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Dominionism & Dominion Theology: The Theological Basis for American Theocracy


What is Dominion Theology?:

Also known as Dominionism, Dominion Theology teaches that all of humanity is under the sovereign dominion of God. This means that Christians, as the followers of the only True Religion and representatives of God, have a divine mandate to rule over the rest of humanity. Dominion Theology is a doctrinal foundation for a number of movements, most prominently Christian Reconstructionism and Christian Identity. It has also become increasingly influential within America’s broader Christian Right.

Origins of Dominion Theology:

Dominion Theology is more a general perspective on theological and political issues than a coherent set of doctrines. The earliest expression of Dominionism is in the writings of Francis Schaeffer whose book A Christian Manifesto was long an important text for the whole Christian Right. Schaeffer argued that America was founded as a Christian Nation, that humanists had replaced God with concern with human progress, and that Christians must reestablish control of all human institutions.

Scriptural Foundations of Dominion Theology:

The most important basis for Dominion Theology is Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” For most Christians, this simply means that humans have dominion over the natural world; for Dominionists, this means that Christians have dominion over everything, including other people.

Dominion Theology & Theonomy:

Although sometimes used interchangeably, Dominion Theology and Theonomy are slightly different ideas. Dominion Theology teaches that Christians have a mandate to bring all of humanity under God’s rule; Theonomy teaches what that rule is: God’s revealed laws in the Old Testament, which are absolute, immutable, objective, and universal. This means that every one of the 613 laws given to Moses and recorded in the Pentateuch remains binding on every human being and must be enacted into law.

Dominion Theology & Autonomy:

The connection between Dominion Theology and Theonomy is strengthened by the fact that Dominion Theology rejects what is regarded as the polar opposite of Theonomy: autonomy. For Dominionists, there are always just two options: to act in manner that is god-centered or in a manner that is man-centered. The later is to act autonomously and, because all humans are depraved sinners, invariably ends badly. It must therefore be banned because only theonomic actions are good.

Dominion Theology & Christian Supremacy:

Because Dominion Theology teaches that Christians have a divine mandate to govern and bring everyone else to God, this doctrine is incompatible with basic religious liberties. When combined with Theonomy, it would lead to the criminalization of all religious positions other than its narrow conception of Christianity. In many cases, the penalty for apostasy would be death. Christian Supremacy in America is often founded upon a combination of Dominionism and Theonomy, although not always openly.

Dominion Theology & Christian Reconstructionism:

Because Dominion Theology is usually combined with Theonomy, it becomes a political as well as a religious ideology. The most prominent example of Dominion Theology and Theonomy is the Christian Reconstructionist movement created by R.J. Rushdoony. Small, but represented by several popular figures, Christian Reconstructionism teaches that America’s laws must be “reconstructed” along biblical lines, creating a Christian theocracy where everything forbidden in the Old Testament is illegal.

Dominion Theology & Christian Identity:

Even more radical than Christian Reconstructionism is Christian Identity, a movement with roots much older than Reconstructionism and modern dominionism, but which shares several basic assumptions. Adherents of Christian Identity agree that God is sovereign over all humanity and that Christians must rule, but they differ in that they also tend to be white supremacists, are virulently anti-Semitic, and are pre-millennialists (Reconstructionists are post-millennialists).

Dominion Theology and Kingdom Now Theology:

Kingdom Now theology, a theological movement among Charismatic Christians, teaches that God lost control of the world when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Ever since, he has been trying to regain control through the aid of a chosen people with whom he has a covenant. Through them, human institutions like governments can be brought under his control. Like Reconstructionists, Kingdom Now adherents are post-millennialists, believing that they must take control before Christ can return.

Dominion Theology, Theonomy, and America’s Christian Right:

Although Dominionism, Dominion Theology, and Theonomy are all closely associated with Christian Reconstructionism, they aren’t quite the same. These theological and political ideologies find the strongest expression in Christian Reconstructionist doctrine, but they have also been incorporated into other movements. As a general perspective rather than a rigorous set of doctrines, it’s easy for it to become part of a variety of already-established belief systems.

Most significant is the generally unrecognized extent to which they have become influential within the broader Christian Right agenda. Christian Right leaders have adopted Dominionist premises and language on a wide array of issues: public schools, secularism, church & state, and even economics. The Christian Right uses the same explicit arguments for the invalidity of secular government, the inability of governments to be neutral on religious manners, the idea that America was originally founded as a Christian state, and that Christianity should today possess a favored status within the American government.

All of this is a serious concern because, while Dominion Theology isn’t identical with Christian Reconstructionism, it’s difficult to resist Reconstructionist conclusions once Dominionist premises and assumptions have been adopted. This is the great danger which Dominion Theology poses for America: as its ideas and arguments are thoroughly integrated into the powerful religious and political movement known as the Christian Right, what will stop some of its leaders from taking the final, fateful steps necessary to establish a Christian theocracy?

The fact that few people today explicitly endorse the creation of such a theocracy doesn’t mean that they won’t accept it as the logical conclusion of the many beliefs which they are being convinced to adopt right now. If Dominionism isn’t to lead to theocracy, something must be done.

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