the law of the land to its liking. Ads and educational materials include military imagery such as shields, swords, guns, images of soldiers at war, sometimes combining the cross with nationalistic symbols like American flags. They use terms like spiritual warfare, warrior for Christ, soldier for Christ, prayer warrior, POTUS Shield, Joel’s Army, etc. God himself is portrayed not as a loving Father, but as constantly angry, full of wrath and vengeance, intolerant, and punishing for the smallest infractions. Extreme nationalism is prominent too. America is believed to be God’s chosen nation (the “new Israel”) mandated to convert (by force, if necessary) the world.
2. The church tells you how you should vote. In America, this nearly always means voting for the “pro-life” candidate, regardless of how immoral that candidate may be in other ways. Abortion and to a lesser extent, homosexuality, are the two pet “culture wars” issues given outsized importance by these churches. This red flag alone though does not indicate a dominionist church, since many conservative and fundamentalist/evangelical churches frown on abortion and homosexuality. But taken in context with other red flags, it’s still something to be on the lookout for. Be wary of any church that tells you to vote Republican, says Trump is “God’s anointed,” or rails on about abortion and homosexuality constantly but doesn’t seem to care very much about other moral issues such as greed, pride, pedophilia, poverty, racism, human rights abuses, adultery, dishonesty, or cruelty.
3. The church encourages you to leave your non-believing loved ones. Dominionist churches operate very much like cults because in fact they are cults. Cults such as Scientology very often coerce their adherents into disconnecting with non-believing friends or family members, who are demonized. Enemies of Scientology are called “Suppressive Persons” or SPs for short (here’s more about my own short foray into Scientology, in case anyone is interested). In dominionist churches, anyone who isn’t a believer — even other kinds of Christians — are said to be doing Satan’s work. In fact, some dominionists believe that non-dominionists are naturally evil because they come from Cain’s bloodline (they believe that the “right kind” of Christians are from Abel’s bloodline) so they are predestined for Hell no matter what (I told you this was Calvinism on steroids!)
So if your church leader tells you a relationship you have is sinful or accuses your friend or family member of being of the devil because they believe differently or have a lifestyle the church disapproves of, and they tell you you must cut off that person to avoid God’s wrath, run away as fast as you can. Dangerous people and organizations both attempt to isolate their prey from the people they love in order to control them. It’s a form of divide and conquer.
4. The church says we can and should seek signs and wonders. Many evangelical churches emphasize “signs and wonders” (spontaneous healing, “glory clouds,” speaking in tongues, deliverance, exorcism, laying on hands, etc.) as a physical manifestation of the holy spirit. Pentecostal and charismatic evangelical worship services focus on attempting to bring about these supernatural phenomena and as a result, it’s hard to not get drawn in by all the intense and uncontrolled emotion. Dominionism goes a step further, saying humans are mandated by God to “manifest” signs and wonders, since God is in each of us. This is very similar to New Age teaching. In fact, many dominionist churches, such as the Bethel megachurch in California, are a strange hybrid of Christian fundamentalism and New age religion (Bethel is also known for an odd and disturbing practice known as “grave sucking.” ). Dreams are also given great importance, and even quasi-occult practices such as astral projection are practiced: there are dominionist preachers and authors who claim they have traveled to heaven (and hell). Signs and wonders (miracles) may be real for all I know, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to be conjuring them for their own sake or as “proof” God exists. I think it could even be dangerous (not all supernatural occurrences come from God), so if you belong to a church that says you must take part in such occult activities or that something’s wrong if you can’t speak in tongues, conjure a “glory cloud,” or heal people spontaneously, find another church.
Attendees at Bethel Church catching manifested gold dust from a “glory cloud.”
5. The church says certain people are “anointed,” or chosen by God — and says you must obey those people. In this regard, dominionism has been compared to the Roman Catholic Church, which believes in intercessors between us and God, such as popes, priests and bishops. In dominionist churches, certain people are “anointed” (often self-proclaimed) as prophets or apostles, and they have dominion over everyone else. To disobey or resist such an “anointed” person is considered a sin. Since these churches consider Trump to be “anointed by God” (regardless of his continued immorality and lack of repentance for his sins), to disagree with Trump means you disagree with God himself and have a “jezebel spirit.”
If your heart tells you something is wrong, I think it would be immoral not to disobey. We were given a conscience which is a gift of God, and helps us manifest the holy spirit in the world (the same way our minds do — it is godly to use our critical thinking skills!) While good works may or may not be necessary for salvation, they certainly are a “good fruit” proving we are using the conscience and thinking ability we were given and acting in a Christlike manner (even if we are not Christians). Who can argue with that? It sure wasn’t Satan who gave us brains and a conscience!
If you know your leader is doing something immoral, I think it’s the godly thing to call it out or at least refuse to take part in it. What if your pastor asks you to perform a sexual act on them or cheat on your spouse? Is to refuse to do so immoral? I certainly hope not! I think there are always circumstances in which disobedience is not only the correct thing to do, it’s the only moral thing to do.
6. The church puts great importance on blind obedience. This ties closely with #5. Dominionist churches put an inordinate amount of emphasis on unquestioning submission to authority, often quoting Romans 13, which says that every man in a position of power was put there by God, and therefore we are not to question God’s will. Using this logic, even Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini were placed in power by God. You could also ask a dominionist why Barack Obama was so vilified by the religious right, since according to their doctrine, he must have been put there by God as well. Not only is blind obedience valued over critical thinking (which is a sin), to insist on “rights,” including civil rights, is considered to be satanic.
Here’s a thought experiment. Dominionists might want to ask themselves if undergoing an abortion in China is the godly thing to do, since Chinese law mandates a couple must not have more than one child — and therefore to refuse an abortion is to disobey the law. Likewise, would the American Revolution have ever happened — or any revolution in all of history ever happened — had disobedience or resistance to authority not come into play?
On a side note, I’ll add that dominionist child rearing methods are extremely authoritarian and oppressive, even cruel. The goal of such draconian and harsh parenting is to “break the child’s will,” as you would “break” a horse — but really what happens is the child grows up to be a broken person unable to think for themselves, afraid to experience genuine emotion — and all too often becomes an abuser themselves.
7. The church preaches the “prosperity gospel.” While not all prosperity gospel churches are dominionist, all dominionist churches preach the prosperity gospel. Dominionism is really a sort of hyper-Calvinism, which states that God blesses those who please him with financial and material rewards (“name it and claim it”). So if you are poor or struggling, then you deserve your poverty. You’re displeasing to God in some way, or your faith isn’t strong enough and God is trying to “awaken” you to the error of your ways. It would therefore be wrong to offer such a person help because that’s interfering with God’s will. The prosperity gospel also puts a great deal of emphasis on tithing, which I describe in #8.
8. The church puts great importance on tithing and “donations.” Even if you are poor and can’t feed your family, you are told you must tithe a large portion of your income to the church. Failing to tithe the right amount is considered sinful. This is another red flag of a cult, because cults always find ways to extract large amounts of money from you, often promising you nebulous things such as greater prosperity, happiness or peace of mind in return. Failing to attain those goals means you have failed — or are displeasing to God. The church is like a gambling casino: the house always wins. It is always right, you are always wrong. If you belong to a church whose leader is extremely wealthy and flaunts that wealth, and the poor are blamed for their own financial condition, run.
9. Women are treated as second class citizens. Women are held in very low regard in dominionist churches, though not all churches that order women to be “helpmeets” and submit to the authority of their husbands, fathers, and other male relatives are necessarily dominionist. They could just be ultraconservative. But again, this is something you will see in dominionist churches. Of course, abortion is forbidden in most conservative churches, but if birth control is also frowned on (outside the Catholic Church), and women are told their only value is to have as many children as God gives them, or if having many babies is referred to as “building an army for Christ,” that should be a howling red flag. The Quiverfull movement, which the Duggar family is a part of, is a fairly recent manifestation of dominionist theology at work. The Taliban in Islam has very similar views of women and their proper roles in society. In such a misogynistic environment, abuse is rampant.
Scene from the Hulu TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.
10. Abuse is concealed, denied, or excused. Women and children are extremely vulnerable to abuse because of their second class status. Since the man is regarded to be biblically mandated to have headship over his wife and children — and because questioning authority is frowned upon and even condemned as sinful — reporting abuse or defending yourself or your children against it can be dangerous. Many women who tell their preachers about the abuse are shamed and coldly ordered to go back home and try to be better wives, or to “make the best of it.” Sometimes they are even accused of bringing it on themselves, and told they can stop the abuse by being more pleasing or obedient to their husbands. Because a woman may be saddled with many children, or have been cut off from her family and friends (see #3), she may have nowhere to turn to get any help or relief, which takes us to #11.
11. Disdain for psychiatry, psychology and the mental health profession. This attitude toward the mental health professions is very similar to that of Scientology, which also takes a very dark view of them. In many dominionist churches, the only acceptable kind of therapy is that given by a Christian (dominionist) practitioner, who is rarely trained in psychology and counseling, and will often give advice that is not based on the client’s best interests but rather on obeying the religious doctrine. For example, they might tell a gay person their sexuality is an abomination to God, and they need to undergo “conversion” therapy, or they might tell a wife she must obey her husband and try to “make the best of things” even if she and her children are in danger. A secular therapist would encourage the gay person to accept themselves as they are, and urge the woman to leave her abusive husband and connect with people who can help her.
12. The church demonizes the vulnerable. I’ve already discussed the way dominionist doctrine demonizes the poor, blaming them for their lack of prosperity. But it also demonizes the disabled, the sick, and other vulnerable groups of people. Because dominionist doctrine holds that God blesses his elect with perfect health and wealth, a godly person would never become poor, sick or disabled. Misfortune is only visited on those who don’t believe or who are morally offensive to God. To suffer misfortune then, means you are doing something wrong. The fault is always your own. This is an extremely narcissistic, even sociopathic, worldview — and nothing at all like Christ, who loved the “least of these” the most. Dominionists apparently have never read the Sermon on the Mount.
13. The people are just…weird. When people join cults, if they stay any length of time, eventually the indoctrination and mind control tactics begin to take a toll on their personalities and even their appearance. Many people have noticed, for example, the “Scientology stare” so common in Scientology adherents like Tom Cruise. This is a creepy blank stare, often combined with a fake smile that fails to reach the eyes. I’ve never spent time in a dominionist church, but my fascination with it has led me to watch Youtube videos of dominionist preachers and public speakers, and almost all of them have that weird, robotic, predatory, almost psychopathic stare. Watch videos of Paula White (Trump’s “spiritual advisor”) if you want to see a real world example of what I mean.
If you’re still not sure whether the church you attend has dominionist leanings, there’s an easy way to tell if it’s a good church or a bad one: ask yourself if it bears good or rotten fruit (Matthew 7:17-18). If the church is doing good works and helping others (without coercing them to convert), its leaders seem humble and kind, and the congregants seem happy and contented without repressing their real desires and emotions, then it’s probably a healthy church environment. If the leader seems distant (or “above” his congregation), the congregants seem fakely perky and happy (or miserable and afraid), and the overall feel of the church is one of fear, negativity, and anger, it may not be a dominionist church, but it definitely could be a toxic one.