Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Democracy or Dominion?

In the first creation story found in Genesis, God is recorded as having given humankind “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  (Genesis 1:28b)  Exactly what that means for the relationship between humans and other creatures has been and continues to be a matter of intense debate.  Some read it to mean that God intends the creatures of earth to be merely of use to humankind, with no value beyond the utilitarian.  Others understand the passage to indicate a more mutual relationship, one in which humanity is held responsible for good stewardship and protection of the lives and well-being of the creatures with which we share life on this planet.  The Rev. John Bell, speaking at a workshop which he recently led at Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center, took this latter position, making a distinction between “dominion,” which he viewed as responsible exercise of authority, and “domination,” described as unjust and oppressive relationship.
In recent decades the term “dominion” has been adopted by a particular strand of independent, charismatic Christians to describe their intention to control most aspects of our civil life together.  In this reading “dominion” includes not just other creatures but humanity as well. This Dominionist theology is the hallmark of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), about which I wrote in my November column.  And it incorporates an understanding of the End Times and Christ’s Second Coming which is substantially at odds with the Millenarian teaching which I described in February. 
Researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes it thus, “The stated goal of the NAR is to eradicate denominations and form a unified church that will be victorious against evil in the end times.  Like many American fundamentalists, the apostles teach that the events of the end times are imminent, but unlike fundamentalists, the apostles see this as a time of great victory for the church.  Instead of escaping the earth (in the Rapture) prior to the turmoil of the end times, they teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of Charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or ‘Kingdom’ on earth.”
The rapidly evolving Dominionist theology is widely disseminated in a series of videos, books, and conferences distributed under the general name of “Transformations.”  These materials set out the basic beliefs of the movement: (a) that social transformation can only be accomplished by correct belief; (b) that evangelization of persons and groups is blocked by demons and witches, which must be overcome by spiritual warfare; (c) that all competing religions and belief systems must be destroyed; and (d) that once an area has been purified and “Spirit-filled Christians” take control, social ills are banished and utopia results.
While the Transformations videos are marketed as documentaries, the claims made in them are readily disproven.  For instance, the first video focuses on the village of Kiambu, a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, and describes how it was changed from a place of horror to a thriving, peaceful community through the expulsion of a “witch” named Mama Jane, who is identified as the source of evil in the town.  After the supposed expulsion Journalist Zoe Alsop traveled to Kiambu and interviewed Jane Njenga, Pastor of the African Mission of Holy Ghost Church, who is known locally as Mama Jane.  Njenga described to Alsop how Bishop Thomas Muthee, the person who in the video claims to have driven her out, "took a loudspeaker into the street and he told people to pray for seven days that I would die."  Instead she is alive and quite well, still living in the compound she calls home.
Others in Kenya have not been so fortunate, however.  In the provincial town of Kisii a mob, roused by Dominionist preaching, burned and lynched eleven elderly men and women, accusing them of witchcraft and claiming that their burning was necessary to bring peace to the town.
Another of the videos discusses the 2000 coup in Fiji, when the democratically elected Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, a Hindu, and his multi-ethnic cabinet were kidnapped and overthrown by ethnic Fijians, who are primarily Christian.  The video lauds the takeover of government by “Spirit-filled” Christians and depicts the aftermath of the coup as a time of great revival, with miraculous healing of the people, land, and economy.  Independent reports by human rights and other NGOs, however, document on-going racism and discrimination, attacks against Hindu temples and other non-Christian places of worship, and displacement of large portions of the Indo-Fijian population, resulting in massive poverty and homelessness.
Dominionist conferences teach the strategy of “Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture.”  By this the leaders mean that the church, as they define it, must gain control in the fields of arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.  Their published writings make clear their goal of replacing our democracy with theocratic government.  C. Peter Wagner, one of the founders of the movement, laments that U.S. cities have not yet been transformed, despite the Apostles’ efforts, because “pastors and church leaders do not hold authority in the cities where the change must originate.  Business and government leaders hold that authority.”  This he views as a bad thing.
Ed Silvoso, another prominent leader, at a 2010 conference in Texas described his plans for California, “We are going to get there and bring the Kingdom of God, and take over.  It's not enough to give fish to people, it's not enough to teach them to fish.  We need to own the pond.  We need to show them how to buy the pond.  We need to show them because the whole creation is eagerly awaiting the manifestation of the children of God.”
And Che Ahn, director of the Wagner Leadership Institute, has said, “When you get to the top you can do some radical things for the Lord and unfortunately many of us are not at the top. . . . If we share something concerning Christian values, we are persecuted because we are not at the head.  Once we do get to the head, all of the sudden we can make decrees and declarations and we can influence that whole mountain.”
So are these the pipedreams of a small, fringe group, or do they represent a serious threat to the religious freedoms we enjoy under our democratic system of government?  The movement has spread to nearly every state in the union, with Transformation and Apostolic networks influencing hundreds of pastors and thousands of “prayer warriors,” many of them unaware of the Dominionist and theocratic nature of the organizations with which they are aligned.  Jesus warned against false prophets, admonishing his followers to keep awake, to watch, and to wait.  We need to do likewise.

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