The interesting thing in Wagner’s interview on NPR that is pretty obscure to people who haven’t been intimately acquainted with this subculture is the view of authority. I’ve mentioned before that the NAR is obsessed with legalisms (almost as much as with sex). That comes from a foundational concern about authority. The NAR and Christian Dominionism in general are all about authority and power.
They operate off some fundamental assumptions that are seldom stated explicitly but that frame everything – absolutely everything – that these believers think about and do. Here I am trying to put these pre-rational beliefs into words, based on personal experience, so don’t expect to see these kinds of things stated explicitly by members of the groups, especially not in open fora. If you doubt my explanations, take some time to see whether they fit the overall worldview expressed by Christian Dominionists, especially when they’re being more honest (sermons, speaking privately, etc).
First, everyone is in hierarchical power relationships all the time. All relationships have a power dynamic and that power dynamic is dictated by their god. A disrupted power dynamic is the source of most evils and needs to be corrected immediately.
Second, those power dynamics aren’t just metaphors. They are, deep down, about force. Mostly spiritual force, mostly allegiance, but if necessary, force. Again, military metaphors run deep in this rhetoric because they’re not just metaphors. They are often taken literally. (This lack of metaphorical thinking is not unique to Christian Dominionism, but it takes on an especially dangerous tone here.)
In this worldview, democracy is sort of a surface phenomenon. It can be used as a kludge when not everyone accepts their god-given place in the power dynamics (especially unbelievers). It can be used as a compromise, or a temporary expedient. But it’s not a long-lasting solution. It’s not a fundamental idea, it’s not something to work for, and ultimately, it’s un-biblical.
With that in mind, read what Wagner has to say about the roles of self-proclaimed apostles and prophets in the NAR:
WAGNER: The Bible teaches that apostles – related to prophets and also teachers – should form the basis of the government of the church. Now, up till now, recently, most churches in America functioned on a democratic system, so that the authority in the churches and the authority in the denominations resided in groups of people.
And, of course, that’s what we’re used to politically in America, so that fits in very well with our culture. But in terms of the role of the apostle, one of the biggest changes from traditional churches to the New Apostolic Reformation is the amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals. And the two key words are authority and individuals, and individuals as contrasted to groups. So now, apostles have been raised up by God who have a tremendous authority in the churches of the New Apostolic Reformation. And I think this is the most radical difference between the old and the new.
When he says, “that’s what we’re used to politically in America,” I hear the unspoken statement, “but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” When he talks about how the NAR’s authority structure is a “radical difference,” I connect that to the kind of “transformation” that he wants to see in American culture and American politics.
Wagner also made a point of saying that the NAR is “working with whatever political system there is” in each country it’s engaging. But he strictly disavows any mention that they want a “theocracy,” which he specifically links to states like Iran or like Constantine’s Rome. He is telling the truth there, but it’s a specific kind of truth based on his ideas about authority.
I believe him that he doesn’t want a “theocracy” where there’s an institutionalized church that runs the institutionalized state. He wants to meld the two, indistinguishably, because his religious ideas about authority and power are so all-encompassing that they would make a separate institutionalized government redundant.
It is irrelevant to him that this is exactly what I mean by “theocracy.” He has redefined the word, so he can be truthful. You have to know how to listen to this new vocabulary in order to make sense out of his double-talk.
And his double-talk is attractive: he wants to make a world “characterized” by “the blessings of heaven:” “We don’t want racism. We don’t want poverty or divorce or corruption or child abuse or crime.” When the host points out that most of his compatriots also don’t want homosexuality, Wagner hems and haws and says that some other things are more important first.
But that’s precisely the problem. Wagner is imagining heaven on earth – and he does literally believe that if he and his followers can make these changes take place, Jesus will return and the world will end. But like so many people who are utterly fixated on another world, he completely ignores the realities of this one. His biggest victory in the NPR discussion was avoiding talking about how all these changes are going to take place.
Because they won’t. They can’t. In his tradition, this is called original sin: there will always be things wrong, there will be people who are hurting, who hurt others, there will be sickness, and death, and fear, and anger, and all the ills resulting from them. Wagner wants to pretend that when people convert to his flavor of Christianity, they become perfected and none of these things ever happen any more – divorce becomes unnecessary, child abuse nonexistent, homosexuality a fiction. (Ted Haggard can speak to that last one, and his wife can speak to the first one.)
Wagner wants a post-apocalyptic heaven without going through (or talking about) the apocalypse.
Many of his fellow enthusiasts, however, are aware of this, and have actually thought and talked about how to get from here to there, and their conclusion is that it’s up to them to make it happen. The ones who are truly committed to this believe that it is their heavenly mandate to make that apocalypse happen here on earth, using all means of power available to them. In fact, they think that restoring the correct power dynamics – men over women, Christians over non-Christians, prophets over scientists, and so on – is the first step to making that apocalypse happen.
They’re not sitting around waiting to be taken away in the Rapture. They’re bringing heaven to earth – for those eligible for their heaven. And they’ll get rid of those who aren’t. Call it reverse-Rapture.
That’s what they mean when they talk about re-instituting Biblical law. They have realized that they can’t just wish away or pray away all the gay people. After taking a long, hard look at this situation and their perceived god-given roles, they have concluded that the solution is stoning.
If that’s what it takes to get to their imagined holy land, they’ll do it. They’ll do it with what they think is love in their hearts, a psalm on their lips, and blood on their hands.