Open Center History: Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right

Today any astute observer of American political life can see that the religious right exerts a very powerful influence on our society. But what really lies behind this, what is the actual world view of so many Christian fundamentalists intent on major initiatives like restricting abortion, reversing advances with gay marriage, spurning climate change initiatives and much more that is anathema to many New Yorkers? Back in 2005, in partnership with CUNY Graduate School, the Open Center created a major conference attended by over 500 participants that spoke directly to these matters and remains, to this day, the only significant event to address the phenomenon known as Dominionism and the associated doctrine of Christian Reconstructionism. This is the movement that believes fervently that godly Christians are mandated by the Lord to take political power and create a reformed America, a country that the more extreme adherents believe should inflict biblical punishments for biblical crimes.

There are different strains of Dominionism. Some believe that the Kingdom of God must be created now in order for Christ to return to earth; others believe that Christ is coming and that events like the Rapture will herald his arrival. Some also adhere to the teaching that we are facing the incarnation of the Antichrist and that the climactic battle of Armageddon will take place in the Middle East and serve as a prelude to the Second Coming. There is even a pretty widely held view that the Book of Revelation serves as a geopolitical roadmap to world affairs.

Those of us who live on the East and West Coast can easily dismiss this as unsophisticated nonsense without realizing that significant swathes of evangelical Middle America are caught up in this kind of thinking. George W. Bush’s coalition of supporters included many adherents to Dominionism, and Donald Trump’s base also includes numerous adherents to this religious ideology. When we ask how anyone could oppose measures to limit global warming, we do well to remember that many fundamentalists believe that passages in the Bible give man dominion over the earth and we should exert that power without restraint. This is about as far as you can get from the holistic sense of the interconnectedness of all life, a worldview deeply understood by Native Americans.

The Open Center’s mission includes exploring many forms of spirituality from all cultures. Of course, most of what we do embraces enlightened paths and practices that can lead to wholeness, compassion and wisdom. But every so often we need to examine some regressive forms of American religion that have the capacity to do great damage to both our environment and to a tolerant and open society. Our ground-breaking conference on the Religious Right remains to this day, as far as we know, the only major event to explore a phenomenon almost totally and unwisely neglected by the mainstream media.

Now, with significant numbers of Christian Nationalists asserting that our current president holds his position by an act of God and that those who oppose him are servants of dark forces, it is time that we all awakened to the danger and the reality of extreme religious political activism. Dominionism’s aims are contrary to the values of most Americans. Yet its adherents are well organized, deeply convinced of their rectitude, and now stand very close to the levers of power.  The Open Center is primarily a cultural and spiritual organization, but sometimes our role is to sound a clarion call in the service of freedom and tolerance. Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right was one of the most important events we have ever produced. Let’s hope its lessons serve to bring citizens out of their sleep and awaken to the dangers around us.