Law & Politics

Raised in her father’s church

In 2019, when Clare Heath-McIvor wrote on her blog about why she wasn’t a dominionist anymore, she recalled that her entire church, family and social community was so caught up in this fundamentalist ideology that she dared not question it.

“For years, the church … was involved in an international network with heavy Dominionist overtones. Catch cries like ‘What time is it? It’s time to take over!’, ‘Dominion in every domain’, and, ‘Let’s go take the city’, were met with songs about laying down our own ambition to serve the cause. We talked this. We sang this. We worked this,” she said, writing under the pseudonym ‘Kit Kennedy’.

“My Dominionist experience had been governed by a driving mandate to gain power and influence in order to bring the kingdom of God (ie. righteousness). But it had come at the expense of peace and joy.” 

Clare wrote that her friends and family were into the dominionist movement “boots and all”.

Having left the church, in a dramatic and painful way, with her then husband Patrick McIvor in 2016, Clare used the blog as a way of processing her lifetime experience of having been deeply involved in what had transformed from a “run-of-the-mill” evangelical church to something she believed to be “more extreme right”.

The church that Clare and Patrick left behind was City Builders Church, located in the town of Sale in Victoria’s east. Clare’s father, Brian, was – and still is – the church’s pastor.

City Builders Church has been in the public spotlight recently, with allegations from Liberal Party members that the church had joined with Pentecostal allies to take over local party branches in the state’s east.

Later this month, Clare’s sister, Renee Heath (pictured), will contest the state election as a candidate for the Liberal Party in the Eastern Victoria Region for the upper house. Renee – reportedly an active member of City Builders Church – narrowly won a preselection battle in June, 55 votes to 53, over incumbent moderate Liberal member Cathrine Burnett-Wake.

As the media reported on the church’s historic links to gay conversion therapy program Living Waters Program and past campaigns against same-sex marriage and abortion rights, Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy moved to distance candidate Renee from her father’s church, saying “Renee is not her family”.

Renee Heath has declined to comment on her positions on such policy issues, but, according to an ABC report in early September, she has said she respects the separation of church and state. “I am not my father. To suggest that I am is offensive, as it belittles me,” she said. The statement, however, hardly distanced her from the church. According to an ABC report this week, she is a shareholder of a church enterprise.

What has gone unreported, however, is City Builders Church’s alleged link to dominionist ideology – also known as the ‘Seven Mountain Mandate’. In a blog article on, ‘What is dominionism?’, Clare explains that it is the belief that Christians need to gain influence in, and take dominion of, seven key domains of society – media, government/politics, education, business/commerce, religion, arts/entertainment and family.

“This drive towards Christian domination of the 7 domains uses some tactics that are innocent and others that are less so; varying from mastery of one’s own craft, to spiritual warfare or subtler/sneakier methods to dominate or stack organisations or movements,” she wrote.

“… the important thing is this – Dominionism is a thing, it’s here, and it is usually covert and militant in its nature. We’ve met Islamic fundamentalism. It’s out there. So too is Christian fundamentalism, and this is one way it manifests.”

In another article on the subject, Clare recalls that she first heard about dominionism from the pulpit, when a guest preacher instructed about the seven key domains in a PowerPoint presentation. Her involvement in it deepened when she became part of an international network of churches that espoused the ideology. “We stood together, inspired by the message of our divine assignment and sang songs that asked: “What time is it?” The answer: “It’s time to take over.”

Even though dominionism had “slipped its way into churches”, Clare said most people would be unaware. Just like in Fight Club, she wrote, the number one rule of the dominionist movement was: “Don’t talk about it.”

“It is clandestine. You won’t hear of someone walking into a political party and saying, ‘I’m a Dominionist and I’m here to take over.’ That’s a large red tick in a box marked ‘entitled weirdo.’ Nor will you read headlines like, ‘Dominionist faction does blah blah’.”

Clare’s description of City Builders Church appears consistent with Pastor Brian Heath’s public comments. In sermons early last year, he told his congregation that “this church is here to affect every domain of society”.

Just like in Fight Club, she wrote, the number one rule of the dominionist movement was: “Don’t talk about it.”

As reported in Rationale last week, he told a webinar late last year how his church had become a “training centre” in the region, with many people from his family and around him engaged in the political arena and in areas such as business, media and education.

A number of articles on Clare’s blog focus on a topic that particularly cuts deep – that of gay conversion practices.

In 2019, her then husband, Patrick, contributed a piece as a guest blogger on the topic, ‘How I Survived the LGBTQA+ Conversion Movement’. In it, he details how he became involved in the “church in Sale” as a teenager and how he formed a relationship with Clare, “the pastor’s eldest daughter”.

In the article, he also shares his experiences with same-sex attraction and efforts to seek support within the church – a church, he wrote, that views homosexuality as a “particularly ‘vile’ sin, not to be tolerated, especially not in church.” Eventually, he was connected with an external program called the Living Waters Program.

“The process of Living Waters involved reading through a 400 page pseudo-psychological manual together, confessing sexual sins, receiving deliverance prayer with water and oil, and speculating about the sins of my parents,” he wrote.

“Homosexuality was considered synonymous with words like addiction, narcissism and witchcraft. The program dismantled my identity and criminalised the way I experience desire, reframing any bad thing to happen to me, past, present or future, as a punishment from God; I was the embodiment of God’s judgement on society.”

In recent media reports, Pastor Brian Heath denied that his church endorses gay conversion therapy.

In his article on the blog, Patrick wrote that he wanted to leave the church when he and Clare had a baby on the way. He had come to the realisation that they were in a “spiritually abusive church” and that he did not want to subject his own children to “another person’s control”. They were soon excommunicated from the church.

In an article titled, ‘Why I became an affirming Chistian’, Clare writes about how “my father’s church believed homosexuality was an abomination” and about how she had to deconstruct and reconstruct her faith after leaving the church. 

The church publicly campaigned against same-sex marriage. While still in the church, Patrick had, according to an ABC report, been involved in efforts to oust local federal member Darren Chester at a Nationals Party branch meeting for supporting the reform. A member of Patrick’s family and fellow churchgoer even appeared as a concerned mum in an infamous ‘no’ campaign television advertisement.  

After leaving City Builders Church, Patrick became an advocate for in the successful campaign for laws to ban gay conversion and suppression practices in Victoria . In speaking to ABC radio about the the-proposed laws in late 2020, Patrick said the practices were happening in religious subcultures and inflicting “horrible silent life-long harm”.

“The place where you are most unsafe, as a queer person these days, is if you grow up in a fundamentalist religious church … I have to say it makes me mad as hell that the biggest and loudest voices against this bill are actually perpetrators. Some of them are members of my family. Some of them are members of my former church that have organised over 100 people to write letters to their local MP to prevent this from going through, all while denying that they have anything to do with it,” he said.

Ahead of this month’s state election, the Victorian Liberal Party has given an “iron-clad guarantee” not to amend the laws banning gay conversion therapy and suppression practices. Yet the party has been eager to appeal to church communities, including by promising to wind back Labor’s reforms that prevent faith-based institutions such as schools from discriminating in employment on grounds including sexuality, gender identity or marital status. 

The rise of a number of conservative Christians, including Renee Heath, as candidates for the Liberal Party has sounded alarm bells among moderate party members and other members of parliament who have supported a number of social reforms, including on gay conversion and suppression practices, anti-discrimination laws and voluntary assisted dying. According to media reports, such conservative Christian candidates have not answered questions about their policy positions on such issues.

Clare Heath-McIvor’s blog stands as a testament to deep thinking about questions of faith and fundamentalism, and the deep personal costs for some. Now, just weeks out from the state election, the personal experiences of Clare and Patrick, as outlined on that blog, add urgency to the need for more answers about a political candidate raised in her father’s church.

If you wish to republish this original article, please attribute to RationaleClick here to find out more about republishing under Creative Commons.

Images: Renee Heath – Liberal for Eastern Victoria Region (Facebook); City Builders Church (screengrab, YouTube).

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