Doug Wilson’s Religious Empire Expanding in the Northwest
A religious empire based in Idaho is part of the far-right theological movement fueling neo-Confederate groups
In Moscow, Idaho, a Southern-born recent graduate of the University of Idaho was working as song leader in the town's Christ Church. In 1977, just as Christian Reconstruction was picking up momentum nationally, Doug Wilson gave a sermon for the former pastor at his church, who had just moved away. That sermon led to a permanent job, and Wilson to this day remains leader of Christ Church.
Over the following decades, Wilson built up an empire. He created the Logos School in Moscow, a private Christian academy that is a template for Wilson's "classical schools" movement and instructs students in Greek and Latin.
He formed the Association of Classical and Christian Schools as a kind of accrediting agency for such schools and, since then, some 165 schools with curriculums similar to that of Logos have been started around the country.
Many of them, along with thousands of homeschoolers, order their books from yet another Moscow-based Wilson creation, Canon Press. The firm has published and sells 31 books by Wilson.
Wilson also helped start the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals (CRE), the denomination that includes Christ Church and some 20 other churches with similar ideas. At his own church, Wilson created a three-year training program for ministers, Greyfriars Hall.
Graduates, who must promise to engage in "cultural reformation," have started several churches around the country.
And, in 1994, Wilson's Christ Church founded New Saint Andrews College, a Moscow institution that teaches Wilson's brand of Christianity and now has an enrollment of about 120 students. (On its Web site, the college treats Rushdoony and Dabney as foundational thinkers on the order of Plato and Aristotle.)
Many Moscow residents say the college, like Wilson's Logos School and Christ Church, also has shown a strong taste for the Confederacy, with paintings of Civil War Confederate heroes and the like. Some parents have reported that Logos School celebrates the birthday of Gen. Robert E. Lee, another hero in the Confederate pantheon.
The same year that Christ Church kicked off New Saint Andrews, another organization with a liking for things Confederate was in the works. In Alabama, a college professor named Michael Hill founded what would come to be called the League of the South. The league quickly adopted radical positions such as calling for a second Southern secession as disputes over the Confederate battle flag heated up around the South.
With Hill, a founding league director was Steven Wilkins, a man who already had been hosting Confederate heritage conferences for years (and still runs the R.L. Dabney Center for Theological Studies out of his church).
It wasn't long before the League of the South became more or less openly racist. Hill said his aim was the "revitalization of general European hegemony" in the South. The league went on record as officially opposing interracial marriage.
Hill painted segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace as a hero, and other league thinkers defended segregation as safeguarding the "integrity" of blacks and whites alike.
The league was theocratic from the start, with Hill arguing publicly for a restructuring of the South as a "Christian republic" — a place where others might live, but only if they acknowledged and obeyed the rules of his religion.
He asserted that the South was fundamentally "Anglo-Celtic" and ought to remain that way. And he explicitly rejected egalitarianism as "Jacobin" and argued for a society composed of classes with differing legal rights — all ideas extremely similar to those of Rushdoony.
Developing these concepts, and adding his reverence for Dabney to the mix, was Wilkins, the pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., and a close friend to Hill — something emphasized by Hill's move to Monroe for several years ending in 2003.
With his sympathy for the Confederacy, his admiration of Dabney's ideas, and a bent toward theocracy, Wilkins became a leading religious ideologue of the league — a group that today claims 15,000 members organized into 87 chapters in 16 states — and the larger neo-Confederate movement.
By the mid-'90s, Wilkins also had become a close collaborator and fellow ideologue of Wilson's.
"Collaboration between the Christian Reconstructionist movement and the League of the South has ... increased," wrote scholars Edward Sebesta and Euan Hague in a 2002 study of Dabney and the neo-Confederates, "evidencing a growing overlap in the historical, political and theological perspectives of participants in both organizations.
"This indicates a conflation of conservative, neo-Confederate and Christian nationalisms into a potent reinterpretation of United States history, one centered upon the thesis that the Confederate states were a bastion of orthodox Christianity standing in the face of the heretical Union states."
An ideological merger, in other words, was under way.
But Are They Reconstructionists?
As the Idaho controversy reached a fever pitch, Wilson flatly denied that he was a Christian Reconstructionist. That movement, he told a reporter, was "dead."
But while Wilson may have slight differences with one or another Reconstructionist, it is false that the movement is dead — and not true that Wilson is no part of it.
In fact, Wilson's theology is in most ways indistinguishable from basic tenets of Reconstruction. And, going back to the 1990s, both he and co-religionist Steven Wilkins have been tightly linked to America's leading Reconstructionists.
In the early 1990s, Wilkins began hosting annual Confederate heritage conferences in Monroe. Within a few years, Wilson was a regular speaker.
These conferences also featured some of the leading lights of Reconstruction, including Otto Scott; George Grant, a leading speaker at Wilson's 2004 conference at the University of Idaho; Larry Pratt, a gun rights radical who had to step down as co-chair of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign because of his links to white supremacists; Joe Morecraft III; and Howard Phillips, founder of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, reincarnated as the Constitution Party in 2000, both of them shot through with strong Reconstructionist elements.
Similarly, Wilson and his journal, Credenda/Agenda, began hosting "history" conferences in the mid-1990s that highlighted Wilkins and Reconstructionists like Grant. (Grant is a Tennessee anti-abortion activist and former state leader of the U.S. Taxpayers Party.)
Like Wilkins' Louisiana conferences, Wilson's well-attended gatherings in Idaho frequently included speeches extolling Dabney, who Wilson and Wilkins describe, incredibly, as "a godly man who fought for the South."
In 1996, the two men wrote their Southern Slavery, As It Was — a full-throated endorsement of the views of Dabney and the Reconstructionists on slavery and the Civil War.
Credenda/Agenda is also linked to the Coalition on Revival (COR), a far-right Christian group, formed in 1982, that has mixed key Reconstructionist ideologues like Rushdoony, Gary North (Rushdoony's son-in-law), Gary DeMar, David Chilton and Morecraft with more mainstream Christian Right hard-liners.
COR's Web site still carries links to Credenda/Agenda — which was inaugurated as a Christ church ministry in 1988 — and a number of Christian Reconstructionist Web sites.