Replacing Godless Hollywood with Bible-Based “Cultural Dominion”

For anyone wondering what the “culture” would look like if the Christian Right achieved its dream of “taking it back” from secularists, feminists, and the other dread enemies of God’s plan for a Christian America, the San Antonio Christian Film Festival, which begins next week, provides a telling window.

The Festival, the culmination of the 2010 Christian Filmmakers’ Academy, which features Hollywood’s most outspoken evangelical Kirk Cameron as a “faculty” member, intends to create a “Christ-honoring replacement industry outside of Hollywood.” Replacing godless Hollywood with a Christian film industry is one piece of the Christian right strategy known as dominionism: creating “biblical” alternatives to, and ultimately replacements for, secular political, cultural, and economic institutions.

The Festival is hosted by Vision Forum, the Reconstructionist, Christian patriarchal homeschooling organization. Vision Forum’s President, Doug Phillips, is no minor player in conservative politics: he is the son and follower of Howard Phillips, founder of the Constitution Party. Tea Party-backed candidates Rand Paul and Sharron Angle both have ties to the Constitution Party; in Colorado, former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo is running for governor on the Constitution Party ticket, endorsed by conservative blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson. Tea party groups are learning about the “biblical basis” of the Constitution from the Constitution Party-related Institute on the Constitution.

The younger Phillips travels the country, to conventions and conferences sponsored by Vision Forum and its Reconstructionist allies, and is a renowned speaker at homeschool conventions that draw a much broader crowd. At all these conferences, he promotes an “integrated worldview” that draws heavily on Christian Reconstructionist founder Rousas John Rushdoony. That worldview includes extreme patriarchal gender roles, marriages arranged by fathers, a 200-year “family vision” to establish faithful “multi-generational families,” and a view of world history based on Rushdoony’s Biblical Philosophy of History, that is like David Barton’s Christian American history writing on steroids. In this view, all of human history—from creation through the fall, the resurrection and the daily activities of “covenanted” biblical families—is the unfolding of God’s Kingdom, as imagined by the Reconstructionists.

For those not schooled in the philosophical/theological fine points of Christian Reconstructionism, it is based in the view that all knowledge is dependent upon one of two presuppositions: one must presuppose the God of the Bible and become subject to biblical law or, by default, one presupposes the supremacy of human reason (which is equated with the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). In Reconstructionism there is no middle ground; either one subjects oneself to biblical law and lives according to its edicts, or one lives a fallen, rational, humanistic existence. Their goal is to bring other Christians to recognize this; or to bring about what they call “epistemological self-consciousness.”

The admonition in the Festival’s mission statement to “bring into captivity every [frame] to the obedience of Christ” is a variation on the Reconstructionist articulation of “dominion theology” of bringing “every thought captive to Christ.” Reconstructionists argue that even most who consider themselves Christian are captive to humanistic ways of thinking and need to be made “self-conscious” about their assumptions so as to become “biblically consistent.” And once they have done that they can they can transform the culture by exercising dominion.

The purpose of the Academy and the Festival is expressed in explicitly Reconstructionist language, drawn directly from Rushdoony:

(To) motivate the next generation of Christian filmmakers to create “epistemologically self-conscious films”—films that reflect a distinctively and presuppositionally biblical worldview. We want our applicants to strive to bring “into captivity every [frame] to the obedience of Christ.” (italics added)

The film competition website provides a glimpse of just what a culture transformed by Christian Reconstructionists would look like. There are no women depicted as faculty, presenters, or leaders in any sense; the overwhelming majority of winners in every category since 2004 are male (though occasionally there are “teams” that include a female member). Phillips and others, in discussions on his own website have argued (in keeping with other Reconstructionists), that women should not be allowed to vote since they are “represented” by their husbands in the voting booth.

Phillips’ patriarchal “family vision,” with its rigidly proscribed gender norms that homeschooling is designed to reinforce, is described in detail by RD contributor Kathryn Joyce in her book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Women are to be submissive in all things; their entire life purpose is to “glorify God” by producing as many children as possible. (Indeed the prolific Duggar family of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting is a favorite of Vision Forum.) Boys and girls are socialized into distinctly different roles in which males are protective, adventurous, and imaginative; females are dependent, supportive, and submissive. Phillips promotes this family vision in the Academy and Festival by encouraging films that endorse it (in 2007 there was even a special category “Biblical Family”).

That year, the “Best of Festival” Jubilee Award went to The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a “documentary” directed by Colin Gunn. The film, which has an all-female cast that includes anti-feminist doyenne Phyllis Schlafly and others, explores “how feminism has restricted choices for all women, brought heartache to the lives of many, and perpetuated an unprecedented holocaust through legalized abortion.” Gunn’s current work IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America, follows his family bus tour across the nation with his seven homeschooled children to “uncover the origins of our modern education system.” The film features Reconstructionist leaders such as Kevin Swanson, Gary North, Doug Phillips, and Geoff Botkin, and the Gunns’ interview with Howard Phillips. According to the film’s promotional materials, through his travels Gunn discovers a “master-plan designed to replace God’s recipe for education with a man-centered program that has fragmented the family, destroyed the social systems of our nation and undermined the influence of the church.”

Indeed, dominionism is most powerfully evident in the Reconstructionists’ approach to education, which in turn produces the “biblical” filmmakers of the future. Whether through homeschooling or Christian schools, the goal is to “replace” public education, which, as Gunn’s film made clear, is considered unbiblical. According to Reconstructionism, the Bible gives authority for education to families—not the state—and the Bible does not give the state the authority to tax people to pay for the education of other peoples’ children. Reconstructionists are therefore opposed to public education, not only for their own children, but at all. They long have been proponents of dismantling the federal Department of Education (a view echoed by Angle during the campaign) and reducing funding for public education at every opportunity.

The “biblical” alternatives of homeschooling and Christian schooling constitute what Doug Phillips describes as “Deuteronomy 6:6-8 applied—the daily discipleship of children by their parents (encompassing) not only the traditional academic instruction… but also worldview training, practical life preparation, and family vision-casting as well.” Every year Vision Forum invites homeschoolers from across the country to attend the Academy to learn to make “culture-transforming films.”

The guidelines for the submission of films for the Festival’s Jubilee Award—which this year had a record 250 submissions competing for the cash prize of $101,000—reiterates Reconstructionist language and principles requiring that films be “epistemologically self-conscious.” Films are to honor “covenant- keeping” and “multi-generational families,” they are to reflect “an appreciation and support for both God’s revealed law and His (seven day literal) creation revelation,” and may not include “favorable implicit or explicit portrayals of evolutionary philosophy.” The filmmakers must certify that everyone involved in the film production at every level is of “good moral character,” understood as “keeping His law.” As one might expect, films are to be family-oriented, avoiding violence and sex, but the guidelines assert that unmarried actors depicted performing acts “reserved for the marriage bed” (including kissing) are adulterous violations against one’s current or future spouse.

Last year, the “Best Feature” winner was Fireproof, starring Cameron, whose work in that film and the Left Behind movies (as well as in the much-ridiculed videos with Ray Comfort on how bananas prove evolution wrong) have earned him the admiration of conservative evangelicals. Illustrating the wide-ranging influence of these Reconstructionist-inspired films, and the lack of mainstream notice of their dominionist goals, NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradford Hagerty’s 2009 story on the Festival made no mention of the dominion-oriented, patriarchal, theocratic underpinnings and goals of the Academy, the Festival, or its sponsors.

In his announcement of the inauguration of the Festival in 2004, Phillips described it as a “journey of cultural dominion.” Without directly quoting Rushdoony, Phillips invoked him: “the Bible teaches that all men have faith, in that they either worship the creature or they worship the Creator, but no man is free from religious commitment… There is no neutrality!” He expounded upon the “vision to train Christians to actually think like Christians, and to take back the culture for the Lord Jesus Christ… to challenge the present culture… by boldly proclaiming the crown rights of Jesus Christ over every sphere of life and thought—including film.”

The goal of a rival film industry to replace Hollywood, though, is merely an interim goal. Reconstructionists’ long-term goal is to produce a rival culture based in “Biblical Law,” and through what they call “multi-generational faithfulness” to the dominion mandate, to ultimately replace every aspect of our existing culture. They’ve obviously got a long way to go to accomplish that goal in its entirety, but for anyone who thinks that the Tea Party is an essentially secular libertarian movement with no connection to that dominion mandate, take note: last year, the Best of the Festival winner, the film The Widow’s Mite, was about the evils of taxation.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.