Ryan Lizza’s piece in the New Yorker about Michele Bachmann brings up what must rate as the most incoate dread the left has about the Religious Right: the “dominionist” movement, which I prefer to refer to as the “theonomist” movement. You see this in left wing blogs (both in the articles and in the comments) and in places like the New Yorker. The fear, obviously, is that these dominionists will finally give legs to the Religious Right’s agenda, take over the system and force everyone else to zip their mouths and pants, and not necessarily in that order.
My own opinion is simple: if the Religious Right hasn’t accomplished this result in the thirty plus years it’s been at it under the circumstances it’s had, it won’t happen in the life of this Republic. Evidently the left doesn’t share my view on this: they keep bringing this up, which makes you wonder about the level of paranoia floating around these days.
But there’s a better reason to believe that the “dominionist/theonomist” agenda is a non-starter, and that is a purely Biblical one. Most of the wellspring of this movement comes from the Old Testament, and specifically the law. Intimately linked with the law are such things as the Jewish priesthood, the sacrificial system, and ultimately the worship system centralised around same priesthood and the Ark of the Covenant. That system ultimately became the Temple sacrificial system, same Temple built by Solomon.
That centralised system became a major issue in the life of pre-exilic Judah and Israel. It’s not an understatement to say that the centralisation of worship, sacrifice and sacerdotal authority (all of which are necessary in the enforcement of the law) were a central issue in the history of pre-Exilic Judaism. There was the running battle against the high places (which were syncretistic in many cases) but the major issue was the Kingdom of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. When Jeroboam seceded from the Davidic monarchy he set up alternative worship at Dan and Bethel, specifically to solve both his religious and political problems at one shot:
And Jeroboam said in his heart: Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David, If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem: and the heart of this people will turn to their lord Roboam, the king of Juda, and they will kill me, and return to him. And finding out a device, he made two golden calves, and said to them: Go ye up no more to Jerusalem: Behold thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other in Dan: (1 Kings 12:26-29)
The point of all of this is simple: without a centralised authority, both religious and political, to both authoritatively interpret the law of God and to enforce it, the whole “dominionist/theonomist” dream goes up in smoke. A cursory inspection of the wildly fragmented nature of evangelical Christianity, with its dicey authority nature, will show that such a structure is not in the cards. Liberals always fear that the state can carry this agenda out on its own, but in Christianity that’s just not going to happen, not on a broad basis in any case. If political victory were to ever be achieved, I think that the fragmented nature of Evangelical Christianity would dissipate temporal success.
Back when our country was started and for many years thereafter, people understood that the greatest threat to religious liberty were organised, institutionally coherent and officially designated state churches. The fact that the left spends so much time in fear of the amorphous blob that is Evangelical Christianity today is another sign of paranoia afoot. Years ago, when Jack Kennedy ran for President, the fear was that the most accomplished of the state churches, Roman Catholicism, would run the country through its President. (On the flip side, one reason I think Evangelicals deeply distrust Mitt Romney is that he is a member of the LDS church, which has the organisation to step into such a role.)
After the Exile, the Jews pulled their situation together the best they could. Part of that was ejecting the Samaritans, whose worship on Mt. Gerizim recalled Jeroboam’s golden calves, both spiritually and politically. Our Lord directly addressed this issue to the Samaritan woman:
“Believe me,” replied Jesus, “a time is coming when it will be neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem that you will worship the Father. You Samaritans do not know what you worship; we know what we worship, for Salvation comes from the Jews. But a time is coming, indeed it is already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father spiritually and truly; for such are the worshipers that the Father desires. God is Spirit; and those who worship him must worship spiritually and truly.” (John 4:21-24)
The sooner that the theonomists–and the liberals for that matter–grasp what Jesus was saying here, the better for both them and the rest of us.