The readers of this diary all know by now that--to put it very mildly--I am not one to sympathise with dominionists, and in fact could be described politely as being Mad As Hell about dominionists targeting kids in particular.
This does not mean we should descend to their level, though--an important thing we need to realise in order to prevent feeding a preexisting paranoia. As the old yarn goes, "When you wrestle with a pig on its terms, both you and the pig get dirty, you get bruised up, and the pig likes it."
The reason I make a point on what is appropriate rather than inappropriate protest against dominionism is due to the following article in Christian Post that indicates that dominionists are already using the fact that people are doing Bad Stuff back to keep their folks in line--and to play the victim:
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A woman whose summer camp for children near Devil's Lake, N.D., was featured in a documentary called "Jesus Camp," says all the attention led to her decision not to continue camps there.
"I have a responsibility to keep the children safe," the Rev. Becky Fischer said.
Fischer said the camp, which is owned by the Assemblies of God and rents to a number of groups, was vandalized after the release of the movie about her Kids on Fire camp. The Assemblies of God church also was vandalized, she said.
The camp's windows were broken and it had about $1,500 worth of damage. Police figure the church was vandalized the same night, said the Rev. Winston Titus, the camp administrator.
. . .
Fischer has asked that Magnolia Pictures not release the Jesus Camp movie in the Bismarck area because she worries about the risk of other incidents there.
She said the movie is scheduled at the Fargo Theater on Nov. 17, and will be out on DVD in a couple of months.
Anyone who reads this column knows damn well I am no fan of the Assemblies of God's promotion of dominion theology, of the religious abuse inherent in dominion theology, of the promotion of "Joel's Army" theology, or of the concept of raising kids as "Joel's Army" recruits.
However, vandalising the property is not cool. Why?
a) It is sinking to the same level of people in the dominionist movement who firebomb women's clinics and the like. (In fact, special federal provisions exist in regards to church vandalism, and it's stunts like this that tend to get groups listed as domestic terrorist groups.)
b) It feeds into an existing "us versus them" mindset in "Joel's Army"-type groups and in fact further reinforces abusive tactics and practices within the group.
I actually have an example of the latter from my own youth growing up dominionist--when I was around 13-ish, the Sunday school chapel (normally used for teen services; Sunday school was held in the "old church" which was by that point used for their private school and for Sunday school and "bible camp" stuff) was chained shut.
The Sunday school teachers claimed later that day that this was because it had been vandalised--supposedly a pentagram had been burnt on the floor, graffiti saying "666" and "Hail Satan" had been sprayed several places, and paint or blood had been splashed on the altar.
To my knowledge, it was not re-opened during the entire time I remained in "teen church" (maybe a year after that); furthermore (and here's what I mean by feeding on pre-existing coercive tendencies) the church both in its main services and in its Sunday school used this to repeatedly drive the point home that there was a massive Satanic conspiracy against the church and that it was because the church was God's Army and making Satan scared
To this day, I have to wonder if such an incident actually happened--I don't remember hearing anything on it on the news (and such an act of vandalism would certainly be notable, as the FBI was investigating church vandalism at that point), I don't remember anything about the FBI looking into things, and if (and this is a pretty big "if" here) the incident actually happened, I expect it was a bunch of stupid kids mucking around...but the effect was that it was used by the dominionists as Proof That They Really Are Out To Get You, So We're Doing The Right Thing And Need To Get Even More Extreme
c) They can turn around, portray themselves as the victims--and portray everyone fighting dominionism as the Bad Guys, as potential terrorists-in-waiting, based on the action of a few asshats. (An extreme version of this is what the Phelps familial cult does--practically all of the members of the family are lawyers or disbarred lawyers, and they are very prone to filing lawsuits against people for assault or for even preventing their protests.)
I had thought--*hoped* at least--that the message had gotten through, but it would appear not so much--reportedly Wasilla Bible Church, one of several churches Palin attended, may have been the target of arson. (Of note, this is still being investigated.)
And hence, I will note just why stunts like this are so damn *stupid*.
Torching churches (and in the case of WBC, this was actually the *least* radical of the churches Palin attended) will just cause the dominionists to start up elsewhere--only in an unannounced location, and quite possibly even more radicalised than before. I'd not be surprised to find that internally the Assemblies of God church in question where "Jesus Camp" is held isn't making very similar sermons to the Assemblies church I escaped after the "Chapel Incident".
In the particular case of Palin, too, this may actually give her the out to drop her WBC involvement--and either try to "stealth" at another church, or stop the pretense of "stealthing" and admit she's a Joel's Army stalking-horse. (It has been widely speculated that Wasilla Bible Church--the solitary non-neopentecostal-dominionist church she attended--may have been attended by Palin to "stealth" her actual denominational affiliation; reportedly she did not attend all that frequently, sometimes walking out mid-service.)
In fact, probably the only good thing at all that came out of this particular cunning plan (that was not thought all the way through) was that "Jesus Camp" was linked officially to an Assemblies of God church--something not too surprising to me, having attended a "Jesus Camp"-style day program in an Assemblies church in my youth and knowing how popular "Joel's Army" stuff is in the Assemblies anymore. I'd much rather that this info had come about without giving aforementioned Assemblies church ammo to claim that "Folks Who Think We're A Cult Are Working With The Devil To Destroy Us", however.
We may find out more about what goes on at Wasilla Bible Church (which, whilst not solidly Joel's Army, is still hardline dominionist--though more of the SBC/"independent Christian church" variety, rather than the frothing "God Warrior of Elijah's Army" sort. Again, though, this gives them an incredible ticket for sympathy.
No, we can't sink to their level. There are far more effective ways to fight this stuff:
a) Education, education, education. Me writing about my own experiences is a way of this; "Jesus Camp", of interest, is another in that it's a fairly neutral portrayal of what these groups are like--many dominionist groups are having apoplexy now as a result of their "private face" finally being captured on film.
(Ironically, the asshats who vandalised the "Jesus Camp" grounds may have sabotaged the goal of educating people, in that the subject of the film went on to pressure movie theatres to request not to have it distributed in its hometown.)
b) Provide more resources for people who are escaping these groups--or who may need help in escaping these groups--and encourage them to share their stories. (There are a number of excellent resources for walkaways now--but little awareness of religiously motivated child abuse in the social work community or psychologist communities. Thousands of LGBT kids, for example, are on the streets at serious risk to themselves because they are "throwaways"--kids who have either been kicked out of dominionist households or who have had to run away to protect themselves. Awareness of walkaway issues by social workers would do wonders to help kids who are escaping places like this.)
c) Work to make sure that dominionist groups can't hijack the political process. (Be aware of the dominionist groups and churches in your area, and if they are explicitly supporting candidates or other things in violation of their 501(c)3 status, start making complaints to both the Federal Election Commission (or your state elections board) and to the IRS. In this vein, it is also vitally important to GOTV for folks who are running against candidates backed by dominionists.)
d) Work to get rid of some of the extremely broad exemptions for abuse, inspections of camps, etc. that religious groups use in many states. (In many states, "behaviour modification" facilities are run by dominionist groups and are not even required to be licensed (and the same goes for "Jesus Camps", preschools, and the like); state child protection services are also likely to give broad leeway in regards to religiously motivated child abuse. These loopholes need to be closed; in states like Tennessee that require licensure for groups giving medicine, for instance, groups like Love In Action have been shut down based not on religious matters but on being unlicensed facilities.)
The bonus of this approach (as opposed to merely smashing in windows and vandalising the grounds of a dominionist group) is that the group is shut down or limited statewide if not nationally--and it also sets a precedent that can be used to protect other kids in groups outside of just that one group. (In other words, if "Jesus Camp" had been shut down legally for something like fire code violations, not only would that have been the end of it restarting period in that state, but other "Jesus Camps" run by other groups could have been stopped.)
e) I cannot emphasize enough, as well, the importance of keeping a good amount of cleansing sunlight on these groups. In the case of Palin's connections with not just Wasilla Bible Church but other more explicitly Joel's Army churches, this has led to one of the first dedicated research groups focusing on educating and shining the spotlight on "New Apostolic Reformation" groups--including their theocratic intent and their abusiveness. This is something that is desperately needed, and *will* be needed in the coming months and years--the "religious right" is far from dead, and is already at this date promoting Palin as a potential Presidential candidate in 2012.
One thing we will have to keep a watch on post-WBC fire is the fact that there may be people who try to claim criticism of these groups subjects them to being targets (this did happen after the "Jesus Camp" incidents). We cannot afford to let this happen.
f) Make sure businesses are aware of the possibility of "affinity abuse" by dominionist groups--the use of company charity programs to fund promotion of things like the AFA or "Jesus Camp"-style facilities. Don't be afraid to tell them that if they do not drop the dominionist companies, that you and your friends won't do business with them. (
g) Keep our noses clean--do not engage in physical attacks on the property of dominionists or on dominionists themselves. As I noted above, stuff like vandalising property or smashing windows does nothing to help them, in fact flatly encourages them, and allows them to play the victim and potentially endangers the entire movement in fighting dominionism. (To give a clue from the other side--the reason dominionists are doing so much damage control re "Jesus Camp" is because the movie shows realistically the levels of indoctrination of kids.)
We have a hell of a lot of legal ammunition we can use against abusive dominionist groups (including the most effective ways--starving their conduits of power and money). Let's not drop to their levels, folks.