Sunday, August 31, 2008

Left-wing conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theorists like to make arguments of the form "A is linked to B, B is linked to C, therefore A and C are in cahoots," where the links between each entity may be extremely tenuous.

P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, following dogemperor at the DailyKos, maintains that "Sarah Palin's home church is dominionist, with connections to Joel's Army," for which the evidence dogemperor provides is the following:

A look at the home website of Palin's church tends to be revealing. Among other things, a particular Assemblies buzzword associated frequently with Hillsong A/G and New Zealand Assemblies churches shows up ("Destiny", here, is a buzzword for "Joel's Army", and is being preferred even as the phrase "Joel's Army" is getting enough negative spin that even the Assemblies is now having to do some rather massive spin control); cell churches are promoted (of the same sort that are linked to short-term and longterm psychological damage and are among the most coercive tactics ever documented in spiritually abusive groups). The church, like a number of other large Assemblies churches, is the center of a dominionist broadcast TV center whose programming is carried across multiple channels in Alaska.

In a trend that has been recently documented by no less than Southern Poverty Law Center (in its recent report on the Joel's Army movement), the church operates a Seven Project-esque targeted recruitment campaign aiming at teens (this is common across the Assemblies and across "Joel's Army" groups in general; fully a third of the documented national-level front groups operated by the Assemblies target teens).

And...believe you me, Palin's church is definitely "Joel's Army".

But hold on a minute here--the article on "Joel's Army" that Myers initially points readers to is a reasonable article at Alternet that points out that "Joel's Army" is a minority of Pentecostals that has been explicitly rejected by the Assemblies of God:

Not every five-fold ministry is connected to the Joel's Army movement, but the movement has spurred an interest in modern-day apostles and prophets that's troubling to the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal church, which has officially disavowed the Joel's Army movement.

In a 2001 position paper, Assemblies of God leaders wrote that they do not recognize modern-day apostles or prophets and worried that "such leaders prefer more authoritarian structures where their own word or decrees are unchallenged." They are right to worry. Joel's Army followers believe that once democratic institutions are overthrown, their hierarchy of apostles and prophets will rule over the earth, with one church per city.

Yet dogemperor's evidence of a link to Joel's Army is:

1. The Juneau Christian Center website uses the word "Destiny." They have a link on the front page labeled "Building for Destiny," which links to a web page that says:

Destiny has begun! The new youth center for children through high school youth is taking shape.

The purpose of The Hub is reach out to youth and parents in Juneau, giving kids a positive place: to grow in safety, build strong relationships, be encouraged to learn in surroundings that match their interests, acquire confidence and prepare for fantastic futures...

The technology in these 21st century centers will encourage kids to enjoy learning in academics, sports, music, art, finances, computers, health, and life skills. From IPOD/study stations and video game terminals to a pool tables and plasma screen TV's there is something of interest for everyone. Oh yes, The Hub also provides a hip cafe serve smoothies, drinks and light food to encourage fellowship.

Sounds pretty scary, doesn't it?

2. The church is "the center of a dominionist broadcast TV center whose programming is carried across multiple channels in Alaska." This links to a page on the Juneau Christian Center website which says:
Pastor's [sic] Mike and Deenie Rose have been the senior Pastors of Juneau Christian Center since 1987. The theme of their ministry is to win the lost and make disciples. Pastor Rose's preaching inspires people to live the abundant life by receiving and using their God given authority, gifts and talents to advance God's Kingdom. Pastor Rose has daily television and radio programs which are broadcast throughout the state of Alaska, and throughout much of the lower 48.
All this says is that he preaches on TV and doesn't know how to use apostrophes. It doesn't say anything at all to support a claim that he's teaching dominionist theology or has any connection to "Joel's Army."

3. The church "operates a Seven Project-esque targeted recruitment campaign aiming at teens (this is common across the Assemblies and across "Joel's Army" groups in general; fully a third of the documented national-level front groups operated by the Assemblies target teens)."

Dogemperor's parenthetical remark undermines his claim that this supports a link to Joel's Army--if this is something common across the Assemblies of God, which rejects the authority of "Joel's Army," then it stands to reason that "Joel's Army" adopted it from the AOG, rather than the reverse. And targeting teens is common for all churches. None of that says anything about the Juneau Christian Center's theology or suggests a connections to "Joel's Army."

This is very weak and poorly reasoned "guilt by association" reasoning of the sort that justifies all sorts of lunatic claims, including fringe Christian arguments about secular humanists trying to take control of the U.S. government.

If Sarah Palin is an advocate of dominionist theology or Christian reconstructionism, I expect a lot better evidence than this to demonstrate it.

UPDATE: The "Secular Apostate," a retired psychophysicist who converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult, criticizes dogemperor's post as a "truthiness parfait." Note carefully what he says about the very term "dominionism"--it didn't used to be synonymous with or a superset of theocracy, theonomy, or Christian reconstructionism, and it appears to be a term applied as such only by its critics, not by those who actually hold any of those positions.

UPDATE: Commenter "raven" at Pharyngula shows clearly that he's applying the term "dominionist" in a very fast and loose fashion. He wrote:
Pretty much all the fundies are Doms. I'd never even heard of xian Dominionists a year or so ago. The difference between reconstructionists and dominionists is...nothing.
To which I replied:
If you're claiming that all fundamentalists are reconstructionists are dominionists, that is nonsense on a par with saying that all atheists are secular humanists are Marxists.
This was apparently sufficient for him to identify me as a dominionist! He responded with this:

Just stating a fact. There might be one or two who lie about it.

You are one, obviously. The tipoff is the raging hatred of everyone especially those coreligionists who differ in minute details of theology. A liberal Dom is one who might let the Jews live if they keep a low profile and all convert to fundie Death Cultism. The other Doms all hate them as blashemous heretics and apostates, of course.

So who is on your "To Kill" list? You all have them. Gays, Catholics, Episcopalians, Democrats, atheists, scientists, MDs, so many people to murder and so little time. The old record is Rushdooney, the founder of modern Dominionism who wanted to kill 297 million of the 300 million US residents alive today. The modern record is the "Nuke 'em all now and let god sort it out" crowd. Sounds like you want to stop that fooling around with armies of religious fanatics with automatic rifles and just go for the quick clean kill.

At this point, P.Z. Myers stepped in and let him know he was drawing some unwarranted inferences.

Raven has supplied a perfect example of the kind of erroneous reasoning that I'm trying to warn against with this post.

UPDATE: After raven learned he was mistaken about my views, rather than recognize that he's gone wrong somewhere and make an effort to learn from his mistake, he simply proclaimed me to be "an idiot" and went off on a rant. It's sad to see that kind of irrationality.

UPDATE: Here are some quotes at the Harper's Magazine blog from sermons of Pastor Mike Rose of Palin's current church and Pastor David Pepper of her previous church. Looks like standard evangelical Christianity, to me--nothing overtly political apart from a statement by Pepper that "I don't care what the ACLU says," though there's some anti-evolution. There's a claim here that Rose has "ties to Hagee's Christians United for Israel," without specifying what those ties are. Pepper, it is stated, "is outspoken on slavery, racism, and the massacres of Native Americans, all of which he terms 'sins' that still cast a long shadow on minority communities." The Harper's blog has links to "many hours of Mike Rose's sermons" and "numerous sermons of David Pepper's," so if there is anything to the dominionist claims, this is the place to look.

UPDATE (September 1, 2008): Although Palin sometimes attends the Juneau Christian Center and considers her home church to be The Church on the Rock in Wassila, both of which are members of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of America, she does not consider herself to be a Pentecostal, according to Christianity Today, and her profile in the Wall Street Journal identified her as a Lutheran.

Another story, in the Boston Herald, says that Palin's home church is Wasilla Bible Church, headed by Pastor Larry Kroon. This has also been reported by Time magazine. The above claim about The Church on the Rock is a second-hand report by an Associated Press reporter, Eric Gorski, who heard it from Pastor Paul Riley of the Wasilla Assembly of God church, as also reported in the Christianity Today piece. It appears to be false, though no doubt she's visited that and other churches. If Wasilla Bible Church isn't Pentecostal (and it doesn't appear to be), that weakens the allegations of dogemperor even further.

In a Time interview, Palin stated that she attends "A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life."

UPDATE (September 7, 2008): Yesterday's New York Times reports on Sarah Palin's church attendance:
One of the musical directors at the church, Adele Morgan, who has known Ms. Palin since the third grade, said the Palins moved to the nondenominational Wasilla Bible Church in 2002, in part because its ministry is less “extreme” than Pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God, which practice speaking in tongues and miraculous healings.
I don't think the theocracy/reconstructionism/dominionism charge sticks at all. There are lots of good reasons to oppose Palin as vice president, but the idea that she wants to impose theocracy isn't one of them.

UPDATE (September 26, 2008): Palin's certainly a religious kook, as the video of her being blessed with a protection from witchcraft from a Kenyan minister and her subsequent touting of that blessing as a reason she's been selected for public office demonstrates:
The video shows Palin standing before Bishop Thomas Muthee in the pulpit of
the Wasilla Assembly of God church, holding her hands open as he asked Jesus
Christ to keep her safe from "every form of witchcraft."

"Come on, talk to God about this woman. We declare, save her from Satan!"
Muthee said as two attendants placed their hands on Palin's shoulders. "Make
her way my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of
Jesus....Use her to turn this nation the other way around!"

On a visit to the church in June 2008, Palin spoke fondly of the Kenyan
pastor and told a group of young missionaries that Muthee's prayers had
helped her to become governor.
UPDATE (January 1, 2009): dogemperor now argues that Pastor Rick Warren is "connected to" Joel's Army--on the grounds that he once spoke at a 1997 conference of David Yonggi Cho, head of the largest Assemblies of God megachurch in South Korea, and that Cho has argued for Pentecostal revival. Uh, so what are the actual connections between Warren and the "Joel's Army" movement, the New Apostolic Reformation, the Five-fold Ministry, or the "latter rain" movement? What's key to all of these is that they are Pentecostal/charismatic movements that argue that there are new prophets and apostles coming who can perform miracles, signs, and wonders. Rick Warren isn't an advocate of speaking in tongues or performing healing miracles, rather, he relies on modern-day marketing techniques, modern music, and technology. This isn't to say he's not about using Christianity for political influence--he obviously is.

A Christian critique of the "Joel's Army" movement which explains it far better than dogemperor is Jewel Grewe's "Joel's Army." Also worth reading is this AlterNet article by Casey Sanchez of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some people who really are advocates of the "Joel's Army" movement include Todd Bentley, John Crowder, Paul Cain, Mike Bickle, and Rick Joyner.


Theo Bromine said...

What a great cover for a dominionist to pose as a liberal atheist blogger (not to mention all those years on usenet). Don't try to deny it; that will just confirm your guilt...

Hume's Ghost said...

"You are one, obviously."


Einzige said...

Boy do I feel stupid.

I've known you for well nigh 20 years, now. I can't believe I never saw the signs before.

Martyn said...

Unfortunately, this theocratic takeover stuff is real. My criminal law professor at Pepperdine University openly advocated for a constituitional theocracy. Even more unfortunately, it wouldn't take much to put it in place. A veep that ascends to the presidency is a great start. Palin is a stalking horse for push toward theocracy prior to the demographic shift that is also coming. This is not the change we need.

Jim Lippard said...

Martyn: Your comment is noticeably devoid of the necessary evidence or reasons to connect and establish your claims. Who is your criminal law professor that advocates theocracy, what exactly did he or she say, and what's the evidence that Palin shares this professor's views?

I note that Pepperdine University, a Christian school, has a constitutional law professor, Douglas W. Kmiec, who supports Obama for president.

John Wilkins said...

Jim, I'm astonished to find out you are a theocratic dominionist. Who knew? It was a good bit of conspiratorial manoeuvring to hide it all that time.