Wednesday, September 7, 2011

At least they aren't Dominionists

A couple of weeks ago I linked to Dominionism: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry’s Dangerous Religious Bond by Michelle Goldberg. In discussions online, a couple of friends pointed me to these articles, Be not afraid of evangelicals by Lisa Miller and Christian Dominionism Is a Myth by A. Larry Ross. Ross and Miller both write in response to Goldberg’s article, as well as Leap of Faith regarding Michele Bachmann by Ryan Lizza and Rick Perry’s Army of God by Forrest Wilder. The part of Ross’s article that addresses these articles is,

Although her [Goldberg’s] well-intentioned article may resonate in the echo chambers of her fellow East Coast media elite, Goldberg misapplies a broad label that few, if any, evangelicals use or with which they identify. It reveals more about the author’s personal perspective and lack of nuanced understanding of the topic than it provides useful information about the subjects themselves.

Miller’s article does a clearer job than Ross of describing Dominionism, and aptly remarks,

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.”

I don’t think that Bachmann or Perry would call themselves Dominionists, and I now agree with my friends that this label is wrong. Another valid criticism of Ryan Lizza’s piece on Bachmann is that it overstates her connections to certain extremist figures. Ross and Miller are both right to protest when people in the media try to make evangelicalism sound frightening. However, I think that Goldberg, Lizza, and Wilder, in their writing, are careful to not make blanket statements about Christians or evangelicals. They aren’t telling their readers to watch out for evangelicals, they’re telling their readers to watch out for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry and the particular people they are influenced and supported by.

I read more about Bachmann and Perry, trying to figure out if they are “Dominionists” and realized that they aren’t. That didn’t make me feel better, though. They aren’t Dominionists, but they do support their strains of Christianity having undue influence on others through government power.

It’s appropriate for religion to influence politicians. It’s great if a Christian politician sees concern for the poor in the Bible and this motivates them to legislate for justice in our society. I am glad when Christian politicians’ beliefs about God valuing life encourage them to protect lives. It’s wonderful if a Christian politician’s beliefs about God remind them of how limited and frail humans are, and take this as a reminder to be humble and careful in the use of their power.

Our government is and should be secular, though; policy ought to be based on reason and evidence. Secularism is not just important for the non-religious, it’s important for everyone because it’s not just neutral towards religions, it’s neutral towards sects. While the United States has, historically, been mostly populated by Christians, it has always been populated by Christians of many stripes. My home state, Maryland, was founded as a colony because George Calvert (The Lord Baltimore) wanted a place where Catholics could live freely, away from mistreatment in Anglican England. I don’t think that Bachmann and Perry have secret spooky connections to religious conspiracies. However, both Bachmann and Perry openly disregard the protection of everyone’s rights equally; they advance their particular religious preferences through governmental power.

While Lizza’s profile on Bachmann was speculative regarding her connections to some figures, the leadership of her law school and the close relationships that she did have with her mentors are relevant. Bachmann went to O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University, which had a lapse in its accreditation by the ABA because they required students and faculty to be Christian. This was not an institution that tought lawyers to practice law with neutrality towards religion. In God’s Law is the Only Law: The Genesis of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Posner writes about one of the founders of Coburn, Herb Titus,

After Moore was stripped of his judgeship for defying a federal court order to remove his monument, Titus drafted the Constitution Restoration Act, which would have deprived federal courts of jurisdiction in cases challenging a government entity’s or official’s “acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.” The bill, which did not pass, nonetheless had nine Senate co-sponsors and 50 House co-sponsors; including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal, now the governor of Louisiana, Nathan Deal, now the governor of Georgia, and Mike Pence, a conservative hero who’s now running for governor of Indiana.

After graduation, Bachmann stayed to work as a research assistant for John Eidsmoe’s book “Christianity and the Constitution”. Ryan Lizza recalls a conversation with Eidsmoe,

Eidsmoe explained to me how the Coburn School of Law, in the years that Bachmann was there, wove Christianity into the legal curriculum. “Say we’re talking in criminal law, and we get to the subject of the insanity defense,” he said. “Well, Biblically speaking, is there such a thing as insanity and is it a defense for a crime? We might look back to King David when he’s captured by the Philistines and he starts frothing at the mouth, playing crazy and so on.” When Biblical law conflicted with American law, Eidsmoe said, O.R.U. students were generally taught that “the first thing you should try to do is work through legal means and political means to get it changed.”

Bachmann’s not simply affiliated with anti-secularism, and not only in ancient history. Speaking at the EdWatch National Education Conference in 2004, she said,

It’s part of Satan I think to say that this is “gay.” It’s anything but gay.


If you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement.

Anti-gay opinions don’t have to be religious, but Bachmann’s views on gay rights clearly do come from her religious beliefs.

While in the Minnesotta State Senate, she co-wrote a bill regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools:

Notwithstanding any rule or law to the contrary, when science academic standards are taught that may generate controversy, including biological evolution, the curriculum must help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society. A quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science.

I agree with every word of that bill. It’s entirely unnecessary, though. Science education already teaches how we come to understand nature, and includes discussion of controversy; this helps students develop critical thinking skills, and science instruction should include more consideration of disagreement among scientists. Appropriate teaching of the controversy about evolution would include the fact that it ended years ago. The “full range of scientific views” on evolution does not include intelligent design, which Bachmann wants taught in schools,

I support intelligent design. What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.

Support of intelligent design is support of religion. Intelligent design as a political movement is just a re-brand of creationism, a re-brand that was rightly struck down as being inappropriate for teaching in public schools, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. This movement is dishonest because the scientific community does not support intelligent design. If intelligent design proponents were concerned about advancing their hypotheses appropriately, they would be campaigning for more research funding on the matter, instead of demanding that opinions that are not grounded in science be taught as science in public schools. The Discovery Institute is the primary organization in the intelligent design movement. In its Wedge Strategy document, it stated the goal of having a hundred scientific publications supporting intelligent design by 2003. This did not come close to happening. They tried to start their own journal, Origins & Design, but didn’t publish a new issue since the year 2000. Political support for teaching creationism in public schools is based on willful ignorance of the actual science, and is instead motivated by religious beliefs.

Bachmann wants tax policy to be influenced by her religious beliefs,

What Jesus said, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s,” so there certainly is a place for us to pay taxes to government. That’s legitimate. We should do that as Jesus instructs. But we render to God that which is God’s and the Bible calls for, approximately we are thinking of tithe, maybe 10 percent that we are giving to God, but beyond that we also give to charity. Jesus didn’t ask government to be the charity; he asks the the individual and the church to be charitable.”

Bachmann thinks that God is speaking through natural disasters,

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, “Are you going to start listening to me here?” Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.

This interpretation of these events, ironically, is unsupported by I Kings 19:11.

Criticism of Rick Perry for being anti-secular is more relevant because he is currently more popular than Bachmann. In April, he issued a proclamation calling for three days of prayer for rain. (Unfortunately, this year, Texas is having its worst drought in history.) Again, he officially declared August 6 to be a day of prayer. I have no problem with politicians praying, and I don’t even mind when they personally urge people to pray. Issuing public proclamations for such is a misuse of power, though. In particular, Perry’s August 6 day of prayer included an invitation to a rally at Reliant Stadium; Wilder’s article on Perry covers this event in detail. Five days later, Rick Perry announced that he is running for president.

Regarding homosexuality, in his book, On My Honor, Perry writes,

Though I am no expert on the “nature versus nurture” debate, I can sympathize with those who believe sexual preference is genetic. It may be so, but it remains unproved. Even if it were, this does not mean we are ultimately not responsible for the active choices we make. Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

A loving, tolerant view toward those who have a different sexual preference is the ideal position — for both the heterosexual and the homosexual. I do not believe in condemning homosexuals that I know personally. I believe in valuing their lives like any others, as our God in heaven does. Tolerance, however, should not only be asked of the proponents of traditional values. The radical homosexual movement seeks societal normalization of their sexual activity. I respect their right to engage in individual behavior of their choosing, but they must respect the right of millions in society to refuse to normalize their behavior.

His respect for the rights of homosexuals to “engage in individual behavior of their choosing” has evidently arisen since 2002, when, regarding Texas’ not-yet-declared-unconstitutional-by-the-United-States-Supreme-Court anti-sodomy law, he said, “I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books.” He is “for the federal marriage amendment”; granted, this is expected of Republicans these days. The anti-sodomy law, though, intruded into people’s homes. Oscar Wilde said, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” Perry’s support for the anti-sodomy laws, and even bans on gay marriage, is selfish.

Regarding evolution and creationism, he said,

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.

Rick Perry supports Israel for religious reasons, saying,

I’m a big believer that this country was given to the people of Israel a long time ago, by God, and that’s ordained.

What sort of treatment would a candidate receive if they went to a law school that required its students and faculty to be Muslims, where they were taught to change American law if it disagreed with Koranic law? A Sikh who saught to sneak Sikh beliefs into public school curricula? A Buddhist who wanted tax policy based on their beliefs about mendicancy? A Hindu candidate who said that God was speaking through natural disasters? A Wiccan who declared days of prayer? A Muslim candidate who believed that God had given Israel to Palestinians?

How about a premillenialist politician that wanted to conduct foreign policy based on the expectation that the world was going to end soon? A politician from a mainline church who tried to force all clergy to marry gay people on request? A Catholic politician that tried to ban contraception? Secularism is not important just for nonreligious people, or for non-Christians, it’s important for everyone because at some level, everyone’s beliefs are not those of the majority.

When John F Kennedy ran for president, he had much opposition because he was a Catholic. Was the Vatican going to have a direct line to the Oval Office? Clarifying his role, he said,

I am not the Catholic candidate for President.

I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views—in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Politicians are not given switches they can use to turn their religious preferences on and off. We should expect their preferences to influence their attention and give them passion for the wellbeing of the people, and this is often a good thing. The policies, themselves, though, must have a secular basis. Concern regarding inappropriate influence of religion on politicians is not new. JFK faced it, drawing a clear line between what he thought was appropriate and inappropriate influence of his religion on his decisions as president. In the last presidential election, Obama was compelled to distance himself from Jeremiah Wright, and John McCain rejected support from John Hagee. Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s beliefs about the role of religion in government should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other politician.

Bachmann and Perry are not Dominionists, and calling them Dominionists is characteristic of politics of fear and it’s bad rhetoric. It is also unnecessary because they don’t need to be Dominionists to be opposed to fair secular policy. Bachmann and Perry are both clearly drafting policy based on their religious beliefs, rather than reason and evidence; there is no need for conspiracy theories. The influences that Bachmann and Perry have been subject to, for example, Bachmann’s law school and Perry’s support from his prayer rally are relevant in light of this, but these are not the primary reasons why they are unfit to govern.

Restricting people’s rights to marry and forcing the teaching of bad science is not in the national interest. Tax policy should be decided based on the national interest, not on Levitical law. Support for Israel should be determined based on the national interest, and global human interest, not on God-given land deeds. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are both unfit to govern, not because of the connections they may have to extremists, but because they themselves are enemies of a society that treats people of all religious beliefs equally.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head here. It ultimately doesn't matter what they identify themselves as, or what they really are once you analyze how they spend their time and the traditions they follow. What matters is how they make their decisions.

    (Spoiler: They make them poorly.)

  2. Wow, that was much more extensive and informative than I hoped for. Well done.

    Sadly, politicians who make policy decisions based on their religious beliefs instead of national or state interest are all the rage these days. That was part of the "religious right" movement that helped get G.W.B. elected. Whereas in JFK's day you had to make a public proclamation of adherence to secularism. How far we've fallen.