The senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, a major Minneapolis-based congregation with more than 6,000 worshipers, has invited extremist preacher Doug Wilson to speak at an upcoming national conference commemorating the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. John Piper, who preaches at Bethlehem and runs Desiring God, an outfit that promotes his religious beliefs, is regarded as a mainstream evangelical, and Bethlehem is a member of the Baptist General Conference.
Wilson, based in Idaho, is anything but mainstream. He has written that Old South slavery was “a life of plenty” and has said he believes adultery should, in certain circumstances, be punished by execution.
This is the second time this year that Wilson has found favor in mainstream Christian circles. In June, on the bill of a conference Wilson hosted was Charles Colson, recipient of the 2008 Presidential Citizens Medal and a revered Christian Right leader for decades, dating back to 1975 when he founded the Prison Fellowship ministry after serving time for obstruction of justice in connection with the Watergate scandal.
Wilson runs an extreme right religious empire in Moscow, Idaho, that includes a church, Canon Press, and New Saint Andrews College. Popular in neo-Confederate circles as well, he co-wrote a partly plagiarized booklet, Southern Slavery, As It Was, defending Old South slavery; his co-author was Steve Wilkins, a founding member of the neo-secessionist and racist League of the South.
Southern Slavery, As It Was is a repulsive apologia for the enslavement of black Americans. Among other things, the booklet contends that, “Slavery as it existed in the South … was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. … There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.”
When a University of Idaho professor revealed in 2004 that Wilson’s booklet contained 22 passages plagiarized from a discredited 1974 academic treatise, Wilson scoffed, deriding the “local Banshees” who criticized him over what he portrayed as a mere citation problem. Canon Press then issued a “corrected” version of the booklet — correct in its citations, but unchanged in its portrayal of happy and well-fed slaves whose relationship with their masters was one of mutual affection.
Wilson’s views on other issues are just as extreme. Woman “was created to be dependent and responsive to a man,” he has written. If a woman is raped, the rapist should pay the father a bride price and then, if the father approves, marry his victim. Homosexuals, Wilson says, are “sodomites” and “people with foul sexual habits.” Wilson recently told Christianity Today that he’s in favor of the “exile [of] some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim.” He added, “There are circumstances where I’d be in favor of execution for adultery.” Cursing one’s parents is likewise “deserving of punishment by death.” Though he admits the scripture does not forbid interracial marriage, Wilson warns that, “wise parents” will carefully weigh any union involving “extremely diverse cultural backgrounds.”
Wilson’s standards don’t always apply to those close to him. In 2006, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News published a story about complaints that Wilson had tried to “cover up” serial sexual molestations by a college student — molestations of very young boys and girls carried out over several years. Although the newspaper quoted none of them, many people were angry that Wilson had failed to notify families in his Christ Church for eight months after Steven Sitler confessed to him in March 2005. One church family with young children had boarded Sitler, and others welcomed him as a visitor in their homes (Sitler molested one 2-year-old girl in a similar visiting situation in Colville, Wash.).
In his 1999 book Fidelity, Wilson wrote, “When we are dealing with young children who are abused by adults (pederasty, child porn, etc.), the penalty for those guilty of the crime should be death.” But rather than condemn Sitler, Wilson wrote to the sentencing judge in Sitler’s case, describing him as “most responsive” and “completely honest” and asking that criminal penalties be “measured and limited.”
Piper refused repeated requests for comment about inviting Wilson to speak at his conference. In a video on the Desiring God website, Piper says that “Doug gets the gospel right” and that he is “unusually compelling.”