Dr. Barbara Forrest is an internationally-renowned author, scholar, and science education advocate. Forrest’s expert testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is widely credited with exposing the ways in which the so-called “intelligent design” theory was merely a lightly edited variation of creationism and was therefore prohibited by the Establishment Clause from being taught as science in public school classrooms. She is the co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse and was an outspoken supporter of efforts by state Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson and journalist Zack Kopplin (who was then in high school) to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, which sought to allow public school teachers the ability to present religious creation myths as “alternatives” to the scientific fact of evolution. Dr. Forrest grew up in Hammond, Louisiana. She earned a B.A. from Southeastern Louisiana University, a M.A. in philosophy from Louisiana State University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Tulane University.
Theogene Anthony “Gene” Mills III, president and director of the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), which he co-founded in 1998 with Tony Perkins, is a devoted husband and father, an ordained Pentecostal Assemblies of God minister, a legislative lobbyist, and a Christian dominionist who, working with former governor Bobby Jindal, turned Louisiana into a de facto theocracy from 2008 until 2016. Mills has also cultivated relationships with elected officials and other figures at the national level – all with the goal of helping the Christian Right take control of every aspect of American life.
Mills’ religious beliefs are the backbone of his theocratic strategy, which began a decade before Jindal took office and continues even now that Jindal’s administration is (fortunately) history. Using the mechanisms of democratic government, Mills has made our state an incubator for political strategies designed ultimately to transform the United States into a dominionist theocracy, making Louisiana a cautionary tale not only for its own citizens but for the rest of the country. His targets have been varied, including public school science education and science itself, which are the central examples of the strategy explained here. First, however, readers must understand what dominionism is.
Dominionism is the most extreme form of Christian nationalism. Journalist Frederick Clarkson, Senior Research Analyst for Political Research Associates (PRA) who has covered the Christian Right for decades, defines dominionism as “the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.” More specifically, “Dominionists believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. They believe that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.” According to Rob Boston, Communications Director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Dominionists are the most extreme faction of the Religious Right — they’re people who literally embrace the concept of theocratic government.” Consequently, dominionists are using the mechanisms of democracy to undermine democracy itself.
Mills is a “Seven Mountains Dominionist” (7-M), working to advance the goals of this right-wing evangelical Christian movement, i.e., to secure control over the seven major cultural and political institutions in the United States: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business, and, most significantly, government. Seven Mountains (7-M) dominionism is advocated by Pentecostals of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Rachel Tabachnick, an independent researcher writing for PRA, writes that the NAR is a “religious and political movement” that is “rooted in Charismatic Christianity, a cross-denominational belief in modern day miracles and the supernatural.” It grew out of “the U.S. neo-Pentecostal movement that gained particular force in the 1980s.” Mills is, as noted earlier, ordained within a Pentecostal denomination.
As Clarkson reveals, 7-Ms are ambitious, targeting every major institution of American life, using the Old Testament as their biblical foundation: “Seven Mountains dominionism calls for believers to take control over seven leading aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. The name is derived from Isaiah 2:2 (New King James Version): ‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains’.”
Dominionism is also distinctly partisan. Just as one Louisiana lobbyist has described LFF as “a subset of the Republican Party,” Clarkson explains the larger movement’s political alignment, saying, “Dominionism is an advanced and maturing movement generally, within the Republican party in particular.” In Louisiana, Bobby Jindal has been the most highly placed Republican elected official helping advance the dominionist agenda. Elsewhere, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is among the most prominent dominionists, as is former Alabama judge Roy Moore. Others in the dominionist camp include former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former congressman Newt Gingrich, and former Kansas governor Sam Brownback — all Republicans, with the latter two – like Jindal – being Catholic.
Clarkson also notes that dominionists are cultivating their power “primarily through the electoral system,” getting candidates elected to local, state, and national offices. Dominionists work in coalitions with groups “inside the Republican Party” in their effort “to build the kingdom of God in the here and now.”
Dominionism Louisiana Style
Mills dispelled any doubt that he is implementing this strategy in Louisiana when he explicitly came out as a 7-M dominionist at the January 2015 prayer rally, organized by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. Standing in LSU’s PMAC, Mills warned attendees that “these seven spheres of influence are under enemy occupation right now” – the enemy being everyone who doesn’t share Mills’ dominionist views. Mills then begged God to deliver the targeted institutions to him and his allies: “Father, we cry out for the seven mountains of influence today. We pray that you will give us government, arts and entertainment, education, the church, and the family. That our ambassadors would occupy the high places. That you would bring us into a place of understanding that they need to be occupied by the body of Christ because it’s rightfully His.”
Although, perhaps inadvertently, Mills omitted business from his prayer, his views on economics are integral to his religious mission. Just as LFF promotes religious fundamentalism, it also promotes free-market fundamentalism, espousing “private enterprise” and “limited government” – code words for opposition to all tax increases.
Young people who attend LFF’s annual “Leadership Academy,” must pledge to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion, and also pledge to support the “free enterprise system” and “limited government,” along with opposing all new taxes: “Students will be instructed to defend these Conservative principles as the basis for social and economic policy.”
LFF is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to the Center for Media and Democracy (which exposed the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a.k.a. ALEC), the SPN is “a web of right-wing ‘think tanks’ and tax-exempt organizations” that “operate as the policy, communications, and litigation arm” of ALEC. LFF, by extension, promotes the SPN/ALEC agenda.
In 2008, Mills claimed credit for helping roll back the 2002 Stelly plan income tax increases.
Explaining to political columnist Jeremy Alford that LFF has a “moral responsibility” to be politically engaged, Mills is also involved in disparate areas such as prison reform and legislative redistricting. Since politics and culture are targets of dominionist hegemony, the criminal justice system not only qualifies but offers unlimited opportunities for prison proselytizing. LFF also proposed its own redistricting plan in 2011, which, Alford noted, would have diluted the African-American vote and made Democratic electoral victories more difficult. It would also have handed more power to Republicans, strengthening what Alford termed the “new power base,” in 2011 – the roughly “58 percent of respondents” to that year’s LSU Public Policy Research Lab statewide poll who “identified themselves as ‘evangelical or born again’.”
Since a majority of Louisianans have never heard of dominionism, their lack of awareness works to Mills’ advantage. The more areas in which Mills and his Christian conservative allies are involved, the more opportunities they have to advance dominionist goals while cloaking their activities in the mantle of well-intentioned civic engagement.
Dominionism in Science Class and the Lab
Having overtly promoted creationism since its 1998 founding, LFF got the green light to target public school science education when Jindal took office in 2008. Among the first bills Jindal signed was the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which attempts to provide cover for teaching creationism by promoting “critical thinking” and “academic freedom.” LFF and the Discovery Institute, an out-of-state intelligent design creationist think tank, partnered to promote and pass the LSEA, which permits teachers to use pseudoscientific instructional materials concerning “evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Despite insisting in the Hammond Daily Star that “this bill is not about teaching creationism or religion,” Mills later admitted to a science journalist that the LSEA is “an extension” of LFF’s religious agenda.
In 2013, Jindal also admitted the law’s true intent: “The Science Education Act says if the local school board’s okay with that, and if the state school board’s okay with that, teachers can supplement those materials. I’ve got no problem if a local school board says, ‘We want to teach our kids about creationism, that some people have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about intelligent design.”
Mills has been involved in subsequent efforts to interfere with the teaching of evolution, from opposing the adoption of new biology textbooks by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 to an effort to insert creationist code language into the new state science education standards in 2017 (both times his attempts were unsuccessful).
LFF’s efforts are also aimed at science itself. It has targeted stem cell research and climate science and, most dangerously, has promoted the falsehood that vaccines cause autism. In 2009, LFF supported S.B. 115, enacted as Act 108, which it calls the “Human-Animal Hybrid Ban.” This law threatens Louisiana scientists with ten years in prison at hard labor for creating embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine research using a technique licensed in 2008 in the United Kingdom.
In LFF’s June 23, 2009, Family Facts newsletter, a column entitled “Global Hoaxing” promoted a book denying the well-established fact that “man-made CO2 [is] responsible for global warming” and advancing the debunked claim that “it is caused in part by the increase in the intensity of the Sun’s heat.”
The March 4, 2008, newsletter promoted a false claim by Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have conceded that childhood vaccines cause autism. LFF’s former education chairwoman, now state Rep. Beryl Amedee (R-Gray) has filed anti-vaxxer related bills for the upcoming session, requiring all who administer vaccinations to provide the latest CDC numbers on reported complications as part of the pre-vaccination disclosure.
Dominionist Electoral Strategy
Since LFF would violate its federal tax-exempt status by directly endorsing candidates and participating in campaigns, it works through the electoral system indirectly by lobbying supportive politicians on its issues. Gene Mills skirts the law by doubling as Louisiana Family Forum (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) President, and Louisiana Family Forum Action’s (a 501(c)(4) advocacy group) chief lobbyist. In addition, LFF puts out an annual scorecard on lawmakers, and it recognizes legislators who vote its way at an annual Legislative Awards Gala that is covered by major news outlets such as the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Now, however, LFF is urging pastors and other LFF affiliates and supporters to run for office. Jindal, who energetically advanced Mills’ dominionist agenda, hosted more than seventy pastors at the governor’s mansion to plan the 2015 prayer rally, a primary purpose of which was to urge pastors to become political candidates. That year, then-LFF Vice President and Bethany Church Outreach Pastor Rick Edmonds did just that, winning his current seat in the House of Representatives. He prominently displays both his LFF and pastoral credentials on his (publicly-funded) legislative website. Last year, Edmonds ran for the unexpired term of Secretary of State – unsuccessfully.
And, as previously mentioned, Beryl Amedee, a home-school proponent and anti-vaccination advocate who served as LFF’s Education chairwoman from 2007-2014, was elected in 2015 as state representative for portions of Assumption, Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes.
Referring to the upcoming 2019 election for statewide and legislative offices, Mills told Alford in 2018 that “I have a number of friends who are considering running for office, a number of pastors from across the state who are even considering stepping down to step over.”
Mills has built a formidable network of potential pastoral politicians. Calling himself a “missionary to the field of government,” he works through a “network of 300 to 500 churches,” whose pastors he summons to Baton Rouge for “briefings” near the start of every legislative session. This year’s “Legislative Pastoral Briefing” is being held Wednesday morning, April 10, at the Capitol Welcome Center.
Tony Perkins, LFF founder, former state legislator, and now head of the Family Research Council (branded an “LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center) applauded this annual gathering just before the 2018 session: “I was thrilled to see an auditorium full of pastors this morning in Baton Rouge for Louisiana Family Forum’s annual statewide pastors briefing. Gene Mills has done a tremendous job in shaping public policy in Louisiana. When we started 20 years ago, it was difficult to sustain the presence of pastors in the political and policy realm beyond the issue of abortion. Today, they not only have a sustained presence, they have a shaping presence.”
Between legislative sessions, Mills assiduously maintains LFF’s pastoral and legislative support network. In his January 11, 2019, End of Weeknewsletter, Mills recounts a “busy road trip” during which he visited north and central Louisiana churches, meeting with “pastors, lawmakers, and business leaders” and handing out LFF awards to senators Ryan Gatti, John Milkovich, and Gerald Long, and representatives Larry Bagley, Raymond Crews, and Alan Seabaugh. He then “circled back to Lafayette” to meet with a conservative civic group “for a time of strategy and assessment of Louisiana’s current political situation.”
The Dominionist “Kingdom” of Louisiana
Gambit editor Clancy Dubos has called LFF “a perennial powerhouse at the Capitol.” Indeed, Mills has reached a level of influence that’s placing him alongside public officials on state task forces and councils. For example, he served on the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force and now is a member of the Empowering Families to Live Well Louisiana Council, which is tasked with developing a statewide anti-poverty strategy. These activities further serve Mills’ dominionist agenda, which he candidly explained in his 2012 article, “Kingdom Implications,” for Smith Media Group, a Christian public relations company that “partners with churches and non-profits to advance the kingdom of God.”
In the article, Mills calls LFF a “ministry” whose essential mission is assisting pastors and “the body of Christ” in discovering “their jurisdictional authority in the arena of government.” When legislative sessions begin, Mills and his pastors fan out over the Capitol “to open the session in prayer, intercede, or simply have lunch or a conversation with a lawmaker.” However, his boasting in 2012 of LFF’s “over 75” legislative and policy victories belies this innocent description of what Mills calls a “servant leadership model of ministry,” which, when “administered among the powerful,” causes “the supernatural to happen.” Plainly put, Mills and his pastors are working to influence legislation and policy. This pastoral networking, Mills wrote, has given him “an influential voice” that enables him “to execute objectives in an arena which respects power but often confuses the churches’ authority.”
Louisianans who value true religious freedom and sound public policy must take Mills’ dominionism seriously. It is not a threat that is coming down the road but a strategy that he and his allies have executed in Louisiana for two decades. Moreover, with the current White House administration, dominionists such as Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo are now running the country, while Louisiana dominionists are helping to shape national policy. Bossier City attorney and former Louisiana legislator Mike Johnson, one of Mills’ closest allies and a recipient of LFF’s annual “Gladiator Award” (as were Perkins and Rep. Steve Scalise), is now a U.S. congressman, influencing executive policy decisions as the chairman of the U.S. House Republican Study Committee, a position that was also once held by Rep. Scalise. Although Republicans are now the House minority rather than majority, Louisiana’s 1st District Congressman Steve Scalise remains the GOP Whip. And Perkins boasts about his direct access to the White House: “I’ve been to the White House I don’t know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration.”
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, Mills believes that “God could reach the world from right here in Louisiana with resources at our disposal, if we can figure out that that’s precisely what He put us here to do.” He is working non-stop to make Louisiana the center of God’s kingdom in the United States.