I’ve been writing about the threat of Christian dominionism in Australia for over a decade now. Lately, there is quite a deal of ‘movement at the station’ and I think it’s time to renew my efforts. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of articles on the threat of Christofascism in Australia. This is long, so grab a cuppa and put your feet up.
Dominion theology was popularised in the early 2010s when American evangelists, Bill Bright and Loren Cunningham claimed to have been simultaneously blessed with a divine revelation; that Jesus would not return until Christians had conquered and gained control of 7 “mountains” of global culture: government, education, media, arts and entertainment, religion, family and business. This became known as the 7 Mountains Mandate or Kingdom Now theology and it caught on like wildfire through Pentecostal, Apostolic, 3C and other conservative, protestant churches.
Readers of my vintage will recall 70s pop star, Colleen Hewett, singing the repetitious but catchy lyrics, “Pre-e-e-pare ye, the way of the Lord.” This is essentially the aim of the 7 Mountains movement: the prophecies of Revelations will not come to pass until Christians (and by that, we mean white, right-wing, protestant, predominantly male Christians) control all aspects of life on earth.
Dominionism pre-dates the 7 Mountains Movement and has long been cause for concern – even within Christianity itself. In 1981, Tom F Driver, the Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, said:
“[We] fear christofascism, which we see as the political direction of all attempts to place Christ at the centre of social life and history … [m]uch of the churches’ teaching about Christ has turned into something that is dictatorial in its heart and is preparing society for an American fascism.”
Christofascism goes beyond the dominionist agenda to take control of the government and social institutions in God’s name – generally by stealthy, non-violent, infiltration. Christofascism sees the dominionist agenda co-opted by bad-faith actors to advance an authoritarian or totalitarian political strategy – with the real end goals being money and power.
As we’ve seen recently with the exposés on Hillsong Church – the religious agenda of ‘good, Christian, family values’ which is said to be the raison d’être behind the 7 Mountains movement only applies to the poor saps at the bottom of the Pentecostal pyramid scheme. Those at the top indulge in every kind of lascivious, unconscionable, and unlawful behaviour, totally exempt from the constraints they wish to place upon the rest of us. Why? Because –
It. Was. Never. About. Religion. It was always about money and power.
Looking at America, it is often said that Christian evangelists have taken over the GOP. What is more likely is that bad-faith actors took over the GOP and the GOP took over Christian dominionism. Ultimately, the ‘Christian soldiers’ recruited to the cause will become more than just spiritual warriors. They will be the cannon fodder for an actual holy war; a Christian militia, ready to stage an armed and bloody revolution with God at their side. Does this sound outlandish? Ladies and gentlemen, may I direct your attention to Washington DC, January 6, 2021.
Back in the 2010s I was willing to concede that Christian dominionism was somewhat less rabid than reconstructionism or – God forbid! – fascism. But, today, I’m more than happy to suggest that if our merry 7 Mountains mountaineers are not yet fascists, they’re certainly fraternising with them, sharing common cause, and pursuing a goal which can only be achieved through totalitarianism.
In 2011 I posed the question “Is the Australian Christian Lobby Dominionist?” in an article for ABC’s Religion and Ethics website. Such was the power of the ACL at that time, editor, Scott Stephens decided he should tell them in advance about my claims. Subsequently, the ACL’s lawyers spent a day on the phone trying to stop the article being published. When it was published, Brigadier Jim Wallace, then Managing Director of the ACL, told editor, Scott Stephens, he’d never even heard of dominionism, let alone embracing it. “I had to ask around the office to ask if anyone knew what it was,” said Jim.
Wallace’s denial rang rather hollow because my article linked to the world’s major dominionist website, Reclaim 7 Mountains, which proudly boasted that the Australian Christian Lobby was one of the organisations involved in the movement. The listing was promptly “disappeared”. But, don’t worry, Jim – I kept a copy:
Baptist minister, Rod Benson from the Sydney Anglicans’ Moore College, took me to task over my article, accusing me of “opportunistic scaremongering”. The Australian Christian Lobby had no wish to see Australia become a theocracy, said Benson. Look! They even say that on their website!
Yeah. That’s about as convincing as someone prefacing their racist rant with, “I’m not racist, but ….”
Benson accuses me of assigning guilt by association. Just because you address the Fabian Society doesn’t make you a Fabian, says Benson.Twelve years on, I wonder what, Benson might have to say about the former Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, socialising with neo-Nazis.
Let me pause here to indulge in a little parable. One day, many years ago, I sat down to drink a coffee on the terrace of a suburban coffee shop. Sitting unattended at the table opposite mine, was a young boy, perhaps, 5 years old. He had taken a teaspoon, heaped it high with sugar from the sugar pourer on the table, and, at the moment I spied him, he had the spoon poised a centimetre from his open mouth.
“You’re not going to eat that sugar, are you?” I said, giving him a stern look.
The boy’s big blue eyes widened with feigned innocence as he slowly and deliberately shook his head from side to side – as if it were inconceivable that I should even think such a thing! Of course, the close proximity of the spoonful of sugar to his lips was simply a matter of coincidence and no conclusions could or should be drawn from that association. I often wonder if that kid grew up to be a Pentecostal pastor.
In response to my article, Brigadier Wallace, then Managing Director of the ACL, wrote:
“I have always totally rejected the American model of church engagement with politics and have reaffirmed that everywhere I have promoted ACL and political activism.”
This is the same Jim Wallace who chairs the board that recently sacked the ACL’s incumbent Managing Director, Martyn Iles, for being too evangelical and not political enough.
“[T]he Board has reviewed ACL’s strategic direction and decided I am not the right person to lead the revised strategy, which focuses more primarily on political tactics, less on the gospel,” Iles explains in his online resignation letter.
It’s a different story to the one I was fed back in 2011.
In a recent interview on the podcast Yeah Nah Pasaran, American-based, Australian researcher, Kate Burns, talked about the rise of Christofascism, both in America and Australia, as well as the close connections between activists in the two countries.
“What was once kept behind the veil is now becoming more overt,” says Burns. And she’s dead right.
The ACL was furious that I outed their connection to Christian dominionism and the 7 Mountains mandate in 2011, but, look! Here’s the ACL’s Martyn Iles presenting in front of the self-same dominionist logo at the 2021 Church & State Summit. Count those mountains – 7 of ‘em!
“But that doesn’t mean he’s a dominionist!” I can hear Rob Benson and Jim Wallace cry. Well, yeah, but his mouth’s wide open and right next to those 7 Mountains of dominionist sugar.
Again, in this photo from 2023, we see the ACL’s former Managing Director and Chief of Staff, Lyle Shelton, standing proudly in front of the same 7 Mountains logo. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
I was derided in 2011 when I suggested the ACL was dominionist. Even Scott Stephens from the ABC’s Religion & Ethics site, who, despite enormous pressure from the ACL, published my article, told me he thought I had gone too far; that I “just didn’t understand Australian protestantism.”
But I knew I was on the right track when I attended a conference at which Professor Marion Maddox, Australia’s leading authority on the intersection of religion and politics in Australia and the author of God Under Howard, stood at the lectern and said, “Is the Australian Christian Lobby dominionist? Chrys Stevenson is right.”
Since then, my spidey-sense about the ACL has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Now, I’m sticking my neck out to take my concerns even further.
I used to kid myself that dominionism in Australia was a quixotic attempt to quietly infiltrate government and cultural institutions in order to wield undue influence. I saw it happening at a local level with local Pentecostal churches entreating parents to join their state school’s Parents and Citizens group in order to support school chaplaincy. Annoying but, ultimately, small change.
Fast forward to the present day and former MP George Christensen and Christian conservative commentator, David Pellowe, are openly talking about doing the same thing with political parties with Pellowe saying of their plans to take over the Liberal party:
“It’s not branch stacking, it’s participation.”
Read: “I’m not eating the sugar … I’m consuming it!”
Dominionism has moved on since I first took on Jim Wallace and the ACL. Following the events of January 6 in the USA, I don’t think we can dismiss 7 Mountains dominionism as annoying, but ultimately harmless; a comically, quixotic tilt at theocratic power.
OK. I don’t think a Christian coup is imminent in the country … yet … but I believe that’s what they’re planning – or at least, hoping, for. And the language is becoming increasingly bellicose.
At a Church & State “Kingdom Come” Summit in 2021, the ACL’s Managing Director, Martyn Iles. bemoaned the fact that governments were legislating progressively. Iles joked that his father often said, “we need a good war” to sort this out. “There’s a little bit of truth in that,” said Iles.
Conference convenor, Dave Pellowe hastily, yet unconvincingly, added:
“We’re not advocating violence or revolution … today.”
To which Martyn Iles replied:
“Not yet, that’s down the line.”
Of course we could dismiss this as a bit of good-natured blokey banter that went awry – “Only joking’ folks!” … Until you see the 7 Mountains logo used like this:
At this point, the good folks at the ACL and the organisers of the Church & State Summit will be reaching for their smelling salts, proclaiming, “Spiritual warfare, you stupid woman! They’re talking about spiritual warfare!”
But, to be clear, at a Born for War sermon at a 7 Mountains dominionist event, held just prior to the US 2021 election, American dominionist, Steve Holt, called for a “Kingdom of God revolution in our time.” Holt prayed:
“May this state, in the years ahead, run red with the blood of Jesus. May this city, run red with the blood of Jesus. May this county, run red with the blood of Jesus.”
Read in conjunction with the bellicose rhetoric of Pellowe and Iles in March 2021, it’s hard not to join the dots and connect the ideology of our home-grown Bible bashers to that of the Christofascists who attempted a coup at the US Capitol; many of them emboldened by the rhetoric of the 7 Mountains Mandate.
Researcher and journalist, Teddy Wilson (in an article by Elle Hardy for Unherd), mapped more than 850 individuals who took part in the Capitol riot and found that:
“Christian Nationalism, more than any other ideological beliefs, has played the most significant role both in motivations of the defendants, the performance of the attack, and the attempt by the Right to rewrite the history of January 6th.”
And, marching alongside those Christian Nationalists? Hundreds of neo-fascist Proud Boys – bearing the same name and ideology as the men with whom Lyle Shelton (front left) and Dave Pellowe (standing) are beaming in the photo below. Don’t want to be called a fascist? Don’t socialise with neo-Nazis!
“Good to catch up with the Proud Boys at the Mt Gravatt Bowls Club. Contrary to popular opinion they are not Nazis, just blokes who are sick of all the PC nonsense,” Shelton tweeted.
Great blokes – who just happen to be wearing black shirts (symbols of Italian fascism) and making White Power signs.
Here’s a curious thing; Hitler wasn’t too fussed on all the PC nonsense either. His aversion to political correctness (aka human decency) led to the murder of approximately six million Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities and various political dissenters. And Poland wasn’t too pleased, either. Good bloke, that Führer! He sure knew how to get rid of all that PC nonsense.
It seems that neo-fascists and the good Christians of the religious right have found common cause, not only in the US, but here in Australia. To be honest, it’s nice that poor Lyle has found some friends. After being cast-off from the ACL, Lyle’s been wandering in the wilderness for somewhat more than 40 days and 40 nights. But, I fear he’s following the Apostle Matthew’s story rather too closely.
How well do you know your Bible?
After Christ was lost in the wilderness he came across the devil who offered him food and drink.
“Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
Jesus was smart enough to tell Old Nick to go to hell. The gormless Shelton met the devil, knocked back a few beers and declared him a good bloke. All Shelton and Pellowe saw is that the Proud Boys might be useful to the dominionist agenda. “Thanks for the beer! Can I give you a ride home, Satan?” says Lyle.
I no longer believe that 7 Mountains is a peaceful movement which seeks only to influence but not forcibly seize control of our government and cultural institutions. There is strong evidence that 7 Mountains theology was weaponised to rationalise the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Using the buzz words used by the 7 Mountains movement, a pastor who spoke at Trump’s rally on January 6 told the crowd:
“We are not just in a culture war, we are in a kingdom war. There are but two parties right now, traitors and patriots.”
David Barton, a leader of the 7 Mountains Movement – also an Islamaphobe, homophobe, anti-immigration campaigner, historical revisionist, outright liar and a key liaison between the GOP and right-wing Christian networks – tweeted a video of himself inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Barton has the honour of having his 2012 book, The Jefferson Lies, voted the “least credible history book in print.”)
Tyler Ethridge was also charged in association with the insurrection. Ethridge live-streamed the events as he joined the crowd which stormed the capitol. He was pictured standing on scaffolding outside Nancy Pelosi’s office as well as inside the chamber.
Ethridge is a graduate of the “School of Practical Government” at Andrew Wommack‘s, Charis Bible College which trains students in the 7 Mountain Mandate. Wommack is also the founder of 7M Ventures Inc. – which sounds like it might be a nice little earner.
Breathless with excitement, Ethridge says in his video:
“We stormed the Capitol… This is amazing. I hope this doesn’t get me thrown in jail. I’m officially a pastor. This is what pastors need to do. … Christians, we need to infiltrate every area of society like this. Every area of society like this. Peacefully. But if it takes a little bit of aggression to barge through the walls that Satan separates us from the culture, it’s time for the body of Christ to infiltrate the culture.”
Radicalised grandmother, Rebecca Lavrenz, of Colorado Springs was later arrested for her involvement in the attempted coup. A review of Lavrenz’s social media found she had been sharing posts from 7 Mountain Mandate dominionists and had attended an event headlined by Andrew Wommack. Lavrenz and her family attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6 and Lavrenz joined the crowd who entered the Capitol building.
Elle Hardy, who has written extensively about dominionism in her book Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity is taking over the world, notes that 7 Mountains ideology has infiltrated deeply into the Republican Party. She says:
“A plan by a shadowy group of ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ to take over the world sounds like the stuff of a bad airport novel, but it is one of the most important ideas in the Pentecostal movement today.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that Australia’s right wing Christian cohort have flocked to the 7 Mountains theology like flies to a glob of Golden Syrup. As I said in 2011, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. But it’s a cold that many of the old guard dinosaurs of the Australian Christian right-wing have caught before. The fascism implicit in the 7 Mountains Mandate is part of the dark and rarely discussed history of the Australian Christian Lobby.
As I have stated often, the Australian Christian Lobby grew out of a right-wing religious cult, the Logos Foundation, which embraced reconstructionism – a more muscular version of dominionism which called for a coup of the world’s governments in order to reinstate divine law and justice. Dominionism tended to be sneakier – they preferred infiltration by stealth.
Logos was strongly ‘pro-life’ with one key exception: it advocated the return of capital punishment in line with Old Testament Law – not just for first-degree murder, but for homosexuality, too.
According to former fascist, David Greason (in Faces of Hate, Cunene et al, 1997), the Australian Christian Lobby’s predecessor, the Logos Foundation, and the fascist, ultra-nationalist, League of Rights, worked happily in alliance during the 1980s.
Way back in the 80s, the Logos Foundation fraternised with fascists and dreamed of taking over Queensland politics – hey, it’s not the world, but it’s a start!
Along with Logos’ leader, Howard Carter, and Lyle Shelton’s father, Ian Shelton, Jeremy Lee was a co-founder of the Logos Foundation. Lee was also the Queensland and northern NSW director of the League of Rights and acted as the ‘defacto deputy’ to the League’s founder, Eric Butler. Cosy. No-one seemed to think that represented any conflict of interests.
ACL co-founder, and former Baptist minister, John McNicoll, was a contributor to the League of Rights’ journal, “The Strategy”, although he later sought to distance himself and the Network for Christian Values (later the ACL) from the organisation and claimed NCV director, Derek Brown, had since resiled from Logos’ anti-semitic views (Canberra Times, September 1994).
But you do have to admire them. Without the benefit of mobile phones or the internet, these Christofascists of far-gone days had networking down to a ’t’.
After the collapse of Logos (Carter was caught bonking someone other than his wife), Australian society became ever more progressive. I find it amusing that Australia’s Christian right leaders adopted their own version of ‘political correctness’. They saw the need to be more ‘polite’ in order to be accepted into the echelons of power. So they ’resiled’ from their ‘formerly held’ fascist, racist, and anti-semitic beliefs. But don’t fret. Homosexuals were still fair game.
Now, in this (partly) post-pandemic world the ACL and their ilk feel emboldened to embrace their inner fascist. No longer denying their involvement with Christian dominionism, the nation’s Christian leaders stood proudly in front of the 7 Mountains logo at the recent Church & State Summit – and at previous summits. Were all the speakers fascists? No. But they are certainly dipping their spoons into the fascist sugar bowl.
In an interview with anti-fascist campaigner, Andy Fleming (aka Slackbastard) and journalist, Cam Smith, Kate Burns notes that one of the key figures in the American Christofascist movement is Jurgen Matthesius, founder of the Awaken Church in San Diego. Matthesius began his journey in the Christian City Church in Sydney (now C3) and Hillsong College. He counts Australian pastor Phil Pringle and Hillsong’s disgraced former leader, Brian Houston, as mentors. Among his followers, Matthesius is known as “the General.”
In a recent article, Burns accuses Matthesius of “preaching fascism.”
Matthesius has become radicalised over recent years, says Burns, and his church “has become a hotbed for San Diego’s Christofascist scene … Their culture war push has seen founders, pastors and congregants” involved in numerous actions, including the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot.
“Awaken’s goal,” says Burns, “although they don’t say this directly, is to have Christianity dominate US and eventually global society.”
And, of course, plans for TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION requires money – lots of it. Matthesius reminds his band of merry mountaineers:
“God is brilliant with ledgers. God is the most perfect accountant, he knows everything you give and he makes sure it comes back to you with interest.”
According to Burns, Matthesius’ sermons are also peppered with “Talk of rampant election fraud, globalist cabals and genocidal elites.” If this is the state of the world, surely a religious-led coup is absolutely justified! You can see how suburban, church-going grandmas like Rebecca Lavrenz become radicalised. And, of course, the message is even more compelling for young, testosterone-fuelled, white males who see themselves as saviours of the world and the future leaders of the post-revolutionary society.
Matthesius has strong connections within Australia and travels frequently between the two countries. According to Kate Burns, Christofascism in Australia is tinder-dry; it just needs a charismatic flame like Matthesius to set it ablaze. Matthesius, she believes, is keeping a close eye on opportunities in Australia.
Recently, disgraced former Hillsong pastor, Pat Mesiti, organised a Prayer and Pushback online event: “The War’s Not Over, Where to Now?” screams the headline on the event website. Speakers at the event included Jurgen Matthesius, Avi Yemeni (who is known to consort with neo-Nazis and is the on the watch-list of Jews Against Fascism), Craig Kelly, MP Malcolm Roberts and libertarianTopher Field. In 2011, Topher Field was speaking at the National Seminar of the Australian League of Rights. But, of course, THAT DOESN’T MAKE HIM A FASCIST!
Christensen, Robert, and Field were also speakers at the recent Church & State Summit organised by Dave Pellowe. You know, the one with the 7 Mountains logo prominently displayed behind every speaker. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t join the dots.
Am I warning against a right-wing, religious coup similar to that which we saw in America on January 6? Yes – and no. Australia is a very different country to the US and religious nut-baggery has not yet taken hold of the population in great numbers. But, as we’ve seen in previous parliaments, the nutters don’t need a majority in order to wield enormous influence. They just need to hold the balance of power. And, as we’ve learned from the culture wars in the USA, Christofascists and their political masters don’t need to actually succeed to cause a shit-load of damage to democracy.
At the Church & State Summit in 2021, Martyn Iles, then representing the Australian Christian Lobby, said that, until now Christians have tended to “hide in plain sight”. Now, he said:
“The more we are seen for who we really are, the more powerful our influence is actually going to be.
… All of a sudden I’m actually seeing people rising up more and more and more. Give this a couple of years and we’ll be able to put such a shockwave through any Parliament in the country they won’t even know what hit them. And we’re almost at that point.”