A group of conservative Christians who want to make the US into a theocracy are "laying siege" to Washington DC with "spiritual warfare" - why this matters and what you can do.
This article is full of links both to give readers the opportunity to get a fuller background on what I discuss and because some readers may find it almost unbelievable that this is taking place. If there is anything here without a reference for which you would like one, please ask in the comments and I will do my best to provide. I have not linked to the websites of the people peddling violent rhetoric, but some of the links here will lead you to them through one or two layers of connection.
Trigger Warning: violent rhetoric, abortion, misogyny, anti-Catholicism, anti-QUILTBAG rhetoric
Theocracy by any other name: Christian Dominionists
The Christian Dominionist movement has been getting a lot of press in the US lately, including National Public Radio interviewing Rachel Tabachnik, who has been writing about Dominionism for several years now. On the website Talk 2 Action she has a comprehensive discussion of their ideology, in which she argues that Charismatic (or neo-Pentecostalist) Dominionism is "the next thing" sweeping through conservative Christianity, even displacing pre-millenial dispensationalism (the theology of Tim LaHaye). A more concise overview is also online. Fred Clark has mapped the evolution of Dominion theology from the "hyper-Calvinist" theonomy of Rushdooney et al., through Pat Robertson and others, to the neo-Pentecostalist approach of C. Peter Wagner, the father of the New Apostolic Reformation.
Dominionism goes by many names and has many aspects, but the core idea is that Christians who believe in a particular sub-set of conservative ideology should take control ("dominion") over everyday life here and now. The goal is to "reconstruct" (hence, "Reconstructionist") society on a narrowly-defined Christian basis in order to bring the kingdom of God to earth as soon as possible. One strategy employed by Dominionists is to take over what they have named the Seven Mountains of culture by working to get people who agree with them in positions of influence in each "mountain" or area of concern.
Increased public awareness of this aggressively theocratic ideology has led many people, even those involved in it, to deny it exists and to blame liberals for being paranoid or trying to smear right-wing Christians. C. Peter Wagner himself has responded to critics by claiming that the NAR is benign and tolerant and that left-wing fears are overblown. This is the same Wagner who has told his followers that they are "mandated to do whatever is necessary to take dominion" and that "dominion means ruling as kings." As Fred pointed out, since Wagner wrote an entire book titled Dominion!, it's reasonable to think that dominion is exactly what Wagner is talking about.
Those religion journalists who have researched this movement have observed that most of the people accusing them of paranoia don't know the movement well enough to make such claims - or they're blatantly lying about never having heard of Dominionism before, because they made the exact same denial years ago. Even other conservatives criticize Dominionism, which suggests that it's not merely a liberal conspiracy theory. Fred documents how Dominionism was considered cause for concern within Christian circles twenty years ago, and points out that the development of the movement since then has been almost exactly as predicted.
Because of that growth and the increased publicity, there have been efforts by Dominionists to disassociate themselves from the movement as an identifiable group. They use a networked structure rather than a traditional denominational membership structure, and the multiplicity of organizations involved is stunning. This kind of shell game with names and titles does not obscure the fact that there is an identifiable core of individuals involved and that the ideology they spread has gained a considerable amount of influence with many, many conservative Christians. Their "prayer networks" which mobilize to take part in "spiritual warfare" are spread throughout the country.
But this isn't just about prayer. As Fred points out, "'a theocratic social order' was what they said in 1990 and they meant it then." They mean it now, and they are taking political action to make that happen. Those same prayer networks and the massive "nonpolitical" prayer rallies are also being used to spread information supporting conservative Christian candidates with ties to the movement and as the foundation for an effort to register millions of new conservative Christian voters who will support those candidates.
For example, despite the denials, Rick Perry's event "The Response" was a characteristically Dominionist event in which many members of the NAR played prominent roles. Wagner has admitted that the NAR's involvement in the rally was a sign of their "growing influence." And Perry isn't alone in courting this voting bloc; Michele Bachmann has been involved with related movements and institutions, including getting her law degree from one such establishment, and she continues to include current Dominionists on her staff.
This insightful conversation between two of the best-informed journalists following the NAR and Dominionism goes into more detail on the movement's successes in the legal realm:
But I do think that people have been distracted by focusing too much on bizarre statements Perry’s prayer friends made (the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol, Oprah is the harlot of Babylon, and so forth)—and that has made some people think that dominionism is just a bunch of demon chasers with a militant-sounding theology who want to take over the world.
That’s too narrow, and I think has (1) opened a door for the dominionism deniers, and (2) caused people to overlook some of the real-world creations of dominionism. The religious right has, in so many ways, succeeded in creating institutions meant to supplant “secular” ones. One of the founders of Oral Roberts University law school (where Michele Bachmann earned her law degree) called this his "dominion mandate.” Look at Regent University, where Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell earned his graduate degrees, or Liberty University Law School, where students are taught to engage in “civil disobedience” when a court order conflicts, in their view, with “biblical law,” or the Alliance Defense Fund, a law firm created to take on cases that would result in overturning of Supreme Court jurisprudence on separation of church and state. That’s the sort of thing dominionism has actually accomplished, in the legal field alone.
One of the Dominionists' key goals is to make abortion illegal again. Rather than pursuing a complete reversal of Roe v. Wade, recently activists involved with them have pursued a stunningly successful campaign to make legal abortion impossible for women to access. In state after state, burdensome regulations have targeted healthcare providers who perform abortions, forcing them to go out of business or stop providing abortions. In state after state, so much "protection" is imposed on women seeking abortions that they can't get what they need - multiple days of leave to travel, multiple doctor's visits, days of "waiting periods," counseling from "crisis pregnancy centers" whose one goal is to use Christian rhetoric and outright lies to prevent women from getting abortions, and more. More than one state is currently considering a "personhood amendment" to the state constitution which would define a fertilized egg as a person, resulting in a ban on not only abortion, but also some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization, as well as potentially triggering criminal investigations into miscarriages. The national government nearly shut down over Republican attempts to deny federal funding to an organization that provides reproductive health care, even though federal monies do not pay for abortions. Women's rights and control over their own bodies have been rolled back, gradually but inexorably.
I don't want to see the same thing happen to my religious liberty, which is why I'm concerned about the next big event the NAR is putting on.
DC 40: Laying siege to the capital
The website Right Wing Watch alerted me that prominent members of the NAR including Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel, and James Nesbit are organizing a nationwide effort to "lay siege" to Washington, DC through "spiritual warfare." This "warfare" is a form of highly aggressive prayer that does not just address the Christian god. It involves expressing "directives" for the Christian god to do very specific things, often for and to other people, and it is usually done in a very emotionally charged way.
The idea of "spiritual warfare" isn't just a metaphor, either. If you have read any of Frank Peretti's books, it's a bit like that, except more energetic, and the "prayer warriors" usually see themselves in direct conflict with the forces they are fighting. They literally believe in complex organizations of demonic forces and spirits that possess and inhabit places, people, and organizations. One of these has been identified by some NAR members as "The Queen of Heaven." They insist that all representations or ideas of the feminine divine are driven by one very powerful demon. (They see Catholic Mariolatry as part of the same demon-worship.) It is a major goal of the Seven Mountains approach to dislodge this spirit in order for "true religion" (their narrow sub-sect of Christianity) to be able to take control of the world.
In particular, they have decided that Columbia, a personification of the United States (much like Britannia for the UK and Marianne for France), is a face of this demon, as are female representations of Liberty and Freedom. Since they are obsessed with legalisms, they have issued a faux-legal "divorce decree" to separate the country from Ba'al (another name for a related demon - it's hard to keep track) and assert that they have used their spiritual authority to rename the District of Columbia as "the District of Christ."
As part of this spiritual-political agenda, an initiative called DC 40 is going to carry out this "siege" by organizing prayer networks across the country, starting on October 3rd. The same effort is variously called DC 40, 40 Days of Light over DC, and 51 Days of Reformation Intercession. The idea is that they will have each state take "the point man" position in their assault on DC for one day. On the state's particular day, its prayer networks are supposed to be especially active, and there may be a coordinating demonstration held in the state capital. There will also be "intercessors" or "prayer warriors" on site in DC for the first 40 days (hence DC 40). For the last eleven days they will be in Philadelphia, but still praying for DC. Their stated goal is "to change the spiritual atmosphere over DC forever."
My initial reaction:
As someone who has a strong devotion to religious liberty, I find this “siege” dangerous and disgusting. It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of religious liberty which was built into our country at its founding. Whether one sees liberty as an idealization or as a personification, Liberty is a very strange creature: she says right up front, “Of course you have other gods besides me.” Her law is to allow others their reverence so long as it harms no one. In direct contravention of that principle, these people are actively seeking to change the government of the United States so that my religion – indeed, any religion except their specific sub-sect of Christianitywould be disallowed, and public laws would compel private adherence to their interpretations of their spiritual directives, at the specific expense of religious liberty, and even personal liberty, for all who disagree. I will be spending this time making a daily devotion to her, not against these conservative Christians, but in hopes that they and I might find ways to live peaceably together in a nation that values religious pluralism.
For those of us who actually do revere Columbia, Liberty, or Freedom, this is almost exactly like the situation described in the Baptizing Dead Quakers post. DC 40 has specifically said that "Intent is a force," and that they are using their intent to create change in the real world, which is what most Pagans would describe as magic. In my framework, they are doing magic to coerce me into converting, by force, not by persuasion. To me, this violation of self-determination is fundamentally, almost inexpressibly, evil. It is also terrifying to imagine the kind of Christian theocracy they would impose if they did change enough people's minds.
In response, Pagans have started organizing to protect religious liberty at the Hail Columbia project. Since we have participated in raising awareness about DC 40 and are beginning to organize counter-protests in some of the states as well as protective magical efforts, the DC 40 leadership has become aware of us. In their last newsletter, they specifically addressed Pagans with more aggressive, gory rhetoric. They have also demonstrated that they think any resistance against them, even to protect Constitutional freedoms, is the same as an attack on them. They have no capacity for compromise.
As Jason Pitzl-Waters points out, and as I have described through more research, these conservative Christians claim that they are Biblically directed to cause specific physical harm to people who disagree with them, and that they have done so through prayer. Whether or not you credit those claims, it is certainly their avowed intent to cause real, physical changes in the world, and they are mobilizing to do so through more than just prayer. They are already spreading lies that plant the seeds for another Satanic Panic, and the people who were wrongly accused and arrested in the last one can tell you how very real damage has been done by that before.
DC 40 has the potential to do a lot more than throw around some prayers and create prejudice, though. The experiential and deeply emotional ritual of prayer that they practice is also a way of engaging in an orgy of reinforcing and encouraging each other's hateful and apocalyptic ideas, and those ideas translate into non-magical actions, especially in politics. The prayer guide that is being distributed to people who want to participate in DC 40 is a political document. It touts specific policy objectives touching on all areas of life. I think DC 40 is in part intended to get people emotionally and spiritually invested in these ideas so that they will provide financial and organizational support for the NAR's objectives, and most of all, so that they will vote for policies and politicians who would enact these goals.
Restriction of women's rights is only the tip of the iceberg. As they gain more influence and control in government, NAR-associated leaders have advocated for the US to adopt their interpretation of Mosaic law from the Old Testament, which includes the death penalty for people who engage in gay or lesbian sex, or any sex outside of hetero marriage (including adultery), people who break the Sabbath, people who blaspheme, and even disobedient children. Fred points out, though, that they wouldn't adopt the parts of the Old Testament law code that try to ensure social justice and prevent poverty, probably because the NAR has made some apostles and prophets quite a tidy sum.
Their personal profits only begin to indicate the kind of financial and organizational power this movement is gathering and directing towards ends that would undermine every freedom I hold dear.
What You Can Do: Awareness, Activism, and Spiritual Support
Raise awareness. Educate yourself about Dominionism, the NAR, and similar groups. Educate others. Don't let people dismiss this as nothing to worry about. There's an old saying that "sunlight is the best disinfectant," so let's get what they're doing out in the light of day. If you are Christian, consider educating others within your faith community about the NAR and what you think of them.
International awareness matters, too. The New Apostolic Reformation touts itself as an international movement with apostles and prophets in many countries. They already claim to be having an impact in South Korea and China. When seemingly unaffiliated people with a similar message show up, do some research or push your journalists to trace them and their connections.
Be active! Especially in the US, participate in the political process. Hail Columbia will be posting a sample letter that you can send to your elected officials to show your support for religious liberty. When you become aware of stealth bills to undermine separation of church and state, especially at the local or state level,, tell your representatives what you think and how you want them to vote. If you can, donate time or money to an organization like the ACLU, People for the American Way, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or other proponents of civil rights. Attend an interfaith event in support of religious liberty or one of the counter-protests.
Lend spiritual support. If it is in your religious practice, consider saying a prayer or sending energy to support DC and resist theocracy. For example, you might pray for the US to maintain its commitment to the freedoms listed in the Constitution. Since this is a fairly tense situation, especially for those of us in DC, knowing that we have the support of others makes a world of difference.
The Slacktiverse is a community blog. Content reflects the individual opinions of the contributors. We welcome disagreement in the comment threads, and invite anyone who wishes to present an alternative interpretation of a situation to write and submit a post.