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A growing number of religious congregations are espousing an ideology called Dominionism which calls for Christians to control or exercise the primary influence over the US government.

Who are the Dominionists and what do they mean for the future of democracy?

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, an assistant professor of religion and anthropology at Northeastern, and Massachusetts-based writer and scholar Frederick Clarkson, said the once-obscure movement has grown in political power in recent decades and is a player in elections. local and national across the United States. .

Dominionism is an umbrella term for some groups of Protestants and some Catholics who interpret Genesis 1:28 in the Bible, which refers to people having dominion over life on earth, to mean that Christians should exercise control over most aspects of modern life, Riccardi- dit Swartz.

“It’s a utopian end-time eschatology,” she says.

“Most, but not all, Dominionists emphasize that the Christian church will mature, flourish, and gain dominance in society before Christ’s return.”

This teaching contrasts with standard Christian doctrine, also called premillennialism, “which suggests that Christ must first return before a Christian kingdom can be established on earth,” says Riccardi-Swartz.

“So the end game (of the Dominionists) is to create a Christian kingdom on earth while we are still alive.”

Ending abortion, same-sex marriage and secular education are cornerstones of the movement, says Clarkson, senior research analyst at Somerville-based Political Research Associates.

“It’s their idea of ​​justice and what God requires of them,” he says. “The only legitimate education is through the prism of the Bible as they understand it.”

“They talk about getting rid of demons”

“They talk about the Christianization of the public space. They talk about getting rid of demons,” says Riccardi-Swartz.

“It’s really about spiritual warfare,” she says.

“They see themselves as warriors fighting not only demonic forces, but also people. Because they see people as demonically possessed by the spirit of whatever opposes them.

“What they’re really talking about is cleaning up the public sphere of people who don’t look like them,” Riccardi-Swartz says.

When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rephrased a passage from the Bible and told students at a private Christian college to “put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the schemes of the left,” he was addressing a political base of believers, she said.

“I think it’s fair to call Dominion theology part of the toolkit of political radicalism. »

There are different groups of people who believe in Dominionist-type theology, and they don’t always align with each other, Riccardi-Swartz says.

So-called Seven Mountains of Society

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, assistant professor of religion and anthropology, poses for a portrait. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Christian nationalists who participated in the Jan. 6 uprising can be considered “co-travellers” with Dominionists because “they have the same end goal,” she says.

But “most Dominionists are not as violent or violence-prone as we see among Christian nationalists, especially white Christian nationalists,” Riccardi-Swartz says.

There are a bewildering number of groups associated with the theological movement, with names such as New Apostolic Reform, Latter Rain, Joel’s Army and Seven Mountains.

The latter calls on Christians to control the so-called seven mountains of society: family, arts and entertainment, media, education, government, religion and business.

The Oak Initiative, which is associated with prophet evangelist and negationist Rick Joyner, calls for the development of effective leaders in all seven areas as part of a “spiritual awakening that lays the foundation for course correction in the future of America”.

When Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake recently promised reporters she would be their “worst nightmare,” she also vowed that “we will reform the media too.”

Lake, who denies the legitimacy of President Biden’s election, has been compared to a prophet in a charismatic Christian publication.

“There’s a media mountain out there and they have to conquer it,” Clarkson says.

Some dominionist groups definitely want a theocratic form of government, others want to transform democracy but not abolish it altogether, Riccardi-Swartz says.

At the most extreme end, “there would be no more public schools,” she says. “The family educated its children. There would be no social welfare efforts because the church would take care of all the needs of the poor.

This does not speak for all religious conservatives

Riccardi-Swartz says having a conservative Christian view does not mean a person is a Christian nationalist or even a dominionist.

Bart Barber, the new head of the Southern Baptist Convention, denounced Christian nationalism in “60 Minutes” several weeks ago, saying he opposes “everything I believe in religious freedom. … I oppose it because Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”

Riccardi-Swartz says the Christian radical right has “slowly grown” over the past few decades.

“The easy scapegoat is of course Trump. But these ideas existed long before Trump,” she says.

Social media and digital technology have allowed Dominionist-type groups to network and associate more effectively “than they did 30 or even 10 years ago.”

“It always simmered. It is now in full swing,” says Riccardi-Swartz.

How Dominionists Influenced Elections

Right-wing Republican Christian gubernatorial candidate Douglas Mastriano lost the race in Pennsylvania to Democrat Josh Shapiro.

But in many ways, it wasn’t really a loss, Clarkson said.

With over 40% of the vote, Mastriano “won a huge, sleepy victory unprecedented in the United States.”

“We’ve never had another candidate like this in American history, running for an important position,” Clarkson said.

“We have an openly theocratic candidate who said he was the voice of God,” Clarkson says. “People around him believe the same thing.”

Near the end of a Facebook video of a March 15 campaign event, Mastriano said, “God spoke through a donkey. He’s speaking through Doug Mastriano right now.

“He remains a sitting state senator and leads a group of people who meet weekly at the state Capitol to plan strategy,” Clarkson said. “The movement will continue.

Mastriano’s campaign coordinators hail from New Apostolic Reformation churches and spent little money on advertising, relying instead on social media such as Facebook, Clarkson says.

That Mastriano’s campaign achieved as much as it did “is an amazing thing,” he says.

It’s not just white men, Clarkson says, adding that women and people of color are also playing an increasingly important role in the NAR movement.

“If we see seats filled by people who actively support so-called voter fraud, who are supporters of Christian nationalism, who have a conspiratorial spirit, we don’t know what will happen,” Riccardi-Swartz said. .

“What will happen to public schools? What will happen to same-sex marriage? There is a whole list of things on the agenda that will tell us a lot about the temperature of democracy in the United States.

Find out and vote

Riccardi-Swartz asserts that education and information are essential defenses against undemocratic ideas.

“Be well read. Read widely,” says Riccardi-Swartz. Don’t read a single newspaper or listen to a single radio station, she says.

“If you hear people in your community proclaiming conspiratorial ideas, call them on it. Say, “I don’t think that’s right. Can we research and find out? Can we have a conversation about why you believe this? »

Clarkson says it’s important to register to vote, then get out and vote. Lake, Mastriano and other Holocaust deniers were defeated in midterm elections.

“The Christian Right is one of, if not the most powerful faction in American politics,” Clarkson says.

But a majority of Americans still believe in the separation of church and state, he says. “And that matters in a democracy.”

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