Here we go again. The Republican primaries are six months away, and already news stories are raising fears on the left about “crazy Christians.”
One piece connects Texas Gov. Rick Perry with a previously unknown Christian group called “The New Apostolic Reformation,” whose main objective is to “infiltrate government.” Another highlights whacko-sounding Christian influences on Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. A third cautions readers to be afraid, very afraid, of “dominionists.”
The stories raise real concerns about the world views of two prospective Republican nominees. But their echo-chamber effect reignites old anxieties among liberals about evangelical Christians.
This isn’t a defense of the religious beliefs of Bachmann or Perry, whatever they are. It’s a plea, given the acrimonious tone of our political discourse, for a certain amount of dispassionate care in the coverage of religion. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they’re Christian. One-third of Americans call themselves “evangelical.” When millions of voters get lumped together and associated with the fringe views of a few, divisions will grow. Here, then, are some clarifying points.
Evangelicals generally do not want to take over the world. “Dominionism” is the paranoid mot du jour. In its broadest sense, the term describes a Christian’s obligation to be active in the world, including in politics and government. More narrowly, some view it as Christian nationalism. You could argue that the 19th- and early 20th-century reformers – abolitionists, suffragists and temperance activists, for example – were dominionists, says Molly Worthen, who teaches religious history at the University of Toronto.