Dominion Over Politics 

Michelle Goldberg, senior writer at Salon.com, opened her recent talk to a packed house at University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio with a characteristically pithy political comment.

“I’ve seen the obituary written for the religious right many times, when Clinton won both times and other occasions,” she said. “And the movement has always regrouped in different structures and incarnations. It is not a juggernaut, but it is a force that should be understood.”

Goldberg was in San Antonio as a guest of the SoL Center and the Texas Freedom Network on the last leg of her national tour for Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, an in-depth history and analysis of the movement to establish a Christian theocratic government in the U.S. (see: the demonization of homosexuality by megachurch pastors, battles against teaching evolutionary theory in schools, the development of “the abstinence industry,” and the right’s war on the nation’s courts).

Despite recent Democratic congressional victories and falls from grace by conservative leaders such as Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed, Goldberg says the movement has hunkered down strong with a number of diffuse local organizations and, at the state level, “patriot-pastor networks” that use megachurch and church-related organizations as centers for right-wing political organizing.

“This movement is not a religious movement but rather a nationalist political movement that cloaks itself in religion,” Goldberg said.

“It is not synonymous with evangelical Christianity and it does not make up a majority of Americans or evangelicals. It is just that it makes up the most highly organized political group in America until now. For various structural reasons, it has come to dominate the government far in excess of its numbers.”

Goldberg’s book focuses on the organizations working in the evangelical community she characterizes as “proto-totalitarian,” and the contemporary Christian Reconstructionist movement she sees as the crucible of the new Christian nationalism, whose political ideology of “dominionism” wants nothing less than total political sovereignty over liberals and their “Satanic and humanist” culture.

The origin of the current Christian nationalist movement, according to Goldberg’s book, can be traced to the largely anti-Semitic and racist militia movement of the 1980s, which arose in farming states after tens of thousands of families lost their farms as a result of declining prices and rising interest rates. Veteran conservative political operators like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie recruited Jerry Falwell to form the Moral Majority and organize “middle America” during that same era.

To grow their base, Christian nationalists have embraced diversity and are recruiting traditionally Catholic and Democratic Latinos into their social world. And up until the recent elections, Goldberg said, “they were making rapid progress, because Latinos tend to be devout and socially conservative, and evangelical Christianity is spreading rapidly in the Hispanic world. Bush channeled large faith-based grants to Hispanic pastors. For now, though, all that has come to a screeching halt, thanks to the anti-immigration wing of the GOP.”

Goldberg was led to the topic of Christian nationalism’s influence while writing an article for Salon.com about a faith-based clinic in the San Francisco Bay area that purported to assist gay men in becoming heterosexual. What she discovered was an example of how federal funding for faith-based organizations has made possible significant expansion of their ideologies.

“The diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from secular social-service organizations to such sectarian religious outfits has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency,” Goldberg writes. “Those seeking government help with drug treatment, job training, or emergency food and housing assistance will learn to expect a degree of proselytization.”

Curiously, Goldberg gives short shrift to Christian Zionism as a political force in her book. In her talk in San Antonio, though, she did voice concern about the recent advocacy for invading Iran expressed by the Reverend John Hagee of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church, leader of the political action committee Christians United for Israel.

In her book, she concludes with suggestions for action to combat the movement, such as the development of a national organization designed to assist local progressive activists and promote a renewed public appreciation of the values of the Enlightenment. In addition to groups like Americans for the Separation of Church and State and the ACLU, Goldberg sees seedling organizations taking root.

“There’s the Campaign to Defend the Constitution — I’m on the advisory board — which does national media campaigns. It’s run by the same people who do publicity for MoveOn.org. And, of course, there’s the Texas Freedom Network, which is enormously valuable. I’d love to see similar statewide groups spring up. There’s an embryonic one in Ohio called We Unite that gives me a lot of hope.”

Goldberg also urges solidarity with progressive people in other countries where fundamentalist governments hold sway, particularly women seeking recognition of their basic rights.

But she sees no room for healing the rift between the Christian nationalist extremists and advocates of a secular society.

The extremists, she says, “must be defeated.”


More by Ed Conroy

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