Guide to the Christian Right

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Quick Overview

The Christian Right is a series of groups that compose both a social movement and a political movement. It has components that stretch from the Conservative Right to the Hard Right. Here we concentrate on that sector of the Christian Right that is part of the Dissident Right. A number of studies have found that people with above average income, education, and social status populate the organizations of the Christian Right in the United States. Many are managers and small business owners. When studying the contemporary Christian Right it is easy to find evidence of apocalypticism, conspiracism, and populist anti-elitism. Much of the populist rhetoric reflects alienation caused by the shifting sands of gender, sexual identities, and class positions. "The rise of the Christian Right, with its emphasis on 'family values,' gender roles, and a muted, cultural form of Eurocentric racism, was one of the most significant features of politics in the 1980s and 1990s." Nonetheless, the Christian Right should not be lumped together with the militias or the Extreme Right.

Starting in the early 1900s, the major scapegoat for the Christian Right was godless communism. After the collapse of European communism, around 1990, a new scapegoat was found. The new mobilizing focus for the Christian Right was an umbrella concept called the Culture War; launched against the scapegoat of secular humanism. For the Christian Right the apocalyptic demon of secular humanism had three heads: liberal moral relativism; the feminist movement and its demands for reproductive rights; and the gay and lesbian rights movements. As a result of this analysis, the Christian Right launched campaigns aimed at policing "traditional" gender roles. According to Clarkson, abortion and homosexuality are both a "permanent, defining issue for the movement." In part as a payback for Christian Right voter turnout, and in part due to ideological and theological agreement, George W. Bush has embraced several items from the Christian Right agenda on gender. Kaminer warns that the "current regime envisions an ideal world in which heterosexual couples can't divorce and gay couples can't marry, women cannot get an abortion, and even contraception is scarce, especially for teens."

Most sectors in the contemporary Christian Right have resisted the overtures of their most insurgent compatriots and moved instead toward the Conservative Right and participation in the electoral system. While they often complain about the government and political system, the primary focus of the Christian Right is gender. Christian political activism reaches back to the early settlers, and has always had a profound effect on the U.S. political scene. Christian political and social movements have oscillated between progressive and reactionary poles. The mobilization of Christian activists during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s echoed the progressive reform aspects of Abolitionism, the Social Gospel movement, and the Temperance movement. Right-wing Christian activism is no less creative and adaptive than that of its progressive siblings.

From: Chip 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.

What is Dominionism?

Dominionism is a trend in Protestant Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism that encourages not just active political participation in civic society but also attempts to dominate the political process.

The broad concept of Dominionism is based on the Bible's text in Genesis 1:26:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (KJV).

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" (NIV).

Most Christians interpret this verse as meaning that God gave humankind dominion over the Earth. Many consider this a mandate for stewardship rather than the assertion of total control. A more assertive interpretation of this verse is seen as a command that Christians bring all societies, around the world, under the rule of the Word of God, as they understand it.

As Sara Diamond explains, the general Dominionist idea, is "that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns -- and there is no consensus on when that might be. Dominionist thinking precludes coalitions between believers and unbelievers...." This creates a contradictory tension. "The Christian Right wants to take dominion," says Diamond, but also wants to work within "the existing political-economic system, at the same time." In the United States, Dominionism raises issues of separation of church and state, but since Dominionism appears in a variety of forms, it is important to take each example and evaluate the specific beliefs, especially around the issue of theocracy.

Generic Dominionism

Within the Christian Right, concern over social, cultural, and political issues such as abortion and school prayer has prompted participation in elections since the 1970s. Activists and intellectuals in the Christian Right work in a coalition that includes both postmillennialists and premillennialists exercising political power primarily through the Republican Party. These dominionists generally insist that "America is a Christian Nation," and that therefore Christians need to re-assert control over political and cultural institutions. Yet many stop short of articulating a position that could be called theocratic.

Theocratic dominionism

The terms Theocratic Dominionism or Hard Dominionism, describe forms of Dominion Theology, a religious trend that arose in the 1970s as a series of small Christian movements that seek to establish a theocratic form of government. In the United States, a very doctrinaire version of Hard Dominionism is Christian Reconstructionism, a theonomic movement that seeks to replace the secular governance model, and subsequently the U.S. Constitution, creating a political and judicial system based on Old Testament Law, or Mosaic Law.

Critics of the theocratic versions of dominionism often lump all the variants together, and use the terms Dominionism, Dominion Theology, and Christian Reconstructionism almost interchangeably, but this is problematic. For example, all Christian Reconstructionists are Dominionists, but not all Dominionists are Christian Reconstructionists.

Dominionists often argue that the United States was originally envisioned as a society based on Biblical law.

Roots and branches

Both forms of Dominionism have appeared in Canada, and several European countries, as well as the United States. Dominionism as a trend in the late 1970s and 1980s was sparked in part by a series of books and films featuring Francis A. Schaeffer, a popular theologian based in Switzerland.

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Different Sectors - Different Responses

The Religious Right

Religious Conservatism—Play by the rules of a pluralist democratic republic. Mostly Christians, with handful of conservative Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other people of faith. Moral traditionalists. Cultural and social conservatives. Sometimes critical of Christian Right.

Christian Nationalism (Christian Right: Soft Dominionists)—Biblically-defined immorality and sin breed chaos and anarchy. America’s greatness as God’s chosen land has been undermined by liberal secular humanists, feminists, and homosexuals. Purists want litmus tests for issues of abortion, tolerance of gays and lesbians, and prayer in schools. Overlaps somewhat with Christian theocracy.

Christian Theocracy (Christian Right: Hard Dominionists)—Christian men are ordained by God to run society. Eurocentric version of Christianity based on early Calvinism. Intrinsically Christian ethnocentric, treating non-Christians as second-class citizens, and therefore implicitly antisemitic. Includes Christian Reconstructionists.

See Full Chart of Sectors

The Christian Right (Portal Page)

Guide to the Christian Right {you are here}
The Christian Right, Dominionism, & Theocracy
Understanding Christian Zionism
Apocalypticism and Millennialism
Reproductive Justice

Additional resources on the Christian Right:

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Dualistic apocalyptic millennialism

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