First published on Christian Converser
As outlined previously, the shift towards Dominionism / theocracy gained considerable momentum during the term of the Trump presidency and the lingering effects continue to the present day, not least because Trump is likely to seek a second term of office and has never ceased campaigning. Previous Republican presidents, however, saw the potential for the more extreme theological viewpoints such as theocracy to divide the country and wisely stepped away from it. The question now is whether the recent direction will attain sufficient political momentum to continue, given the chaotic nature of recent events such as certain directions taken by the US Supreme Court. What is relevant to all of CCNZ’s discussions on US theology is that there is definitely a strong emphasis in recents years on Peter Wagner’s teachings. Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation are very much tied up in this trend, and Wagner had key involvements in promoting both. The NAR concept, like dominionism, does not have unequivocal support across all US evangelicalism, which is unsurprising considering it purports to create a new kind of denominationalism that is separate from existing churches – this is explained as being a fifth stream alongside Catholicism, two kinds of Orthodoxism and Protestantism, the latter apparently encompassing all of the existing evangelical churches.
The NAR concepts are generally based on the structures of large megachurches around the world that in recent years have been established outside of traditional Christian denominations and generally have a senior leader, or apostle, at the very top. At the heart of the NAR viewpoint is that the existence of these megachurches with these apostolic leadership structures is proof that traditional denominations with elected leadership don’t work because those churches aren’t growing as rapidly. This is a very questionable assertation because as the CCNZ megachurch series attempts to explain, typical megachurches are much more focused on ways to get people through the door and there are questions about whether that focus is more worldly in nature. Megachurches actually tend to have quite a high membership turnover, so the real question is whether they are producing genuine converts, and leadership challenges often result in widespread defections. It’s also observable that many megachurches are simply made up of a number of different sites joined under one banner, whereas in traditional denominationalism, each site would have been separately established and they would have joined through a denominational grouping.
In the wake of the 2016-2020 Trump presidency, sharp division has occurred within the wider evangelical community due to the NAR / dominionist / nationalist stream gaining the upper hand in the level of presidential support and policies followed. This is also to some extent infecting other denominations like the Catholic Church where political faultlines have emerged in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dominionists have always been aware that their theology would create this division, with their most fervent proponents asserting that dominion is to be taken over the church as well (noting that religion is one of their seven mountains). It is thus apparent that the greatest level of concern about theocracy in general is pre-assumed within the Dominionist movement, in that their goal is to assert primacy over all Christian churches and, by implication, follow the lead given by the Roman Catholic Church in Europe in the Middle Ages where no other churches were permitted to be established. This is totally at the heart of how America came to be formed as a country in the first place, and the turning of that wheel full circle is thus extremely ironic and lends strong support to the view that Christian nationalism is a betrayal of these founding principles of the US nation. It is also plainly obvious that the conflict being played out in the Southern Baptist Convention is essentially a dominionist one, in that the Conservative Baptist Network seeks to achieve supremacy over the movement and has emerged non-coincidentally during the Trump presidency.
The real question therefore for the US evangelical movement is whether the dominionists will continue to have the upper hand under future presidencies. If Trump wins a second term in 2024 this is almost certainly guaranteed, but if he does not run, there are other possible candidates waiting in the wings. Dominionist political involvement is not limited to the presidency, and its proponents are now to be found in both houses of Congress and also in state legislatures, particularly in the South. Given America’s storied history and the necessity of the first Civil War to challenge the geographical split in civil rights, the likelihood is that a further major military conflict is inevitable as the political divisions become ever more entrenched. If this is to be prevented, anti-dominionist movements will have to become strongly and politically organised to try to wrest back control of the institutions of American government. As it stands now, the theocratic-caused splits in the US church are also felt in wider society, and even if future Republican presidencies push back against dominionism, these faultlines will continue to be expressed for many more years.
The bigger concern about dominionist / theocratic theology in general is the extent to which it polarises society and the church in general. Dominionists appear not just to want to take over the church, they also want to categorise society into narrow categories of the righteous and unrighteous. Whilst we understand in theology in general that this division is made in the afterlife, the expression of this type of legalistic division in wider society is unpopular in church circles because it denies the value of community based ministries as a key church focus. In such conservative churches worldwide, the emphasis is made on making Gospel converts through the personal effort of individual church members, or on evangelistic crusades held in stadiums, rather than community ministries. Mainly, the influence of dominionists taps into traditional conservative prejudices and divisions, seeking to entrench key libertarian principles such as small government, low taxes and individual responsibility, thus entrenching economic inequality on a wide scale. This is one part of how dominionism has been able to tap into the wider conservative political movement in the US. The alternative humanist conservatism to which anti-dominionist Christians are generally aligned has driven most Republican presidencies up until Trump. This wing of US evangelicalism has faced a dilemma in that their key leaders and proponents have endorsed SCOTUS’s overturning of RvW this month, whilst appearing to sidestep the wider question that this has only been possible because of the gains made by dominionists in governmental influence in more recent times. This is partly possible because of lack of US federal oversight over the electoral systems of individual states, which makes voter suppression measures and gerrymandering a reality in Republican-dominated territories. In effect, the geographical divisions between the North and South of America were only ever partially resolved in the Civil War and have become sufficiently resurgent in more recent times that another conflict seems inevitable. One way or another, the United States of America has become so consumed in its own exceptionalist rhetoric that it has become blinded to the lessons of history learned elsewhere in the world, and this applies equally to the Church as to the rest of American society as a whole, as seen in the theocratic movements.
Further reading: Dominionism Rising – A Theocratic Movement Hiding In Plain Sight