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Colonel V. Doner begins his new book "Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America," with a startling school-boy confession: "In November 1963, as the public address system at a high school in Orange County, California, solemnly announced the assassination of President john F. Kennedy, a fifteen-year-old boy shot from his seat, stunning his classmates with his spontaneous outburst that JFK was not assassinated, ‘He was executed for treason,' he claimed, referring to his ‘soft on communism' policies. This youngster, already well trained in a Christian worldview that allowed for no gray areas or nuances in diplomacy, knew one thing: JFK was a liberal, and liberals were clearly betraying God, America, and all of Western civilization."
That youngster, Colonel V. Doner ("Colonel" is his name, not a military rank), had fired his first open shot across the bow.
Doner, who describes himself as once being a "rock star" of the Christian Right, and who was a frequent spokesperson for the movement on numerous "talking head" programs, has given up the "culture wars" and now wants you to know that he believes in pluralism, and wants to promote "civil dialogue."
Clearly, Doner has come a long way: Early in his career, he was mentored by the "firebrand Rev. Billy James Hargis, scholarly Dr. David Noebel, and the eloquent Dr. Stuart McBirnie," all of who were key players in the Christian anticommunist movement.
After a few years in those trenches, Doner became a prominent leader of the nascent Christian Right. Although not nearly as well known a figure in the conservative movement as Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson, Doner nevertheless played a significant role in getting the fundamentalist Christian Right off the ground in the 1970s and 80s.
He was a founding member of Christian Voice and, according to his bio, is credited with creating the first "Report Card" informing voters how their Congressman was voting. He stood with Ronald Reagan from his first campaign for Governor of California right through to his presidential re-election campaign in 1984.
"From 1966 to 1996," Doner writes, "I was a neo-fundamentalist strategist, spokesman, apologist, and author - an insider in the deepest sense."
In the 1990s, Doner "helped to awaken the political consciousness of Pentecostals and Charismatics that birthed political leaders like Sarah Palin. Donor also takes credit for being part of "an elite team that introduced Peter Wagner [a major force in the creation of the New Apostolic Reformation], the leader of Sarah Palin's scary brand of ‘spiritual warfare' theology, to the theocratic concept of ‘godly dominion."
And, as if all this isn't enough of a resume, Doner points out that in the early years of this century, he had "evolved as a leader of the small but influential group of hard-line theocrats called Reconstructionists [a movement founded by the late Rousas J. Rushdoony], who even now continue to provide the blueprint for Palin's Fundamentalist-Pentecostal-Christian Right axis."
As you can tell from his labeling Sarah Palin's religious beliefs a "scary brand of ‘spiritual warfare' theology," Doner has changed his tune.
His epiphany came and while preparing a ten-year-in-the-making work called, "The Late Great Evangelical Church," a study aimed at "critiquing the evolution of Evangelical orthodoxy." He writes that he began to ask himself, "a basic question: just how was it that we were privy to God's objective truth and everybody else was so pitifully subjective or just plain wrong?"
As Doner writes, "My world was rocked. I had my answer. There's no such thing as absolute objectivity on our part. That is why there is precious little agreement, even in neo-fundamentalist circles, on many points, let alone in wider Evangelical circles."
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, was his final turning point. He, "realized that the main difference between ‘our people' and ‘their people' (Islamic fundamentalists) was that ours (with the notable exception of bombing abortion clinics and assassinating doctors) had not (yet) resorted to violence."
Doner also came to realize that his set of so-called objective truths, "was nothing more than illusion," and that he needed to, "grant others the benefit of the doubt." He began "striving for confidence rather than certainty, of embracing pluralism, and last but not least, following Jesus in loving people rather than condemning them."
The new Doner was "born again, this time as a post-conservative, post-fundamentalist, postmodern Christian."
Doner takes on some huge issues in his book - including focusing on Sarah Palin's "rise to power" and how "she really has come to symbolize everything Christian neo-fundamentalism stands for - as he searches for a way to "begin a civil dialogue, both locally and nationally, that can lead us to a mutual understanding, if not reconciliation."
To one degree or another, whether it's leftist David Horowitz becoming a hard-line, right winger, or conservative David Brock becoming a right-wing, media watchdog for the progressive movement, we are often fascinated by stories about people going through major life changes, especially in their religion and/or politics.
So what are we to make of the "new" Colonel V. Doner? Is he trying to capitalize on his past and sell books? Do we accept that he has undergone a profound change of heart after more than sixty years on the planet, and nearly forty years of being ensconced in the conservative Christian movement? Is he truly concerned about polarization in the country?
Two additional questions: In the book, Doner creates a troubling equivalency between the fundamentalists on the Religious Right and what he calls secular fundamentalists. Does he really believe that both sides are suffering from the same delusional syndrome? Finally, How can Doner think that a "civil dialogue" is possible with folks that, as he reports, are so far off the charts?