Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Culture War Christian Nationalists Ignited as a Direct Attack on Democracy

Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, attended the Road to Majority convention, an annual gathering of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which was held this summer in Kissimmee, Florida. Speakers included Republican politicians like Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Ron DeSantis, Lindsey Graham, and Madison Cawthorn. Stewart wrote an article about a few things that surprised her at the convention. This is the one that grabbed my attention:

Two decades ago, an ideology called “Seven Mountains Dominionism” was considered so fringy that it was never allowed near the podium with Republican political leaders. Now, that very same ideology is a heartbeat away from everything that happens in the Republican Party. This year, in fact, the Road to Majority featured a breakout session titled “The Seven Mountains of Influence.”

Seven Mountains dominionism is the conviction that Christians of a certain hyperconservative variety should rightfully dominate the main peaks of modern civilization in the United States and, ultimately, the world. The ideology reportedly got its start in 1975, when Loren Cunningham, a missionary leader, and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as “Cru”), allegedly heard messages from God urging them to invade the “seven spheres” of society, which by their reckoning included government, media, education, business, entertainment, religion, and family. According to the late C. Peter Wagner, a key proponent of the ideology, the responsibility of Christians to take over “whatever molder of culture or subdivision God has placed them in” is really a matter of “taking dominion back from Satan.”

That last bit about Satan gets to the throbbing heart of this political ideology. In Kissimmee, speakers and panelists inveighed that America is “on the precipice,” careening toward a “socialist revolution,” “anarchy” and “chaos, and is under the thumb of the most despicable human beings imaginable—namely Democrats, who were referred to as “the enemy,” “Satanic,” and “agents of evil.”

I'd like to unpack all of that a bit more. First of all, we seem to be living in an era where ideologies that used to be considered "fringy" have become mainstream in the Republican Party. That is frightening enough.  But to the extent that Seven Mountains dominionism is "a heartbeat away from everything that happens in the Republican Party," perhaps it is time we all understood it better.

Prior to its launch by Cunningham and Bright in 1975, the foundation was laid by the man who is often credited with being the founder of Christian nationalism — R. J. Rushdoony (1916-2001). Here is what Stewart wrote about him in The Power Worshippers:

The views of the theologian who lies at the center of so much influence are not hard to state simply and clearly: Rushdoony advocated a return to “biblical” law in America. The Bible, says Rushdoony, commands Christians to exercise absolute dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants. Women are destined by God to be subordinate to men; men are destined to be ruled by a spiritual aristocracy of right-thinking, orthodox Christian clerics; and the federal government is an agent of evil. Public education, in Rushdoony’s reading of the Bible, is a threat to civilization, for it “basically trains women to be men,” and represents “primitivism,” “chaos,” and “a vast integration into the void.”

At the heart of Rushdoony's argument for dominionism are two biblical passages. Genesis 1:28 commands men to have “dominion” over “every living thing.” And in Matthew 28:18-20, the “Great Commission,” Jesus commands his followers to proselytize to the world. 

Drawing on the work of theologian Robert Lewis Dabney, Rushdoony argued that the American Civil War "destroyed the early American Republic, which he envisioned as a decentralized Protestant feudal system and an orthodox Christian nation." Rushdoony saw the North's victory as a "defeat for Christian orthodoxy." In his book The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony wrote that "Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies" because democracy asserts the will of man over the will of God. 

The visions that brought Cunningham and Bright together in 1975 were based on a prophecy in Isaiah 2:2: "In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it." Various groups have identified the seven mountains differently, but as Stewart suggested, they tend to include government, media, education, business, entertainment, religion, and family. Adherents refer to it as the Seven Mountains Mandate. In other words, Christians are mandated to hold dominion over every aspect of society. 

As Stewart suggested, the whole idea lay dormant until 2000 when Cunningham met with “strategist, futurist and compelling communicator” Lance Wallnau, and told him about the vision of 25 years earlier. Wallnau, a 63-year-old business consultant based in Dallas immediately saw the idea’s potential and began promoting seminars and training courses on the theory as a “template for warfare” for the new century. Its real surge in popularity began in 2013, when Wallnau co-authored the movement’s call to arms, Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate, with Bill Johnson, pastor of a prominent California megachurch.

As Republicans go on and on about so-called "religious liberty" these days, it is helpful to keep in mind what Gary North (Rushdoony's son-in-law) wrote in 1982 (emphasis mine):

We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

None of this is about religious liberty. It is all about Christian nationalists demolishing democracy in an attempt to set up a theocracy. They want to deny religious liberty to those they consider to be the "enemies of God." That is what was on the agenda at the Road to Majority convention this summer.  

As Stewart reported, all of this is based on portraying anyone who doesn't agree with them (namely Democrats) as "Satan" and "agents of evil." That is the foundation of their so-called "culture war." Fear-mongering about that has reached epic proportions lately. As just one example, Tucker Carlson isn't the only one claiming that freedom is threatened in the U.S. more than it is in Hungary. Take a look at what  Sumantra Maitra wrote at The Federalist.

People fearing for their jobs due to imposed social taboos and state-mandated ostracism for anyone who oppose extreme social deviancy such as criminal thuggery, as well as unchecked sexual “liberation” and open borders fuelled by an ever-growing NGO-cracy. Does that sound like a “totalitarian Hungary” or the United States?

Those kinds of lies are circulating all over right wing media and being spouted by Republican politicians. That is how they are attempting to ignite their culture war. It all reminds me of something blogger Lance Mannion wrote almost four years ago. He noted that the only Beatitude right wing Christians take to heart is "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." Why would they cling to that one? Here's what Mannion wrote:

They like feeling persecuted. They need to feel persecuted...it feeds their self-pity and sense of entitlement, and it gives them their excuse.

It’s how they turn offense into defense, how repression and oppression become liberty.

If they are under attack, then they’re free to fight back.

How do you ignite a "culture war" to destroy our democracy in the name of establishing a theocracy? The first order of business is to identify the enemy who is persecuting you — even if those claims are all based on lies. That gives you an excuse to fight back. 

I've always thought that one of the core principles of conservatism is the identification of an enemy as an excuse for authoritarian policies. For years it was the Soviet Union. Then it became terrorists. These days, there are those on the right who are trying to make China the next great threat. But in reality, Republicans have settled on a domestic enemy. It is you and me and anyone else who doesn't accept their dominion over every aspect of society - including government. The culture war they're fighting is a direct attack on our democracy.

For reference, here are some of the web sites I visited and articles I read about this topic:

Seven Mountain Dominionist Groups:

Articles about Seven Mountain Dominionism

  • A Nation Under God, by John Sugg
  • Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America, by John Fea
  • Dominionism is the New Religious Freedom, by Frederick Clarkson
  • The Radical Theology That Could Make Religious Freedom a Thing of the Past, by David Brockman
  • The 'modern apostles" who want to reshape America ahead of the end times, by Elle Hardy

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, Ms. LeTourneau - I've been watching these people since I left evangelical Christianity in the mid 1970s. This has always been their goal.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Quite a contrast from Thomas Merton's "Seven Story Mountain"; and even more so from Rev. Vernon Johns' "Transfigured Moments". https://www.bestsermons.net/1926/Transfigured_Moments.html

    ReplyDelete

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