Ethics & Religion

Christian dominionism: Follow the money

This article is based on a speech given by the author at the Secularism Australia Conference on 2 December in Sydney.

For all its faults, Australia is a free and democratic country with, generally, sensible attitudes towards religion and one of the best electoral systems in the world. It’s easy to be complacent and imagine this could never change.

I’ve been researching the rise of Christian dominionism – a very close cousin of Christian nationalism – for the last 12 years. It’s an ideology that teaches that Jesus will not return to earth until his followers have established a global theocracy which will see Old Testament Biblical Law enforced across every nation. 

The dominionists’ plan for achieving total world domination is called the Seven Mountains Mandate. Followers of this ideology are encouraged, trained and mentored, to infiltrate and conquer the Seven Mountains of Influence. 

These “mountains” represent: government (including law, the military, and our electoral system); business (including unions); education; media and the arts; entertainment; religion; and the family. 

The Seven Mountains Mandate is a political strategy devised and promoted by a large, but nebulous group, called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The NAR’s leaders, revered as “prophets” and “apostles”, aspire, eventually, to sit atop each one of these mountains on every nation on earth – at which point Jesus will return to rapture them to eternal glory in Heaven. 

You may never have heard of NAR, and that’s just how they like it. But Apostolic networks are among the fastest growing movements in the modern Christian world. 

You may be surprised to hear that, according to ChurchWatch Central, an Australian group of concerned pastors, elders and church-goers, NAR is associated with over 1000 churches here in Australia. 

The aim of NAR’s Seven Mountains strategy is for evangelical Christians to infiltrate governments and the public institutions which surround them, quietly building power and influence within those institutions, with the objective of gaining complete control.  

If you look at this as a Christian movement, there is so much about dominionism that just doesn’t make sense. Tim Costello from Australia’s Centre for Public Christianity, shares my sense of puzzlement about why fundamentalist Christians would embrace a political agenda so totally antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. He says:

How do you preach Jesus’ love of enemies and defend gun ownership or separate children from parents and place them in cages at the Texan border?  And how do you reduce the Gospel to securing Supreme Court appointments simply so they will overturn Roe v Wade?  Why would you suppress telling the truth in schools about US racial history by dismissing it as “woke”? 

According to Reverend Costello: “You do all that by engaging in a political Christianity that wants to rule.”

Professor Samuel Perry, a leading expert on Christian nationalism, suggests we should look on it as a kind of “impostor Christianity.” Russell Moore, formerly a top official with the Southern Baptist Convention and now the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, says this is Christianity radicalised to the point that some American pastors cannot preach the Sermon on the Mount without being heckled for endorsing “woke” liberal talking points.

In order to understand why people who call themselves Christians also oppose government welfare, public schools, gun control and action on climate change, I decided to follow the money.

What I discovered was an unholy alliance between evangelical Christians affiliated with NAR’s Seven Mountains strategy, and a league of ultra-wealthy libertarians who operate a complex, international network of right-wing think-tanks – many of which fall under the umbrella of a group known as the Atlas Network.

The ideology expressed in this coalition is called paleolibertarianism nothing to do with ‘Paleo Pete’! 

Here’s how it works: the Christians took on the libertarians’ economic agenda. In return, the ultra-wealthy libertarians encouraged the politicians who benefit from their donations to endorse the dominionists’ religious agenda. Why? Because the Christians provide the ultra-wealthy with a voting bloc to get their agents into power and remove the taxes and regulations which impact negatively on the unfettered accumulation of wealth.

Surprisingly, the aims of Christian dominionists and nationalists and the ultra-wealthy libertarians dovetail neatly. The libertarians see democracy as an inconvenient obstacle to free-market capitalism. The Christians see democracy as an impediment to instituting Biblical law. 

In America, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have banded together to fight Christian nationalism. Their report on the involvement of Christian nationalists in the January 6 insurrection describes how this mutual back-scratching works:

The [Christian nationalist] movement threw its support behind Mr. Trump at a critical moment, delivering to him the Republican Party’s most reliable slice of electoral votes. He in turn gave the movement everything he had promised them: power and political access, access to public money, policies favorable to their agenda, and above all the appointment of hard-right judges. 

Speaking to a gathering of religious right activists in 2021, Senator Lindsey Graham boasted: “Bottom line is President Trump delivered, don’t you think?” 

Public support for Trump and the paleolibertarian agenda has been boosted by scare campaigns warning that voting for progressive candidates will lead the United States towards socialism or communism.

But, in a delicious touch of irony, I discovered the Seven Mountains strategy was not, as its proponents claim, delivered by revelation direct from God; they pretty much plagiarised it from the work of Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci and his followers devised a strategy to overturn capitalism by gaining control of the eight ‘ideological state apparatuses’ – an almost identical list to the Seven Mountains. 

You have to admit, it takes a certain kind of hubris for rabid anti-communists to pinch an actual communist plot and rebrand it as “the Word of God.”

The Seven Mountains strategy is working. If a Republican wins the US election in 2024, the white-anting of American democracy will continue in earnest. Trump has already flagged his intention to dismiss up to 50,000 secular civil servants and replace them with Trumpist, paleolibertarian, loyalists. That’s the Seven Mountains strategy on steroids! 

This can all seem very US-centric but I am convinced that what is happening in America – and in South America, Europe, and now in New Zealand – will play out next in Australia.

Australian Clare Heath-McIvor was raised in a dominionist church in Victoria, where her father is the pastor. Brian Heath’s City Builders church was affiliated with the International Strategic Alliance of Apostolic Churches (ISAAC) – a kind of south-east Asian branch of NAR. As part of that group, Heath-McIvor  remembers being encouraged to chant: “What time is it? It’s time to take over.”

In an article published in Rationale earlier this year, Heath-McIvor warned that Christian nationalism is a bonafide threat to democracy. And she insisted, “Australians need to step on this now.” 

I don’t want to turn this into a McCarthyist kind of witch-hunt. The extent to which these ideologies are embraced by evangelical Christians and libertarians exists on a spectrum. That said, the destruction of democracy is enthusiastically embraced by paleolibertarian leaders and they have a significant following, even here in Australia.

Take this from Pastor Ian Shelton’s Toowoomba City Church. Back in 2011 when I first embarked on this research, the church’s website described Shelton’s goal to turn Toowoomba into:

… a transformed city where all the spheres – sport, arts, leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law, police, judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, & education … come under the lordship of Christ.

And, while a little church in Toowoomba can seem like small potatoes, remember there are at least 1000 churches around Australia preaching the same doctrine. Tell me, how would politicians respond if it were 1000 mosques, backed by a global international network, urging their followers to take control of this country’s democratic institutions by stealth?

We can’t be complacent. We have already seen a Pentecostal prime minister secretly appointing himself to no less than five federal government ministries. We have seen Christian nationalists stacking Liberal Party branches in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria

Last year, a roadmap came to light, outlining how the religious right could infiltrate the Liberal Party with godly candidates.  We have heard how the Gold Coast Mayor appointed a “spiritual advisor” with her own office and six-figure salary. And she has insisted that the mayor ecstatically agreed to help her implement the Seven Mountains strategy on the glitter strip.

In northern NSW, a National Party candidate declared:  “I want to bring God’s kingdom to the political arena. And I want God’s kingdom to penetrate the political mountain.”

As secularists, our eyes have been fixed firmly on the Christian component of this kooky confederation of Christianity and cash. And if we just look at them it’s easy to tell ourselves they couldn’t organise a school picnic, let alone a bloodless coup. 

We have to realise that the Christians are the circus; the brains, the money, the power and the real strategy is in the far-right libertarian think-tanks which support them. 

Recently,  Dr Jeremy Walker of Sydney’s University of Technology, alerted us to the activities of the Atlas Network here in Australia. Substantially funded by billionaire Charles Koch and a number of multinationals with interests in fossil fuels and tobacco, Atlas is the network that enlisted the Christian dominionists and nationalists of NAR to build the Tea Party movement and infiltrate the Republican Party.

In Australia, the Atlas Network claims eight think-tanks as “partners” including the Centre for Independent Studies, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Australian Institute for Progress, and LibertyWorks – the organisation which brought the Conservative Political Action Conference to Australia. 

According to Jeremy, Atlas itself is not a think tank. Rather, it is the “mother-of-all-think-tanks.” It’s an umbrella organisation which provides seed-funding and strategic guidance to 515 libertarian think-tanks across nearly 100 countries and coordinates their activities. This is important. 

They represent themselves as independent voices but they are involved in strategic campaigns coordinated by a foreign interest group.

Many of those pulling the strings in the Atlas Network are also members of another far-right group, the Mont Pelerin Society, whose members have included our own John Howard, mining lobbyist, Hugh Morgan, co-founders of the Centre for Independent Studies Greg Lindsay and Maurice Newman, and John Roskam – until recently the executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs. 

There is also a close association between the Atlas Network and Jordan Peterson’s newly formed Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, which recently held a conference in London. One of the two shareholders in the ARC,  the Legatum Institute, is also an Atlas Network partner.

There are six Australians on the ARC’s advisory board, which also includes two pastors, a professor of religion and Mike Johnson, the new Republican speaker, who we know has strong affiliations with Christian dominionism.  Of the 1500 people who attended their London conference, a whopping 10 per cent were Australians – many of them leading Liberal politicians. Family First Party national director Lyle Shelton was also there.

The Atlas Network has form: it is credited with influencing the election of autocratic and ultra-conservative leaders in Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands and, recently, New Zealand. Will Australia be next?

This may seem disconnected from matters of church and state, but, as one American professor of religion says, we need to recognise that Christian dominionism is just “part of the tool kit of political radicalism.”

When Australia moved to recognise Indigenous Australians in our constitution and give them a Voice to Parliament, the Atlas Network set to work here, coordinating the efforts of its Australian think-tanks and setting up Advance Australia to spear-head the ‘No’ campaign. 

They didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Atlas Network had already been successful in effectively sinking a United Nations campaign to ensure greater involvement by Indigenous communities in oil and gas production in Canada.

Both Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine are associates of the Atlas Network-affiliated Centre for Independent Studies. Both also have strong ties to religion. 

Adding to the ‘toolkit’, during the Voice campaign it was announced that, under the auspices of Advance Australia, another group, Christians for Equality, had been formed, with our old friend, Lyle Shelton, appointed to head it.

A triumphant ‘test-run’ for the Atlas Network in Australia, its scare campaign managed to bring support for the Voice down 20 points, resulting in the catastrophic defeat of the referendum. 

What might Atlas achieve at our next federal election? And to whom will conservative politicians be in debt?

If paleolibertarianism gains a firm foothold here in Australia, their targets will include voluntary assisted dying, women’s reproductive choice, government welfare, public schools, Medicare, unions, marriage equality, gay rights, anti-discrimination laws, immigration and refugees, the rights of people from non-Christian religions, and more. Jacinta Price has already flagged that transgender people are next on her hit-list.

So many groups are threatened by this movement. Yet, we all tend to fight independently on different fronts.

This goes beyond a risk to the separation of church and state; Australian democracy is at stake. We need to look at what’s happening in America and start taking dominionism, Christian nationalism and these libertarian think-tanks deadly seriously. 

I think we need to pull together a peak group of organisations, including unions and mainstream churches, to counter this movement. 

Ultra-wealthy benefactors with progressive ideas do exist – and while we don’t want this to become a “clash of the titans”, we need substantial funding to devise and implement a strategy to counter this assault on our democracy. 

There’s no point tinkering at the edges. We need professional political strategists and communications experts on board to help craft a cunning plan.

And finally, we have to understand that the crazy circus that surrounds this movement is a feature, not a bug. It’s there to distract us, to make us underestimate them, and to keep us fixated on the “useful idiots” in the frontline, while the operatives with the money, power, brains and the international networks pull all the strings.

An original version of this article appeared here on the author’s blog. It has been republished with the author’s permission.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash.


About Chrys Stevenson

Chrys Stevenson is a freelance researcher and writer with a wide range of interests, including women’s issues, social justice, voluntary assisted dying, Australian history, Christian dominionism and the separation of church and state. She holds a first-class honours degree in Australian cultural history and a Bachelor of Arts in history, literature, and social science. Chrys was the ‘scribe’ for Ron Williams’ two High Court cases against the National School Chaplaincy Program, documenting the progress of the cases in numerous articles and blog posts. Her writing has been widely published on Medium (for Humanists Australia), ABC’s Religion and Ethics, in The Australian Book of Atheism (2010) and elsewhere. She is, perhaps, best known for her (2011) article for ABC’s Religion and Ethics, ‘Is the Australian Christian Lobby Dominionist?’

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