There’s an awful lot of commentary about the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and Dominionism lately, thanks to Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann’s prayerful entry into the GOP presidential race. Most of it is not contextualized nor historically accurate, or like this odd retort–by A. Larry Ross, Billy Graham’s long-time media representative, to a Michelle Goldberg column on Dominionism, both at The Daily Beast–misleading. (The Tea Party isn’t religious? Where you been?) Really the best piece I’ve seen yet is by Sarah Posner at Salon. She writes:
For the Christian right, it’s more a political strategy than a secret “plot” to “overthrow” the government, even as some evangelists describe it in terms of “overthrowing” the powers of darkness (i.e., Satan), and even some more radical, militia-minded groups do suggest such a revolution. In general, though, the Christian right has been very open about its strategy and has spent a lot of money on it: in the law, as just one example, there are now two ABA-accredited Christian law schools, at Regent (which absorbed the ORU law school) and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. There are a number of Christian law firms, like the Alliance Defense Fund, formed as a Christian counterweight to the ACLU. Yet outsiders don’t notice that this is all an expression of dominionism, until someone from that world, like Bachmann, hits the national stage.
John Turner, University of South Alabama historian and author of “Bill Bright and the Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America,” said that the NAR’s “Seven Mountains” dominionism is “just a catchy phrase that encapsulates what Bright and many other evangelical leaders were already doing — trying to increase Christian influence (they would probably use more militant phrases like ‘capture’) in the spheres of education, business and government.”
To Turner’s list of “spheres of Christian influence” I would add one very important more: the medical right. The Catholic Church, as I’ve written, manages about 650 hospitals in the US, and more every day. All according to their own guidelines, regardless of patients’ beliefs (or informed consent). There are Catholic HMOs (4 of the top 10), medical schools, nursing facilities.
And yet my addition to the list points to something else, something Jeff Sharlet hints at in his Q&A today at Washington Post (by the way, read the whole thing, it’s good). Jeff’s discussing how social issues don’t hold the same urgency for conservatives that they once did (anti-abortion and anti-gay groups have found a way to work their money and organization at the state level, a strategy that, unfortunately, has proven very effective). If they, aspiring presidential politicians, don’t have social conservatism, they at least have economic conservatism (and neo-conservatism, as support for Israel’s government, a la Hagee, attests; Jeff mentions Islamophobia). But here’s my real point: along the way, he notes how evangelicals picked up their social conservative cues from the Catholic Church:
As David French writes abortion remains the wedge issue it was back in the 1970s, when one of Bachmann’s intellectual heroes, the late Francis Schaeffer, dragged evangelicals into battle over what had once been considered a Catholic issue.
In other words, the social conservatism we see among evangelicals today was cultivated from the positions of Catholic Church leadership. I don’t want to make more of this than it is. Everybody knows the Catholic Church is very preoccupied with the body, particularly the female body. But the subtleties of how movements, laws, and politicians are made shouldn’t be lost in all this concern for dominionism or NAR. Sure the Religious Right has incredible sway–not because they are a voting majority, but because they are better funded and organized than other groups. And because they have allies.