Dominionism, both in and of itself and in the religious and other groups associated with dominionism, share enough characteristics with groups traditionally considered coercive groups (or “cults”, in the case of coercive religious groups) that the groups associated with dominionism, and likely the entire dominionist movement itself, are better seen as a coercive religious group in and of itself rather than as a strictly political movement. It is my belief (as a walkaway and as an informal researcher) that it is likely impossible to fully understand dominionism (as a political movement) unless one sees the political aspects of dominionism in a larger context of a general coercive mindset existing in the “parent” groups of the dominionist movement.
In this post, I will directly compare lists of coercive tactics used by four groups active in research of coercive groups (FACTnet’s summary of research by Dr Margaret Thaler Singer, info from Rick Ross Institute, info from Steven Hassan’s “Freedom of Mind”, and lists from the International Cultic Studies Association (a group, ironically, that had to change its original name, the American Family Foundation, due to confusion with the dominionist group American Family Association)) in comparison with coercive tactics used in the dominionist community at large and with specific aspects of the dominionist community in particular.
The following list is courtesy of the following article at FACTnet, a group who is best known for pointing out coercive tactics used in Scientology but whom also has been doing heavy research as of late in regards to abuses in “Bible-based” coercive groups (including many associated directly with dominionism).
This list is from Dr Margaret Thaler Singer, a major researcher into coercive tactics (both in the vein of “thought reform” techniques used to “brainwash” people in coercive regimes, and also specifically in the use of coercive tactics in spiritually abusive groups).
TACTIC 1. The individual is prepared for thought reform through increased suggestibility and/or “softening up,” specifically through hypnotic or other suggestibility-increasing techniques such as: A. Extended audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills; B. Excessive exact repetition of routine activities; C. Decreased sleep; D. Nutritional restriction.This is largely an issue with specific practices in dominionist-affiliated churches, but does occur and is known to be coercive:
a) Heavy emphasis on prayer/fasting (especially in dominionist churches with empasis on “word-faith” teaching or “deliverance ministry”, such as New Life Church in Colorado Springs), often multiple 40-day fasts in a year. (The dominionist church I walked away from also does regular 21-day fasts, and other dominionist groups have tended to promote this as well).
b) Services in dominionist churches are often heavily scripted (to the point that specific playing of music is a “trigger” for the “manifestations” in those churches; ”Power In The Blood” and “In The Name Of Jesus” are two songs that are often used as specific “trigger songs” in churches into “deliverance ministry”).
c) In some dominionist circles, “biblical diets” are promoted (including not only “What Would Jesus Eat” diets, but the “Cabbage Soup Diet” (which is strongly recommended against by dietitians and which even its promoters recommend never to stay on for longer than seven days) promoted for people on 21 and 40-day fasts who have medical reasons against a total fast)
d) Especially in churches with a heavy emphasis on “deliverance ministry” certain Bible verses are used almost as a mantra.
e) Generally studying the Bible in a fundamentalist context is one of the few, and often the only, form of meditation allowed; in churches into deliverance ministry, it’s even claimed that meditation will cause one to be demonised.
In the case of dominionist groups on a political level, generally there isn’t so much of this (save with “biblical diets” and restriction of information, as noted below) but the dominionist churches serving as “gateway groups” and home churches for the political wings of the dominionist movement do practice these and often.
TACTIC 2. Using rewards and punishments, efforts are made to establish considerable control over a person’s social environment, time, and sources of social support. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes. Economic and other dependence on the group is fostered. (In the forerunner to coercive persuasion, brainwashing, this was rather easy to achieve through simple imprisonment.)
This is actually quite blatant, both in the “parent churches” of the dominionist movement and in the political/social groups associated with dominionism.
Among other things:
a) Extensive “parallel institutions” exist, including business institutions (in the form of the “Christian Yellow Pages” and similar listings that require a dominionist “statement of faith”), media outlets (via “Christian” radio and television networks; Harpers Magazine has an entire section on it), schooling (homeschooling and private schools in the dominionist community, which will be discussed more in detail in a bit), and social networks (including dominionist alternatives to children’s groups like the Girl Scouts–of which at least two (Royal Rangers/Missionettes and “Heritage Girls” exist)).
b) Families are often told not to associate with people outside the group, and even family members who are not fellow dominionists are seen either as targets for conversion or for damnation. In “social” dominionist groups, this is exemplified by documented practice of “See You At The Pole” folks of writing names down of people, nailing them to crosses, and praying that they become suicidal unless they become dominionists; in the case of the parent churches, this can go all the way to practices in “deliverance ministry” that preach that all persons outside the church are demonised.
c) Access to outside media is severely restricted. Even in the “social” and political dominionist groups this is under the guise this is “harmful” or “un-Christian”; in the case of the parent churches, the line tends to go further in claiming that exposure to media outside the church will at best cause one to backslide and (frequently in dominionist churches practicing “deliverance ministry”) claims that any media or contact outside the church will cause one to become demon possessed. (Again, this will be noted below.)
d) The restriction of info extends specifically to children, in that there is a very heavy emphasis on both use of homeschooling (with dominionist curriculum) and restriction of contacts of children to dominionist-approved groups (including alternatives to the Boy/Girl Scouts). Much of this is explicitly promoted in dominionist literature from the American Family Association and Focus on the Family.
e) Family members outspoken in regards to disapproval of dominionism risk either being disowned or involuntarily exorcised (the former more common in fundamentalist sects, the latter more common in minors and in groups into “deliverance ministry”).
In some cases with dominionists, this even has resulted in businesses founded by them taking on the same coercive tactics; Amway/Quixtar, a group associated with coercive tactics in its business training, was founded by a dominionist and the DeVos Foundation is still a heavy funder of dominionist causes (in fact, the DeVos Foundation is probably the largest funder of dominionist causes in the US along with the Coors family and Scaife family foundations). Many of the reports of coercive behaviour in Amway/Quixtar have especially been associated with Amway/Quixtar representatives also associated with the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association (which is a front group of the Assemblies of God targeted towards businessmen; more on front groups in general below).
Pyramid schemes specifically targeting dominionists–called “affinity fraud”–have also become so common (because, in part, of their promotion as a “Christian Alternative”) that state attorneys-general have had to warn about them.