Douglas Wilson, Southern Presbyterians, and Neo-Confederates
Nick Gier printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 07:15:49 PM EST
This is the third installment in my series on Wilson's religious empire.  The first was "The Seeds are Sown for Moscow's Culture War," and the second "No Burning at the Stake in Moscow's Friendship Square." A full inventory of Wilson's empire is found in the first installment.

by Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho

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.  All but one of Wilson's two dozen 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 incredible 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 issued, 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 he 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).

is Wilkins Auburn Avenue Presbyterian affiliated?  The PCA?  How widespread is the influence of the LOS in southern Presbyterian churches?

by Rusty Pipes on Sat Jan 12, 2008 at 07:45:42 PM EST
Wilkins church is or at least was, affiliated with PCA.

Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, had a long article about the LOS, Wilkins and the PCA awhile back. I am not sure if Wilkins et al are still part of it, or if the issue of "federal" theology has caused a schism.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 02:46:57 PM EST

Just a small correction.  Wilson's Christ Church and all of its clones are affiliated with Wilson's own Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches.  The PCA would definitely not have them.

by Nick Gier on Thu Jan 17, 2008 at 12:51:28 PM EST

Wilkins' church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, but last year he cleared by the Louisiana PCA Prebytery of heresy charges, but now they are under investigation by the national PCA for letting him go.  At their national meeting in June the "Federal Vision" of Wilson and Wilkins was rejected as incompatible with the Westminster Confession.  I will write an installment on this topic later.

by Nick Gier on Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 02:25:41 AM EST

I have always been a fan of Douglas, for his wit and charm. Last night only, I was reading about him on https:/ His patrons really seem to love his initiative as a confederate and for obvious reasons!

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