“We have a plan to make Roe irrelevant or completely reverse it,” Kevin Theriot, the vice president of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life, told a crowd of anti-abortion activists at the Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C. The event, which Right Wing Watch first reported, took place on Jan. 20, 2018—two days before the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which ended state bans on abortion nationwide.
ADF is a Christian legal organization with ties to Christian dominionists that works through state legislatures and federal courts to enshrine the views of the Christian right into law and government policy. The plan Theriot previewed included a draft piece of legislation his organization crafted that state legislatures could use to ban abortion at 15-weeks gestation.
Within weeks of his remarks, the Mississippi Legislature passed the ADF’s proposed bill, and the governor at the time, Phil Bryant, signed it into law, sparking a federal court battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court this month.
“The decision is ripe for overturning. We think we have justices in place that will understand things have changed since Roe was decided,” Theriot told EWTN’s “Pro-Life Weekly” program in November 2020, mere weeks after U.S. Senate Republicans confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to join the nation’s high court. The ADF vice president said the Mississippi law his organization’s attorneys drafted could serve as the vehicle to strike down Roe.
On Dec. 1, 2021, Barrett was one of nine justices who heard Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office implored the court to overturn down Roe v. Wade and uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, also known as the Mississippi Gestational Age Act. Barrett, like most on the majority GOP-appointed court, appeared ready to oblige the state’s request.
‘A Christian Worldview In Every Area of Law’
Alliance Defending Freedom’s founders included Mississippian Don Wildmon, who also founded the Tupelo-based American Family Association. Wildmon and the others in the group of nearly three dozen conservative Christians who launched the organization in 1993 as the Alliance Defense Fund envisioned it as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed overt efforts to mix religion and government and was known for its support of abortion rights and the rights of sexual minorities..
Six years after launching, the ADF created The Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a Christian summer training program for up-and-coming attorneys. In the ADF’s 2000 tax filings, the organization explained that the Blackstone program “provides cutting-edge legal education” and also offers attorneys access to “up-to-date developments in the areas of religious liberties, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.”
“As a rigorous internship for exceptionally capable and highly motivated law students, the Blackstone Fellowship inspires a distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law, and particularly in the areas of public policy and religious liberty,” the ADF’s IRS tax filings say.
“With this ongoing program, it’s ADF’s goal to train a new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges-and perhaps even Supreme Court judges—who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.”
The ADF’s description of itself in those tax filings is emblematic of “full-blown” Christian dominionist thought, Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 3, 2021. He is a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a Boston-area think tank that monitors anti-democratic movements and ideologies including Christian dominionism and white nationalism.
“That’s the idea that conservative Christians should be dominating every aspect of society,” he explained. Adherents to dominionism often talk about a “biblical worldview” or talk about “building the kingdom,” he added.
Christian dominionism is a religious and political movement that began in earnest during the 20th century and includes a cross-section of various denominations. Many who subscribe to it do not self-identify as dominionists, though, Clarkson noted.
“Not everyone is going to say, ‘Hey, I’m a dominionist. I’m all about theocracy.’ Not many people are going to say that, but this body of theological thought has been percolating throughout the evangelical world for decades,” he said. “If you think that America should be a Christian nation, well, what should that look like? And that’s where the dominionist agenda comes in. It’s not just any conservative thinking.”
Dominionist goals reach far beyond abortion, he said.
“While abortion and Roe and Dobbs are what we’re looking at in the heat of the moment, this is just one battle in a larger war for the world,” Clarkson said.
The Mississippi Free Press twice requested a phone interview with Alliance Defending Freedom to discuss its role in drafting the 15-week abortion ban, the Dobbs case and its views on Christian dominionism. An ADF spokesperson asked the MFP to submit written questions instead. MFP policy is not to conduct interviews for stories by providing written questions in advance, however. The ADF declined the interview opportunity, choosing instead to submit a statement on Dec. 6, but did not address the topic of dominionism.
“It is typical for legislators to reach out to legal organizations that have relevant experience when drafting legislation,” ADF Director of the Center for Life and Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in the statement. “Alliance Defending Freedom is the largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, and the sanctity of life. ADF worked with legislators in Mississippi to protect life because, at the end of the day, life is a human right. The Supreme Court should uphold Mississippi’s law protecting the unborn children and their mothers, and overturn Roe.”
A ‘Strategic’ Plan to ‘Eradicate Roe’
Five days before top ADF leaders spoke at the 2018 Evangelicals for Life Conference, three Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature—Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune and House Rep. Becky Currie of Brookhaven—introduced identical bills in their respective chambers, all titled “The Gestational Age Act.” The legislation would ban abortion after 15 weeks, offering exceptions only for cases of “severe fetal abnormality” or danger to a woman’s health.
At the Evangelicals For Life Conference, ADF senior counsel Denise Burke explained that the organization’s lawyers had written the legislation and given it to Mississippi lawmakers as the opening salvo in their “strategic” and “comprehensive” plan to “eradicate Roe.” Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported those remarks in 2018.
The idea, Burke said at the time, was to force abortion-rights groups to file a lawsuit that would get the core of Roe all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I can guarantee you that they will not be able to ignore a 15-week limitation, which is in essence limiting abortion to the first trimester. We’re kind of basically baiting them, ‘Come on, fight us on turf that we have already set up and established,’” Burke said at the 2018 conference, journalist Arielle Dreher reported in the Jackson Free Press that year.
Mississippi lawmakers had already banned abortion at 20 weeks with a bill then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law in 2014, but that legislation did not spark a legal battle because the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, only performs the procedure until the 16th week of pregnancy. But a 15-week ban in the Magnolia State was just enough to ensure that it would reduce the time period for which people could already access abortion.
Burke explained that ADF’s lawyers had “very carefully targeted states based on where we think the courts are the best, where we think the governors and the A.G.s and the legislatures are going to do the best job at defending those laws.”
“Once we get these first-trimester limitations in place, we’re going to go for a complete ban on abortion, except to save the lives of the mother,” the ADF lawyer said at the 2018 event.
“Both Theriot and Burke said the movement also needs to be working in parallel to change hearts and minds, including those of people living in predominantly pro-choice states, to prepare for the ‘50-state battle’ that will commence the day after Roe is overturned,” Right Wing Watch reported in 2018. “The legislative and legal push Burke outlined will be coordinated with media and public relations campaigns, they said.”
Less than two months later, Mississippi lawmakers passed Rep. Currie’s copy of the ADF’s 15-week ban after a majority of lawmakers declined to amend it to add exceptions for rape and incest. Bryant, a Republican, signed it into law on March 19, 2018, almost six-and-a-half years after Mississippi voters handily defeated a Personhood initiative, which would have banned abortions starting at the moment of fertilization.
On the same day Bryant signed the 15-week ban into law, the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the law—just as ADF’s attorneys had hoped. Then-Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, vowed to defend the law in Jackson federal court. Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi issued a stay, preventing the ban from going into effect while he considered the matter.
‘Co-Regents With God’
On Feb. 22, 2018, a group of self-described “prophets” and “apostles” from a movement within pentecostalism known as the “New Apostolic Reformation” came together at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., to pray against the “deep state” and for a “supernatural” shift at the nation’s high court. A crowd of about 1,300 believers joined them for praise, worship, preaching and even a dance performance by a Native American participant wearing traditional headdress.
Self-described prophets Dutch Sheets, Cindy Jacobs and Chuck Pierce organized the event, known as “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven.”
The conference borrowed its name from the historic Appeal to Heaven flag the U.S. Continental Army used under the command of General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Sheets and others have helped repopularize the relatively obscure flag, which is white and features a green pine tree at its center, as a symbol of Christian nationalism over the past decade.
“It’s not just an American flag, although it was used in our history. It’s really a kingdom flag,” said Sheets, referring to the biblical kingdom of God. He wore a U.S. Marshals pin on his chest. Atop a transparent, acrylic podium in front of him sat a folded-up Appeal to Heaven flag and a large wooden gavel. He told the audience that a U.S. marshal he met had given him the pin and recounted a dream in which God raised up “an army of special forces.”
“We’re always supposed to have been wearing these badges and slamming these gavels, because that’s who we represent: the ultimate judge and the king,” Sheets told the crowd, banging the gavel into the podium. He said God had revealed to him a year earlier that the early days of the Trump administration would experience 10 months of turbulence followed by three years of a national “turnaround” back to God.
Jacobs shared a similar message when she spoke.
“We are God’s enforcers in the earth for his will to be done,” Jacobs declared, calling on believers to “convene the courts of heaven” and for “an army of young people full of the Holy Spirit” to replace unholy politicians and bureaucrats. Like Sheets, she carried a gavel.
Taking Control of ‘Seven Mountains’
The New Apostolic Reformation dates back to C. Peter Wagner, who began preaching in the 1950s and died in 2016. He taught that God had begun preparing the world for a “third great awakening” that would sweep the earth before the apocalyptic events foretold in the Book of Revelation take place.
As part of this awakening, Wagner taught, Christians would take dominion over the “seven mountains” or “seven spheres” of cultural influence: family, religion, education, business, government, media and the arts. (Some adherents of the belief, known as “seven mountains dominionism,” instead combine media and arts into a single category and add the military as the seventh “mountain”). Top Mississippi state officials, including Gov. Tate Reeves, attended a prayer event in May 2021 hosted by an organization that openly adheres to “seven mountains” beliefs.
While most earlier evangelicals believed Jesus would only establish his kingdom on earth after his return and that the state of the world would get worse until that time came, Wagner taught that Christians would instead establish God’s kingdom on earth as a precondition for Christ’s return. God will facilitate a transfer of wealth to the righteous and “pour out his Spirit” in the final days, Wagner told followers.
He was drawing on ideas from the 1940s Latter Rain Movement—a revival-style Pentecostal movement whose adherents believed God was restoring a “five-fold ministry” that included not only pastors, evangelists and teachers, but also apostles and prophets like those in the Book of Acts.
One such prophet in the Trump Hotel ballroom in February 2018 was Damon Thompson, a traveling evangelist from South Carolina. Since the 2000s, Thompson has preached dozens of times at churches in South Mississippi. Also present was Lou Engle, an anti-abortion crusader who rose to fame among the faithful as part of a group known as the “Kansas City Prophets.”
The latter “prophet” teaches the predominantly younger crowds who flock to hear him that Jan. 22, 1973, marked a turning point in history as the day the U.S. Supreme Court ended state bans on abortion with its Roe v. Wade ruling. The generations born after that date, Engle and others in his movement claim, are destined to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
Engle claims that Roe v. Wade was Satan’s attempt to stop the generation that followed from fulfilling its mission, akin to the order by Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus that all firstborn Hebrew male infants be slain lest one should rise up to challenge his supremacy; or to King Herod’s order of mass infanticide in the Gospel of Matthew in an attempt to prevent the Christ child from fulfilling his destiny.
In “The Keys to Dominion,” a teaching guide Engle sells on his website, the preacher tells Christians that “the church’s vocation is to rule history with God.”
“We will govern over kings and judges and they will have to submit. … We’re called to rule! To change history! To be co-regents with God,” the guide says.
Shouting hoarse prayers in the Trump Hotel ballroom in February 2018, Engle asked God to clear the nation’s courts of unrighteous judges and to remove and replace any members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who would block Trump’s nominees from being seated.
“(God) changes times and kingdoms; he raises up kings and brings them down. … We needed to believe God for the judges to be removed, to resign or reform,” Engle said as his body bobbed to a phantom beat.
‘Back Alleys Are Where Abortions Belong’
The New Apostolic Reformation and its leaders present the most visible form of Christian dominionism today, but thinkers outside of Pentecostalism first laid the groundwork for Christian dominionism and the modern religious right, Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press. He pointed to the Calvinist theologian R.J. Rushdoony, the father of the 20th-century movement known as Christian Reconstructionism. He was born in New York in 1914 to survivors of the Armenian Genocide who had escaped the Ottoman Turks’ massacre of their people on horseback.
Rushdoony, an orthodox Presbyterian, explained that Christian “dominion men” with a “dominion mandate” would come to rule the earth in his 1973 tome, “The Institutes of Biblical Law.” Over time, he explained, they would advance a “biblical worldview” that would ultimately include the enforcement of Old Testament biblical law.
In July 1994, Paul Jennings Hill stood outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla., and assassinated the clinic’s doctor, John Britton, along with his bodyguard, retired USAF Lt. Col. James H. Barrett. Hill justified his actions by citing Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstructionist beliefs he had learned in the 1970s at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Bahnsen, whose controversial Reconstructionist ideas had led to his dismissal from the seminary after just four years.
After the Pensacola slayings, one early Reconstructionist leader, Gary North, wrote a letter to Hill, accusing him of a “vigilante theology.” Abortion, North wrote, was a sin, but God had “tolerated abortion without bringing justice against societies that practice it” because it “has been illegal in most societies.”
“In the language of the pro-abortionists, abortion has generally been performed in back alleys. This is where abortion should be performed if they are performed,” North wrote. “Back alleys are the perfect place for abortion. They are concealed. … They are unsafe places, placing murderous mothers under risk. Back alleys are where abortions belong.”
But as a Reconstructionist, North believed that the goal of Christians should be to work gradually to take over and dominate society from the bottom up by slowly converting the masses to a “biblical worldview” and system of law—not through centralized government nor vigilante violence.
As Clarkson recounted in a 2016 article on dominionism, “Rushdoony and many Reconstructionists believed in a vastly decentralized form of government.” North once said it would not be “possible to ramrod God’s blessings from the top down, unless you’re God.” They believed in a form of Christian dominionism that would gradually ascend, perhaps over a period of hundreds of thousands of years—but not in a single generation or on the whims of a sudden political takeover.
The Reconstructionists’ ideas soon spread far beyond Calvinist and Presbyterian circles, including to many evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals who had previously stayed out of the political fray. But their patient willingness to wait thousands of years if necessary for God’s kingdom to seize the worldly reigns of power was not so contagious.
“Some people feel it would take thousands or tens of thousands of years, but some people are in a big hurry,” Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press.
Shaping Modern Dominionist Movement
While Calvinism tends toward an intellectual approach to religion and theology, Pentecostalism, which includes hundreds of denominations and independent, non-denominational churches, is much more experientially oriented. Unlike Calvinists, Pentecostals believe in the modern occurrence of spiritual “gifts” such as prophecy, speaking in tongues and supernatural healing.
Despite their differences, including the timeline for Christian dominionism, Reconstructionists and Pentecostals held a series of dialogues throughout the late 20th century to flesh out a common set of goals and principles.
After one series of Reconstructionist-Pentecostal dialogues in Dallas in 1987, Clarkson notes, Christian Reconstructionist pastor Joseph Morecraft declared that “God is blending Presbyterian theology with Charismatic zeal into a force that cannot be stopped.” (“Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” are often used interchangeably or to describe largely overlapping Christian sects that believe in spiritual gifts).
Those dialogues, Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press, shaped the modern dominionist movement and much of 21st-century American politics.
“That opened the door to political action that brought about the Christian Right that we see today,” Clarkson said.
“So as elements of Pentecostalism adopted these ideas, then we began to see what we now call the New Apostolic Reformation, and they were able to package it in a way where you didn’t have to have a P.h.D. In theology to understand. So they talked about simply dividing up all of society.
“They said, well, there’s seven main sections of society, and you need to figure out which ‘mountain’ you need to be a part of trying to conquer in order to build the kingdom of God. Really smart marketing. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
In his 2008 book, “Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World,” Wagner, the NAR and Seven Mountains theology pioneer, put it simply: “We have an assignment from God to take dominion and transform society.”
‘The Battle To Take The Land’
Like Engle, Alliance Defending Freedom’s CEO and general counsel Michael Farris has long sought to use the levers of society to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth. He founded the Home School Legal Defense Association, an ADF affiliate that has spent years lobbying state governments to make it easier for Christian parents to homeschool their children. (Rushdoony emphasized the necessity of Christian homeschooling to equip future generations for Christian dominion).
In the first chapter of his 2005 book, “The Joshua Generation: Restoring the Heritage of Christian Leadership,” Farris made a bold claim: “I have met countless future senators, governors, presidents, and Supreme Court justices.” He was describing his meetings with parents of homeschooled children, where he says “dreams of generational greatness burn brightly.”
“These moms and dads truly believe that their children are called to be the leaders of the future. … They believe that their own children, in many cases, have unusually high prospects for being particular people who will rise to the top levels of government, law, journalism, media, religion, art, business, and science,” he wrote, referring to the seven mountains Wagner taught. “I think they are absolutely right.”
In the book, Farris explained that the point of advocating for homeschooling rights in state legislatures was never simply about homeschooling itself.
“While those battles are important and will always continue to some degree, homeschool freedom is not the end goal. It is a means to a far greater end,” Farris wrote. The Christian homeschool movement can judge its long-term success, he said, by evaluating their results against a passage in the Book of Hebrews that describes godly heroes “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames … and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”
The end goal of the Christian homeschooling movement, he said, was to raise a generation of children who would do those very things in the “Christian assignment of redeeming the culture.”
“How should we judge our success? … Do we see our children administering justice, gaining what was promised, shutting the mouths of lions, and quenching the fury of the flames? … Have they become powerful in battle?”
Public Schools ‘Essentially Satanic’
Farris and others like him, Clarkson said, fear that sending children to public schools is the same as “turning them over to institutions that are essentially Satanic and teaching children things that are not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian.”
“The idea of Christianizing schools or taking these children out of the public schools and into private Christian academies or homeschool has been in the works for a long time,” he said. “They managed to get right-to-homeschool as part of the Republican platform under Reagan in the 1980s. This has been a long-term process.”
In his book, ADF’s Farris compared the upcoming generation to Joshua, who according to the Book of Joshua led the ancient Israelites to the promised land after they had spent decades wandering in the wilderness.
“In short, the homeschooling movement will succeed when our children, the Joshua Generation, engage wholeheartedly in the battle to take the land,” Farris wrote.
This reporter shared that quote with Clarkson.
“You know, that’s not a metaphor,” Clarkson said. “Sometimes it’s hard when listening to this stuff to figure out, well, is that a bunch of hyperbole, is that metaphorical? I think a lot of the rhetoric has made the full transition from metaphor to actualization. … If people are serious about their beliefs, they find ways to act on them. And I think one of the failures of our society is that these folks were not taken seriously, and they’ve been able to fly underneath the radar.”
In 1998, Farris founded Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., a college that rejects federal financial aid and requires students to sign a Christian “affirmation of fate.” Among its alumni are former Trump White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah and U.S. House Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican who attended but did not graduate from the college.
Farris’ activities also include pushing legislation related to “religious freedom.” He helped draft the 1993 U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Mississippi lawmakers passed a controversial state version of the same law in 2014 with assistance from the ADF despite concerns from civil-rights advocates that it would legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
After ADF’s original CEO and general counsel, Alan Sears, stepped down, Farris accepted the role in January 2017—the same month Trump took office.
“Things are not going well in our country. If you look at the courts, you look at the culture, you look at decisionmakers, even in Congress,” Farris explained in a video introducing himself as the ADF’s new leader at the time. “And I was acutely aware of these things, and frankly was feeling my homeschool work was not broad enough for the dangers I was seeing and was concerned about.”
That same year, Trump appointed conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to replace former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died a year earlier while President Barack Obama was still in office. Because Scalia was a conservative jurist and known opponent of abortion rights, though, the replacement did not significantly change the balance of power on the Supreme Court when it comes to Roe v. Wade.
Later in October 2017, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, who was then a Notre Dame law professor, to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
ADF Paid Barrett Thousands For Speeches
During now-Justice Barrett’s confirmation hearings in July 2017, then-Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota noted that her financial disclosures included a $2,100 payment from ADF in 2015 and another $2,100 payment from the group in 2016.
“ADF, for those who are not familiar with it, is a far-right group that files cases and lobbies for policies that ADF characterizes as ‘defending religious liberty.’ But when you actually take a look at ADF’s work, it’s clear that the group’s real purpose is to advance an extreme version, or vision, of society,” Franken said during the 2017 hearing.
“The Southern Poverty Center, which tracks hate groups,” he continued, “describes ADF as a group that has ‘supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the United States and criminalization abroad,’ … ‘has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad,’ ‘has linked homosexuality to pedophilia,’ and ‘claims that a homosexual agenda will destroy Christianity and society.’”
Then, Franken (who would resign months later amid unrelated allegations of sexual misconduct) turned his attention to the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.
“In addition to the lawsuits it files, ADF also runs a training program for law students and young attorneys who share its views,” Franken said. “Professor Barrett, if my understanding is correct, the payments you’ve received from ADF were connected to presentations you’ve delivered at ADF’s training seminars. Is that right?’
“Yes, I gave a one-hour presentation on constitutional law,” replied Barrett, who was then a law professor at Notre Dame University.
“And you delivered these presentations to law students participating in the Blackstone Legal Fellowship program. Blackstone is an ADF program,” the senator continued. “Were you aware of that when you accepted their invitation to speak?”
“I, I—I actually wasn’t aware until I received the honorarium and saw the ADF on the check or maybe when I saw an email and saw the signature line,” Barrett answered. “But yes, ADF is the organization that sponsors the Blackstone—”
“So you weren’t aware of it?” Franken said.
The nominee once again said she could not remember “exactly” when she became aware that the training seminar was linked to ADF.
“By the time I spoke, I was aware,” she said.
But during her confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court a little more than three years later, Barrett revealed that she had also given three earlier lectures to the Blackstone Legal Fellowship in 2011, 2013 and 2014. She did so after the Senate Committee on the Judiciary requested she provide an exhaustive list of decades worth of public speeches to various organizations.
In its 2000 tax filings, the ADF explained that once fellows complete the Blackstone program, they will have “caught a vision for how God can use them as judges, law professors, and practicing attorneys to help keep the door open for the spread of the gospel in America.”
The ADF also said in the filings that it had “effectively equipped attorneys to battle the homosexual agenda, defend parental rights, and protect religious freedom” with a separate training program known as the National Litigation Academy.
On Oct. 31, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed Barrett to the appeals court, with support from all Republicans and just three Democrats. But within evangelical and New Apostolic Reformation circles, calls would quickly mount for Trump to next elevate her to the highest court in the land.