Dominion Theology on the Rise in U.S. While Vatican Considers Formal Rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery

The mindset behind the 15th Century Doctrine of Discovery is alive and well in the United States. Several friends of Healing Minnesota Stories forwarded an alarming article about the rise of what is called “Dominion Theology” or “Dominionism.”

It was a new term to me. A Google search turned up several definitions. For instance, the website Endtimespilgrim.org says:

Dominion Theology incorporates a Crusader mindset. It teaches that it is our Christian duty to take over the world, in a political sense, and if necessary, in a military sense, in order to impose Biblical rule. Christ will not return, (they say), until the church has “risen up” and “taken dominion” over all of the world’s governments and institutions.

The website Apprising Ministries provides this working definition of Dominionism:

The belief that we (mankind) have a mandate to build the “kingdom of God” on earth, restoring paradise, by progressively and supernaturally transforming ourselves and all societal institutions, through subduing and ruling the earth by whatever means possible, including using technology, science and psycho-social engineering; and then and only then will a “Christ” manifest his presence on earth.

It’s an old idea with a new label. It sounds a lot like the thinking behind the Doctrine of Discovery that sent explorers from Europe to Christianize, “civilize” and dominate whatever new lands and peoples they happened to find.

An article in the Texas Observer: The Radical Theology That Could Make Religious Freedom a Thing of the Past, analyzes how Domination Theology is embraced by top politicians in Texas.

Though it’s seldom mentioned by name, it’s one of the major forces in Texas politics today: dominion theology, or dominionism. What began as a fringe evangelical sect in the 1970s has seen its influence mushroom — so much so that sociologist Sara Diamond has called dominionism “the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right.” (Italics hers.) That’s especially true here in Texas, where dominionist beliefs have, over the last decade, become part and parcel of right-wing politics at the highest levels of government. …

Perhaps the most powerful dominionist in Texas politics is Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. In a 2012 sermon and again at the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival, he said that the United States was founded on the Bible. Patrick has also made it clear he believes the Bible should determine public policy. In 2014, Patrick said that elected officials must look to Scripture when they make policy, “because every problem we have in America has a solution in the Bible.”

It’s not limited to Texas. Consider the 2014 speech by U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Standing on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, King said:

I think of this Western Hemisphere, all of it, as the domain of … Western Christendom; the foundation of Western civilization, Judeo-Christianity; … the values that Christopher Columbus brought here across the ocean, and that great footprint of the moral values and the ethics that have emerged as part of our Old Testament values and our New Testament values …

This blog is not an attempt to veer into partisan politics, but to hold up a core value of our organization: Freedom of Religion. Healing Minnesota Stories is an initiative of the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN). SPIN’s vision is to “create a culture that champions multi-religious respect and cooperation.” Dominion Theology seems to oppose that vision, seeking to give one religion primacy over the others in the public square.

While Dominion Theology may be on the rise here, the Vatican appears to be softening to the idea of formally rescinding the Doctrine of Discovery and the concept of Christian domination.

According to a June 1 story in the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the Catholic Church is considering Native people’s requests to rescind Doctrine of Discovery. A delegation of Native Americans met with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on May 4. Kahnawake Mohawk Kenneth Deer, a member of the delegation, recounted meeting with Council Chair Cardinal Silvano Tomasi:

“At first when he first started he started giving the usual spiel that the papal bulls are no longer in effect, that they’ve been superseded by other papal bulls and there was no need for us to do anything. Then we interrupted him to do an opening prayer,” Deer said. “Then we did introductions around the table and then we got into the issues. By the time we had done with him he was changing his position. At the end he said, ‘Maybe the Vatican does have to make a statement. We have to consider making a statement.’”

As we noted in an earlier blog, Steven Newcomb, the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, also participated in the delegation. The  visit also included a brief conversation with the Pope. Newcomb wrote about the experience in a column in Indian Country Today. The meeting was the culmination of an event called “The Long March to Rome”.

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