T HE C ITIES OF G OD & M AN 4ON)THE)KINGDOM$ Wilfred McClay
t seems highly likely that issues relating to candidates’ reli‐ gious faith will play a significant role in the presidential race in 2012. In addition, it seems likely that the role will be largely negative, reflecting a visceral distrust of religion felt and ex‐ pressed in many respected and influential quarters of Ameri‐ can public life, notably the elite news media. Religious faith more often than not is presented as a political liability, a character flaw or sign of vulnerability, and candidates are routinely made the target of guilt by association with extreme figures, even if the association is remote and speculative. Already, months before the Republican primaries, we have seen spirited attacks directed at Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann for their alleged ties to “dominionist” Christians. These attacks may or may not be politically effective, but they have very little merit when it comes to the facts. Yet this has not stopped critics from pouncing on them, connecting fear with faith in the public square. As Newsweek’s Lisa Miller has pointed out, though, in a fairly dev‐ astating examination of the matter in the August 18th Washington Post, the actual number of theocrats or “dominionists” in the ranks of American evangelicals is minuscule, and their influence is even smaller. She quotes the evangelical leader Mark DeMoss as saying “You would be hard‐pressed to find one in 1,000 Christians in Amer‐ ica who could even wager a guess at what dominionism is.” Indeed, Miller rightly claimed that the word tends to “scare people” and “create a siege mentality”—and its being bandied about so freely is designed to do just that. It is a demagogic device precisely compara‐ ble to that used by ideologues of the right who try to discredit even 4
The City Winter 2011 edition, a publication of Houston Baptist University.