Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polorization of America
From Christian Jihadist to Reconciler:
Meet Author Colonel V. Doner
I was at the grocery store when I received the call from Colonel Doner about helping him publish his book. I can’t remember what I was there for because he had immediately swept me up with the force of his wit and experience. As I paced aisle 7, talking on my bluetooth and scaring away all the other shoppers, I knew I was in for an amazing journey–and I haven’t been disappointed. Turns out, Doner was not only instrumental in helping President Reagan defeat Carter and Mondale in each election, his campaign savvy also helped defeat most of the democratic incumbant Senators in those years as well. His strategy mobilized evangelical churches to organize and vote on “moral issues,” launching the “moral majority” and firing the first salvo of the culture wars. Thirty years later, Doner has turned a 180. His new book explores how we arrived at this point in history where polarization is rampant and neo-fundamentalists like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are possible. More importantly, he shows us the way out of this mess.
Meet the Former Christian Neo-Fundamentalist That Gave Up the "Culture War" in Favor of "Civil Dialogue"
Colonel V. Doner begins his new book "Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America," with a startling school-boy confession: "In November 1963, as the public address system at a high school in Orange County, California, solemnly announced the assassination of President john F. Kennedy, a fifteen-year-old boy shot from his seat, stunning his classmates with his spontaneous outburst that JFK was not assassinated, ‘He was executed for treason,' he claimed, referring to his ‘soft on communism' policies. This youngster, already well trained in a Christian worldview that allowed for no gray areas or nuances in diplomacy, knew one thing: JFK was a liberal, and liberals were clearly betraying God, America, and all of Western civilization."
That youngster, Colonel V. Doner ("Colonel" is his name, not a military rank), had fired his first open shot across the bow.
Doner, who describes himself as once being a "rock star" of the Christian Right, and who was a frequent spokesperson for the movement on numerous "talking head" programs, has given up the "culture wars" and now wants you to know that he believes in pluralism, and wants to promote "civil dialogue."
Clearly, Doner has come a long way: Early in his career, he was mentored by the "firebrand Rev. Billy James Hargis, scholarly Dr. David Noebel, and the eloquent Dr. Stuart McBirnie," all of who were key players in the Christian anticommunist movement.
After a few years in those trenches, Doner became a prominent leader of the nascent Christian Right. Although not nearly as well known a figure in the conservative movement as Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson, Doner nevertheless played a significant role in getting the fundamentalist Christian Right off the ground in the 1970s and 80s.
He was a founding member of Christian Voice and, according to his bio, is credited with creating the first "Report Card" informing voters how their Congressman was voting. He stood with Ronald Reagan from his first campaign for Governor of California right through to his presidential re-election campaign in 1984.
"From 1966 to 1996," Doner writes, "I was a neo-fundamentalist strategist, spokesman, apologist, and author - an insider in the deepest sense."
In the 1990s, Doner "helped to awaken the political consciousness of Pentecostals and Charismatics that birthed political leaders like Sarah Palin. Donor also takes credit for being part of "an elite team that introduced Peter Wagner [a major force in the creation of the New Apostolic Reformation], the leader of Sarah Palin's scary brand of ‘spiritual warfare' theology, to the theocratic concept of ‘godly dominion."
And, as if all this isn't enough of a resume, Doner points out that in the early years of this century, he had "evolved as a leader of the small but influential group of hard-line theocrats called Reconstructionists [a movement founded by the late Rousas J. Rushdoony], who even now continue to provide the blueprint for Palin's Fundamentalist-Pentecostal-Christian Right axis."
As you can tell from his labeling Sarah Palin's religious beliefs a "scary brand of ‘spiritual warfare' theology," Doner has changed his tune.
His epiphany came and while preparing a ten-year-in-the-making work called, "The Late Great Evangelical Church," a study aimed at "critiquing the evolution of Evangelical orthodoxy." He writes that he began to ask himself, "a basic question: just how was it that we were privy to God's objective truth and everybody else was so pitifully subjective or just plain wrong?"
As Doner writes, "My world was rocked. I had my answer. There's no such thing as absolute objectivity on our part. That is why there is precious little agreement, even in neo-fundamentalist circles, on many points, let alone in wider Evangelical circles."
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, was his final turning point. He, "realized that the main difference between ‘our people' and ‘their people' (Islamic fundamentalists) was that ours (with the notable exception of bombing abortion clinics and assassinating doctors) had not (yet) resorted to violence."
Doner also came to realize that his set of so-called objective truths, "was nothing more than illusion," and that he needed to, "grant others the benefit of the doubt." He began "striving for confidence rather than certainty, of embracing pluralism, and last but not least, following Jesus in loving people rather than condemning them."
The new Doner was "born again, this time as a post-conservative, post-fundamentalist, postmodern Christian."
Doner takes on some huge issues in his book - including focusing on Sarah Palin's "rise to power" and how "she really has come to symbolize everything Christian neo-fundamentalism stands for - as he searches for a way to "begin a civil dialogue, both locally and nationally, that can lead us to a mutual understanding, if not reconciliation."
To one degree or another, whether it's leftist David Horowitz becoming a hard-line, right winger, or conservative David Brock becoming a right-wing, media watchdog for the progressive movement, we are often fascinated by stories about people going through major life changes, especially in their religion and/or politics.
So what are we to make of the "new" Colonel V. Doner? Is he trying to capitalize on his past and sell books? Do we accept that he has undergone a profound change of heart after more than sixty years on the planet, and nearly forty years of being ensconced in the conservative Christian movement? Is he truly concerned about polarization in the country?
Two additional questions: In the book, Doner creates a troubling equivalency between the fundamentalists on the Religious Right and what he calls secular fundamentalists. Does he really believe that both sides are suffering from the same delusional syndrome? Finally, How can Doner think that a "civil dialogue" is possible with folks that, as he reports, are so far off the charts?
Insider View of the Culture Wars Exposed in New Book by Former Christian Right Strategist
He may not be a household name like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, but Colonel V. Doner was one of the major strategist of the Christian Right for three decades. Following the events of September 11, 2001, Doner had a change of heart and has written a fascinating book, released this week, about the role of the Christian Right in the culture wars and the polarization of American society. The title isChristian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. From the Coalition of Revival to Sarah Palin and the New Apostolic Reformation, the book exposes the rise of a theocratic worldview which Doner describes as "Neo-Fundamentalist."
Doner was a co-founder of the first Christian Right lobby, Christian Voice, which preceded Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. He founded the first Christian political action committee The Christian Voice Moral Government Fund (1979) and organized the American Coalition for Traditional Values (1984). Doner admits to being the first Christian Right propagandist to use "gay bashing" in the media as a wedge issue, and "the first" Christian Right leader to make the transition to becoming a spokesperson and leader of the Reconstructionist movement. Today, you can still google "Colonel Doner" (Colonel is his name, not a title) and one of the first items in the search is a 1998 video of a Florida Christian Reconstructionist conference panel with Doner, Rousas Rushdoony, and Gary DeMar.
Now Doner is describing himself as,"the first (and only) Neo-Fundamentalist leader to write and insider's account and mea culpa."
Doner states in his book that he is embracing pluralism and "following Jesus in loving people rather than condemning them." The author continues, I had been born again, this time as a post-conservative, post-fundamentalist, postmodern Christian."
Doner provides previously unpublished details from behind the scenes of the transition of the the Religious Right to an aggressively "Dominionist" mentality. The book provides insight into the emergence of political figures including Sarah Palin and the role that today's brand of "spiritual warfare" is playing in the political process.
Doner describes his epiphany after the events of September 11, 2001 following 20 years as a Christian Right leader and another decade as part of the Neo-Fundamentalist movement. Doner warns that this movement with its Dominionist worldview is more dangerous than the "old Christian Right."
"The bizarre world of their Dominionist-Spiritual Warfare mentality is a new and much more dangerous manifestation of the old Christian right and has the power to bring us to the brink of civil war. It is vital that we understand what is happening and what can be done about it before it is too late."
I had the pleasure of recently speaking at length with Colonel Doner and will be writing more about our conversation and his book.
Key Architect of Religious Right Warns of "Christian Jihad"
"I realized that the main difference between "our people" and "their people" (Islamic fundamentalists) was that ours (with the notable exception of bombing abortion clinics and assassinating doctors) had not (yet) resorted to violence."
"While many fear the Islamic fundamentalists' plot to place the world under Islamic Law, the Sharia, most Americans may not know that Christian conservatives, long the dominant wing of the Republican Party, are increasingly falling under the spell of theocratic utopianism with its goal of establishing "God's Law" as the law of the land." -- Colonel V. Doner, author of Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America.
Back in 2005, when I first began studying (and writing on) the religious right in earnest and when I co-founded, with Frederick Clarkson, Talk To Action, I wouldn't have dreamed that one day I'd have the opportunity to talk with one of the architects of the politicized Christian right, or that such a leader would cite my work... or that we would agree on so much.
Last Thursday, I had a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half talk with Colonel Vaughn Doner (note: "Colonel" is his name, not a title) and I hope to have the opportunity again.
Colonel V. Doner is hardly a household name. But in the creation of the modern, politicized Christian right, Doner can claim a surprising number of firsts - he created the first "Congressional Report Card" to tell evangelicals how exactly they should vote. He played a major role in mobilizing evangelicals to elect Ronald Reagan, in 1980.
Doner then founded two of the three major Christian right organizations of the 1980s (Christian Voiceand The American Coalition for Traditional Values (with Tim LaHaye). Later in the 1980s, he played a leadership role in the Coalition on Revival, the Christian Reconstructionist-dominated mega-gathering of movement leaders and intellectuals who mapped out how to "reconstruct" America and impose Biblical law.
As he describes in his new book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalism and the Polarization of America, Doner also pioneered the use of "wedge issues", such as gay-bashing, as a political tactic to help get conservatives elected.
As late as 2002, an anthology published in honor of Colonel Vaughn Doner's 50th birthday featured glowing tributes from Tim LaHaye, founder of the Council For National Policy, and from R.J. Rushdoony, the intellectual father of the Christian Reconstructionism movement.
But, says Doner, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were a wake up call.
Over the course of the next decade, as he describes in the book, Doner came to question basic tenets of fundamentalism underlying his worldview, and the worldview of the movement he'd helped create - the notion that humans, who of course are fallible and subjective, could possibly have the one, "correct" interpretation of scripture, then the claim that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God.
Doner describes his train of questioning:
Along the way, along this process of intellectual self-examination, Colonel Doner says he was reborn - as a "post-conservative", "post-fundamentalist", postmodern Christian.
One of the launching points for my talk with Doner was the image on the cover of his book. It would be easy to imagine that the symbolism is intended to represent a "Christian Jihadist", bombs strapped to his back, on route to blow up his chosen enemies.
But that's not it at all.
Taken in literal terms, I observed to Doner, what's going on is that someone, a real person external to the visual frame except for two fingers, is lighting explosives taped to the back of a ceramic Jesus figurine.
What's really going on, what the image really symbolically represents - as Doner and I both agreed - was that the movement he writes on in his new book, the Neo-Fundamentalist movement that Doner warns could become a "Christian Jihad" has become so radicalized and consumed with its manichean "theology of war" (which NAR guru C. Peter Wagner discusses quite openly), it risks destroying the traditional Christian ethic, that Christians should be peacemakers - an ethic derived from the words of Jesus.
In symbolic terms, the Neo-Fundamentalists are blowing up the message of Jesus.
In his book, Colonel Doner devotes two entire chapters to Sarah Palin and her extensive connections to the New Apostolic Reformation, and cites pioneering research, by my colleague Rachel Tabachnick and I, covering the NAR and Palin's ties to it, following her emergence as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 election.
The NAR, which Doner now sees as uniquely threatening to American civil society, and to Democratic pluralism, was in a sense a movement he helped create--by politically organizing charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the late 1980s and 1990s, and by introducing "Dominion" theology to charismatic Christians and to C. Peter Wagner (who has been the most significant leader in the NAR.)
Christian Reconstructionism's Dominion theology helped politically mobilize an entire segment of evangelicals who had removed themselves from politics since the embarrassment of the 1925 Scopes Trial, who were waiting for the "Rapture".
The message to those evangelicals was this - "While you're waiting for the Rapture, why not become politically involved - to build God's kingdom? Christians, whatever their end-time eschatology might be, should nevertheless work, while they can, insofar as it is possible, to achieve dominion over all the Earth."
And, it worked - too well.
The movement Doner's work helped give rise to, which has emerged as the New Apostolic Reformation, is driving the radicalization of American evangelicals to the point, warns Colonel Doner, that we could see the emergence of a true "Christian Jihad", and to the point that the rising polarization in American culture and society risks devolving into civil war.
If you want to understand, really understand, what's driving the "culture wars" behind America's increasingly intractable political stalemate, there may never be a more useful, or timely, book than Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. You can order the book through Samizdat and it is available in Kindle edition too.
[for a closely related story, with added details on the movement behind Sarah Palin, which Colonel Doner covers in two chapters of his book (citing my work, and my colleague Rachel Tabachnick's as well), see Templeton Foundation, Christianity Today, Oprah Network Promote New Apostolic Reformation]
Book Review: Christian Jihad
The Lord God is the universal governor of all nations. Humans are unable to govern justly without Scripture as their governing authority, the Bible is the only standard by which to run a government, there is no absolute separation of church and state. --The Coalition on Revival
"Yeah, uh-huh," I said to myself as publicist Kathleen Campbell promised me a review book that is "really GOOD!" Well, she was right on the money, though it turned out to be also a bit frightening. Christian Jihad is a look at religion gone wrong and the infringement of Church upon State.
The Coalition on Revival prepared a series of seventeen documents for Christian living, and promptly informed its readers and members that they had "determined that it is mandatory for all Christians to implement this worldview in society." On Independence Day, 1986, at the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. James Kennedy, the COR's keynote speaker who had just been voted Clergyman of the Year, said the documents "had the historical significance of the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence." The San Francisco Examiner held a different opinion: "700 preachers shepherding 600 million born-again Christians gathered here not so much to celebrate America as to plot to take it over. The funny thing, if you have a bizarre sense of humor, is that they have a heck of a chance of succeeding." Colonel V. Doner, this book's author, describes signing a "blood oath," a solemn covenant with Almighty God that he was willing to be martyred in order to do God's will.
Yes, this is an autobiography of sorts, and I was hooked from page two. Doner was a founding member of the fundamentalist Christian Right in the 1970’s and 80’s and a leader of the radical Theocratic Dominionist movement at the end of the millennium. An insider from his impressionable teenage years, Doner gives us the scoop on fundamentalist agendas, including how they spill over into political campaigns such as those of Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann. As an insider, he qualifies to explain just how powerful the grip of fundamentalist religion can be, the unswerving, complete confidence that one knows the absolute Truth of God and the socio-political worldwide agenda of that God.
Doner devotes an entire chapter to Sarah Palin, whom he discredits through her association with the religious right. I choose not to involve myself in political issues on this blog, so in fairness to our modern-day Esther, I’ll admit that Doner’s treatment will strike many as an unsubstantiated smear. After all, understanding others and seeking common ground, he says, may be the way to disarm neo-fundamentalists.
The book’s final section provides a challenge to “make Jesus’ number-one command of love the test of who’s truly a ‘Born-Again Christian’.” Doner appears to have lived out his suggestion before proposing it. He left behind his “neo-fundamentalist Washington power trip” long enough to devote an uninterrupted week for prayer and prioritizing, and in the book’s final pages, he describes his 180-degree turnaround, devoting himself just as earnestly now toward humanitarian interests. I was inspired at Doner’s closing words: “I’ve come home to God’s love at last. I am truly born again.”
Lee Harmon: The Dubious Disciple
Customer Review: Amazon.com
Conservative Christians speak a lot about culture war strategies that will allow them to establish a more moral America. More times than not they equate this language, and thus their profound hopes, with a type of nationalism that is neither biblically based nor historically nuanced. This response ranges from rather naive and simplistic national pride and good will to an all-out desire to "take back" the land for God and truth. Across this wide spectrum divisions continue to plague this movement. But the fact that these movements for national renewal are real is beyond question.
Rarely has anyone from inside this "Christian" culture warrior movement spoken openly and plainly about the origins, history and dangers of this forty-year old experiment in changing the direction of America. I have read a number of books by outsiders, many of them by secular atheists who hate Christianity and, in some cases, have very little understanding of Christian doctrines or the actual practice of various types of Christians. These authors tend to lump all conservative Christians, to give but one example, into the same culture-warrior worldview. But anyone who has spent time among Christian churches and leaders all across America, as I have for the last twenty years, knows better. Christians, like any other religious group, have leaders and people with various ideas and ideals about the present state and how to live faithfully in the 21st century. One size does not fit all here anymore than it does among our Muslim neighbors.
Enter the new book Christian Jihad, by Colonel V. Doner, a true insider who helped to create the Christian Right. Doner understands more than facts. He understands the emotion and the pent-up frustration that is behind this movement. He also understands why this movement is, or may well become, a more serious danger to both Christians and the nation. The movement has already succeeded in polarizing America and at times the radical fringes have even seeped into the broader middle ground. He provides very solid examples to demonstrate this point.
Doner believes the Christian Right is driven by fear and paranoia. This fear and paranoia is then advanced by "God-talk" about biblical mandates, God's law and a faithful worldview. (The word worldview is an example of my point. I love the term and I loathe it at the same time. Every time I hear it used I want to know what the writer or speaker means. It has taken on incredible baggage in my four-plus decades of Christian ministry!) All of this leads TV personalities, talk show hosts and Christian authors to advance what they believe is "the biblical vision for God, country and family." Doner asks, "How does someone liken Sarah Palin even become possible as a candidate for national office?" (If this question doesn't trouble you then you need this book much more than you realize.)
Colonel Doner does not stop by merely telling us how the Christian Right developed and who the insiders were at the origins of this movement. He doesn't even stop at showing how dangerous this movement really is to the health of civil society and the long-term missional faithfulness of the church. He offers a strategy, a strategy for a better way of living in a peaceful, humane and hopeful public space where we enjoy our freedom and understand the First Amendment. The American understanding of church and state is not one that sees the state as a tool for advancing Christianity but rather as the guarantor that Christianity can proclaim and live its faith in a state where other religions are equally free to express themselves just as openly. Even those who are milder in their view of culture wars and worldview need to understand this appeal for reconciliation. After all, reconciliation is a deeply Christian idea. But it is a hard thing to do and so easy to talk about. Doner understands this and shows us a better way, the way of reason and love.
Beware: If you are defensive and angry this book will likely agitate you. But if you are genuinely concerned to understand how the Christian Right began and grew, and what it got profoundly wrong, then you will appreciate the insights of a former "insider." And if you, like me, believe there is a better way for Christians, secularists and people of other faiths, to work together in America then this is an important read. I highly recommend this provocative and compassionate book.
The Late Great Evangelical Church
Here is a book that bristles with energy and entrepreneurship: energy about the faith “once delivered to the saints” and entrepreneurship about new delivery systems that can communicate that faith in new times and climes.
LEONARD SWEET, author, The Gospel According to Starbucks
Reading C. Vaughn Doner’s new book is like getting full bucket of cold water splashed in your face. You might not like it, but is will wake you up! It tells Evangelicals where they are and how and why they got there. Vigorously researched and boldly presented, this is and important contribution to the ongoing identity about Evangelical futures.
BRIAN McLAREN, author, A generous Orthodoxy
As America becomes more religious and at the same time more secular, someone might ask: What is it that American Christians really believe? If there are so many of them, why is the culture so pagan? When American Evangelicalism became the civil religion of our culture, it was somehow assumed that this represented a historic Christian witness transplanted to the “New World.” But as Doner brilliantly points out, American Evangelicalism is a new religion with roots in the most ancient of heresies rather than in the historic faith. This book is going to open your eyes.
FRANK SCHAEFFER, author Keeping Faith
Doner knows the Evangelical world like few others. He has served the Christian church through a wide variety of nationally and internationally known ministries. He has been involved with many different movements and knows many leaders personally. Like an Old Testament prophet, he is part of the world he critiques. Doner has invested his life, has suffered with the situation he describes, and now has devoted himself to changing it.
THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER, president, Martin Bucer International Theological Seminary
Sadly, the very people who most need to hear the message of The Late Great Evangelical Church may not read it. Still, I am persuaded that many young Christians-thousands of whom genuinely hunger for a renewing movement of ancient orthodoxy mixed with fresh grace-will discover this important book and be greatly helped by it. I heartily recommend this most insightful work.
JOHN H. ARMSTRONG, general editor, The Coming Evangelical Crisis
I've always been a lover first, not a fighter. So it is fair to say that if this book had been written by anyone other than Colonel V Doner I would not have read it. But I knew that the man who had penned "The Samaritan Strategy" over 25 years ago would have something important to say. And I wanted to hear it, however painful.
Having become a Christian during the dawning of the discipleship movement and attended church at its epicentre, this book brought back many unpleasant memories thought long forgotten. Rather than anger, however, they provoked a deep sorrow at the loss and wastage of so many of us who truly had hearts to serve for the good of all society. However, forced to leave these communities out of self preservation, we were then vilified for trying to find our way amongst a society less than impressed with the counterfeit Christianity they saw being modelled, and a faith that could never be quenched because we believed in a God of love.
If only the church in America had bought "The Samaritan Strategy" in its droves then and heeded its exhortations, "Christian Jihad" may have instead been written as a salutory fable rather than a chronology of the systematic rape of America by those mantled to father a nation. But may it's harsh lessons now be taken to heart and true restoration between the church and the people in America take place.
In the words of one blogger: "What I'm thinking is that atheists, skeptics and freethinkers can easily adopt this strategy of their own ... If we did we could help people and at the same time change perceptions of who we are as people ... Is there an atheist organization that sends help to people hurt in areas of our world? ... what about an atheist charity organization complete with volunteers ... That would be a Samaritan strategy for skeptics. It would show people we do care and that we do give ..."
Indeed. Wouldn't it be nice to live in such a place?
Lisa Lavia, Charity Director