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Dominion Theology or Dominionism is the idea that Christians should work toward either a nation governed by Christians or one governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law. At least under this name, it exists primarily among Protestants in the United States. It is a form of theocracy and is related to theonomy, though it does not necessarily advocate Mosaic law as the basis of government. Prominent adherents of Dominion Theology are otherwise theologically diverse, including the Calvinist Christian Reconstructionism and the charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology and New Apostolic Reformation.
Some elements within the mainstream Christian right have been influenced by Dominion Theology authors. Indeed, some writers have applied the term "Dominionism" more broadly to the mainstream Christian right, implicitly arguing that that movement is founded upon a theology that requires Christians to govern over non-Christians. Mainstream conservatives do not call themselves "Dominionists," and the usage has sparked considerable controversy.
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."
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.
Most of the contemporary movements labeled Dominion Theology arose in the 1970s in religious movements reasserting aspects of Christian nationalism. Ideas for how to accomplish this vary. Very doctrinaire versions of Dominion Theology are sometimes called "Hard Dominionism" or "Theocratic Dominionism," because they seek relatively authoritarian theocratic or theonomic forms of government.
An example of Dominionism in reformed theology is Christian Reconstructionism, which originated with the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony in the 1960s and 1970s. Rushdoony's theology focuses on theonomy (the rule of the Law of God), a belief that all of society should be ordered according to the laws that governed the Israelites in the Old Testament. His system is strongly Calvinistic, emphasizing the sovereignty of God over human freedom and action, and denying the operation of charismatic gifts in the present day (cessationism); both of these aspects are in direct opposition to Kingdom Now Theology.
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.
While acknowledging the small number of actual adherents, authors such as Sara Diamond and Frederick Clarkson have argued that postmillennial Christian Reconstructionism played a major role in pushing the primarily premillennial Christian Right to adopt a more aggressive dominionist stance. According to Diamond, "Reconstructionism is the most intellectually grounded, though esoteric, brand of dominion theology."
Kingdom Now theology states that although Satan has been in control of the world since the Fall, God is looking for people who will help him take back dominion. Those who yield themselves to the authority of God's apostles and prophets will take control of the kingdoms of this world, being defined as all social institutions, the "kingdom" of education, the "kingdom" of science, the "kingdom" of the arts, etc. C. Peter Wagner, the founder of the New Apostolic Reformation, writes: "The practical theology that best builds a foundation under social transformation is dominion theology, sometimes called 'Kingdom Now.' Its history can be traced back through R. J. Rushdoony and Abraham Kuyper to John Calvin."
Kingdom Now theology is influenced by the Latter Rain movement, and critics have connected it to the New Apostolic Reformation, "Spiritual Warfare Christianity", and Fivefold ministry thinking.
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.
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.
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".