A woman in Tehran, Iran, was detained by the so-called “morality police” on allegations she didn’t wear a head scarf in public. She died in police custody. Protests have ensued across Iran. Women have appeared in public with bare heads.
The news may not seem to have much to do with Christians in the United States, but I suggest that fundamentalist Muslims operating the “morality police” in Iran mirror the fondest dreams of some evangelicals in the U.S.
Martin Marty, in the “Conclusion” of Fundamentalisms Observed, suggests the traits fundamentalist-like movements share:
- They always react against “modernity.”
- They are selective in choosing “fundamentals.”
- They cause offense to groups outside themselves.
- They are always exclusive and separatist.
- They are always oppositional.
- They are absolutist.
- They are anti-developmental and anti-evolutionary.
- They are anti-relativistic and anti-hermeneutical.
- They consider themselves “agents of the sacred power, person or force which gives life to their group.”
- They are teleological.
Marty concludes: Fundamentalism is “a tendency, a habit of mind, found within religious communities and paradigmatically embodied in certain representative individuals and movements, which manifests itself as a strategy or set of strategies, by which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people or group.”
‘Loss of our nation’
Understanding the evangelical mindset requires a deeper understanding of how deeply pained evangelicals are at what they perceive as the “loss of our nation.” This also involves a sense of being excluded from the center of power by liberals, socialists, academics and other purported elitists. The pain, they feel, is real and it hurts a lot.
The response they make to this loss of identity suggests a rethinking of evangelical goals and methods. The current track of the evangelical movement leads toward Christian nationalism, white supremacy, strict moralism and a recovery of the “good old days.”
“Historian John Fea argues that nostalgia, fear and power are the defining features of evangelicals.”
Historian John Fea argues that nostalgia, fear and power are the defining features of evangelicals. “For too long, Fea notes, “white evangelicals have engaged in public life through a strategy defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power and a nostalgia for a national past that may have never existed in the first place.”
Rhetorical scholar Roderick Hart argues that, from the political view, conservatives are dominated by a clear set of affects (deep emotions) of “feeling conflicted, feeling ignored, feeling trapped, feeling besieged, and feeling tired.” Attached to this tsunami of negative emotion is a powerful feeling of resoluteness. Conservatives always take the long look and never, never, never give up pushing the agenda they believe would be the healing balm of Gilead for their souls.
Within American Christianity there is a determined group of preachers, self-anointed, self-appointed apostles and prophets, fixated on ruling the nation with severe laws based on the book of Leviticus. The movement is known as “Dominionism.” A comparison of the Dominionist laws based on Leviticus with Sharia law of the Muslim Taliban draws a picture of the close relationship between the two groups.
Sharia law is a religious law that controls governing principles of Muslims in all areas of life. These laws are regarded as God’s command for Muslims and essentially function as the Muslim legal system. Dominionists and many Christian nationalists in the United States promote a similar kind of law they draw from Scripture and want to enforce upon America.
For example, there is a fundamentalist movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation, whose followers believe America is anointed by God to convert the world to Christianity — by force if necessary — and they seek to accelerate Jesus’ return and rule over the earth. This divine mission, as they see it, will be carried out when true believers seize control of the institutions of the U.S. government.
Their allies in positions of power include members of Congress, such as Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, as well as a prominent candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano. Another well-known Dominionist is Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Dutch Sheets, the apostle of Christian nationalism, leads his followers to invoke a creed that insists that the three branches of U.S. government will “honor God,” “write only laws that are righteous,” and only “issue rulings that are biblical.” When Sheets speaks at events, he leads the congregation in repeating a vow, “We declare that we stand against wokeness, the occult, and every evil attempt against our nation.”
The cause for concern here is that movements that once were on the “fringe” of American religion and politics keep moving toward the center and claiming power and influence.
Seven Mountains Dominionism
Sheets has produced a document he calls the “Watchman Decree.” This document details a commitment to producing religious law that will control every area of American life. For example, “We decree that we take back and permanently control positions of influence and leadership in each of the Seven Mountains.”
This is a direct reference to Seven Mountains Dominionism, which teaches that Jesus will not return until society comes under the dominion of Jesus Christ. The movement is based on Isaiah 2:2 — “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”
“Sheets and his fellow independent Pentecostal prophets want to reclaim seven ‘cultural’ mountains: family, government, arts and entertainment, media, business, education, and religion.”
Sheets and his fellow independent Pentecostal prophets want to reclaim seven “cultural” mountains: family, government, arts and entertainment, media, business, education, and religion. Sheet is but one of the prominent leaders of this movement that also includes Bill Johnson, Cindy Jacobs and Lance Wallnau.
Promoting capital punishment
Another major area of comparison is the use of capital punishment. For example, there are 33 offenses warranting the death penalty in Pakistan, including blasphemy, sabotage of the railway system and drug smuggling. In Saudi Arabia, crimes such as sorcery and witchcraft are punishable by death, and in Iran, there are 24 reported capital crimes, which include espionage, economic crimes (if they amount to “corruption on earth”) and publishing pornography.
Among the prophets of the Dominionists, the death penalty would be the main instrument of the law. Various Christian nationalists in the United States promote capital punishment for a variety of offenses. Adultery: the death penalty. Gay sex: the death penalty. Cursing parents: the death penalty. Medium, spiritualist, witch: the death penalty. Blasphemy: the death penalty. Murder: the death penalty. These are also listed in the book of Leviticus as reasons for the death penalty.
Both the Taliban in Iran and the Dominionists/Christian nationalists in the United States want to enforce severe restrictions and laws related to women. Of all legal systems in the world today, Sharia law is the most intrusive and restrictive, especially against women. For example, in Sharia law, a woman or girl who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist.
“Both the Taliban in Iran and the Dominionists/Christian nationalists in the United States want to enforce severe restrictions and laws related to women.”
Additional laws concerning women include:
- A woman or girl who alleges rape without producing four male witnesses is guilty of adultery.
- A woman or girl found guilty of adultery is punishable by death.
- A male convicted of rape may have his conviction dismissed by marrying his victim.
- Muslim men have sexual rights to any woman/girl not wearing the hijab.
Think about the similarities between these attacks on women’s rights and the current movement in the United States to convict women who seek abortions of murder and the fact that conservatives are the sole reason the Equal Rights Amendment has not passed in 50 years.
Persecuting LGBTQ persons
Both Taliban Muslims and Christian nationalists want to control members of the LGBTQ community with laws dependent on readings about Lot and Sodom. The Koran relates the story of Lot and how God destroyed the city for the wickedness of homosexuality. The Prophet Mohammed said: “Kill the one who sodomizes and the one who let it be done to him.” And: “Lesbianism by women is adultery between them.”
While the United States now recognizes gay rights, it is conservative evangelicals who continue to push back against these advances and want to roll back rights for gays, lesbians and transgender persons. Look at the example in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has attempted to make criminals of parents who seek medical treatment for their transgender children.
In the U.S. today, Christian preachers still promote the death penalty for same-sex relations.
A common goal between extreme religions
I am of the opinion that some evangelicals in America envy the Muslims in Iran for the existence of a so-called “morality police.” These religious folk dream of establishing such an enforcement unit here. Lacking such a force, the preachers continue to rely on a rhetoric of maleness, homophobia and hatred.
“The Dominionists and Christian nationalists never will stop pushing for the goal of ruling America.”
The Dominionists and Christian nationalists never will stop pushing for the goal of ruling America. This is an essential part of their doctrine.
As Sheets puts it, “We decree that AMERICA SHALL BE SAVED! We know this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. We know the truth; therefore, we stand for truth and will NEVER be deceived! We will NEVER stop fighting! We will NEVER, EVER, EVER give up or give in! We WILL take our country back. We WILL honor the ONE TRUE GOD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! AMERICA SHALL BE SAVED!”
But, you may counter, we have protections in the United States against such religious domination of the law, beginning with the First Amendment. That’s true, but do not miss the full frontal attack on the First Amendment that stands at the heart of conservative evangelicals quest for control of federal and state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent session included several blockbuster cases that tilt the law in that direction.
What once seemed impossible now appears only improbable — but the future of the courts will tell the tale. We are much closer to a “morality police” in America than we ever imagined.
Rodney W. Kennedy is a pastor in New York state and serves as a preaching instructor at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
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