DOUGLAS WILSON'S RELIGIOUS EMPIRE
By Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho (email@example.com)
[Christ Church's] teaching style is often abrasive, even at times caustic toward both believers and non-believers. We believe this style of teaching is contrary to Christ's teaching and to his example . . . .
--Elders of the Evangelical Free Church of Pullman, Washington, November 23, 2003.
Douglas Wilson of Moscow, Idaho has established a very impressive religious empire, about which I will write a series of columns. Wilson is pastor of Christ Church, which together with a sister church Trinity Reformed, has about 650 adult members in a town of 21,000 (including 10,000 University of Idaho students). He is founder of the Classical and Christian School Association, which, beginning with Moscow's Logos School, now has 204 affiliated schools in the U.S., Indonesia, and Nigeria.
Wilson is also founder of New St. Andrews College in Moscow, on which the City Council has placed an enrollment cap because of its central downtown location. Wilson also runs a 3-year seminary program Greyfriars Hall, the graduates of which are sent to plant new churches after the Christ Church model. Furthermore, Wilson co-founded the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, a small denomination that follows the "Federal Vision,"a theology now rejected by every major conservative Presbyterian denomination. Finally, Wilson has his own publishing house, Canon Press, which at one time grossed an average of $1 million per year.
The articles that follow will reveal that Douglas Wilson embodies all the qualities of the discredited evangelical pastor, everything except having a TV program, great hair, and sexual escapades.
THE SEEDS ARE SOWN FOR MOSCOW'S CULTURAL WAR
After resigning his navy commission, James Wilson was active in the Officers Christian Union during the 1950s. His vision of a "literature" ministry led to the founding of many Christian bookstores in college towns all over America. In 1971, Wilson started One-Way Books on the Washington State University campus, 8 miles across the border, and then Crossroads Bookstore in Moscow not long after.
In 1954 Wilson started writing a small book that would have the title Principles of War: A Handbook on Strategic Evangelism, first published in 1964. He thought that college towns, especially those with state universities, would be both strategic and feasible evangelistic targets. In a recent interview, Jim Wilson said that he was fortunate to find two such towns and universities so close together. With some relish he recalled a thought he had then: "We could fight one battle and win two states [for Christ]!"
I told Jim Wilson that I thought that upraised sword on the front cover of his war book was rather provocative, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said that it was only a symbol. (A very dangerous symbol I was tempted to add.) Wilson argued that even though the methods of warfare should not be used to evangelize, its principles could be applied very well. I missed another chance for a comeback as I thought about the Christian Taipings in the 1850s having altar calls with the aisles guarded by soldiers with upraised swords.
The New York Times Magazine carried an article (9/30/07) entitled "Onward Christian Scholars," which featured New St. Andrews College, founded by Wilson's son Douglas. In it Father Wilson took issue with his son's application of his evangelical war principles: "The object was to take over the town with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but to do it in an underground fashion. One of the principles of war is surprise. You don't tell people what you're going to do. Douglas told them, and he gave them someone to shoot at."
I first met Douglas Wilson after the first session of my "Introduction to Philosophy"class in late August, 1975. He introduced himself and asked me one question: "Is it OK if I defend the faith in this class?" I answered with a fate-filled Yes. When I told this story to faculty and students at Wilson's New St. Andrews College in April 2000, I got a big laugh when I said that saying No would not have made any difference.
While Jim Wilson sold his religious books and pastored Pullman's Evangelical Free Church, Doug and I were having friendly debates in and out of the classroom. Wilson took nearly every course that I offered, but we agreed that I would not be the best person to chair his thesis committee. Wilson wrote a fairly respectable M.A. thesis on free will and then returned to his local ministry at Faith Fellowship, later renamed Community Evangelical Fellowship (CEF). Faith Fellowship started as sister church of Pullman's Evangelical Free Church.
In the early 1980s Wilson and I team taught (along with two other people) a course on 20th Century theology, and then we had a debate on abortion in February of 1983. (My side of the debate has developed into "Abortion, Persons, and the Fetus." Wilson had a regular column in what was then called The Idahonian, and he came out with a piece that listed points that I tried to refute in the debate. In a letter to the editor, I cried foul, not because I could claim that my refutations were necessarily sound; rather, because Wilson did not mention my responses at all. It was at that point that I began to question Wilson's intellectual integrity, and subsequent actions and events have convinced me that he and his closest associates are not honest men.
In December 1993, the CEF elders, concerned about doctrinal shifts in Wilson's theology, presented him with an ultimatum that he either conform to the CEF statement of faith or resign as pastor. (There was also a dispute about Wilson mixing church and non-church funds.) Wilson organized church members against the elders and successfully outmaneuvered them.
In order to validate his usurpation of power, Wilson drafted a letter attesting to his godly character and his qualifications to remain pastor. Even though the elders refused to sign the document, Wilson and his closest associates continued to swear until July 2003 that the signatures were obtained. Two of the three elders then resigned in disgust.
With the dissenters gone, Wilson moved forward with changing the name of his church to Christ Church, and he pushed his own doctrinal agenda, including infant baptism and paedo-communion, the rare practice of giving children the consecrated wine and bread. This was a dramatic change considering the fact that, from its very beginnings CEF was Arminian (non-Calvinist) and Baptist.
In February, 2003, two Christ Church members brought "Solemn Charges" (a 108-page document) against Wilson for maladministration, pastoral abuse, and doctrinal errors, and the unsigned document of December 1993 reemerged as an issue. Wilson demanded that members of Pullman's Evangelical Free Church (EFC) investigate some of the charges. When EFC members asked to see the "signed" letter, no one in Christ Church could produce the goods. Six months later the Christ Church website contained a statement conceding that the CEF elder signatures were never obtained.
To this day, all that Wilson can muster as an explanation is that he corrected the "mistake" as soon as it was discovered--"soon" defined in this case as 127 months. See Wilson's convoluted defense of January 31, 2006 at www.dougwils.com.
As I conclude Part One of this series, I will only note, because I cannot fully explain, what I call "The Navy connection." Jim Wilson, Christ Church elders Dale Courtney and Patch Blakey are retired naval officers. (There are undoubtedly more.) Jim Wilson brought Doug Busby out from Annapolis and he now is pastor at Pullman's Evangelical Free Church, estranged from Christ Church because of the crisis explained above. Douglas Wilson and Michael Lawyer, Wilson's administrative assistant and Christ Church elder, met on a submarine during the early 1970s. We know that the Air Force Academy is a veritable den of conservative Christians. Does the Naval Academy also have its fair share?
NO BURNING AT THE STAKE IN MOSCOW'S FRIENDSHIP SQUARE
In my study of the Christian religion over 40 years, there is one principle that has tested true time and time again: those who claim to be the true Christians are definitely not. Christians who follow our local pastor Douglas Wilson have inspired me to add a corollary to this principle: those Christians who talk the most about the Trinity are the ones who have the poorest conception of it.
I studied theology with Trinitarians in graduate school and I've taught with many of them as well. My Lutheran colleagues in the theological faculties at Heidelberg, Aarhus, and Copenhagen were fervent Trinitarians. But none of these fine Christians used the Trinity as a club to hit me over the head and to tell me that I, as a Unitarian, could be nothing but a conformist or a power hungry, humorless rapist. Incredibly enough, that's what Douglas Jones, Senior Fellow (sans Ph.D.) at Wilson's New St. Andrews College, claims in an article in Wilson's journal Credenda Agenda vol. 14:2 (www.credenda.org).
Of course Jones provides no empirical evidence that non-Trinitarian thinking actually leads to the dastardly deeds that he claims it does. Indeed, the violent record of Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Spanish Trinitarians colonialists appears to prove the just the opposite. Jews and Christians in India prospered on the Malabar Coast for nearly a thousand years until the Trinitarian Dutch wiped out the Jews, and Trinitarian Portuguese coerced Indian Christians and Hindus to become Roman Catholics or be killed if they refused. In Sri Lanka the Dutch Calvinists were perceived as dishonorable and treacherous and having a "gluttonous rapacity, generated by the rapid acquisition of riches."
In 2003 Jones invited Unitarian minister Forrest Church, son of Idaho great Senator Frank Church, to a debate in Moscow. The agreed topic of the debate was the nature of the good life. Even before the debate on September 30, 2003, I smelled a rat and I was proved right when the evening turned into a carefully laid trap.
As a fervent Calvinist, Jones perhaps felt betrayed that Michael Servetus failed to show up for his debate on Christian doctrine with John Calvin in Paris in 1534. Calvin never forgave Servetus for this slight, and his anger about this, in addition to his horror about Servetus' Unitarianism, led him to arrest and try him for heresy in Geneva. Although Calvin relented and acceded to Servetus' wish to be capitated, the city fathers insisted that Servetus be burned alive on October 26, 1553.
Jones got what he really wanted--a debate on the Trinity--and, although he did declare that Church would go to Hell, he fortunately he had no power to burn him as a heretic in Moscow's Friendship square. On the south side of this plaza stands New St. Andrews College, which proudly claims "Trinitarian accreditation" from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
At the debate Jones declared that "the Trinity gives us genuine difference," implying that somehow all non-Trinitarians are all monists. (As we shall see, Jones focus on difference leads him to fall into the heresy of Tritheism.) Jones claimed that "the Trinity encourages all the best parts of life, and sexuality delights in the joy of otherness. . . . Unitarians, Muslims, secularists, and all those who reject Trinitarian life, they love power and conformity."
The Good Reverend Church had an easy time refuting Jones' silly argument: "To say that there is no beauty outside of Trinitarianism is absurd. All you have to do is take a look at 19th century Japanese wood cuts." He also pointed out that the triad of truth, goodness, and beauty that Jones' Christ Church preaches has its basis in Greek pagan thought.
I suspect that the reason most Christians are not uppity about the Trinity is that it is the Christian doctrine that has the least biblical evidence for it. Jones' pastor Doug Wilson once told me that he would not "disfellowship" any Christian for not believing in the Trinity. He has obviously changed his mind about this now.
Conservative Presbyterian theologian Donald G. Bloesch concedes that the New Testament "cannot affirm the creedal formulation" of the Trinity because while "definitely suggested," it is "not clearly enunciated." Divine plurality in the Hebrew Scriptures is better interpreted as the residue of polytheism (see this article), and Professor Bloesch can cite only five New Testament passages as indications of divine threeness. He wisely avoids 1 John 5:7, which was doctored by early scribes as extra proof of the Trinity.
It is ironic that the religion whose scripture has the least evidence for a trinity (they abound in Hinduism, Daoism, and Buddhism) became the one that has speculated endlessly about its proper formulation, and, sadly, in some instances executed Christians who rejected the doctrine. It is even more ironic that the qualities that Jones claims to follow from the Christian Trinity "dancing, playfulness, humor, and relationality" are all better expressed in these Asian religions. For over nineteen centuries dancing of any kind was banned in Catholic and Protestant Churches. Too bad that those who performed the Gnostic "Round Dance of the Cross" were condemned and their scriptures destroyed.
After the debate with Church I engaged Jones in a long debate about the Trinity, all the details of which one can read as "Wondrous Trinities Everywhere." Before I close, I would like to focus on one issue: because of their sloppy theological thinking, the leaders of Christ Church have actually instructed their congregants in Tritheism, the most heretical formulation of the Trinity.
In a column in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (8-7-07), Wilson's Tritheism is
readily evident when he states the "Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the
Holy Spirit is the love of each for the other." The church fathers would turn over in their
graves at such a theological hatchet job. St. Augustine set the grounds for the orthodox
Trinity by saying that it has but one will, but here we have two wills, because Wilson
demotes the Holy Spirit from a "person" to simply the love that passes between two deities.
The great Swiss Calvinist theologian Karl Barth warned Christians that if they made the
persons of the Trinity into personalities, as Jones and Wilson have in fact done, they would
not be able to avoid the heresy of Tritheism.
DOUGLAS WILSON, SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIANS,
In early October 2003 flyers were found posted all over Moscow, Idaho, home of Douglas Wilson's Christ Church. The flyers contained passages from Wilson's booklet Southern Slavery As It Was, published by Wilson's own Canon Press in 1996. Most of Wilson's thirty books are issued by Canon Press. For some time I had heard rumors that Wilson had connections with neo-Confederates, but I had always rejected them as not believable. The information took the town by surprise and led to a petition drive that led to a full-page ad in the local newspaper entitled "Not in Our Town," signed by 1,200 outraged residents.
Wilson's co-author was Steve Wilkins, pastor of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana and founding director of the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS), declared a white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
LOS president Michael Hill, who attends Wilkins' church, proposes that an independent neo-Confederacy of fifteen states would have the duty to protect the values of Anglo-Celtic culture from black Americans, who are "a compliant and deadly underclass." A key word for the League is "hierarchy," the God-given right for superiors (read "propertied white males") to rule over inferiors.
In 1994 Wilkins and Wilson presented papers at a "history" conference on slavery that Wilson hosted in Moscow, renting University of Idaho facilities to lend credibility to his efforts. I placed "scare" quotation marks around history to indicate that nothing approaching accurate history was being discussed at this conference or any of the others that followed annually.
Wilson defended the booklet in the local press, saying that good Christians should never be ashamed of what the Bible teaches. He and Wilkins make the incredible claim that since the Bible condones slavery but condemns kidnapping, it was not sinful for people to own Africans that they themselves did not ship from Africa. This is as absurd as Buddhists who rationalize meat eating because they claim they were not involved in the slaughter of the animal itself.
The most incredible statement in the booklet is this one: "There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world" (p. 24). After such section headings as "The Stability of the Slave Family"and "The Strength of the Slave Family,"and general support for southern slavery "as it truly was,"the first sentence of the "Conclusion"that "none need lament the passing of slavery"is an unbelievable non sequitur. If the Confederate South was the best multiracial society in world history and the Confederate Army was the most evangelical ever, then why should such a glorious culture ever have to change?
Not only is the slavery booklet historically inaccurate, it is theologically arrogant and misinformed: "By the time of the [Civil] War, the leadership of the South was conservative, orthodox, and Christian. By contrast, the leadership of the North was radical and Unitarian"(p. 12). In contrast to the righteous Confederates, the abolitionists in the North were "wicked"and were "driven by a zealous hatred for the Word of God" (p. 13).
Of the hundreds of books on slavery, the Wilson and Wilkins chose a single reference volume to support their thesis: Stanley Engerman and Robert Fogel's widely discredited Time on the Cross. They did not even bother to quote from the second and revised edition. The authors also neglected to mention that Herbert Gutman wrote a critique of this book entitled Slavery and the Numbers Game. A review in the American Historical Review states: "Gutman has destroyed the mathematical mystique of Time on the Cross, [and] punctured its claims of novelty, accuracy, and understanding."
Two University of Idaho historians Shawn Quinlan and William Ramsey weighed in with a devastating critique of the booklet entitled "Southern Slavery As It Wasn't." Wilson's idea of an academic response was to write to Idaho's governor requesting that the good professors be fired. Quinlan and Ramsey focus on interviews with former slaves conducted by the Works Progress Administration, and how Wilson and Wilkins use the information without proper scholarly scrutiny. As they state: "No historian worthy of the name, for example, would dare take the word of a white southern planter as definitive evidence that slavery was a good thing" (p. 6).
Professor Robert T. McKenzie, a civil war expert at the University of Washington and a member of a sister Christ Church in Seattle, urged Wilson to withdraw the book for another reason other than its ugly, unsupported thesis. McKenzie knew Time on the Cross very well and he was able to determine that about 20 percent of the slavery booklet had been lifted from the book.
Wilson first explained that it was sloppy editing on this part, but Wilkins finally came clean and admitted that it was his entire fault. A more thorough investigation of Wilkins' other books found that he committed the sin of kidnapping texts on a regular basis. I've learned that Wilkins hires some of his parishioners to input entire texts of southern history, from which the good pastor is able to block, copy, and paste at will. Wilkins' plagiarism is documented, complete with facing pages of the respective texts, under sections 2 and 5 of Not on the Palouse, Not Ever, the most comprehensive website for all matters relating to Wilson's religious empire.
Under intense pressure, Wilson ceased publication of the booklet, although thousands of copies still remain in conservative Christian schools and neo-Confederate bookstores. Wilson promised to reissue quickly a revised edition with proper citation, but we waited 18 months before a very different version under the title Black and Tan was published, without its plagiarizing co-author and without deference Professor McKenzie, his brother in Christ. Indeed, Wilson's hubris is so great that he believes that he can teach the Antebellum South expert a thing or two.
The original slavery booklet was republished as it was (the footnotes were fixed) in The War Between the States: America's Uncivil War (Bluebonnet Press, 2005), John J. Dwyer, general editor. Historian Ed Sebesta claims that this book "seems to incorporate every 'Lost Cause' and modern Neo-Confederate idea."
Wilson says that he is not a neo-Confederate but a "paleo-Confederate." By the latter I think he means, by implication and by direct statements, that the US should return to only propertied males voting, the appointment of senators, the repeal (at the least) of the 14th and 16th Amendments, and a loose confederation of autonomous states. Despite his objections, neo-Confederate ideas, events, and symbols abound in his religious empire. Robert E. Lee's birthday, not Lincoln's, is celebrated in Moscow's Logos School. Even though the school's principal denied its presence, this link contains a picture of Lee's portrait hanging in a Logos schoolroom.
General Lee was also featured in a PowerPoint presentation given at a Moscow Chamber of Commerce retreat by its executive director and Christ Church member Paul Kimmell. The last slide showed the Confederate flag and Old Glory side by side as if they should be given equal value. In an article in the Spokesman Review (10/22/06), Wilson confessed that the Confederate flag has been displayed at church and school functions.
One of Wilson's defenders complained that his critics are picking one small book on slavery out of his voluminous writings on other redeeming topics. Wilson's support for slavery, however, is intimately connected with other writings that affirm male superiority, hierarchy, and inequality. As to support for the Old South in other works, Wilson and his co-author Douglas Jones describes the Antebellum South as "the last nation of the first Christendom," and they predict that by God's will "the South will rise again" (Angels in the Architecture, pp. 203, 205).
THE MANY SINS OF MOSCOW'S NEW ST. ANDREWS COLLEGE
In 1994 Douglas Wilson founded New St. Andrews College (NSA) with a handful of students in a Moscow residence. NSA had several locations before it found its current home right on Second and Main. In each of its sites NSA was in violation of city zoning laws, and it was mistakenly allowed to remodel a GTE building because an ordinance prohibited educational institutions downtown. After a long battle, NSA eventually received a conditional use permit, but even today it charges its critics with religious persecution even though the point was always obeying the law.
In April 2000, I gave a talk on Confucian virtue ethics to NSA students and faculty. At that time I congratulated Wilson on the success of both NSA and his K-12 Logos School. I also announced that I was prepared to help NSA students with their senior theses. In the previous year I had spent about 60 hours helping a bright NSA student with a thesis on Buddhism.
In December 2002, I invited NSA faculty and students to the regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. It was held in Moscow in May 2003, and 40 percent of the papers were presented by faculty from conservative Christian colleges. Typically, for this conference there is a large turn out of students and faculty from schools in the vicinity of the sponsoring institution. NSA president Roy Atwood defended NSA's absence by saying that they "had better things to do." Each year I have invited them the conference, and they have yet to submit papers or send faculty or students.
In a letter to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on May 23, 2003, Atwood implied that his college was an accredited institution. At a legal hearing before the Latah County Commissioners in April 2003, the NSA attorney also testified that NSA was indeed accredited. The problem, however, is that NSA did not receive its accreditation until November 29, 2005.
The accrediting agency is the Transnational Association of Christian Schools and Colleges (TRACS), which accredits 41bible colleges. TRACS was founded by the notorious creationist Henry Morris, who once declared that "it is better to believe in the revealed Word of God than any science or philosophy devised by man." Significantly, while TRACS is recognized in Idaho, it is not approved by higher education authorities in Texas, and probably many other states.
The NSA faculty celebrated April Fools of 1999 by stealing letterhead from the University of Idaho (UI) provost's office to distribute an announcement of visiting feminist scholars who would give their presentations topless. There is nothing wrong with a good joke, but one usually tries to avoid criminal activity in pulling stunts such as this. Shamelessly, Wilson defended this action in his blog: "By the time you receive this, our local police will probably have forgotten all about it, so a little bragging is now safe. . . . [My son-in-law], encouraged by some winks and nudges from me, made up a flyer which announced a topless and proud lecture series by topless feminist scholars."
An important academic virtue is collegiality, which consists of respect for, and cooperation with, all members of the academic community. I believe that we can conclude from NSA's actions that it has not been a very good academic citizen. The supreme irony is that 9 of the 15 NSA faculty have, or are expecting, 13 UI degrees.
Regrettably, the debate over Wilson's slavery booklet Southern Slavery As It Was may have led to vandalism against NSA property. Despite the fact that the culprits were not identified, NSA president Atwood has continued to blame UI administrators, faculty, and students for these unfortunate acts. Wilson also wrote to Idaho's governor requesting that two UI professors, who wrote a critical assessment of his slavery booklet, be disciplined.
Wilson wrote an article "Why Evangelical Colleges Are Not"in Chronicles (September, 1998), the journal of the far right Rockford Institute. The hostility displayed against reputable evangelical colleges in this article not only shows blatant disrespect for these fine schools, but it manifests shameful disregard for the entire academic enterprise.
NSA was recently listed among the top 50 conservative Christian schools by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. This institute is supported by the conservative National Review and the Heritage Foundation, and its evaluation of schools relies on faculty and student self reports.
NSA President Atwood now ranks NSA with three colleges on this list: Hope College, Calvin College, and Aquinas College. In contrast to NSA, these colleges are accredited by the 1,303-member North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which requires that all permanent faculty have PhDs.
I have met faculty from Hope, Calvin, and Aquinas at scholarly conferences and I have heard their excellent professional papers. Calvin College boasts that it is the first evangelical school to have an Asian Studies program. Hope College has three professors who specialize in Asian philosophy and religion. Don't hold your breath for news that NSA will offer any courses on non-Christian thought. Aquinas College even has a feminist philosopher on its faculty, but Wilson believes that only propertied males should have the vote.
NSA's true peers are not Hope, Calvin, and Aquinas; rather, they are Word of Life Bible Institute, Shasta Bible Institute, the infamous Institute for Creation Research, Messenger College, and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
Here are some items where Hope, Calvin, and Aquinas Colleges fortunately do not compare:
1. Only 27 percent of NSA's faculty have PhDs. TRACS requires that only one third of the faculty have the doctorate.
2. Two of the college's senior fellows, presumably equivalent to full professors, do not have PhDs.
3. Although full resumes are not available on NSA's website, it appears that a majority of the faculty's published books are from Canon Press, Wilson's own creation. Canon Press also published the slavery booklet, which was discussed in Part III, and which described the Antebellum South as the most harmonious multiracial society in human history.
4. Of special concern is the fact that Wilson's brother, his son, and his son-in-law are on the college's faculty.
The co-author of the slavery booklet was Steven Wilkins, a founding director of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that encourages 15 states to secede from the union and establish Calvinist theocracies. The Neo-Confederates make much of their belief that Southern culture is ethnically Celtic and that Civil War was a war between Calvinist Caledonians and Unitarian Englishmen. They also identify with contemporary Scottish nationalists who wish to leave the United Kingdom.
Films such Braveheart and Rob Roy are neo-Confederate favorites, but historian Ed Sebesta has shown that the Highlander Rob Roy is more like the Appalachians who fought against the Confederates in the Civil War. Sebesta reports that many scholars find the idea of a Celtic South "nonsense," "sensationalist," "unfounded," and dependent on "flawed researched methods," "questionable reasoning," and unreliable sources.
By naming his college "New St. Andrews," Wilson has a vision that Moscow, Idaho will become an American St. Andrews with a downtown university as well as a cathedral. Indeed, a $900,000 lot at the entrance to Moscow has been bought for just that purpose. I'm certain that the people in the Scotland's St. Andrews would get a chuckle out these fraudulent Presbyterians--Wilson's theology has been rejected by every conservative Presbyterian denomination--attempting to resurrect a Calvinist utopia in the wheat fields of Northern Idaho.
CUT GLASS DOES NOT
CUT IT WITH CONSERVATIVE CALVINISTS
Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church of Moscow, Idaho, calls himself a "crawling-over-cut-glass" Calvinist. Wilson has authored a book entitled The Serrated Edge, but he is much more adept in using this weapon than Jesus allegedly was. Most conservative Calvinists, however, have not been impressed with Wilson's crooked sword. A Salt Lake City congregation of the conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church has criticized Wilson for "false reports," "misrepresentations," and defending himself with "sophistry and word games that should be an embarrassment for elders of a church of Christ."
On June 22, 2002, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States (RPCUS) declared that Wilson's teaching "has the effect of destroying the Reformed Faith through the introduction of false hermeneutic principles; the infusion of sacerdotalism; and the redefinition of the doctrines of the church. . . . We therefore resolve that these teachings are heretical."
The Mississippi Valley Presbytery, a member of the conservative Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), issued a report on Wilson's theology, sometimes called the Federal Vision. Here is their conclusion: "We do believe that many of the positions being advocated by proponents of the [Federal Vision] are confused and confusing, are unbiblical, are contra-confessional, and are (as [Jonathan] Edwards put it) ‘of a pernicious and fatal tendency.' As such, we are ready to declare some of these distinctive teachings to be outside the bounds of acceptable diversity in this presbytery, and we trust also, in the PCA."
Delegates at the June, 2007 PCA annual meeting overwhelmingly rejected Wilson's version of John Calvin's theology. Out of 1,400 delegates in attendance, one observer counted less than fifty votes for Wilson and his associates. Of central concern for the PCA delegates was Wilson's very liberal definition of who is saved. For Wilson one is fully justified and sanctified simply by being baptized in any Christian denomination.
In their book Not Reformed at All John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety offer a thoroughgoing critique of Wilson's theology. They agree with PCA delegates that Wilson's views are fundamentally at odds with the Westminster Confession, the primary Calvinist statement of faith. Robbins and Gerety (hereafter R&G) generally characterize Wilson's writing as containing "a facial glibness and an adolescent smart-aleckness"(17), and they specifically charge him with rational incoherence, eclecticism (i.e., mixing several theologies into one), misinterpreting scripture, neglecting to define basic terms, and false accusation.
In reading Wilson's Reformed is Not Enough one is struck by how liberal he is when defining what it is to be a Christian and how little "cut glass" there is on his road to salvation. Wilson states: "A Christian. . . is anyone who has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by an authorized representative of the Christian church"(19). R&G take the three New Testament passages that Wilson uses to support this doctrine and demonstrate conclusively that they do not support this incredibly broad definition, one that does not even require continued belief in basic Christian doctrines.
Wilson insists that "unbelieving Christians" are still "covenantal Christians"(cited in R&G, 46). To put his opposition to Luther and Calvin in the starkest opposition, Wilson states that "the Bible says that baptism saves"and sides with Roman Catholic theologians in denying that the Bible teaches justification by faith alone (R&G, 82) R&G make the further observation that when Wilson speaks of justification by faith, he does not qualify it with the essential Reformation "alone."
Another basic doctrinal problem is Wilson's talk about corporate souls and collective salvation that is integral to the Federal Vision. This is the sort of theology that would excite a Hindu Vedantist, but not an orthodox Christian. As we have heard so many times from Wilson, democracy (one person/one vote) and individualism are the great errors of modernism and the Enlightenment. Ironically, a federal government is thoroughly evil, but a federal God that destroys personal autonomy is OK.
The Federal Vision means that there are no grounds for an individual coming to God by himself or herself to be born again. Using Wilson's own metaphor, we are no longer individual eggs but all those who have been baptized are an indistinguishable part of God's Great Omelet. R&G (74) note that Wilson completely ignores the organic analogy that pervades the New Testament in which each individual body part maintains its identity in the Body of Christ.
Wilson is not a PCA member and enjoys total immunity in his own Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. However, Peter Leithart, Wilson's right-hand theologian at Moscow's New St. Andrews College, and good friend Steve Wilkins, a founding director of the neo-Confederate League of the South, are PCA members.
In a recent letter to the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, Leithart essentially dares them to discipline him. In 2005, Wilkins survived a heresy trial by his own Louisiana Presbytery, but even in exoneration, Wilkins was warned of his problematic views on the baptism. For a denomination that emphasizes adherence to right religious doctrine rather than good religious practice, excommunication is a real possibility for Leithart and Wilkins. PCA national leaders are now holding the Louisiana Presbytery's feet to the fire for allowing Wilkins to go unpunished.
Wilson and Wilkins co-authored a booklet Southern Slavery As It Was, published by Wilson's own Canon Press in 1996. The authors argued that Bible supported owning slaves and that the Antebellum South was the most harmonious multiracial society in world history. Although not on the official agenda at their June meeting, many PCA members know of the slavery booklet and have condemned it as inconsistent with the PCA's 2004 Pastoral Letter on Racism. Echoing the Southern Baptists' 1995 Racial Reconciliation Resolution, the PCA confessed that its churches participated in "the national sin" of racism and slavery. PCA members have also condemned Wilson's book The Serrated Edge, in which he argues that Jesus himself employed racial epithets.
The title of Wilson's book Reformed is Not Enough also gives away the denominational game. If you read the foreword, Wilson has a rather grandiose plan to reform all of Christianity, including the Reformed denominations. In his early days Wilson had always described himself as a "New Testament Christian," and knowing him as well as I do, I was very surprised that he decided to join a denomination. True to form, he wants to run his own show and that he will not be bound by anyone else's theological limits. This anarchic personality is what made him such an interesting philosophy student at the University of Idaho in the 1970s.
PATRIARCHY, POSSESSION, AND SLAVERY
We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless; and no calamity can befall them greater than the loss of that protection they enjoy under this patriarchal system.
--Calvinist Benjamin M. Palmer, "Thanksgiving Sermon," November 29, 1860
The plain solution of the matter is, slavery may not be the beau ideal of the social organization; that there is a true evil in the necessity for it, but that this evil is not slavery, but the ignorance and vice in the laboring classes, of which slavery is the useful and righteous remedy.
--Calvinist R. L. Dabney, A Defense of Virginia, p. 207.
In this part I will show that Wilson's support for slavery is intimately connected with other writings that affirm male superiority, hierarchy, and inequality. The top males in history have found it natural to assert their authority not only over males deemed inferior to themselves (note that Dabney includes non-Africans), but also their wives and daughters.
Slavery and sexism are as old as human history, but institutionalized racism, i.e., discrimination on the basis of skin color is a very recent phenomenon. For the most part the ancient world was color blind: people were not barred from worship, work, or marriage because of the color of their skin. Therefore, Doug Jones, Wilson's theological colleague, is quite correct in arguing that the Bible is not racist in any way, starting with Moses' black wife and the Ethiopian Christian asking about the servant songs of Isaiah.
In the ancient world the most common way of becoming enslaved was to be captured in battle or to be kidnapped by slavers. In his Politics Aristotle rejected this view because it made slavery contingent and conventional, rather than a natural state of some people. Aristotle argued that only Greeks possessed souls rational enough to govern themselves wisely, and that non-Greeks should therefore submit themselves to the rule of superior men. Unfortunately, Greek women suffered the same fate as the barbarians in being rationally deficient and suitable only for the bearing of children.
Aristotle reconfirmed an ancient tradition that saw the woman's role in reproduction as purely passive. The womb was simply a vessel for the nourishment of the male seed. Some ancient authorities thought that fetuses were miniatures (homunculi) of their fathers, and females were explained as the result of defective development in the womb. (Darn, it's always the woman's fault!) In ancient India, arguments about the true parent centered solely on the "father of the seed" versus the "father of the mother." The ancients could be excused for not knowing of the female ovum, but this complete demotion of the mother is unforgivable.
For over two thousand years Aristotle's authority (or reasoning similar to his) was used to defend slavery and the subjugation of women. In Christian England before the Norman Conquest, a father could sell his own children as slaves if they were under seven years of age, and he could lawfully kill any of his children "who had not yet tasted food." In the following centuries, abortions were only allowed until the fetus "quickened" in the womb, but in the 17th Century judges such as Sir Edward Coke maintained that the fetus was not a person until it was born alive, a view also held by the ancient Jews.
English philosopher John Locke, who himself was involved in the slave trade, promoted this idea of private property: if a person mixes his labor with the fruits of the earth then the product is his property. (Oddly enough, Locke's slaves could have claimed a lot of property by this theory!) Locke also applied this principle to God and his creations: human beings are "a work of God, they remain always not only God's servant but forever God's property." R. J. Rushdoony, a popular theologian at New St. Andrews College, agrees with Locke and declares that God the Creator is the "absolute property owner," and he adds that "Scripture tells us that we are God's property by virtue of creation, and doubly His possession by recreation, so that we are not our own."
With God as the primary owner, an earthly hierarchy was established. Kings ruled and owned their subjects with divine sanction. Feudal lords derived their authority from the king, including the right, dramatically portrayed in the movie Braveheart, to have any woman in his domain. Lower down the hierarchy, the father exerted the same authority over his wife, children, and slaves, if he owned any. Some evangelicals appear to be taking Paul quite literally when he said that man "is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man" (1 Cor. 11:7), especially if the political meaning of "image of God" is favored.
Locke's position is terribly ironic given the fact that he is seen as one of the founding thinkers of classical liberalism, the view that we are free and autonomous agents who govern ourselves by means of representative government. Here I am reminded of a poster which announced a talk, sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ, entitled "Whose am I?" This was obviously an evangelical Christian response to the humanistic questions of "Who am I?" and "Where should I take my life?" as opposed "what does God have planned for me, his obedient servant?"
Traditional Christian ownership is explicit with regard to slaves but implicit with regard to women. Wilson's opposition to feminism is more radical than most people would think. Extended to society as a whole, his doctrine of the "federal" husband would deny women the right to vote, not only in their churches, but also anywhere else. Following the ancient view, the patriarch rules his household and owns everything in it. (A rebellious wife, God forbid, might cancel out her husband's vote!) We still say, but don't take seriously, that the father "gives away" his daughter at her wedding. Wilson's return to the rules of courtship, where a daughter cannot date without the permission of her father, is a strong reaffirmation of the absolute power of the patriarch.
Sometimes this power goes to the patriarchs' heads and they become spiritual Titans. I define spiritual Titanism as an extreme form of humanism in which humans take on divine attributes and prerogatives. Here is a sample of the claims that Wilson and Steve Wilkins make in their slavery booklet: "By the time of the [Civil] War, the leadership of the South was conservative, orthodox, and Christian. By contrast, the leadership of the North was radical and Unitarian." In contrast to the righteous Confederates, the abolitionists in the North were "wicked" and were "driven by a zealous hatred for the Word of God."
For Calvinists Wilson and Wilkins who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, they should be the last ones to take divine judgment into their own hands. Only God chooses who the true Christians are where the wicked live. After hearing a person's "witness," many conservative Christian ministers decide whether or not he or she is truly a Christian. These pastors are following in the footsteps of Jerry Falwell who once declared that God does not answer the prayers of Jews. Again this is surely for God alone to decide, not mere sinful mortals.
When we promote a "liberal" arts education and celebrate the spread of "liberal" democracies throughout the world, we are using the word "liberal" (Latin: liberalis) in its original meaning: "pertaining to the free person." In feudal Europe there was a distinction between the "the free born ones" (liberi) and those "born to serve" (servi). Classical liberalism is defined as the political revolution, inspired by Enlightenment philosophers such as Locke and Jefferson, that was committed to eliminating the distinction between lords and serfs forever. In addition to equal, inalienable rights and representative government, classical liberalism also initiated free market capitalism.
Most of the political debate in liberal democracies happens within the house of classical liberalism. Liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, and Libertarians all embrace the values of classical liberalism. Slightly revising the motto of the French Revolution, one might say that the Libertarian emphasizes liberty, the liberal Democrat focuses on equality, and many conservative Republicans value community, but each holds the other two values dear as well.
When I used to introduce classical liberalism in my ethics classes, I always called for a show of hands of those who believed in human inequality and the divine right of kings. In my twenty years of teaching ethics I never saw a hand raised for classical conservatism. Furthermore, very few hands went up when I asked them if women should not have equal political and economic rights, the dictionary definition of feminism. Most of us, then, are liberals in the classical sense.
But there are some classical conservatives among us, and there are still some who believe in hierarchy, inequality, and the right of top males to rule their homes and the world. R. L. Dabney, one of Wilson's favorite Calvinist theologian, declares that God created humans with different natures so that "the inferior is shielded in his right to his smaller franchise," so that the superior may enjoy "his larger powers." Harold Brown of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School states it most bluntly: "Only God has rights. We have duties."
 See my article "The Color of Sin/The Color of Skin: Ancient Color Blindness and the Philosophical Origins of Modern Racism," Journal of Religious Thought 46:1 (Summer-Fall, 1989), pp. 42-52.
 Douglas Jones, The Biblical Offense of Racism (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1996).
 Dharmasutra of Vasistha in Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 17.6-9.
 Quoted in Lee E. Teitelbaum and Leslie J. Harris, "Some Historical Perspectives on Governmental Regulation of Children and Parents" In Beyond Control: Status Offenders in the Juvenile Court, eds. Teitelbaum and Aidan Gough (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1977), p. 2.
 See Cyril C. Means, "The Law of New York Concerning Abortion and the Status of the Fetus, 1664-1968," New York Law Forum 14 (1968), p. 420; David Feldman, Birth Control in Jewish Law (New York: New York University Press, 1968), p. 255.
 Quoted in John W. Yolton, John Locke: Problems and Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 6.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Secular Humanism: Man Striving to be God (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1980), p. 14.
 See Barry Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), p. 60-61, where inscriptional evidence demonstrates that "likeness and image of God" meant that the king had a divine right to rule.
 Douglas Wilson, Federal Husband (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999).
 Douglas and Nancy Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1997).
 See my Spiritual Titanism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000).
 Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins, Southern Slavery, As It Was (Moscow: Canon Press, 1996), p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 R. L. Dabney,"Anti-Biblical Theories of Rights," Presbyterian Quarterly (July, 1888).
 From private correspondence.