Dominionism. New Apostolic Reformation. Christian Reconstructionism. Fringe stuff? Not if you pay attention the the messages spewing from numerous well-funded far-right Christian radio and teevision broadcasts, and featured prominently on websites. Yet mainstream journalists, including religion writers, either can’t seem to understand it, or else refuse to accept that it may have some significant influence on the rightward drift of this nation’s politics.
The latest culprit is the respected Associated Press News Service.
Welton talks to Frederick Clarkson, co-founder of the website Talk2Action.org, who analyzed this turn of events in his recent article More Reportorial Pooh Poohery About Dominionism.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Frederick Clarkson, Talk2Action.org[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Welcome back to State of Belief Radio, I’m Welton Gaddy.
It’s often challenging to sift through news stories regarding the encroaching influence of religion on our politics and government. Let’s just be honest: all too often, mainstream journalism lives down to the old newsroom cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads”; simplistic narratives of personality-driven conflicts drown out thoughtful analysis that could put current events in some kind of context that would help all of us better understand.
But, let’s also be realistic: most folks can’t afford to take graduate-level classes in religion and history just to fully understand the very real Dominionist threat to our way of life, or other initiatives from the religion-driven far right. Most journalists aren’t going to do that, either. That’s why it is so important to have some resources available for rational explanation and analysis of some of these developments. And one such resource is the website talk2action.org. You may remember it from the past when we’ve talked about it on this show; talk2action, and the “two” is the numeral 2. Talk2action.org, and I’m happy to welcome the cofounder of that site, an old friend of the show, Frederick Clarkson back to State of Belief Radio. Fred was on with us a few years back talking about his book Dispatches From the Religious Left: the Future of Faith and Politics in America. He’s also the author of the book Eternal Hostility: the Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.
Fred Clarkson, it hasn’t gone away, and thankfully you haven’t gone away. Welcome back to State of Belief Radio.[FREDERICK CLARKSON, GUEST]: Well, thanks. And you haven’t got away either, thankfully. [WG]: That’s right, thank you for saying that. The slogan for talk2action.org is: “Reclaiming Citizenship, History and Faith.” I like that very much. Before we talk about your latest post, which exposes the ongoing inability of mainstream religion writers to take the dominionism movement seriously, give us a little background on your website and its mission. [FC]: We got started because there was really no one placed to do this kind of writing. There are a lot of wonderful organizations, a lot of wonderful publications – but no place where everybody who writes and thinks about these things can come together and publish short blog posts, a research paper, a thoughtful political analysis; and where anybody can come to find that, and participate in the conversation. We also figured out that organizations and others have their own agendas, their own missions. And those are good to have, but not all the conversation fits neatly within such mission. So we needed to have a place that could be a little more eclectic, where there could be some reasonable debate, and push the conversation forward in useful ways; and, at the same time, within certain reasonable constraints. [WG]: Well, you did a great job, and you did all of us a good service by establishing the website. Again, it’s talk2action.org. Fred, a few months ago on this show, we looked at the dismissive tone that some mainstream religion journalists continue to take towards concerns about the encroaching influence of dominionism in our politics. In your recent article, you used the phrase: “The literature of pooh-poohery about dominionism and the new apostolic reformation.” I love that. What is the latest instance of pooh-poohery? [FC]: Well, the latest one was a very lengthy religion feature from the Associated Press, which is certainly the agenda-setting media outlet in the nation if not in the world. And it was supposed to sort things out on issues that came out of Rick Perry’s prayer rally, and the role of a mysterious outfit called the New Apostolic Reformation, which has theocratic elements in it that we generally refer to as dominionism. Well, there’s been quite a media hoo-ha about the whole thing, and so a group of religion scholars were consulted, and the upshot was: nobody knew what it meant, and nobody could tell us if it was a problem or not. [WG]: The Seven Mountains message, stories like that, are out there every day! The ultra-conservative religious right has so many media outlets of its own that one really only needs to listen to their radio programs, or watch their TV networks, or read their websites to understand this. But, I mean, millions of Americans are taking this stuff in daily, why can’t the rest of us understand that this isn’t happening in a vacuum? [FC]: I think we get complacent and comfortable, and there is a certain sense of: “It can’t happen here.” The idea of there being active… People who take their theocratic beliefs seriously and act on them politically is an alien idea to most of us, particularly if you don’t actively use the word “theocracy.” I mean, people are sophisticated in their public relations sensibilities these days, and they don’t use words that are going to be off-putting. That doesn’t mean that the meaning doesn’t remain the same. [WG]: You know, Fred, I’ve wondered for a long time about a certain group of clergy, and I’m now having the same thoughts about conservative political leaders. I just find myself wondering what they are like when they are alone, or what they are like when they are talking to their best friend or their spouses. Are these people unknowing fools of this movement, or are they just cynically leveraging the movement’s base? Or are they genuinely subscribers to dominionism? [FC]: Well, I think like with any group of people, you’ve got a mix of all of the above, but yeah, there are serious believers in dominionism and really believe that God has called them to do these things, and really believe that, in broad strokes, that America was founded as a Christian nation and ought to be one according to their idiosyncratic notions of what “Christian” and “nation” mean. There is no doubt in my mind about it. I’ve been in the room with such people, and I’ve read their books – and they are unambiguous. [WG]: Say to our listeners – just in case anyone is still scratching their head, saying: “What is dominionism?” Tell it just like it is. [FC]: Dominionism generally means the idea of founding – re- founding – the United States as a Christian nation, governed under biblical principles, biblical law. It means taking the ideas of the Ten Commandments and the laws from Old Testament Israel and making them applicable in the United States as we are today. And the Christians of the correct sort would be the governing body, and people who are not of the correct sort would be either second-class citizens, or criminalized and possibly subject to the death penalty. [WG]: Other than on your website, and on some of our websites, where would people most likely hear or see expressions of dominionism in today’s media? [FC]: In media? [WG]: Well, or anywhere? Anywhere. Where would they most likely come across it? [FC]: Well, in many sectors of the Religious Right – you could tune into David Barton’s radio show, for example. He has an organization called Wall Builders, he has a speaking schedule, he’s an excellent example for this sort of thing. Certainly there are lots and lots of websites, you can go to the Chalcedon Foundation, you can go to Vision America. And you’re likely to hear the details of dominionism in anything from the New Apostolic Reformation, or The Call, and Lou Engle who is having a big rally in November in Detroit; these are all different kinds of expressions of dominionism, and we hear them all the time. [WG]: And Fred, let’s press that a little further, because I know, as we talked about it in the beginning of our conversation, there were certainly concerns about a dominionist organization helping sponsor the prayer rally that governor Perry attended and spoke to and encouraged people to go to. Are we likely to hear expressions of dominionism either blatantly or subtly expressed in this time’s presidential campaign? [FC]: Perhaps not by the candidates themselves, because their handlers would be too wise; but certainly in the people around them, and in the movements that are organized to carry them forward. The Perry rally had twenty thousand people, and it was organized primarily by active, vocal dominionists. There has never been, in the entire history of American presidential politics, a prayer rally as a launch for a presidential campaign, let alone one of that scale. [WG]: Right. You know Fred, again – and I don’t consider myself naïve at this point – but I think when I learned about dominionism, when I heard that you talk about dominionism, along with others – my sense was that any reasonable American that hears these kinds of descriptions of these people’s work will turn that off so quickly, and be afraid of what that would do to our democracy. But as I said in the beginning of this conversation, they are still at it, and you are still at it, I’m still at it, as you pointed out. Why has it not gone away? [FC]: One is, I think, that they are people who are seriously committed to their ideas, and they have some resources, and they are effective organizers. We’re not talking about crazy people. We’re talking about very skilled, educated, capable people who don’t share the values of the rest of us about religious freedom, and separation of Church and State, and religious pluralism. These are antithetical, heretical, ideas that need to be stamped out – and that’s a powerful, powerful brew. On the other hand, most of us have done a poor job of understanding what’s going on, that there are these dynamic antidemocratic elements in our society. We need to better understand them, better articulate our critiques, and, especially, come up with better responses so that we can preserve and defend the values we hold dear. [WG]: When you read your website and you look at the accumulation of expressions of dominionism, and you see people responding, are you positive and hopeful, or are you discouraged and feel like, some days, you can’t win? [FC]: Well, you get both. I feel like the fact that we are having this conversation is major progress. Some time ago, conversations like this wouldn’t even have been possible; we wouldn’t have had the vocabulary and the understanding – even among you and I, and people like you and I – to be able to go this far. So that’s significant progress. [WG]: Great. [FC]: We have basic categories, basic knowledge bases, some idea of where we are, where we need to go is foundational. [WG]: My friends the website is talk2action.org. That’s the word talk, the numeral 2 and the word action.org. I’ve been speaking with co-founder Frederick Clarkson, talk2action.org, whose latest book is Dispatches From the Religious Left: the Future of Faith and Politics in America. It’s a good time to read that book. He’s also the author of the book Eternal Hostility: the Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Fred, it’s always enlightening to spend time with you, and I thank you for being with us again today on State of Belief Radio. [FC]: Thank you very much for having me, Welton.