Dominionist teachings have been in the news quite often lately. The Houston based meeting, The Response, brought quite a bit of attention to this issue. Various cable TV commentators such as Matthews and Maddow ran stories on the more extreme preachers that are proponents of dominionism. They also tried to tie Republican nomination candidate, Rick Perry, to these aggressive preachings (Maddow’s clip is even called, “Rick Perry, conduit to radical Christian overthrow of US government?”).
I have no idea if Rick Perry is a dominionist. I sincerely hope not since, as you will see in this article, this is a false teaching. If Mr. Perry’s goal is to govern the US as a theocracy where punishment is delivered due to lack of adherence to biblical teachings then he would be failing to follow the teachings of Jesus. I have tried to find evidence that Gov. Perry is dominionist by his actions as Governor or scripted speeches (I try to avoid non-scripted off comments in political analysis as these are frequently misspoken, mistakes of wording, or simply out of context comments). As of this writing, while I am not sure that Gov. Perry is qualified to be the President of the United States, I find no evidence of dominionism aside from some people that are dominionists were at a religious gathering that he helped kick-start.
“the tendency among some politically active conservative Christians to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action, especially in the United States. It is also known as subjectionism. The goal is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.”
The key point of this definition is the concept of a nation governed by Christian understanding of Biblical Law.
I will dig into the concept of Biblical Law in a bit but first a bit of understanding to the viewpoint. In a world where several influential nations are governed by Islamic Law (or Sharia), it is not surprising that in a nation that has a large population of another religion (Christianity) for those people to feel threatened and therefore try to entrench. Also, in times of hardship, it is easy to think back on younger days when everything is remembered (or rumored) to be wonderful and blame the changes in religion for the hardship. I don’t want to dismiss the frustrations of many people that feel that our government could be more ethical or more fair and think that if there was more religious observation in the world, that could be a good thing. However, the ends doesn’t justify the means – a government or a empowered constituency cannot make others be Christians. It just doesn’t work that way.
Sympathies to the concerns aside, the major fallacy of dominionism is the lack of understanding that there is no such thing as Christian Biblical Law. Yes, Christians are required to keep the 10 Commandments but only because, as Jesus interpreted for us several times, they are all based on one simple commandment: love God above all else and love one another. This interpretation is most obvious in the book of Matthew in the verses 34-40 of the 22nd chapter:
“34 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: 36 Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 40 On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.”
So we see that the 10 Commandments and the laws of the Torah are subset to these two commands. Jesus is saying that if you keep these two commands then you will keep the rest of the commands of God and all of the laws. But He doesn’t say that punishment will be given to you if you fail. In fact, He says the opposite – He gives a carrot and not a stick in John 15:10 where he says that “…ye shall abide in my love….” if we love God and one another. This is different than a law. A law delivers punishment not reward.
Your local government may make a law that says you cannot drive your car faster than 20 mph in on a certain road at a certain time. You receive no reward for keeping this law. The police officer doesn’t stop you and give you a coupon for a free oil change if you don’t speed. Instead, if you drive the car over the speed limit and break the law then the police officer can give you a moving vehicle violation ticket that punishes you with a fine or worse. Laws deliver punishment for breaking them but Jesus speaks of reward for doing an action.
Soon before His death, Jesus gave a great deal of advice to His disciples. He knew that He would be dead in a very short time so it was His time to give the strongest and most urgent advice. He didn’t recite the 10 commandments or the many rules of the Old Testament but instead simply told them (us) to love one another.
“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
And then in John 15:9-17
“9 Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. 12 This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. 16 Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17 These things I command you, that ye may love one another.”
We can now make the conclusion that Biblical Law really doesn’t exist for Christians. Law implies punishment, for law breaking is punishable. In this case, Christian teaching is not about punishment but reward and being like Jesus. A Christian should love all others because Jesus loved us (an example not a law) so that the Christian can have joy and love as Jesus enjoyed love (an example not a law or punishment).
With this understanding, dominionism starts to fall apart but I doubt if I have you convinced yet so I will do a bit more. Let’s discuss why dominionism is not compatible with Christian teachings.
They like to reference teachings before Jesus’ time
Most, if not all, of the teachings of dominionists reference the Old Testament of the Bible. This was the time of the Law and not forgiveness. Forgiveness came from Jesus Christ, therefore, the punishment of the Old Testament is not applicable after the death of Jesus.
Jesus did not want to rule the world and neither should we
Christ didn’t want a theocracy. If He did, then He would have come as a king and conqueror just like many Jews of the first century expected and wanted from the promised Messiah. When Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last time, many of those along the path thought he was their political savior not their savior from sin. The Man that stopped a raging storm would have had no problems defeating the Roman conquerors. In fact, He was specifically offered to set up a theocracy with Him as ruler of all the lands by the devil in Matthew 4: 8-10. When his time of death was very near and He was obviously dreading what was coming, He specifically did not defend himself and defeat the soldiers in battle as He says that He could in Matthew 26:53. So the idea of government that is a theocracy is obviously not the desire of Jesus and it shouldn’t be the desire of Christians.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s because we don’t understand God’s Law anyway
It is very clear that Jesus did not want a theocracy or a government built on religious laws. He specifically broke some of these “laws” of his time and declared that enforcers of the law didn’t understand the law they were enforcing (Matthew 12:1-8):
“1 At that season Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck ears and to eat. 2 But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the sabbath. 3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was hungry, and they that were with him; 4 how he entered into the house of God, and ate the showbread, which it was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath day the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? 6 But I say unto you, that one greater than the temple is here. 7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.”
Jesus specifically tells us in Luke 20: 20-26 to give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This is significant because Jesus is saying that he is not the government and wants nothing to do with the government. It is worth noting that this is such an important concept that this story is repeated in Matthew 22:15-22 and Mark 12:13-17. Very few stories are repeated multiple times in the Gospel and the fact that this point is brought out 3 separate times gives weight to its importance.
If Jesus wanted a theocracy where a portion of the wages of mankind were forcibly given to him, he would have answered this tax question much differently. However, He is saying that the laws of man are just the laws of man and God’s will is much bigger and more powerful (as is evidence in the continuing verses where he says that the laws of man at that time regarding marriage are not applicable after the resurrection).
Punishment of a people
Several dominionists like to say that a certain calamity was the result of the sins of that city or that country. They compare this to Old Testament stories about vast punishment. This is part of their justification that we should compel Christian authority over the government and the citizens to prevent such calamity given as punishment for sinful behavior. This is poor logic since all of these events are in the Old Testament and therefore not applicable after the time of Jesus. The storm that Jesus calmed before it capsized the boat with his disciples was not delivered because of the evil of those disciples, it just happened because storms happen according to the physics of the universe that God created. Storms are not punishment therefore it is foolish to believe that Katrina ravaged New Orleans because of sinners in New Orleans. The disciples were easily better Christians than most of us today and better in the open sea and yet these experienced fishermen were in fear for their life. The storm was not about punishment because they were not good enough, it was simply a strong storm.
I hope that I have given you a few things to think about as why dominionism is not compatible with Christian thought. To be honest, I am not naive enough to think that my words will make you change your mind. Rather, I hope that my words will allow you to ponder the subject and that other influences will allow you to ignore the teachings of dominionism and adopt a belief in love and forgiveness rather than punishment.
And if you find true evidence that Governor Perry is a dominionist, please let me know. Don’t give me examples of where dominionist leaders like Perry – that is rejecting the candidate based on his supporters and an unfair analysis.