News Intelligence Analysis
Public Eye Magazine - Winter 2005
What Is "Dominionism?"
The Rise of Dominionism
Remaking America as a Christian Nation
By Frederick Clarkson
When Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama State
Supreme Court, installed a two-and-one-half-ton granite monument
to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state courthouse in Montgomery
in June of 2001, he knew it was a deeply symbolic act. He was
saying that God's laws are the foundation of the nation; and
of all our laws. Or at least, they ought to be.1 The monument (wags call it "Roy's
rock") was installed under cover of night but Moore
had a camera crew from Rev. D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries
on hand to record the historic event. Kennedy then sold videos
of the installation as a fundraiser for Moore's legal defense.
They knew he would need it.
The story of Roy's rock epitomizes the rise of what many are
calling "dominionism." It is a story of how notions
of "Biblical law" as an alternative to traditional,
secular ideas of constitutional law are edging into mainstream
As readers of The Public Eye know, dominionismin
its "softest" form [is] the belief that "America
is a Christian Nation," and that Christians need to re-assert
control over political and cultural institutionshas been
on the rise for a long time. Since The Public Eye first
began writing about dominionism ten years ago, the movement,
broadly defined, has gained considerable power. Recently however,
the term has become fashionable with some lumping every form
of evangelical Christianity and every faction in the Bush White
House into one big, single-minded imperial dominionist plot.
Dominionism is narrower and more profound than that. It is the
driving ideology of the Christian Right.
It comes in "hard" and "soft" varieties,
with the "hard" or theocratic dominionists "a
religious trend that arose in the 1970s as a series of small
Christian movements that seek to establish a theocratic form
of government," according [to] Political Research Associates
Senior Analyst Chip Berlet. The seminal form of Hard Dominionism
is Christian Reconstructionism, which seeks to replace secular
governance, and subsequently the U.S. Constitution, with a political
and judicial system based on Old Testament Law, or Mosaic Law
(see box). Not all dominionists embrace this view, though most
dominionists look back to the early years of the American colonies
to argue that before the Constitution, "the United States
was originally envisioned as a society based on Biblical law."2
Berlet's distinction between hard and soft dominionists is
clear and broad enough to describe the two main wings of the
movement. But these viewpoints, like the terms "theocrat"
and "theocracy," are openly embraced by few. They are
terms used by outside observers to understand a complex yet vitally
important trend. So for people trying to figure out if a conservative
politician, organization, or religious leader is "dominionist,"
I notice three characteristics that bridge both the hard and
the soft kind.
celebrate Christian Nationalism, in that they believe
that the United States once was, and should once again be, a
Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots
of American democracy.
promote Religious Supremacy, insofar as they generally
do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other
versions of Christianity.
endorse Theocratic Visions, insofar as they believe that
the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be
the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution
should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.
Pieces of dominionism spill out in the day-to-day words and activities
of our nation's leaders all the time. Senate Majority Leader
Bill Frist (R-TN) routinely hosts tours of the Capitol for constituents,
Congressmembers and their staffs by Christian nationalist propagandist
David Barton. President George W. Bush claimed during one of
his presidential campaign debates with John Kerry that the United
States was founded as a Christian nation. House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay has said the United States should be governed under
And a dominionist Sen. Sam Brownback (RKS) is
a hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination for 2008,
while other dominionists are challenging the GOP through the
Constitution Party, the third largest party in the nation. Moore
himself is challenging a business-oriented incumbent in the GOP
gubernatorial primary in Alabama for 2006.
Hard dominionists like Moore take these ideas to their extremes.
They want to rewrite or replace or supplement the Constitution
and Bill of Rights to codify specific elements of Biblical law.
This would create a society that would be a theocracy. Soft dominionists
like Brownback, on the other hand, propose a form of Christian
nationalism that stops short of a codified legal theocracy. They
may embrace a flat tax of 10% whose origins they place in the
Bible. They are comfortable with little or no separation of church
and state, seeing the secular state as eroding the place of the
church in society.
Dominionism is therefore a broad political tendencyconsisting
of both hard and soft branchesorganized through religiously
based social movements that seeks power primarily through the
electoral system. Dominionists work in coalitions with other
religious and secular groups that primarily are active inside
the Republican Party. They seek to build the kingdom of God in
the here and now.
The three-shared Dominionist characteristics of Religious
Supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and Theocratic
Visions are on vivid display in the politics of Moore's ally,
D. James Kennedy, the prominent televangelist. In early 2005,
Kennedy displayed Roy's rock at his annual political conference,
for Christ" in Ft. Lauderdale. "For more than
900 other Christians from across the United States," reported
the Christian Science Monitor, "the monument stood as a
potent symbol of their hopes for changing the course of the nation."
"In material given to conference attendees, [Kennedy]
wrote As the vice regents of God, we are to bring His
truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our
society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over
our neighborhoods, our schools, our government ... our entertainment
media, our news media, our scientific endeavorsin short,
over every aspect and institution of human society."
Kennedy, the Monitor noted, "regularly calls the
United States a
Christian nation that should be governed by Christians. He
has created a Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington
that seeks to evangelize members of Congress and their staffs,
and to counsel conservative Christian officeholders."
The Monitor story shows Kennedy manifesting all three characteristic
of a dominionist: he is a Christian nationalist; he is a religious
supremacist; and his politics are decidedly theocratic.3 But of the three characteristics,
Kennedy would embrace the first, but deny the second and third.
Moore and the Separation of Church and State
The notion we often hear in public these daysof the supposed
suppression of Christian expression by an alleged secular humanist
conspiracystems largely from the works of Reconstructionist
R.J. Rushdoony and those of the Reconstructionist- influenced
writer, Francis Schaefer. Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and Pat
Robertson also echo these claims.
The charge can be heard across the decades in Christian Right
claims that "secular humanism" is being taught in the
public schools and that Christians are "persecuted"
in America. A recent variation of this claim was made by soft
dominionist, Dr. Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist
Convention. "The greatest threat to religious freedom in
America," Land declared, "are secular fundamentalists
who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation
between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices
out of political discourse."4
Virginia Reconstructionist Rev. Byron Snapp maintains, "religious
pluralism is a myth. At no point in Scripture do we read that
God teaches, supports, or condones pluralism. To support pluralism
is to recognize all religions as equal."5 This is, of course, exactly what the
U.S. Constitution requires.6
It is because this is so, in part, that there is such a desperate
push for what Rushdoony called "Christian revisionism"
Arguably, Moore is emerging as the leading Christian Reconstructionist
politician in America. So let's return to the story of Roy's
A few years ago, Moore was an obscure Alabama county judge.
He gained notoriety when the American Civil Liberties Union sued
because he insisted on hanging a hand-carved Ten Commandments
plaque in his courtroom and opening the proceedings with a prayer.
While the case was ultimately dismissed because the plaintiff
lacked standing to sue, Roy Moore became a nationally known as
the "Ten Commandments Judge." Moore, 58, turned his
notoriety into election as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme
Court in November 2000. Six months after his inauguration, he
installed the now-famous monument. The ruling by Federal District
Court Judge Myron H. Thompson in the inevitable lawsuit declared
that the display constituted "a religious sanctuary, within
the walls of a courthouse." He ordered Moore to remove it;
Moore refused, and he was ultimately removed from the bench.
Judge Thompson was additionally troubled by Moore's partnership
with Rev. Kennedy. He wrote that it "can be viewed as a
joint venture between the Chief Justice and Coral Ridge, as both
parties have a direct interest in its continued presence in the
rotunda.... In a very real way, then, it could be argued that
Coral Ridge's religious activity is being sponsored and financially
supported by the Chief Justice's installation of the monument
as a government official."
Moore became a cause celebre and a popular speaker at major
gatherings of such organizations as the Christian Coalition and
Eagle Forum. He was publicly courted to head the national ticket
of the overtly theocratic Constitution Party in 2004 and he appeared
at numerous state party conventions while being publicly coy
about his intentions.7
(Founded in 1994, it was originally called the U.S. Taxpayers
Party.) The GOP was rightfully concerned that Moore might divide
Bush's conservative Christian constituency and threaten his reelection.
But he was able to use this leverage to move elements of the
GOP in his direction. Moore and his attorney Herb Titus (vice-presidential
candidate of the Constitution Party in 1996) drafted the Constitution
Restoration Act, which would allow local, state and federal officials
to acknowledge "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty,
or government" and prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from gagging
them. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS),
and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) signed on as the bill's main
sponsors, and announced its introduction at a press conference
in Montgomery, Ala., in February 2004.
That same day, a conference sponsored by Moore's Foundation
for Moral Law drew a who's who of dominionists and dominionist-influenced
Christian rightists, including Howard Philips, Herb Titus, John
Eidsmoe, Phyllis Schlafly, Alan Keyes and representatives from
such leading Christian Right organization as Coral Ridge Ministries,
Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and Eagle Forum.
One of the featured speakers was Rev. Joseph Morecraft, a leader
of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement.8
Both the House and Senate held hearings on the bill in 2004,
and Sen. Shelby reintroduced it in 2005 (S.520). As of September,
it had eight GOP cosponsors. In the House (H.R.1070) Rep. Aderholt
had 43 cosponsors. It is a classic and pioneering "court
stripping" bill, stripping the Supreme Court of its power
of oversight. The clear presumption of the bill is that God's
law is, once was, and should always have been the cornerstone
of law and jurisprudence in the United States. While at this
writing, the bill has not, and may never progress out of committee,
the depth of support for a bill of such profound consequence
is one fair measure of how far the most overt dominionist agenda
The rhetoric of Roy Moore, David Barton and other Christian
Right leaders not withstanding, the framers of the U.S. Constitution
explicitly rejected the idea of a Christian Nation. The framers,
seeking to inoculate the new nation against the religious persecution
and warfare that had wracked Europe for a millennium, made America
the first nation in the history of the world founded without
the blessing of an official god, church or religion. They were
leaving behind local theocracies that had governed the colonies
for the previous 150 years in which only white propertied men
who were members of the correct, established sect were able to
vote and hold public office. One of the formative experiences
of the young James Madison was witnessing the beating and jailing
of Baptist preacher who preachedit was against the law
in Anglican Virginia.
Madison went on to become the principal author of both the
Constitution and the First Amendment. Among the many historical
issues faced by dominionists who embrace Christian nationalism
and seek to revise history in support of their contemporary political
aims, one is so clear and insurmountable that it is routinely
ignored: Article 6 of the Constitution bans religious tests for
holding public officeno more swearing of Christian oaths.
By extension, this meant that one's religious orientation became
irrelevant to one's status as a citizen. It was this right to
believe differently, that set in motion the disestablishment
of the state churchesand set the stage for every advance
in civil and human rights that followed.
Granite Rock Begets a Slate of Candidates
Moore has taken his show on the road, speaking about his alternative
view of American history at major and minor Christian Right conventions,
and displaying the monument. It is typically cordoned off with
velvet ropes and viewed with reverence, awe and rubber necking.
Moore leveraged this notoriety beyond the lecture tour into
a campaign for governor of Alabama. Not only is he given a (long)shot
at winning the June 2006 GOP primary against the incumbent business
oriented GOP governor Bob Riley, The Atlantic Monthly reports
Moore is assembling "an entire slate of candidates to run
under his auspices in the Republican primary
in effect established a splinter sect of religious conservatives
bent on taking over the Republican Party, and his reach extends
to every corner of the state." This has establishment types
in both parties worried. "In style in if not in substance,"
the article concludes, "Moore's religious populism is a
lineal descendant of the race-baiting that propelled Wallace
to the statehouse a generation ago."9
Moore evidently set out to provoke a confrontation with the
federal courts over the Ten Commandments monumentone he
was destined to lose, much as Alabama Governor George Wallace
lost in his defense of legal segregation 40 years before.
Some GOP strategists fear that if Moore wins, he may set up
a confrontation with the federal government by once again installing
the Ten Commandments somewhere the federal courts are likely
to rule violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.10
The sudden rise of a Christian Right agenda in many states and
the federal government has taken many by surprise. It may be
tempting to see Roy Moore as an exception, but his rise is reviving
old coalitions. In 2004, his former spokesman and legal advisor,
Tom Parker, was elected as an Associate Justice of the Alabama
Supreme Court. At Parker's request, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas made the trek to Montgomery to swear him in.
Exjudge Moore then also swore him in. "The Chief's courage
to stand for principle over personal position inspired me and
animated voters during my campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court"
said Parker. "So, I have been doubly blessed to have been
sworn into office by two heroes of the judiciary."11 But Parker's politics has additional
roots in the politics of the Wallace era. He has longstanding
ties to neoconfederate organizations such as the Council of Conservative
Citizens and the white supremacist League of the South and calls
his home "Ft. Dixie."12
While Alabama has its distinctive politics, we can also see
dominionist politics in the mix of the aggressive efforts to
restrict access to abortion and to deny equal rights to gays
and lesbiansand in the efforts to teach creationism and
its variant "intelligent design" in the public schools.
Naturally, people look for explanations for how it has come
to this. There are many factors for this trend, just like any
other important trend in history. But many Americans, regardless
of their political orientation, seem genuinely baffled and obsessed
about one or another factor in the rise to power of the Christian
Right: they look to issues of funding, mass media, megachurches,
dominionism, and so on. It is all of these and more. However,
following the logic of Occam's Razor, that the best explanation
is usually the simplest, I offer this: the Christian Right social
movement, fueled by the growing influence of dominionist ideology,
gained political influence because it was sufficiently well organized
and willing to struggle for power. And now they are exercising
While most dominionists would say they favor the U.S. Constitution,
and merely seek to restore it to the original intentions of the
founders, in fact, their views are profoundly anti-democratic.
The dominionist worldview is not one based on the rights of the
individual as we have come to know them, but on notions of biblical
law. Among the political models admired by the likes of D. James
Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Reconstructionist writer Gary North
is the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a government ruled by the intensely
Calvinist Protestant sect, Puritanism. In the dominionist worldview,
the biblically incorrect (and those of other religious views)
are second-class citizens at best. While few would admit to the
clear implications of Christian nationalism, dominionism in the
short run necessarily means, as a matter of theocratic public
policy, reducing or eliminating the legal standing of those who
do not share their views.
Indeed the dominionist movement and its allies in Congress
are actively seeking to eviscerate the capacity of the federal
courts to protect the rights of all citizens. Developing a coherent
understanding of the ongoing role of dominionism in the dynamic
growth of the Christian Right movement will be integral to any
effective counter strategy in this, one of the central struggles
of our time.
What is Christian Reconstructionism?
While Rev. D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge teleministry appears
to represent "soft dominionism," he is a borderline
case. Some of the political agenda he, Moore and their allies
pursue strikes me as hard dominionist. And by this I mean rooted
in Christian Reconstructionism, a theology that arose out of
conservative Presbyterianism in the 1970's. It asserts that contemporary
application of the laws of Old Testament Israel should be the
basis for reconstructing society towards the Kingdom of God on
Led by the movement's seminal thinker, the late Rev. R. J.
Rushdoony, Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the
governing text for all areas of life, art, education, health
care, government, family life, law and so on. They have formulated
a "biblical worldview" and "biblical principles"
to inform and govern their lives and their politics. Reconstructionist
theologian David Chilton succinctly described this view: "The
Christian goal for the world is the universal development of
Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is
redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the
rule of God's Law."13
It has been difficult for many Americans to accept the idea
that a theocratic movement could be afoot, let along gain much
influence in 20th century America, but Robert Billings, one of
the founders of the Moral Majority once said, "if it weren't
for [Rushdoony's] books, none of us would be here." This
does not, of course, mean that everyone influenced by Rushdoony's
work is a Reconstructionist. Rather, as Billings indicated, it
provided a catalyst and an ideological center of gravity for
the wider movement of ideas that have percolated throughout evangelical
Christianity, and parts of mainline Protestantism and Catholicism
for the past three decades.
The original and defining text of Reconstructionism, is Rushdoony's
1973 opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law an 800-page
explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Biblical "case
law" that derives from them and their application today.
"The only true order," he wrote, "is founded on
Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical
law-order represents an anti-Christian religion." In brief,
he continues, "every law-order is a state of war against
the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare."14
The Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank under
whose auspices Rushdoony did most of his writing, recently celebrated
its 40th anniversary with a conference on the life and work of
Interestingly, the Chalcedon Report, the journal of the Chalcedon
Foundation, recently reported that Roy Moore's Foundation for
Moral Law is preparing "to hold seminars that will teach
judges, lawyers, and law students about Biblical Law as the basis
of America's laws and Constitution." "There is a lot
more being written and said about this than there was a few years
ago," Moore told Chalcedon Report. "The truth that's
been cut off for so long is being brought out into the open,
and it will prevail."15
Frederick Clarkson has researched and written about the religious
right for going on 25 years. He is the author of Eternal Hostility:
The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and is a member
of The Public Eye editorial board. He blogs at www.FrederickClarkson.com
Clarkson, On Ten Commandments bill, Christian Right has
it wrong, Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2004.
Berlet. 2004. "Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race
Oppression in Right-Wing Movements." In Abby Ferber, ed,
Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.
Lampman, For evangelicals, a bid to reclaim America,' The
Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2005.
Thompson, "Baptist idea of religious liberty affirmed at
doctrinal conference," Baptist Press, September15, 2005.
Cantor, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism
in America, Anti-Defamation League, 1994.
a detailed discussion, see Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility:
The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage
Clarkson, "Will Roy Moore Crack the Bush base?" Salon,
May 4, 2004.
Morecraft III, "Restoring the Foundations," Counsel
of Chalcedon, June 2004. This speech is "An Exposition and
application of Psalm 11 given at Judge Roy Moore's Foundation
for Moral Law conference in Montgomery, Alabama, February 13,
Green, "Roy and His Rock," The Atlantic Monthly, October
Easton, "Conservative's popularity may be problem for GOP,"
The Boston Globe, June 14, 2005.
Parker for Justice, http://www.parkerforjustice.com
Beirich and Mark Potok, "Honoring the Confederacy: In Alabama,
a well-known Supreme Court candidate lauds an antebellum slave
trader and appears with hate group leaders," Intelligence
Report, Fall 2004.
Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and
Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997, pg 78.
Duigon, "Is There Hope for Our Judiciary? Yes, Says Ten
Commandments Judge Roy Moore," Chalcedon Report, October
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The Despoiling of America
by Katherine Yurica
Stanley Kurtz Attacks Yuricas,
The Despoiling of America
By Katherine Yurica
May 23, 2005
Stanley Kurtz did his best. In
an article titled, Dominionist
Domination, published May 2, 2005 by National Review
he tried to attack and crumble the reasoning in my essay,
The Despoiling of America. He didnt have much
to work with,
so as a last resort he made up things. He invented an essay
that does not exist and said, See! Look at what she wrote!
Then he gave a list of the imaginary faults in his newly rewritten
attributed them to me!
Can Democracy Be Christian?
Interview With Katherine Yurica
by Terri Murray
Posted October 10, 2005
It depends on how we define democracy.
limit it to mean: rule of the majority, then I see
an inherent conflict between democracy and
the great principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition,
because there is such a thing as the
of the majority.
Why Bushs Agenda Is
and an Abomination to God
By Katherine Yurica
This is a
stunning major analysis of Mr.
Did you know the Bible prohibits:
vote rigging; privatization of Social Security; tax
cuts for the wealthy; invading Iraq; oppressing the
Hispanics who cross our borders; cutting Medicaid
services; cutting Medicare services; hurting the
environment; failing to answer all the questions
from the 9/11 families; Tort Reform; torture; lying
to congress; bribes; tampering with the justice
system; appointing prejudiced nominees to the
bench; tipping the scales of justice to favor big
corporations? Read Bloodguilty Churches.
this hard hitting new report.
Churches is now available
in paperback. Click here to see the book.
Dominionist Bill Limits the
The Constitution Restoration Act
of 2004 and Now 2005
by Katherine Yurica
You read it here first. The Yurica
articles revealing the intentions of Dominionists to
revamp the American Federal Court system. The first
major attempt has been placed before both houses
of Congress in two nearly identical bills. Drafted by
Titus, the first Dean of Pat Robertson's School
of Public Policy and a known Dominionist, our
question is: What is actually intended by the
Constitution Restoration Act of 2004? If the bill
passes, the Supreme Court will be placed under the
Directory on the Rise of Christian Dominionism
Essays by Katherine Yurica
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