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

'Overthrowing Secularism'
Wilkins and Wilson have together probably done more than any others to construct the theology now animating much of the neo-Confederate movement. But there is more to their ideology than a defense of the South and slavery.

In his voluminous and often tedious writings, Wilson lays out an array of hard-right beliefs, many of them related to family and sexual matters. Overall, he told congregants last year, his goal is "the overthrow of unbelief and secularism."

The world as Wilson sees it is divided not by race but by religion — biblical Christians versus all others. As he says in one of his books, "[I]f neither parent believes in Jesus Christ, then the children are foul — unclean."

"Government schools" are godless propaganda factories teaching secularism, rationalism, and worse. Wilson's congregants are instructed to send their children to private Christian schools (like the one he started) or to home-school them.

Woman "was created to be dependent and responsive to a man," Wilson writes. Feminists seek "to rob women of their beauty in submission." Women should only be allowed to date or "court" with their father's permission — and then, if they are Christian, only with other Christians.

If a woman is raped, the rapist should pay the father a bride price and then, if the father approves, marry his victim.

Gay men and lesbians, Wilson says, are "sodomites," "people with foul sexual habits." But the biblical punishment for homosexuality is not necessarily death, Wilson says in trying to distance himself from Reconstruction. Exile is another possibility.

Cursing one's parents is "deserving of punishment by death," Wilson adds. "Parental failure is not a defense." And Christian parents, by the way, "need not be afraid to lay it on" when spanking, he says.

Indeed, "godly discipline" would include spanking 2-year-old children for such "sins" as whining. (On a similar note, Dabney called opposition to whipping wrongdoing slaves "Godless humanitarianism.")

Scripture does not forbid interracial marriage, Wilson says. But "wise parents" will carefully weigh any union involving "extremely diverse cultural backgrounds."

Wilkins summed up many of his and Wilson's ideas in 1997, when he told The Counsel of Chalcedon, a Reconstructionist journal edited by Morecraft, that he wanted "the principles upon which the South stood" reinstated.

These ideas, taken together with the unusual historical views expressed by Wilkins and Wilson, are critically important. Reconstructionist commentator James Wesley Stiver said as much in a recent essay, describing Wilson, Wilkins and George Grant — the three main speakers at Wilson's University of Idaho conference this February — as part of a "Celtic sunrise" within Christian Reconstruction.

Here Comes the Sun
Is Doug Wilson working toward a theocracy?

Certainly, some of his close friends are. George Grant, the Tennessean who Wilson has repeatedly invited to give speeches at his history conferences, once described his goals as "world conquest," according a 1998 article in the journal Reason.

"It is dominion we are after. Not just a voice, not just influence, not just equal time. It is dominion we are after."

As the February conference approached, Wilson tried hard to distance himself from suggestions that he was interested in such a "takeover" of society, noting that his theology favored the "regeneration" of persons first and saying that he was not interested in secular power.

He told a reporter that only far in the future, perhaps "500 years" from now, could he envision any kind of Christian republic.

That may be. But there is no question that Wilson is working toward his theological goals right now, with determination and in very substantial ways.

Today, Wilson and Christ Church are expanding, buying up properties around downtown Moscow, and many in the region fear that it will soon become a dominant force in the area.

The church, with a congregation that has now reached about 800, also hosts several major conferences every year — including "history" conferences such as the one that attracted almost 850 people this February.

Wilson held his conference amidst a major controversy, kicked off by the fliers circulated months before. University students and officials were particularly outraged that the Feb. 5-7 gathering, headlined "Revolution & Modernity" and focusing on the participants' deep hatred of what they described as "revolutionaries" who oppose the will of God, was scheduled during Black History Month.

Wilson, whose shoddy scholarship in Southern Slavery, As It Was had earlier been attacked by two University of Idaho historians in a paper entitled "Southern Slavery, As It Wasn't," mocked "intolerista" academics at his February conference.

Wilson also offered a tepid criticism of Dabney's racism, but watered even that down by asserting Northern racism was worse than that of the South. "I condemn the racism of Dabney," he added sarcastically, "and the racism of Abraham Lincoln, [Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger, Charles Darwin and Ted Kennedy."

Outside the Student Union where Wilson's conference was held, some 350 students and others demonstrated against the gathering. University officials hosted antiracist speakers, and antiracist literature was distributed. Radio stations, student newspapers and media from as far away as Seattle came to cover the events.

Wilson was defiant throughout, portraying his critics as small-minded and incapable of honest scholarly inquiry. What he did not do was make clear exactly what his goals are as he continues to expand his religious empire.

But he offered a substantial clue last Dec. 28, when, in the midst of the controversy, he gave a sermon discussing evangelistic "warfare" to his congregation.

Good Christians, he said, needed to look for "decisive points" in society, places that are both "strategic and feasible" targets to be "taken." New York City, for instance, is strategic but not feasible — too many godless liberals. Other places are feasible but not strategic — unimportant places in the theological wars that Wilson foresees.

"But," Douglas Wilson added in an upbeat note that day, "small towns with major universities (Moscow and Pullman, say) are both." And that, say many residents of the Palouse, is what has them so frightened.