When Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president, many assumed he would quietly distance himself from his father, Rafael Cruz, since the elder Cruz has long been extreme in his religious views, and outspoken in proclaiming them.
But the opposite has been the case. Rafael Cruz has been the senator’s primary surrogate on the campaign trail, particularly with the evangelical voters who are now Ted Cruz’s base. The two have frequently spoken together, prayed together, campaigned together—even shot highly awkward “slice of life” videos together.
The reason Ted Cruz might be reluctant to embrace his father so publicly is that Rafael Cruz subscribes to what is known as dominionism, which holds that Christianity should exercise “dominion” over all of society, not just the traditional boundaries of religion.
Historically, dominionism began as an offshoot of Christian Reconstructionism, the sect founded in the 1960s by defender-of-slavery R.J. Rushdoony that seeks to replace secular law with Biblical law, stonings and all. More moderate versions of Reconstructionism began to take hold in the New Christian Right, which began in the 1970s as an effort to re-engage evangelicals in politics and fight back against the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. Dominionism was one such version.
The etymological and Scriptural roots of dominionism are God’s command that Adam and Eve should “have dominion over all the earth” and Isaiah 2:2, which says, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.” Those “mountains” are interpreted not literally but figuratively (evangelicals are actually only selectively literalistic) as referring to the “seven mountains” of society, specifically family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, government, education, and business.
And since an overwhelming majority of evangelicals—more than 75 percent, according to recent surveys—believe that the “latter days” are already here, the time for dominion is now. Hence the recent flood of Christian movies like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Christian businesses like Hobby Lobby, and Christian politicians like Pat Robertson.
Rafael Cruz’s new book, A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America, makes this theology quite clear. In it, he writes, “The Bible tells us that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world… Doesn’t that suggest that our influence should touch every area of society—our families, the media, sports, arts and entertainment, education, business, and government?”
Notice that not only did Cruz state the dominionist view in general, but he listed the specific “seven mountains” in which dominionists believe.
(Notably, Cruz has not appeared to have signed on to a more radical version of dominionism called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes literally that the Earth is controlled by a hierarchy of demons under Satan’s authority, and that Christians must engage in “spiritual warfare” against them. Though the NAR sponsored Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer revival The Response and now have outsize influence in Christian Zionism, many conservative Christians believe it to be a kind of cult.)
Rafael Cruz’s views of his son’s role in all of this are literally messianic. When Ted was 4 years old, Rafael says that he told him “You know, Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I know and God has destined you for greatness.”
Of course, lots of parents have high expectations for their children, though perhaps not that high. Rafael Cruz, however, has a very specific, messianic role in mind. Consider the following sermons given on Aug. 26, 2012, at the Irving, Texas, megachurch of Christian Zionist Larry Hugh—the entire service and sermons are available online.
First, surrounded by Jewish symbols including a menorah, a Jewish star on the lectern, and a shofar in his hand, Pastor Huch noted that 2012 would be the year of “divine government—that God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, but God and God’s people will begin to rule and reign.” (According to Huch, this was because of the numerological significance of the number 12, not the Mayan calendar.)
Then he said, “I know that’s why God got Rafael’s son elected—Ted Cruz, the next senator. But here’s the exciting thing… in a few weeks begins that year 2012, and this will begin what we call the End Times transfer of wealth… When gentiles begin to receive this blessing, they will never go back financially through the valley again. They will grow and grow and grow… We will usher in the coming of the messiah.”
Next, Rafael Cruz took the stage. He noted that in the Bible, “the king and the priest complemented each other.” He then complained (as he has many times) that most churches are focused only on the “priestly anointing” but that most should take on the role of kings going to battle: “The battlefield is the marketplace… go to the marketplace and take dominion… that dominion is not just in the church, it is over every area: society, education, government, economics.”
Citing the Book of Proverbs, Cruz preached that “the wealth of the wicked is stored for the righteous. And it is through the kings, anointed to take dominion, that that transfer of wealth is going to occur.”
(Incidentally, Methodist scholar Morgan Guyton has provided a brilliant theological takedown of the sermon from a Christian point of view, including close readings of the Biblical Hebrew and Greek.)
Dominionism is both mundane and profound. On the mundane level, it’s not so different from the prosperity gospel, which holds that (contra what Jesus had to say) God wants you to be rich. “God’s going to open up that multimillion contract,” Cruz preached in Irvine. “God’s going to open up that promotion at work.”
But on the profound level, Ted Cruz’s role is to “take dominion” of the governmental ‘mountain,’ thus effectuating a Bernie Sanders-like “wealth transfer,” except not from the 1 percent to the 99 percent, but from the wicked to the righteous. Even the cover of Rafael Cruz’s book makes this clear, with its picture of a church looming over a much-smaller American flag.
Unsurprisingly, all this is a mission from God. Rafael Cruz has said that at a prayer session in 2013 or 2014, “It was as if there was a presence of the Holy Spirit in the room and we all were at awe… And Ted, all that came out of his mouth, he said, ‘Here am I Lord, use me. Here am I Lord, I surrender to whatever Your will for my life is.’ And it was at that time that he felt a peace about running for president of the United States.”
Rafael Cruz’s worldview is deeply informed by (and sometimes copied word-for-word from) the pseudo-history of David Barton, who now directs Ted Cruz’s SuperPAC, which has raised over $30 million from just four extremely wealthy individuals, and who was previously the chair of the Republican Party of Texas.
Before spending billions to elect Ted Cruz, Barton wrote a series of books on the founders of the United States, all roundly condemned by actual historians. For example, his book on Thomas Jefferson, a noted deist who was suspected of atheism in his lifetime, suggests that Jefferson was in fact a pious, evangelical-style Christian. That book was voted “the least credible history book in print” by the History News Network website, and was pulled by its publisher, but is now available from World Net Daily, the far-right conspiracy website.
And in 1995, when challenged by historian Robert Alley, Barton admitted that there were no primary sources for 11 quotes he attributed to Madison, Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Even Barton’s Biblical quotations are erroneous.
Yet despite all of this, Barton’s view is now commonplace on the far right: The United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation, by Christians, with Christian principles dictating public policy.
Indeed, Barton’s ministry, WallBuilders, has now formed a network of pastors called the “Black Robe Regiment,” based on a British slur for pastors who supported the American Revolution—and who, it is alleged, “presented what the Bible said about taxes, education, laws, public policy, good government, and the military.”
It’s easy to see how Barton’s bogus, revisionist history connects with Rafael Cruz’s dominionism. First, Barton is himself a dominionist: he said in 2011 that “If you can have those seven areas, you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”
Second, now dominionism is not about creating a new republic but restoring the America that once was. As Cruz writes in his new book, “although many people think otherwise, the concept of separation of church and state is found nowhere in either the Declaration of Independence of the Constitution or the United States of America.” Dominion is thus restorationism.
Third, Cruz has often echoed Barton’s own ideas, including that our system of taxation is contrary to the Bible and that public education is a communist plot invented by John Dewey (who in reality was a fierce anti-communist, but never mind). (The modern homeschooling movement was pioneered by Rushdoony.)
Finally, as weird as dominionism may sound to non-Christians, it is now well within the mainstream of the Christian Right. Prior to the Cruz family, its political standard-bearers were Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Now, everything I’ve said so far is about Rafael Cruz, not Ted Cruz. We don’t really know how much of this Ted believes. But it is interesting that even anodyne statements by Ted Cruz can be read in multiple ways, the classic indicator of dogwhistling. For example, Sen. Cruz wrote an epilogue to Rafael Cruz’s book, in which he said, “If our nation’s leaders are elected by unbelievers, is it any wonder that they do not reflect our values? … If the body of Christ arises, if Christians simply show up and vote biblical values, we can restore our nation.”
Read one way, this is just a Christian version of “make America great again.” Read another way, “restoring our nation” has a very specific dominionist meaning of one believes that America was once a Christian quasi-theocracy. And not many candidates describe their campaign as trying to get the body of Christ to arise.
Whatever Ted Cruz’s religious views, however, those of his father are relevant in their own right. He stumps for his son all the time, Barton has his hands on some of the largest purse strings in Republican politics, and many of Ted Cruz’s supporters are animated by a theological vision of America that will restore “kings” to power at the End of Days, of whom Cruz is apparently one.
The word “dominionism” may not roll of the tongue of political pundits, but given its shocking ambitions, maybe that’s part of the point.