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Austin Cline

Michelle Bachmann's Christian Dominionism

By August 30, 2011

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Michele Bachmann, August 9, 2011 in Humboldt, Iowa
Michele Bachmann
August 9, 2011 in Humboldt, Iowa
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Michelle Bachmann's Christian ideology are critical to understanding Michelle Bachmann's political ideology. Bachmann first entered politics as a Christian activist -- as a person seeking to impose more of her own Christian doctrines into public policy. For example, she believed that public schools needed more Jesus.

And it was never simply about the idea that there was a lack of Christian "values" in politics or culture -- no, it's about a lack of Christianity itself. This is what makes her more of a Christian Dominionist rather than merely a conservative, activist Christian. Michelle Bachmann's religious background lies primarily with Dominionist, Reconstructionist, and Supremacist sources -- Francis Schaeffer and Oral Roberts in particular.

Understanding Francis Schaeffer's Dominionist ideology is necessary to understand the Dominionist path that today's Christian Right has been travelling:

One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer's film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer--who has a white goatee and is dressed in a shearling coat and mountain climber's knickers--condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism.

He repeatedly reminds viewers of the "inerrancy" of the Bible and the necessity of a Biblical world view. "There is only one real solution, and that's right back where the early church was," Schaeffer tells his audience. "The early church believed that only the Bible was the final authority. What these people really believed and what gave them their whole strength was in the truth of the Bible as the absolute infallible word of God." ...

Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L'Abri that the Bible was not just a book but "the total truth." He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to "have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer's interpretation: "Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns."

In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published "A Christian Manifesto," a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn't reversed. In his movie, Schaeffer warned that America's descent into tyranny would not look like Hitler's or Stalin's; it would probably be guided stealthily, by "a manipulative, authoritarian Úlite."

Source: New Yorker [emphasis added]

Perhaps the idea that Michelle Bachmann follows a Dominionist strand of Christianity could be dismissed if it were simply a matter of her being influenced by an early Dominionist ideologue a couple of decades ago. People do change, and while an early influence can be a powerful and long-lasting influence, it need not be the final word on a person's current ideology.

But Michelle Bachmann's connection with Dominionism doesn't end with Francis Schaeffer. Bachmann continued to seek out the influence of other Dominionist Christians and what's more she promoted their Dominionist ideology to others as well:

Today, one of the leading proponents of Schaeffer's version of Dominionism is Nancy Pearcey, a former student of his and a prominent creationist. Her 2004 book, "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity," teaches readers how to implement Schaeffer's idea that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one's life. She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians.

There may "be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right," she writes in "Total Truth." "Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false--for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view."

When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter's "Treason," a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism, and Pearcey's "Total Truth," which Bachmann told me was a "wonderful" book. ...

Schaeffer "was a tremendous philosopher," Bachmann told me. "He wrote marvellous books and was very inspirational." She said that Schaeffer "took Christianity beyond the Bible," and that he showed "how the application of living according to Christian principles has helped the culture for the better."

She added, "He really tried to call Christians to do more than just go to church, to have an application to how they live their lives, to have Christians think that whether they are called to be a dentist, or whether they are a doctor, or whether they are an artist, or whether they are a sculptor--whatever it is that they're called to do--to give it everything that they have and to have a bigger purpose, a bigger meaning in all of it."

The year 2005 is not "ancient history," which means that Michelle Bachmann was praising the influence of multiple Christian Dominionists on her own thinking as well as promoting those Dominionists for others. I'd say that given her comment about taking "Christianity beyond the Bible," Bachmann fully understands the Dominionism that Schaeffer and Pearcey were writing about.

How scary is Dominionism? Well, the last time there was a government in America that was as explicit in promoting a Christian foundation as the Dominionists want, it was the government of the Confederate States of America. That may be why Dominionism has such close times to southern revisionism and slavery apologetics:

While looking over Bachmann's State Senate campaign Web site, I stumbled upon a list of book recommendations. The third book on the list, which appeared just before the Declaration of Independence and George Washington's Farewell Address, is a 1997 biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins.

Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North. This revisionist take on the Civil War, known as the "theological war" thesis, had little resonance outside a small group of Southern historians until the mid-twentieth century, when Rushdoony and others began to popularize it in evangelical circles.

In the book, Wilkins condemns "the radical abolitionists of New England" and writes that "most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though--by modern standards--spare existence."

African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: "Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures." Echoing Eidsmoe, Wilkins also approvingly cites Lee's insistence that abolition could not come until "the sanctifying effects of Christianity" had time "to work in the black race and fit its people for freedom."

In his chapter on race relations in the antebellum South, Wilkins writes: "Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith."

It's likely that Michelle Bachmann agrees with the revisionist views expressed by Wilkins above, just as she agrees with the Dominionist views of Schaeffer. Bachmann, it should be noted, has described homosexuality as a sort of "slavery," which sounds odd given the apologetics for actual human slavery we encounter here. What explains this?

Actually, it's not too hard to understand because Christians of this sort don't entirely object to human bondage -- it's what people are in bondage to that is the focus of any objections. Being in bondage to sin is wrong; being in bondage to Jesus is good. Being in bondage is thus good when you're in bondage to the "right" sort of authority figure -- not just God and Jesus, but whatever earthly representatives they have appointed.

Thus it was OK for a white Christian to own African slaves because God appointed whites to bring Christianity to the Africans. Once they had been fully Christianized, they would be "fit" for "freedom". People not Christianized must therefore not be "fit" for "freedom."

So Christians must submit to the right Christian authority figures because that's what good Christians do (rebellion against proper Christian authority is a sin). Non-Christians must submit to Christian authority because they aren't "fit" to be free, which is to say that they aren't fit to make their own decisions about their own lives and make autonomous decisions. The fact that the "freedom" they aren't "fit" for also means submission to the same authorities is irrelevant.

And that's what Christian Dominionism boils down to: absolute submission to authority figures or institutions that are "proper" and "Christian." The definitions of "proper" and "Christian" will naturally be adjusted according to whatever those with power need them to mean in order to justify maintaining that power. That's what Dominionism is ultimately all about: the ability of a small number of white Protestant Christians to exercise unchecked power over everyone else.

And that's what conservative Republicans like Michelle Bachmann are all about.

August 30, 2011 at 12:41 pm
(1) Liz says:

And earthquakes and hurricanes are “messages” from Yahweh telling us that we need to shape up! I guess God is more interested in the situation of our finances than that of our souls. Who knew? (Although, Bachmann didn’t give any interpretation to the tornados in Joplin or Tuscaloosa…. hmmm?)

August 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm
(2) James Works says:

Schaeffer either ignores, or fails to realize that, the early church had no “set” scripture. As many as fifty gospels were in circulation, and there was no definitive scripture for the early church other than the Torah. There were both the written Torah, which the Saducees held was the only law, and the oral Torah passed down from Moses, which the Pharisees and early Christians, believed was equally valid. By making the written Christian Bible the “total truth,” Schaeffer and his ilk refute many of the teachings of the man after whom Christianity is named.

September 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm
(3) James says:

I contend that people like Michele Bachmann are examples of extreme post-Bush American culture-centrism. They think eveyone must be white and a dominionist in order to be American. This is an example of what the Constitution was designed to prevent: one particular group taking over. The Christian Dominionists are trying very hard to do that very thing—take over. They believe that what they are doing is mandatory. They believe that they must obey the Bible rather than the Constitution, which is the final arbiter of the law. Even though they believe these things, they have been misled, and are committing treasonous acts against the U.S. government.

September 6, 2011 at 6:05 am
(4) Sally says:

So this means you will execute them like you burned the Rosenbergs?

Oh, that’s right – the Rosenbergs were *communists*!

September 4, 2011 at 11:56 am
(5) Richard says:

An interesting read is Frank Schaeffer’s “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back” Frank is Francis’s son, and the book recounts Frank’s experiences growing up with his father, much of it life at L’Abri. Frank became a writer and film producer supporting his father’sl viewpoint, but later abandoned it. But he did not go all the way, unfortunately.

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