This Friday, a far-right religious activist who co-authored a repulsive apologia for Southern slavery and argues that women were created to be “dependent and responsive” to men, will speak on sexuality and the Bible at Indiana University, Bloomington. Invited by a campus Christian group, Douglas Wilson’s impending visit to this major university has set off something of a local firestorm.
Wilson, who runs a religious empire in Moscow, Idaho, that includes a church, a college, a lower school, and a right-wing religious press, is best known for his 1996 book, Southern Slavery, As It Was, written with another far-right pastor. “Slavery as it existed in the South … was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence,” it claims. “There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. … Slave life was to them [slaves] a life of plenty, of food, clothes and good medical care.”
But his two-part lecture this week is specifically aimed at the school’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, founded in 1947 by the late IU researcher Alfred Kinsey. The ClearNote Campus Fellowship, which invited Wilson, said in its announcement that Kinsey sought to “normalize perversion,” adding that the Idaho pastor “intends to bring biblical wisdom and sexual sanity” to IU.
Several groups, including IU’s Progressive Faculty & Staff Caucus, a town organization called Bloomington United and a representative of the IU Student Association, have called for a rally to coincide with Wilson’s 7-9 p.m. presentation. None have suggested cancelling his talk, saying they treasure free speech on campus but believe that Wilson’s views should be made public and fully discussed.
Those views, as captured in more than 30 Wilson books published by his own Canon Press, go beyond adulation of the Old South as a truly “orthodox” Christian society to dwell heavily on family and sexual matters. Wilson argues that women should only be allowed to date with their father’s permission; that if a woman is raped, the rapist should pay the father a bride price and then, if the father approves, marry his victim; and that gay men and lesbians are “sodomites” and “people with foul sexual habits.” The biblical punishment for homosexuality, he adds, is not necessarily death, though it could be under biblical law — exile is another possibility. (Wilson has also been accused of hypocrisy with regard to his sexual puritanism.)
IU critics of Wilson say he has completely misinterpreted Kinsey and his mission. “This famous research institute does not promote ‘deviant’ sexual behavior or sex in general,” Patrick Brantlinger, the James Rudy Professor Emeritus of English and Cultural Studies and a member of the Progressive Caucus, told Hatewatch.
“Wilson, like past Know-Nothings who’ve wanted to close down the Kinsey, will undoubtedly claim just the opposite — that its goal isn’t to study real people and how they really behave… . Just how Kinsey or the institute he founded violate any tenet of Christianity is beyond me. But the Christian Right folks are ideologues who don’t know much of anything about sex or anything else.”
Although he has denied it, Wilson is essentially a Christian Reconstructionist — a man who believes that Old Testament law should be imposed on America, with all its draconian punishments for an array of behaviors. He has repeatedly and over many years worked with other major Reconstructionists and, like them, writes that cursing one’s parents is “deserving of punishment by death.” He also has pointed out that Scripture does not forbid interracial marriage, but said that “wise parents” will carefully weigh any potential union of people with “extremely diverse cultural backgrounds.”
The Rev. Jacob Mentzel, the ClearNote campus director who invited Wilson, defended Wilson and said he was coming to save people who were otherwise “sinking to Hell,” according to The (Bloomington, Ind.) Herald-Times. “This public university is supposed to promote free discourse,” he said. “And really, with all the talk of diversity and pluralism, there ought to be someone out there in the public square who is a true Christian with all the fire of orthodox Christian faith.”
But in an E-mail that was circulated widely and even posted briefly to an atheists’ Web forum, Mentzel reportedly went further, describing Wilson as a personal friend and saying a 2004 Southern Poverty Law Center article about him was “dishonest,” “sensational” and “reads like the ravings of a conspiracy theorist.” (Full disclosure: I wrote that piece, which I stand behind as 100% accurate.) He claimed that Wilson was only suggesting that slavery could have been ended without the carnage of the Civil War and said Wilson’s book was not “a denial of atrocities” under slavery.
It’s hard to see how describing chattel slavery as “a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence” and marked by unprecedented “mutual intimacy and harmony” is really a condemnation of the horrors of slavery; to most, it sounds a lot like an endorsement. Be that as it may, elsewhere in his book, Wilson suggests that slaves, by working an extra shift or two, were frequently given days off and allowed to travel to other plantations to meet with girlfriends and lovers. Needless to say, no serious historian believes any of the tripe included in Wilson’s book. In 2004, when the book stirred a major controversy in Idaho, two real historians wrote a pamphlet called Southern Slavery, As It Wasn’t, that roundly debunked Wilson’s claims.
Not only that, it turned out later that much of the book was plagiarized from a scholarly book that was itself had been debunked years earlier. Wilson and his press claimed that he had simply failed to properly cite the source of some 22 near-identical passages in his own book.
Does Doug Wilson have something to teach the students and others at IU about human sexuality? That depends, presumably, on one’s view of sex.
But here’s a clue: In a March 6 blog, Wilson took up the case of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law school student who was maligned recently as a “slut,” among other things, by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. “I confess I haven’t mastered all the details of this important situation as I ought to have done,” Wilson opined, “but if Ms. Fluke indicated multiple guys, then the comment should stand. That’s what a slut is. But if she has a steady boyfriend, and she if faithful to him, then it really was uncalled for him to call her that. She would be something more like a concubine.”