We Need More Free Speech
By Bill London 

Doug Wilson has retreated. 

Wilson, the pastor of Moscow’s Christ Church, has backed away from the inflammatory conclusions in the now infamous book, “Southern Slavery: As It Was,” that he co-authored with Steve Wilkins. 

Faced with the community response to their untenable position that slavery is both Biblically justified and ethically acceptable, Wilson and other Christ Church elders have hastily explained that their pronouncements had been misunderstood.  They did not acknowledge the error or the insult felt by African Americans and others.  However, Wilson did change his message.  He agreed that slavery was, in fact, evil. 

          The conversion that we have witnessed here on the Palouse in the last few months is an impressive lesson in the power of community and the effect of free speech.  But the work is not over yet.

          A second element in Wilson’s defense of slavery is the partnership between Wilson and Wilkins.  Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana, and a founding director of the League of the South, is a leader in the Neo-Confederate movement. 

          Those who follow the radical right, like Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, describe the Neo-Confederates as an “active hate group” of Christian Nationalists.  Like the Taliban, the goal of the Neo-Confederates is the creation of a theocratic state, a government controlled by religious leaders that imposes its version of strict Biblical laws on everyone.

          Wilkins and Wilson have been working together for a decade.   They have sponsored conferences, spoken at each other’s churches, and made numerous presentations nationwide on this and related topics.  Their growing drift toward Neo-Confederate politics and unorthodox religious views has worried church leaders as well.

          The Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, for example, accuses Wilkins and Wilson of heresy.  A resolution posted at that website, dated June 22, 2002, calls upon their churches to “institute judicial processes” against them, “removing them from the communion of the church should they not repent.”

          Being booted from the Presbyterian Church is no big deal for Wilson, who has created his own denomination. But for Wilkins, a Presbyterian minister, this heresy charge is more problematic.

          And therein lies the danger for the Palouse.  If Wilkins is driven, or jumps, into Wilson’s denomination, or builds stronger institutional ties between their churches, Moscow will be another haven for the Neo-Confederate movement. 

For Wilson, the benefits of that alliance are obvious: more money and more power.  He has already built a religious and educational network that now includes the church, the K-12 school, the college, and the publishing company, as well as the accrediting organizations to justify it all.  Closer ties to the Neo-Confederates will mean access to more donors, more prospective students, and more potential church members wanting to move here. 

          And striking a deal with the Neo-Confederates is not much of a problem, philosophically, for Wilson.  Both movements share very similar views.  For example, in their book “Angels in the Architecture,” Wilson and co-author Doug Jones proclaim that their ideal society was medieval Europe.  They also describe the Confederacy as the last true Christian nation.

          The Neo-Confederates and Wilson are committed to creating a new religious and social order that institutionalizes their moral code as law and eliminates rights for gays, women, and those who disagree with the established hierarchy.  In sum, they both want to establish a new medieval empire.  Here.

          How can the Palouse say no to the Neo-Confederates?  With education and with more free speech.

          You can learn more about the Neo-Confederate movement at a local website (http://www.tomandrodna.com/notonthepalouse/) that also links to an essay by two UI historians responding to the inaccuracies of the Wilson/Wilkins slavery book (Adobe Acrobat Reader required).   In addition, at the same website, you can sign the on-line version of the “Not in Our Town” petition (or you can sign the paper version at BookPeople in Moscow).  

          In February, Christ Church is sponsoring a conference at the University of Idaho.  The featured speakers include both Wilson and Wilkins.  A variety of protests and educational forums are planned with the goal of convincing the Neo-Confederates that the Palouse will not be their next conquest.

          Christ Church has prepared fertile ground here in Idaho for the transplanting of Neo-Confederate ideology.  Whether this community welcomes this Neo-Confederate influence remains to be seen.

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