Rachel Tabachnick – Exposing Dominionism

September 12, 2011

We’ve heard a lot in the news lately about Dominionists—Christians who believe, basically, that they ought to be running this country.

Dominionism has different strains. But one is embodied in a group called the New Apostolic Reformation, which helped organize a recent prayer rally for Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry.

How seriously should we take this group, and its goals?

To answer that question, Point of Inquiry turned to Rachel Tabachnik, a researcher and writer who focuses on monitoring the Religious Right. She’s a contributor to Talk2Action.org, and recently wrote about the New Apostolic Reformation on Alternet.org.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, September 12th, 2011. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. My guest this week is Rachel Thabang Nick. She’s a researcher and writer who focuses on monitoring the religious right. And lately she’s been writing and speaking on dominionism, the belief among some Christians that they ought to be running this country. Dominionist have different flavors, different strands, but one is embodied in a group called the New Apostolic Reformation, which helped to organize a recent prayer rally for Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. How seriously should we take this group and its goals? That’s what I wanted to speak with Dibadj, Nick, about Rachel Dibadj. Nick is a contributor to Talk to Action Dawg. She recently wrote about the New Apostolic Reformation on AlterNet. Rachel Debauch, Nick, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks so much, Chris. It’s great to have you. Recently, you’ve gotten a lot of attention for reporting on AlterNet and elsewhere about how the Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry, is supported by something called the New Apostolic Reformation, a so-called dominionist Christian group made up of prayer warriors. Tell us about this movement and what it wants. 

Well, the movement is something that has evolved out of the independent, charismatic sector of Christianity, a sector that was made up of nondenominational churches and ministries that have been brought together into Luthe, what they call relational networks with each other. You can look at the movement as as being two things. One, a change of the structure of these churches and a change in the ideology of these churches, as you mentioned. The ideology is dominionist and the sense that they believe that they have to take control over the institutions of society and government before Jesus can return the apostolic government of the church. The change in structure refers to the idea that instead of having independent, democratically governed churches, which is common in evangelicalism in America, democratic churches, and that they have deacons or elders, members of the church that govern the church and make the decisions about the pastor, for instance. This in an apostolic government is changed to authority under apostles and prophets in the movement, according to the leadership of the movement. God designates who these apostles and prophets will be. These are supernatural gifts or charismatic gifts, and God determines who these will be. And then they have a position of authority over churches and ministries and cannot be voted out, so to speak, by a church government. 

So this is someone who for some reason has a, quote, revelation and thinks God has told them to lead one of these groups. 

Yes. And so they are not there through a route that might be traditional and other churches and denominations, for instance, through specific seminary training or through some type of structure. But they are there because they feel that God has called them to be an apostle and that they become recognized as an apostle by their peers and community then. So what’s taking place here is that all over the country and all over the world, churches that have been self-governing in which the congregation has made the decisions, now fall under the authority of these apostles and prophets. And one of the important things about this change in structure is that in the new apostolic reformation, this is not the apostles. And profits are not just over the nuclear church, but over all areas of society. The movement has something called the Seven Mountains campaign, which encapsulates this very well. And the idea is that. These seven mountains have society and government have to be conquered or taken by the believers in this movement. This sector of Christianity and those mountains are arts, business, education, family, government, media and religion. So the last when religion applies to the nuclear church and ministries. The others are also supposed to come under apostolic authority. And those apostles are called market apostles, the ones that are outside of the nuclear church. 

Mm hmm. Well, in the end, they believe they have to do this. 

I understand because they think that currently all these let’s call them sectors, they call them mountains. They think that they’re demonically possessed by some evil force. So they need to rid the world of that evil force and take it over. 

Yes. And the process through which they believe that they will rid the world of a rule by these demonic forces are people who are controlled by demonic forces. It’s called strategic level spiritual warfare. Now, the idea of spiritual warfare is quite all. There’s nothing new about that. But the movement has put a very distinct twist on that with this concept, the strategic level, spiritual warfare, you sometimes see it abbreviated as SL S.W.. This is a methodology that they have developed for fighting these demons, which they claim control society today. And there’s three levels of spiritual warfare in this methodology. The first is exercising demons from individuals. Now, Chris, we’ve been hearing about that for hundreds of years, but they believe that born a born again Christians have demons which must be exercised. And so they’ve opened up demon deliverance centers all over the country and again around the world. The second level, a strategic level. Spiritual warfare is the occult level. And this refers to those demons that they claim are the cause are behind the structure of Eastern religions, witchcraft and Freemasonry. Then the third level is what is called strategic level spiritual warfare. And the third level is warfare against what they call the high level demons and principalities. And they claim that these highest level demons control entire people, groups, an entire geographic areas. And what they what they say is that these demons are what obstructs evangelism. It’s what stops people from other religions and even people from, say, Roman Catholicism from being evangelized. 

Wow. So at that point, I guess we all say go demons. This is a lot, too. This is a lots of but one’s mind around it. First, when you’re not that familiar with it. So and I you know, our listeners will be somewhat familiar, but they think precisely in the opposite way about absolutely everything from these people. 

So. So I guess the key question at this point is, all right. I understand the new apostles are Pentecostal. That’s where they come from. I mean, how many Christians in the United States actually believe such things? And I mean, is it fringe or is it not fringe? Is that the point? 

It’s hard to quantify it because they are drawing from primarily from the independent, charismatic and Pentecostal branch. And by that, we we mean people who believe in charismatic manifestations. The idea that not only are you born again, but you have a secondary conversion experience in which you get supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. And that could be like speaking in tongues. Are faith healing or the gift of prophecy or the gift to be an apostle, for example. So we’re talking about a large and growing sector of Christianity that it’s drawing from. But how many it’s drawing is hard to quantify. Worldwide, there are now supposedly about 500 million people who fall into that charismatic and Pentecostal sector. With the larger part of that being independent charismatics. Pentecostal is usually referred to used to refer to those who are an established Pentecostal denominations like Assemblies of God and so forth. So we are talking about drawing from a very large bloc. But there you know, this is not something where you carry a card that says I am a member of the New Apostolic Reformation. So it’s hard to know how many people are involved. You know, one of the things that we can say is that certainly Rick Perry, who’s a savvy politician, decided it was worth. Taking the risk to have support of this movement in the United States and his event, his prayer event called the response in Houston on August the 6th, was organized and led by people from this movement. An apostle after apostle was seen on the stage throughout the day of that event. So we can’t say that he he must have determined that it was worth the risk, that the political value of the group was worth the risk of being associated with it. One of the reasons why he might have come to that decision is that the movement has a very well developed 50 state network of what they call prayer warriors. Each state is under the apostolic supervision of one of the apostles and these prayer warrior networks in each of the 50 states that are under three national level apostles at the moment. And their names are dust sheets. Cindy Jacobs and John Beneful, the latter two of those Jacobsson NFL both endorsed Perry’s event. So you could look at the prayer Warrior Network is having tremendous political potential and the movement is very politically involved. If you look at the Seven Mountains campaign, the idea is that they must take control of these mountains and government is one of those mountains. And of course, political influence helps. And all of the seven mountain areas. 

Well, I think there’s actually two more just context questions. I feel like we need to get out of the way. So this is one strain of what people called dominionism, but it’s not the only kind of dominionism. That’s one question. And then the second is, I mean, the religious right in some sense, it’s been around for a long time. It’s always wanted in some sense to control America. I mean, it’s a political movement. It wants to make things its way. So I’m not sure how this is that different than what Pat Robertson wanted. 

Well, and your first question. No, this is not the only strain of dominionism. There is, for instance, a strain of dominionism called Christian Reconstructionism. And the founder of that is considered to be racist Rushdoony. And what’s interesting is that West Indies dominionism was based on a elaborate and extensive study of his interpretation of biblical law. And it was very draconian in nature. I mean, if you if you read Rushdoony, you can quickly see where he talks about stoning those who break biblical law. So it’s very draconian. And although he was tremendously influential in so many ways in the religious right, people tended to disown Rushdoony because of this draconian application of biblical law. What we’ve seen with the New Apostolic Reformation is that they’ve taken the same idea of taking control of government and society, but they’ve reacted in a much more attractive and less frightening package. And so I think they are able to draw much larger numbers to their activities. In fact, a lot of the new apostolic reformation activities are packaged in the idea of charity and racial reconciliation. So the agenda is not as a parent or quite as frightening. Looking from the outside as Rushdoony is dominionism. However, they are much more successful. I would say in drawing large numbers and are proceeding to do so not only in this country, but in countries around the world. And also they’ve also had the ability to spread their ideology beyond independent charismatics. In fact, you see some influence with this idea of strategic level spiritual warfare, even among charismatic Catholics and even among charismatics and mainline Protestant churches. So you could argue that that the new Apostolic Reformation has been able to to expand their numbers of followers in a way that Rushdoony is Christian or Reconstructionism could not. 

OK, your second question had to do with the religious right. 

And why is this movement different than, say, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority or Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition? I think there are a couple of reasons. Now, keep in mind that Jerry Falwell was a fundamentalist and Pat Robertson also. Made the made the conversion to the charismatic movement. And so Pat Robertson’s ideas had a lot in common with what we see in and in this new apostolic reformation, which is coming out of the charismatic sector. But I think one of the differences in these movements in the past and the new apostolic reformation today is that this concept of the apostles and the prophets, for instance, if you look at the activity of Christian Coalition, Christian Coalition created a voter guide and a voter guide would go out to churches all over the country and would list politicians by their positions on certain hot button issues. And the voter was to look at that and then make their decision. What you see with the new apostolic reformation is that the apostles and profits are supposedly getting their direction from God, revelation directly from God. And so it’s it’s not even necessary in this context for them to market issues. You know, they can give the instruction that God has selected a candidate because they are receiving direct revelation, supposedly from God. This is one of the big differences in this movement and say the fundamentalism of the past, fundamentalism in this country was primarily secessionist, which means that that these believers feel that this type of direct revelation from God and supernatural experiences ended with the New Testament period. 

OK, well, so it’s a deeper and deeper we go. And it’s it’s mind boggling. 

And I think that our listeners are going to be just, you know, not even sure, but very unsettled about this. I mean, let let’s talk about some of the things that these apostles care about. I mean, they care about the standard religious right type issues like abortion and homosexuality, which I find surprising is they care about Tea Party type things like not having big government. I mean, how does that work? Is part of I don’t understand this Christianity at all. But how does that fit into their framework? 

Yes, you’re right to say that in terms of government and government services, they have very much a Tea Party mentality, meaning that they are extremely anti-government, supportive of very small government. And this they have in common with Westernness Christian Reconstructionism, in which Rushdoony believes that government should be limited to very small functions, minor functions of defense and policing, and that everything else should be handled according to biblical law. The new apostolic reformation is similar in that sense, that they believe that that government should be very limited and that all other services should be functions of the church. However, here again, they have seen some quite draconian ideas. For instance, apostle Alice Patterson, who is standing with Rick Perry when he spoke at the response, has written that, for instance, widows should not receive any assistance from the church until they are 60 years old. And widows who had not been part of the church should not receive any assistance whatsoever. To give you another example, a number of the leading apostles are part of a new religious right group called the Oak Initiative. The Oak Initiative is based out of Rick Joiner’s Morningstar Ministries in Fort Mill, South Carolina. And one of the things that the Oak Initiative has done is to produce videos that have gone all over the country to the various Oak Initiative affiliates and to many Tea Party organizations claiming that Obama is leading the country into into Marxism. And in the same video, the speaker is retired Lieutenant General William Boykin. And Boykin claims that the health care bill had a hidden clause that allows for Obama to start something similar to the brownshirts of Nazi Germany. And so you see very much this Tea Party mentality even going into sort of a conspiratorial anti-government narratives from the Oak Initiative, another project that Oak Initiative and the Prayer Warrior. From around the country are involved in is an upcoming the call event in Detroit in November. Rick Perry’s event was patterned after the call, which is led by a prophet named Lou Engle, and his event was led and organized by staff from the call. And they affiliated International House of Prayer. This event coming up in November in Detroit is being advertised as a spiritual warfare, assault against Islam or the demonic spirit that they believe is behind Islam and stops Muslims from converting to evangelical Christianity. Ways that they are preparing for this event include going all across the state of Michigan to Freemasonry lodges, where they are having a ceremony, where they divorce these demons and then put a stake in the ground claiming the territory and they are conducting these ceremonies in all 50 states around the nation. 

Well, the crazy thing about this, of course, is that I think if you think about this from a psychological perspective, then basically they’re essentially the same people as Islamic fundamentalists who also view the world in black and white. And it’s just that they’re born in a different country and different religion. 

It is extremely dualistic. You are either with them or you’re with these demons. And the categories of people who are supposedly with the demons is quite extensive. And as I mentioned, that includes Roman Catholicism. If you are not a charismatic, sort of evangelized Roman Catholic, you are working with the demons. So all other faiths, all over, all other philosophies of belief. And as I just mentioned, Freemasonry is a particular target. And of course, we have Freemasonry throughout our American history. And they believe that even sites related to Freemasonry are demonic and that these ceremonies must take place. Another thing I might mention there, some people may have seen as there was publicity about Rick Perry’s event and who is endorsing it. There were a series of series of video clips that were aired on Rachel Maddow Show and other places. And one of these was of John Beneful saying that the Statue of Liberty is demonic. Now, this is the same John Beneful, who is one of the national level leaders of the spiritual warfare networks across the nation. One of the other things that’s that’s going on, all what they call ID, all repentance and reconciliation. And at first, this looks very good and altruistic because it’s ceremonies in which there is reconciliation between people groups. So, for instance, between white Americans and Native Americans or white Americans and African-Americans. But what you say then when you look below the surface is that this is another spiritual warfare methodology where supposedly this is removing general generational curses from a population so that they can be evangelized. There have been a number of these reconciliation ceremonies that have taken place in the United States, including at the call of Vance and Sam Brownback, former senator and governor of Kansas, has actually taken part in some of these reconciliation ceremonies that have taken place. And, you know, this looks very good and and very altruistic. But then you see, looking at John Beneful side, that they believe that this reconciliation ceremony that took place, including their resolution of apology in the United States Senate that was co-sponsored by Sam Brownback, is a way to end legal abortion in America. Now, that may sound nonsensical to those who aren’t familiar with the movement, but what happens is in this in this narrative that they have of these demons and how these demons have taken over society, they connect things that that other people might not connect. And in this case, they have connected the treatment of Native Americans as allowing demons to take control over both Native Americans and white Americans and allowing for abortion to be legalized in the United. States decades later. So it’s interesting as you get into the various ceremonies, reconciliation ceremonies and so forth, to see their narratives of how they believe that these demons are impacting the United States and what has to happen to remove these demons. Another specific example is after they have these ceremonies divorcing these demons. So there’s a whole set of ceremonies call divorcing by all or Bell. And then they write up these lengthy list of how that they believe that has impacted a particular region, territory or people, for instance, in Oklahoma, where John Butterfield’s ministry is located. They conducted this, divorcing the all ceremony and then have an extensive list online of how this supposedly helped with various types of legislation in Oklahoma, how it stopped droughts and how it impacted the economy. So when we when we see these groups working with politicians in these prayers for rain, that might not seem that unusual. People have been praying for rain for centuries, but they have a very literal idea of cause and effect that day by their prayers are pushing back. These demons are expelling these demons and that this then has a direct effect on that location, on society and the people in that community. 

Well, then this gets us to the politicians. I mean, what they’re getting out of this, I, I don’t think you think or anyone’s saying that Rick Perry actually believes any of this stuff. I mean, people don’t think that. They think they’re just using it. So suppose Rick Perry is elected. What are they going to get out of it? I mean, the religious right got some things from George W. Bush. Definitely. I’m not sure it got everything that it wanted. And I’m sure that he was really, really committed to all of their goals. You know, I mean. 

Yes. And let me emphasize, it’s impossible for me or anybody else to say what Rick Perry personally believes. What we can say that is that he has made a decision to very publicly partner with these apostles and apparently feels that they can deliver something for him politically. Now, what they would get out of that if he would become president is hard to say. Certainly what we can say is that he has helped to empower the movement by doing this and that other politicians who are working with the apostles are also empowering the apostle apostles as well as the apostles, perhaps providing some political advantage to the candidate. 

Do you agree with Bill Keller? The New York Times executive editor wrote an editorial recently you might have seen, he says that because of things like this being out there in the populous, every candidate needs to talk about what they actually believe religiously and what it implies for the political decisions that they would make. 

Do you think that I mean, often, I guess these things aren’t really that much discussed, although as the campaign heats up, they always come up. Do you think we need to get much, much more into the theology of our politicians? 

This is difficult territory because, you know, I do this work because I believe in separation of church and state. But what’s becoming difficult is that more and more we have these movements that are determined to break down the walls of separation of church and state, to merge church and state, as well as church and business and church and media and church and everything else. And so I think we do have to become educated about these movements and their intent. Like I said, this is difficult territory because we don’t want to be blurring the lines of separation of church and state ourselves. When we when we look at these candidates running for president. But I think that this is extremely important for Americans to be aware that there are significant and influential movements out there that have essentially theocratic intentions and that we have a right to know if a candidate intends to participate in advancing those theocratic intentions. 

I guess I also want to know just out of my own interest. I mean, has there been much talk about the psychology of people who find themselves in these movements? 

I made this point before, you know, a black and white thinking, dividing the world up in the good and evil. They call it splitting in psychology, you know, creating binaries, not having a lot of complexity in how you. You things. That’s the same for extreme religious movements and in lots of different countries, and that’s what’s really going on here. This is a part of human nature. 

You know, it would be interesting to see a lot more academic study of this movement. And I have to say the study that has taken place thus far has generally come from people who are very friendly to the movement and want to present the movement as something like the new social gospel or new liberation theology. Although this movement is quite the opposite of that and the leadership, including C. Peter Wagner, who I would describe this as the major architect of the movement that we’re seeing today, says that the social gospel and liberation theology were Marxist, not Christian. Right. 

Because they see everything in black and white. So they’re going to think that everyone is extreme as they are. 

Well, you know, but they see they see charity and reconciliation as a way to achieve a goal, which is Christianizing the globe. And so, in their eyes, the social gospel of the past and liberation theology, like I said, were a Marxist. They weren’t Christian at all. However, unfortunately, we are we are seeing this movement being promoted publicly as if it is a new wave of moderate evangelicals who are very interested in social justice and and charitable activities. One example I gave in a recent article is Samuel Rodriguez, who is an apostle in this movement. He’s part of the International Coalition of Apostles that was convened by C. Peter Wagner, which is part of the structure. And he but he’s also head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and has worked extensively with both Democrats and Republican leaders. He was courted in the last presidential election by both Hillary Clinton and and Barack Obama. And then in the last election. But he is vice president of the Oak Initiative, this initiative that’s going out and working with people like James Gaffney and trying to get this anti Sharia legislation in states across the nation. And again, okay, initiative is the same group that’s partnering with Lou Engle’s The Call in Michigan for this battle against Islam that that they believe they’re going to is going to take place through this, the call event. So so there’s something going on that that this movement is being publicly marketed as charitable and interested in social justice, an interest in reconciliation, while at the same time they have a very again, I would say, theocratic agenda. 

Well, I think you’ve done a great service sort of drawing attention to this. At the same time, and maybe this will be the last question. For those of us who are secular liberals and, you know, don’t believe in God, it’s it’s beyond baffling. It’s hard to even put yourself. I mean, maybe impossible to put yourself in the shoes of someone who actually thinks like the people we’re talking about because we’re so different. So what do we do besides I mean, educating ourselves and pulling back the curtain and saying that this is what they really think? 

I think one of the most important things is to recognize that this is not about secular versus religious, and that’s a trap. I think that we fall into these movements, are happy for us to fall and to prior to a few weeks ago when they started to make the news because of Perry’s event. If you looked online, are looked at at the body of critiques of the new apostolic Reformation. Most of it was coming from other conservative evangelicals and even from fundamentalist. So this is a movement that is extremely controversial and that will because most evangelicals are not dominionist. So it’s important for us not to look at it as a religion versus secular world issue, because there are a lot of observant Christians and people of other religions who believe very strongly in separation of church and state and don’t support dominionism. Another thing I would point out is that this is not limited to Republican candidates. The New Apostolic Reformation also has Democratic candidates out there. Their agenda transcends partizanship. And so, for instance, in Hawaii, they bragged about having both a Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidate. The Democratic candidate did not win the. Primary, but they thought that they might have a situation where they’d have both candidates. Recently, one of the nationally known apostles became. Was elected to the Jacksonville, Florida City Council. She was elected as a Democratic candidate. So I think those are two things to keep in mind, that this is not necessarily the Republican versus Democratic or religious versus secular struggle that the right would like to paint it to be. And we need to be aware of the difference of this movement and the bulk of evangelicals in the United States who do not believe or promote dominionist ideas. 

Well, also, if the Democratic Party is possessed by demons, then maybe they can take it over and get the demons out and then they’ll be Democrats, too. 

Well, yes, say they know their agenda is is to promote their structure and their ideology in any way possible because they believe that it’s advancing the kingdom on earth and it’s advancing Jesus return, but that they have to do this by taking control. 

Well, on that note, very disturbing, but it’s important to know this is out there. So, Rachel, to bash Nic, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Point of Inquiry. Thank you very much. 

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