Christian evangelicals are plotting to remake America in their own image
It's February, and 900 of America's staunchest Christian fundamentalists have gathered in Fort Lauderdale to look back on what they accomplished in last year's election -- and to plan what's next. As they assemble in the vast sanctuary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, with all fifty state flags dangling from the rafters, three stadium-size video screens flash the name of the conference: reclaiming america for christ. These are the evangelical activists behind the nation's most effective political machine -- one that brought more than 4 million new Christian voters to the polls last November, sending George W. Bush back to the White House and thirty-two new pro-lifers to Congress. But despite their unprecedented power, fundamentalists still see themselves as a persecuted minority, waging a holy war against the godless forces of secularism. To rouse themselves, they kick off the festivities with "Soldiers of the Cross, Arise," the bloodthirstiest tune in all of Christendom: "Seize your armor, gird it on/Now the battle will be won/Soon, your enemies all slain/Crowns of glory you shall gain."
Meet the Dominionists -- biblical literalists who believe God has called them to take over the U.S. government. As the far-right wing of the evangelical movement, Dominionists are pressing an agenda that makes Newt Gingrich's Contract With America look like the Communist Manifesto. They want to rewrite schoolbooks to reflect a Christian version of American history, pack the nation's courts with judges who follow Old Testament law, post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and make it a felony for gay men to have sex and women to have abortions. In Florida, when the courts ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed, it was the Dominionists who organized round-the-clock protests and issued a fiery call for Gov. Jeb Bush to defy the law and take Schiavo into state custody. Their ultimate goal is to plant the seeds of a "faith-based" government that will endure far longer than Bush's presidency -- all the way until Jesus comes back.
"Most people hear them talk about a 'Christian nation' and think, 'Well, that sounds like a good, moral thing,' says the Rev. Mel White, who ghostwrote Jerry Falwell's autobiography before breaking with the evangelical movement. "What they don't know -- what even most conservative Christians who voted for Bush don't know -- is that 'Christian nation' means something else entirely to these Dominionist leaders. This movement is no more about following the example of Christ than Bush's Clean Water Act is about clean water."
The godfather of the Dominionists is D. James Kennedy, the most influential evangelical you've never heard of. A former Arthur Murray dance instructor, he launched his Florida ministry in 1959, when most evangelicals still followed Billy Graham's gospel of nonpartisan soul-saving. Kennedy built Coral Ridge Ministries into a $37-million-a-year empire, with a TV-and-radio audience of 3 million, by preaching that it was time to save America -- not soul by soul but election by election. After helping found the Moral Majority in 1979, Kennedy became a five-star general in the Christian army. Bush sought his blessing before running for president -- and continues to consult top Dominionists on matters of federal policy.
"Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost," Kennedy says. "As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
At Reclaiming America, most of the conference is taken up by grassroots training sessions that supply ministers, retirees and devout churchgoers with "The Facts of Stem-Cell Research" or "Practical Steps to Impact Your Community with America's Historical Judeo-Christian Heritage." "We're going to turn you into an army of one," Gary Cass, executive director of Reclaiming America, promises activists at one workshop held in Evangalism Explosion Hall. The Dominionists also attend speeches by supporters like Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida, who urges them to "win back America for God." In their spare time, conference-goers buy books about a God-devised health program called the Maker's Diet or meet with a financial adviser who offers a "biblically sound investment plan."
To implement their sweeping agenda, the Dominionists are working to remake the federal courts in God's image. In their view, the Founding Fathers never intended to erect a barrier between politics and religion. "The First Amendment does not say there should be a separation of church and state," declares Alan Sears, president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a team of 750 attorneys trained by the Dominionists to fight abortion and gay marriage. Sears argues that the constitutional guarantee against state-sponsored religion is actually designed to "shield" the church from federal interference -- allowing Christians to take their rightful place at the head of the government. "We have a right, indeed an obligation, to govern," says David Limbaugh, brother of Rush and author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. Nothing gets the Dominionists to their feet faster than ringing condemnations of judicial tyranny. "Activist judges have systematically deconstructed the Constitution," roars Rick Scarborough, author of Mixing Church and State. "A God-free society is their goal!"