Pre-millennial, Reconstructionist, Dominionist, Evangelical Christians
Several months ago, Mr. Michael Weinstein made some boisterous but virtually ignored comments about the reasons for his conflict with the Air Force. During an interview with the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix Online (and repeated in his April 25th debate at the Air Force Academy), Weinstein said
I am not at war with Christianity or with evangelical Christians, but with a subset: postmillennial, reconstructionist, dominionist, evangelical Christianity.
(During the Academy debate, Weinstein said “pre-millennial,” rather than post, and added “dispensational” and “fundamentalist.” In an email reply to a request for clarification, Mr. Weinstein indicated that pre-millennial was a “correction” to his previous descriptors.) While dramatic, there have been few public responses. Weinstein apparently enjoys a status as one of the few “religious” Americans who can call for the “defeat” of another religious sect and not be roundly criticized by the press and the public. More recently, Weinstein made similar assertions when he said
We have a Christian Taliban within our US military, the Pentagon has become the penacostalgon and this administration has turned the Department of Defense into a faith based initiative…Dominionist Christians [are] praying and preying on non-Evangelical Christians.
Though his original lawsuit against the Air Force Academy was dismissed, Weinstein’s crusade continues. He has already announced his intentions to file a new federal lawsuit to overcome the “technicality” that scuttled the first. To understand why Weinstein acts as he does, it is interesting to analyze who he says he is “at war” with. The following descriptions are, as best can be figured, what those who use the terms believe them to mean.
The “millennial” portion of the term traditionally refers to the millennium, a 1,000-year period mentioned in Revelation 20. Pre-millennialists (in accordance with Weinstein’s updated adjectives) generally believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Historically, pre-millennialists have believed that Jesus will return to collect the saints and a tribulation will then occur; this is in line with the popular Left Behind series of books and movies. This view of the world tends to be “pessimistic” (a belief that the world is on an irreversible course to destruction); only recently have pre-millennialists begun to pick up on the political activism that was espoused by those in the optimistic post-millennialism camp, who believe that in some respects the world can be “saved,” or at least salvaged. In becoming politically active, pre-millennialists are accused of applying their literal Biblical beliefs to public policy in an attempt to “deny basic rights to sinful people.” They are charged with desiring a theocracy in order to “counter evil” and “purify” modern society.
In general, these views are more consistent with Weinstein’s original descriptor of post-millennialism, which is actually more in line with the dominionist doctrine Weinstein opposes. Post-millennialists believe that the world will become increasingly Christian until Christ’s return. By “Christianizing” the world, post-millennialists believe they can speed Christ’s second coming, and therefore end the millennium and bring about the final judgment. Those who oppose a “dominionist” philosophy believe that post-millennialists want to proselytize the globe—involuntarily, if necessary—in order to bring about the end of the world.
This is not, strictly speaking, the view of pre-millennialists. It is interesting to note, however, that public trends seem to indicate that the pre-millennialist view is more popularly held. Thus, by changing to pre- from post-, the number of “enemies” in Weinstein’s “war” has increased.
The terms reconstructionist and dominionist are difficult to distinguish because they have been used synonymously in so many places. It appears that the primary emphasis of reconstructionists is a desire for theonomy, or the establishment of God’s law. This is in contrast to theocracy, of which they are often accused, which would be the establishment of God’s rule. The distinction is important, as a theocracy is generally considered to be a totalitarian religious government, while theonomy acknowledges and even desires a separate physical and spiritual governance. Reconstructionists do believe that civil law should be based on Biblical law. Because the reconstructionist belief is “exclusive,” asserting that only the Christian Bible is correct, those that oppose it see its vision of future Christian “law” as a hope for totalitarian theocracy and an end to individual freedom of conscience or choice.
According to some websites, the term dominionism was coined in the 1990s along with the “radical right.” It is likely that the term has been around for some time but only recently generated popular political connotation. Recently, the terms Christianism or Christianist (and even Christocrat) have been frequently used as a pejorative replacement to dominionism.
Dominionism is often associated with evangelical Christians, accurately or not. It seeks to institute political and social policies based on religious beliefs, which is similar to reconstructionism. The difference, perhaps, is in the motivation. Dominionists believe that God has given man (more specifically, Christians) “dominion” over the world. This theology is purportedly based on the King James version of Genesis 1:26,
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Thus, dominionists believe that eventual world rule is their divine fate. Those who support Weinstein’s view believe that dominionists are attempting to place people in power who will advance their agenda and ultimately ensure Christian domination.
Evangelical, of course, implies evangelism—the intentional desire to win others to one’s religion. It has come to overlap with conservative or fundamentalist doctrine. While evangelism is generally associated with Christianity, many other religions view “conversion” with equal or greater importance.
The terms dispensationalist and fundamentalist were only recently added to Weinstein’s list of adjectives and are nuanced versions of the previous terms. Dispensationalism is often associated with pre-millennialism and shares many of the qualities of the other descriptors, including a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief that certain acts must be fulfilled that will bring about the end of the world (for example, the final peace and repatriation of the Jewish nation). Generically speaking, Christian fundamentalists are those that strongly hold to conservative views regarding Christianity and the Bible. When politically active, they are often accused of endeavoring to enforce their “fundamental” views of religion as the rule of law.
Why the “War?”
The reason that Weinstein and others like him oppose “pre-millennial, reconstructionist, dominionist, evangelical Christians” is they fear that Christians will eventually gain control of the government and institute a Christian theocracy. This is based in large part on the recent surge in activist Christian political movements. Polarizing issues such as abortion and homosexuality—which many conservative Christians view as galvanizing moral issues—have ignited political fires under otherwise tentative Christian groups. Because Christians often advocate a political philosophy on religious grounds, dominionism can easily be—and arguably has been—used to inaccurately describe the theologies of any Christians who have identified themselves with a conservative or “right-wing” political ideology. (“Progressive” or “liberal” Christians are generally sufficiently different from “conservative” Christians as to be immune from the moniker. Weinstein’s organization boasts two such progressives on its board.)
Indeed, some have explicitly stated that all Christians who support a Christian agenda are assisting the dominionist philosophy. Frankly, that accusation is not far from the truth. Most people who could be called true Christians today may have beliefs that support a so-called dominionist ideology. The popularity of the Left Behind books and movies indicates the possible prevalence of a pre-millennial philosophy in Christian circles. Those who support the prohibition of abortion on moral grounds are expressing a potentially reconstructionist view. Many Christians say they would support a Christian political candidate who shared their conservative views; though “world dominance” is not part of that mantra, such Christians could be accused of tacitly supporting the installation of dominionists. Members of virtually every Christian denomination that support witnessing to non-believers could be accused of supporting an evangelical movement. It is relatively easy, therefore, for someone to say they are “at war” only with pre-millennial, reconstructionist, dominionist, evangelical Christians, and in fact be including virtually all true Christians as their “enemy.”
Though Weinstein founded the “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” his comments demonstrate that it isn’t “religious freedom” he seeks. Weinstein has explicitly stated that he “wars” for the defeat of conservative Christianity. Though he has qualified the “sect” of Christianity he abhors, his actions belie his stated limits. Over the past few years he has spitefully attacked any semblance of traditional Christian leaning or thought in the military—and, notably, only Christian ones. During the debate at the Academy, Weinstein specifically said that a Jewish superior inviting non-Jewish cadets to a Jewish religious event (a seder) would be acceptable, while a Christian superior inviting non-Christian cadets to a Bible study would not. (When he was asked to justify the contradiction by Sekulow, he was unable to do so without digressing to something about speaking in tongues.) His “religious freedom” is freedom from Christianity, and he has an interest in a war with “dominionists” only insomuch as the existence of active Christianity in the military is “dominionist.”
Why does Weinstein fear Christians so passionately? Time and again he has stated that he believes true Christians, as a whole, are involved in some form of subversive plot to conquer the world:
Every time radicalized Christianity has engaged the machinery of the state and the armed forces, we have ended up not with puddles and little streams, but with oceans and oceans of blood…I’m not just talking about the Holocaust or the Inquisition or the four Crusades, I’m not just talking about the Black Plague; it’s the transition from Plan A to Plan B.
In Plan A, evangelical Christians with a smile on their face will ask you to please, please, please accept their biblical worldview of Jesus. The problem with that is, inevitably, Plan A morphs into Plan B. They stop asking so nicely, and then you have the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition…
This country is going through—right now—a transition from A to B. (Weinstein quoted in the Colorado Springs Independent, 02 Mar 06)
If you are Jewish and listen to your DNA, you can hear it screaming that we have seen this train leave this station over and over again in the last 2,000 years whenever a radicalized Christianity have engaged the machinery of the state, where the armed forces are. The train only goes to one town, ‘Slaughterville’…
We end up with oceans of blood, and it usually starts with Jewish blood. (Weinstein quoted in the Jewish News Online, 12 Jan 07)
America now has a national religion…The power block responsible for the take over are now, effectively, in charge of the mightiest weapon the world has ever known, the United States Military…[They want to convert] America into a theocracy that substitutes one parochial world view of the Bible as law, displacing the democratic foundation of our nationhood…
Those who have carried out this stealth operation, an imperious fascistic contagion growing for the last 30 years, have an agenda… Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell (sic), James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, John Hagee and Jack Abramoff were among them. In their world capital punishment for sodomy, adultery, for unruly children, and the end of free speech are desirable goals mandated by God…
As a Jew I confronted a situation through ears that still hear the cries of my people walking silently into the brick buildings that would reduce them to ash. I cannot stand still and let that happen to my country…
We can expect violence… They may try to harm me but I will not go quietly; I will be a Jew from the Warsaw Ghetto, not Berlin. (Weinstein writing on OpEdnews.com, 24 April 2007)
Though he claims “religious freedom” is his desire, there can be no doubt that Weinstein’s goal is to fight the freedoms of conservative Christians. He explicitly believes that Christians are seeking to repeat (or surpass) the atrocities of World War II. Still, Weinstein’s beliefs are a part of the Constitutional freedoms that members of the American military—Christian or not—defend daily. His attempts to transfer his beliefs into actions, however, are more problematic, because he would directly impact the Constitutional freedoms of military personnel. In order to oppose the dominionist agenda, he has indicated that he would have Christians’ religious free exercise restricted, or he would seek to remove Christians from the military. Both courses of action would violate the Constitutional freedoms of military Christians. To the present, he has experimented with several means of “influencing” Christians in the military to further those goals: a lawsuit against the Air Force Academy (and a claim of another), an Inspector General complaint, and an increasingly virulent media machine. The knee-jerk reaction of the military to his initial complaints (even though the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice) [see the related article] is evidence of the power he can have if he wields it well.
Weinstein evidently sees a dramatic threat. Indeed, he seems to revel in the “death threats” and appellations of “evil” he says he receives. With his tirades on Christians in the military and their goals for “world domination,” Weinstein may yet be hailed a champion of a noble cause—or he may be branded a lunatic conspiracy theorist. Time will tell his fate. In the meantime, he will continue to have an influence (one way or the other) on the future course of religion in the military. He has proven he has the means to wage his “war,” and he has demonstrated a passionate (if not necessarily rational) motivation. He has been convincing enough to win allies in his fight against Christian “extremism.” An organization that frequently serves as an outlet for his announcements, Jews on First, also commonly cites the “Christianist threat” to the American way of life. Other groups that support his efforts include the People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ironically, few mainstream media outlets have given Weinstein air time. When they have, he has generally tempered his “bloodbath” rhetoric (as he generally did at the Academy).
Though he hasn’t been successful in his stated goals, Weinstein has certainly impacted the course of religious freedom in the military. It is likely that with renewed and persistent efforts he may eventually succeed—if not by direct victory, then indirectly through his favored technique of “litigation and agitation.”
The Christian Response
The question, then, is what Christians in the military should do. Truthfully, for all its pontificating, political rhetoric is no cause for change in Christians’ daily lives. Talking heads will opine about the state of the world and the rise and fall of civilizations; in the end, they take little action. Christians should continue to live out their faith; with the spotlight intensifying on the fishbowl military environment, though, they should strive to do so knowledgeably and with discretion.
While recent events shouldn’t cause Christians to change their daily lives, Christians should make a point of closely watching the political and social events that are shaping religious freedom and military service. Christians in the military—just as those elsewhere—may have their Constitutional religious freedoms challenged. When appropriate, Christians should be well-informed and prepared to respond. For example, the military took near-immediate action in response to Weinstein’s initial complaints about alleged religious proselytizing at the Academy. A few months later, they re-issued their decisions based largely on the outcry from religious groups who criticized the free exercise restrictions imposed on religious personnel. Arguably, if military Christians had been more involved at the outset (and acted rather than reacted), the chain of events could have been vastly different.
Overtly antagonistic actions toward Christianity in the military must be countered; to remain silent is to surrender to the uproar. There are ways to be involved: military Christians are permitted (and encouraged) by both their faith and their profession to participate in their society and their government. For example, taking political action (like contacting a congressman) is still a legitimate means of influencing the course of military policy. Active Christians, living out their faith, can be in the military, and they can exercise their democratic freedoms.
The intricate relationship of religion in the military will continue to be debated. In fact, Congress has promised to open a renewed “chain of events” when they debate the issue of religion in the military this year. The issue is not closed. Weinstein and others have demonstrated their resolve to fight their “war” against Christians. Christians, too, must communicate their determination to respond in order to defend their Constitutional freedoms and those of their fellow servicemen.