The theology of government shutdown: Christian dominionism
On the eve of our government shutdown, I wanted to do some research into the theological roots of Senator Ted Cruz, the standard-bearer of the Tea Party Republicans behind the shutdown. I’m interested in understanding what account of Christianity creates the “no compromise” crusade that the Tea Party has become known for. It turns out that Ted’s father Rafael Cruz [pictured above] is a pastor with Texas charismatic ministry Purifying Fire International who has been campaigning against Obamacare the last several months. He has a distinct theological vision for what America is supposed to look like: Christian dominionism.
In the months building up to the present showdown, Cruz has been giving speeches at Tea Party rallies and other religious right gatherings as part of a campaign to defund Obamacare. In watching the speeches, I can see how his status as a Cuban American refugee fits the ethos of the far right culture warrior movement perfectly. He is able to shift seamlessly from stories about the oppression of the Castro regime to talking about the Obama administration.
A good example comes from a speech at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit on August 12th where Cruz said that the government’s “attack on religion” is part of a longer-term plan to establish socialism:
When you hear this attack on religion, it’s not really an attack on religion. The fundamental basis is this. Socialism requires that government becomes your God. That’s why they have to destroy your concept of God. They have to destroy all your loyalties except loyalty to the government. That’s what’s behind homosexual marriage. It’s really more about the destruction of the traditional family than about homosexuality, because you need also to destroy loyalty to the family.
This paragraph is a textbook example of postmodern “truthiness,” in which any narrative of reality “works” as long as it’s structurally logical. Cruz start with asserting the socialist conspiracy as a fundamental given and then shows how it works as an explanation for everything else that’s going on. It’s so fascinating when the same people who declare themselves to be defenders of “absolute truth” are absolutely relativistic about truth in practice.
A more disturbing element of Cruz’s speeches were his repeated calls for a “black robe regiment,” a concept promoted by Christian revisionist historian David Barton who claims that clergy were the main backbone of the American Revolutionary War. Here’s what Cruz had to say to the August 29th gathering of Heritage Action, the main lobbyist group behind shutting down the federal government:
It was pastors who were the backbone of the Revolution. Did you know where Paul Revere was going when he was saying the British are coming? He was going to the home of a pastor by the name of Jonas Clark… [who] was one of many that were called the black robe regiment. These were pastors that wore long black robes. Many of them had the continental army uniform under the black robe. They would preach in church on Sunday and then go out and fight with half their congregation for our independence. I want to encourage our pastors today not to hide behind their pulpits but take the spirit of the black robe regiment.
The theological ethos of Rafael Cruz’s vision is in Christian dominionism; he talks about preaching a “message of dominion” that all Christians have received an “anointing as kings.” I watched a sermon he preached on August 26, 2012 at the New Beginnings megachurch in Irving, Texas, led by Christian Zionist charismatic pastor Larry Huch. Huch incidentally had a very interesting prophecy to share when he introduced Cruz to preach:
We’ve been doing this series here that God laid on my heart: Getting to the top and staying there. A message for us as individuals, the kingdom of God, but also for America. It’s not enough to get there. We need to stay there. It’s not a coincidence that in a few weeks, we go into what’s called in the Bible Rosh Hashanad [sic]… It will be the beginning of the spiritual year 2012. The number 12 means divine government. That God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God’s people and His kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that’s why God got Rafael’s son elected, Ted Cruz the next senator.
But here’s the exciting thing… The rabbinical teaching is… that in a few weeks begins that year 2012 and that this will begin what we call the end-time transfer of wealth. And that when these Gentiles begin to receive this blessing, they will never go back financially through the valley again. They will grow and grow and grow. It’s said this way: that God is looking at the church and everyone in it and deciding in the next three and a half years who will be his bankers. And the ones that say here I am Lord, you can trust me, we will become so blessed that we will usher in the coming of the messiah.
So it sounds like we’re entering into the age where the Christians (who give faithfully) are going to get all the money through the “end-time transfer of wealth.” Isn’t the title of that sermon series just awesome? Getting to the Top and Staying There! It was a packed house. I wonder how many other apocalyptic prosperity gospel megachurches are packing their houses by preaching sermon series about getting to the top and staying there.
Cruz’s primary text for his sermon was Revelation 1:5-6, which says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” In Rafael’s translation of the Bible, it says “kings and priests” instead of “a kingdom and priests.” In the Greek, the word is basileian (accusative singular) and no manuscript variants are indicated, but never mind that.
Cruz shares that two types of people were anointed in the Old Testament, kings and priests:
Priests were anointed primarily to minister the glory of God. They were anointed to pray for the people, to offer sacrifices, to care for the temple, to be God’s representatives before the people… Kings were anointed to take dominion. Kings were anointed to go to war, win the war, and bring the spoils of war to priests so the work of the kingdom of God could be accomplished. The king needed the blessing of the priest in order to be successful in battle… The priest also needed for the king to be successful in battle because the priest needed the spoils of war in order to repair the temple, in order to carry out the ministry that God had entrusted him.
What is so remarkable about this rendering of the relationship between kings and priests in the Old Testament is that God expressly forbade the Israelites from going to war for spoils. It is “truthiness” applied to Biblical interpretation. Well, the priests had expenses to pay in the temple, and the kings went to war. God anointed both of them. That must mean that the kings went to war to pay for the expenses in the temple.
The seamless move that Cruz makes without any justification is to say that because kings and priests were anointed in the Old Testament, that means there are two kinds of Christians today: kings and priests. Forget about the body of Christ and all the spiritual gifts identified in 1 Corinthians 12. Forget Jesus’ exhortation in Mark 10 not to be like the Gentile princes but to be servants instead of kings. Cruz decries the way that churches have neglected their members’ kingly anointing:
Our churches unfortunately are very focused on only one of these anointings and that is on the priestly anointing… Those of you who think you don’t have the anointing to teach the word of God, to be teaching Sunday school, you’re second class citizens. And so you begin to lead frustrated lives… The majority of you… your anointing… is an anointing as king. God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what’s the battlefield? The marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion.
So to pull all this logic together, God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian “kings” who will accomplish the “end time transfer of wealth.” Then “God’s bankers” will usher in the “coming of the messiah.” The government is being shut down so that God’s bankers can bring Jesus back.
And here’s the thing. When you get a lot of people together in a megachurch, you can do some pretty impressive things with your mission projects. You can feed thousands of people and host ESL classes and job training programs and medical clinics. And I imagine that seeing your accomplishments could give you the hubris of thinking we don’t need a government at all to make our society run; our church can be the new government.