Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influenceby Frederick Clarkson
A Covert KingdomMuch has been made of the "stealth tactics" practiced by the Christian Right. Whereas the Moral Majority, led by Jerry Falwell, was overt about its Christian agenda, many contemporary Christian Rightists have lowered their religious profile or gone under cover. In fact, these tactics have been refined for years by the Reconstructionist movement, as Robert Thoburn's education strategy suggests. Gary North proposed stealth tactics more than a decade ago in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction (1981), urging "infiltration" of government to help "smooth the transition to Christian political leadership. . . .Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure, and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order." Similar stealth tactics have epitomized the resurgence of the Christian Right, as groups like Citizens for Excellence in Education and the Christian Coalition have quietly backed candidates who generally avoided running as overtly "Christian" candidates. The Christian Coalition actually proposed something similar to Gary North's notion of "infiltration" when its 1992 "County Action Plan" for Pennsylvania advised that "You should never mention the name Christian Coalition in Republican circles." The goal, apparently, is to facilitate becoming "directly involved in the local Republican Central Committee so that you are an insider. This way," continues the manual, "you can get a copy of the local committee rules and a feel for who is in the current Republican Committee." The next step is to recruit conservative Christians to occupy vacant party posts or to run against moderates who "put the Republican Party ahead of principle."
Antonio Rivera, a New York Christian Coalition political advisor, suggested similar ideas at a 1992 Christian Coalition meeting. While urging that Coalition members seek to place themselves in influential positions, he advised that "You keep your personal views to yourself until the Christian community is ready to rise up, and then wow! They're gonna be devastated!" Some leaders have now publicly renounced "stealth" tactics.
Central to the Christian Right's strategy is to exploit the national pattern of low voter participation by turning out their constituents in a strategically disciplined fashion and in greater proportion than the rest of the population. An important vehicle for achieving this goal is the ideology of Christian Reconstructionism or its stripped-down root, dominionism, which at once deepens the political motivation of their constituency and widens that constituency by systematically mobilizing a network of churches, many of which were politically uninvolved until the early 1990s.
Much has been written about the success of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in accomplishing these goals. But it could be argued that the Christian Coalition would not have been possible without Reconstructionism, and that Operation Rescue would not have been possible without the Reconstructionist-influenced philosoper Francis Schaeffer. In the 1970s, Pat Robertson was an apolitical charismatic televangelist, and Randall Terry a would-be rock n' roll star.
Christian Reconstructionism's ultimate moment may or may not arrive; however it has had tremendous influence as a catalyst for an historic shift in American religion and politics. Christian colleges and bookstores are full of Reconstructionist material. The proliferation of this material and influence is likely to continue. Christian Reconstructionism is largely an underground, underestimated movement of ideas, the rippling surface of which is the political movement known as the Christian Right.
Frederick Clarkson is an author and lecturer who has written extensively on right-wing religious groups from the Christian Coalition to the Unification Church. He is co-author of Challenging the Christian Right: The Activist's Handbook, (Institute for First Amendment Studies, 1992), and is author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Democracy and Theocracy in the United States, (Common Courage Press, 1996). This article originally appeared in the March and June 1994 issues of The Public Eye.
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