Political Families: A Call For Stories

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Grufnik.

By Shade Ardent.

Political rallies, large families, these are things that often seem to go together.

The homeschooling movement has been one that has been involved in politics from almost the beginning. From Reconstructionism to Calvinism, and other ideologies, politics find a home amongst homeschoolers. Even homeschooling itself has been seen as a political statement. Many homeschooling families see the state as their enemy, bent on taking away their rights. Homeschooling conventions are frequently filled with Reconstructionist, Calvinist, or other politically active speakers, so that even the politically neutral families are exposed to rhetoric.

So it is a natural step that parents move from homeschooling as a political commentary to supporting candidates and political platforms as a family, organizing and attending rallies or protests, or taking part in other forms of political activism. As children, we had little to no say in our involvement in these political activities.

Was your family active politically? What types of political activities did your family participate in? How did it impact you personally and politically? Did you agree with your parents politically? Were you an active participant? How did you feel about what you were told to do? Then? Now?

We would like to hear your stories.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly. Please let us know your preference when you contact us.

*Deadline for “Political Families” submissions: Monday, July 11, 2016.*

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

Building God’s Kingdom: A Book Review

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Here’s the overwhelming difficulty one faces when talking about Christian Reconstructionism (CR):

Most people have never heard of it.

Those who have are usually divided between worried liberals and ignorant conservatives who think it means theocracy. And when they envision theocracy, they’re thinking about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale brought to life.

Worried liberals see CR everywhere in the Religious Right, prompting them to believe a secret, cohesive group of Christian extremists are engineering a theocratic revolution at this very moment. The ignorant conservatives think the worried liberals are tilting after windmills of their own religion-hating, secular imagination. And while both the liberals and the conservatives are wrong in their own ways, it is — ironically — the conservatives who are more wrong.

Published by Oxford University Press this year, Julie J. Ingersoll’s book Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction is a clarion call to both worried liberals as well as ignorant conservatives to more accurately understand the nature of CR. By more accurately understanding that nature, both groups of people can hopefully better grasp how to respond. And by respond, I mean the same thing for both groups of people: how to properly challenge the ways in which CR has infiltrated popular society and is slowly eroding the healthfulness and vibrancy of American Christianity and the American political system. I believe the task of making that challenge belongs to both liberals and conservatives alike.

Ingersoll is a scholar. She earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California Santa Barbara and is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. However, she is also a former insider of CR. She was married to Mark Thoburn, son of Bob Thoburn, a prominent Reconstructionist within the Christian schooling movement who founded Fairfax Christian School.[i] Her “insider” status does not lead her to histrionics against a movement she left, as conservatives might fear. Nor does her “insider” status lead her to play up potentially “juicy secrets” of the movement, as liberals might hope. Rather, she uses her intimate, personal knowledge of the movement to buttress her impressive academic skills. She combines the level-headedness of a scholar and the precision possessed by only someone who grew up in a insular subculture could have.

"Building God's Kingdom" pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism.
“Building God’s Kingdom” pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism.

Ingersoll describes CR as “more a school of thought than an organization (or society)”.[ii] Originally fashioned by Reformed theologian R.J. Rushdoony, CR targets “secular humanism” as the biggest threat to contemporary Christianity. To do so, it posits three core beliefs: “presuppositionalism, postmillennialism, and theonomy.”[iii] Presuppositionalism argues that knowledge about anything – whether it is science or history or educational pedagogy — must either begin with the Bible or be damned as “secular humanism.” Throughout her book, Ingersoll traces presuppositionalism’s either/or emphasis and how it has led to “the all-or-nothing character of contemporary American conservatism.”[iv] Postmillennialism is the belief that “the Kingdom of God is a present, earthly reality.”[v] Christians are supposed to work towards creating Heaven on Earth, which will eventually materialize as God sanctifies more and more people. Finally, theonomy is the belief that Mosaic laws are applicable to modern society and binding on Christians. Ingersoll cites CR advocate Greg Bahnsen, who says, “We must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth.”[vi]

What I would argue is the consistent and reoccurring theme of Building God’s Kingdom is that both liberals and conservatives have misinterpreted and thus misunderstood the overwhelming influence CR has had on 21st century American Christian conservatism. “Both the alarmists and their critics misunderstand the influence of the Reconstructionists,” she writes. “Their influence is subtle, implicit, and hidden.”[vii] This is often intentionally so, Ingersoll argues: “Reconstructionists often argue in favor of bringing about these changes in ways that won’t be recognized by the rest of us for what they are. They call it ‘being wise as serpents.’”[viii]

Reconstructionists have been wildly successful in their efforts. “Little slivers of Rushdoony’s work seem to be everywhere,”[ix] Ingersoll says. She highlights how CR ideas, which run counter to so much of the ideological foundations of other conservative and fundamentalist Christians, have infiltrated those conservative and fundamentalist cultures so thoroughly that the foundations of the CR ideas have replaced those other subcultures’ foundations, even when the ideas themselves are either rejected or unknown. That infiltration is deliberate and intentional by means of the CR pioneering of the Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling movements: “Reconstructionist ideas made their way into evangelical and fundamentalist churches through study guides and Christian school (and later homeschool) curriculum, giving rise to an integrated worldview and a distinct subculture.”[x]

Most of Ingersoll’s book is dedicated to the task of tracing Reconstructionist ideas and how they fed into those movements. The depth and breadth of that influence surprised even me, who grew up in the Christian homeschooling movement. Ingersoll shows how Rushdoony and his many influential followers shaped the very contours of the Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling movements; how he aided young earth creationism in becoming the biblical (and only biblical) perspective of Creation within those worlds; how his ideas about providential history inspired Marshall Foster and David Barton; and how his ideas about patriarchy and multigenerational faithfulness undergird the ideologies of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. But even more astonishing, at least to me, is that the very language that conservative Christians use today — language about “religious freedom,” “parental rights,” and “government schools” is evidence of CR’s influence.

Julie Ingersoll is a former insider of Christian Reconstructionism.
Julie Ingersoll is a former insider of Christian Reconstructionism.

One element that I felt was missing in Ingersoll’s book is a presentation of orthodox Christianity by which one could compare and contrast Christian Reconstructionism. For example, Ingersoll makes salient the fact that Christian Reconstructionists believe parents (and only parents) are the rightful teachers of their children. For parents to give the role of teaching their children to anyone else is a sin. Rushdoony promoted replacing the phrase “public school” with the “government school,” and everyone from HSLDA to the National Center for Life and Liberty to Fox News to John Stonestreet now uses the latter. The phrase itself is loaded with Rushdoony’s belief that any and every government school system is tyrannical because it usurps the rightful authority (and God-given obligation) of parents to educate their children. Hence why people like the late Chris Klicka of HSLDA said parents who put their children in public school “sacrifice their children,” comparing such parents to Israelites in Ezekiel 16:20-21 who “slaughtered [their] children” by fire[xi]; or why people like Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute argue that Christians putting their children in public school is “antithetical to Biblical teaching.”[xii]

I think it would have been helpful to contrast this extremist position with the history of Christian thought. This would help readers understand that the CR position is a severe departure from not only Christian beliefs on education in general, but specifically even Reformed beliefs on education. For example, it is Martin Luther, Reformer par excellence (and not Protestant homeschoolers’ favorite target Adolf Hitler) who is the genesis of the public education system.[xiii] Indeed, Luther believed that “when the natural parents prevent able youngsters from pursuing an education,” “the interests of the state [are] superior to the rights of the parents.”[xiv] The other grandfather of the Reformed tradition, John Calvin, also believed in a centralized education system.[xv] And the Prussian education system, which is blamed by homeschoolers for the American public school system as much as Hitler is blamed, was inspired by A.H. Francke, a Lutheran Christian.[xvi] Francke, in turn, was a significant influence on the Puritan Cotton Mather, also a CR favorite — who was, incidentally, also an outspoken advocate of government involvement in education.[xvii]

Another example is when Ingersoll says that an important characteristic of Christian Reconstructionism is sphere sovereignty. Ingersoll describes CR’s idea of sphere sovereignty in the following manner: “Biblical authority is God’s authority delegated to humans, who exercise dominion under God’s law in three distinct God-ordained institutions: the family, the church, and the civil government.”[xviii] The fact is, sphere sovereignty transcends CR. One could argue that Jesus himself established some species of sphere sovereignty when he declared, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”[xix] But not everyone knows this. So someone less versed in Christian history might think that any belief in sphere sovereignty indicates adherence to CR.

This isn’t merely an academic concern. For people interested in challenging CR and its widespread influences, it is vitally important to be able to pinpoint exactly where and how CR departs from orthodox Christianity. One example of this is how CR advocates sphere sovereignty: by means of a new wave of “church courts.” Ingersoll writes that, “Rather than take their troubles to civil court, church members bring them before ruling elders who have authority to issue punishments, demand repentance and restitution, and threaten excommunication.” This is not an insignificant phenomenon: “Some 10-15 percent of American Protestant churches, and churches associated with Vision Forum, now follow this model.”[xx] Ingersoll cites Rushdoony’s vision of church courts: “To go outside the family is to deny the family and break it up. When a husband and wife, or parents and children, or brother against brother, go to an outside court, the family life and government is in most cases dissolved or at least shattered… The Christian denies the reality and power of the Kingdom of God if he seeks justice outside the Kingdom.” Ingersoll illuminates how this “church court” system was used by Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips to make it difficult for his abuse victim, Lourdes Torres Manteufel, to seek justice.[xxi]

One very real, very present threat of CR is, then, that its interpretation of sphere sovereignty directly threatens the well-being of child abuse and domestic violence survivors trapped within churches with these revisionist church courts. We have seen recently, time and time again, how churches that try to handle child abuse and domestic violence cases “in house” further traumatize and terrorize victims and survivors. Peter Leithart, a Christian Reconstructionist[xxii] who severely mishandled a child abuse case within his own church[xxiii] (and recently apologized for that mishandling[xxiv]), continues to call church courts “highly commendable.” He writes that, “It is better to be defrauded and wronged than to take a brother to court.”[xxv]

Being able to articulate the way in which CR has taken an orthodox Christian belief — a belief directly from Jesus, like, say, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” — and transformed that into something like these revisionist church courts is crucial. Because the real threat of CR is not that it believes unorthodox theology. It is that CR applies theology — orthodox or not — in a particular way that hides and fosters child and domestic abuse.

Some of these ideas are tangential to Ingersoll’s purpose for the book, so I understand their omission. But the fact that her book inspired so many thought processes and rabbit trails is, in my mind, an indication of its power. Ingersoll’s book is provocative in the best sense and I highly recommend it. It pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism. It urges that we might not know as much about that origin as we thought we did.

Most importantly, Building God’s Kingdom dares to suggest that while conservative Christians were busy straining out the gnat of “secular humanism,” they unknowingly swallowed the far more diseased camel that is Christian Reconstructionism.

*****

Notes

[i] Milton Gaither, International Center for Home Education Research, “BUILDING GOD’S KINGDOM: Christian Reconstruction’s Influence on Homeschooling and More,” September 7, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[ii] Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 238.

[iii] Ibid, p. 236.

[iv] Ibid, p. 242.

[v] Ibid, p. 27.

[vi] Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard, Institute for Christian Economics, 1985, p. 3-4.

[vii] Ingersoll, p. 6.

[viii] Ibid, p. 240.

[ix] Ibid, p. 212.

[x] Ibid, p. 6.

[xi] Chris Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Noble Publishing Associations, 4th printing and revised edition, 1995, p. 104-5.

[xii] Dr. Brian D. Ray, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, “Is Homeschooling Biblical?”, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xiii] Aaron Smith, Mises Institute, “The Cost of Compulsory Education,” June 22, 2011, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xiv] Jane E. Strohl, “The Child in Luther’s Theology: ‘For What Purpose Do We Older Folks Exist, Other Than to Care for…the Young?’”, The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 152.

[xv] Barbara Pitkin, “’The Heritage of the Lord’: Children in the Theology of John Calvin,” The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 179-80.

[xvi] Marcia J. Bunge, “Education and the Child in Eighteenth-Century German Pietism: Perspectives from the Work of A.H. Francke,” The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 249: “Francke’s ideas significantly shaped school reforms and social policies in Prussia. Largely as a result of his influence, wealthy citizens and nobility became interested in the establishment of public schools. And in 1717 Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, who knew and respected Francke, decreed compulsory education for children between the ages of five and twelve and established about two thousand schools, modeling them after Francke’s schools.”

[xvii] Cotton Mather, “The Education of Children,” link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xviii] Ingersoll, p. 41.

[xix] Mark 12:17.

[xx] Ingersoll, p. 160.

[xxi] Ibid, p. 164.

[xxii] See Peter Leithart and Gary Demar, The Reduction of Christianity: Dave Hunt’s Theology of Cultural Surrender, Dominion Press, 1988.

[xxiii] R.L. Stollar, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “The Jamin C. Wight Story: The Other Child Molester in Doug Wilson’s Closet,” September 8, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xxiv] Peter Leithart, public Facebook status, September 15, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xxv] Peter Leithart, First Things, “Before Unbelievers,” September 28, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

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Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Two of this series was originally published on September 30, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

As discussed in a prior post, Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences is hosting the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series. “Ready for Real Life” is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should educate their children. Alongside his wife Victoria, his son Isaac, and his daughters Elizabeth and Anna Sophia, Geoffrey Botkin praises Christian homeschooling as a means of resisting a supposedly overbearing government and striving toward Christ. I purchased access to “Ready for Real Life”, and over the next few weeks, I will post content and commentary from the webinar series.

In webinar #1, “Ready for What?”, Geoffrey Botkin argues that Christian homeschooling is more than just education inside the house. Rather, home education is Biblical education. He acknowledge that homeschooling is demanding on parents, especially mothers, requiring a great deal of time and emotional investment. However, such hardships are worthwhile for the sake of one’s children and country, Geoffrey Botkin claimed.

At the 3:50 mark, he assured homeschooling mothers that their efforts were a declaration of defiance against “political enemies” who despise Christ.

“Did you mommies know that simply keeping your children at home and teaching them that B says ‘buh’ and G says ‘guh’ is such a powerful declaration of freedom and academic integrity that your political enemies — and yes, you have political enemies that hate what you’re doing and and all the powers who hate Jesus Christ are losing sleep over your act of defiance and heroic political will. You mothers really are heroes. We want you to know that!”

Christian homeschooling constitutes some of the most important work for the kingdom of God taking place in the 21st century, he told listeners. Homeschooling families are changing the world by teaching math, language arts, and “real” history, he said (an asserting that made me cackle in light of Botkin’s participation in a revisionist history conference this summer).

At the 5:25 mark, Botkin celebrated Christian homeschooling as a challenge to “all controlling” governments, demonizing the American government alongside Russia and China. 

“Home education is the most effective challenge to every runaway, all-controlling government from Germany to Russia to China — every nation that has surrendered liberty to a national curriculum, and that’s what our country has done.”

Homeschooling is more than a “lifestyle option”, he insisted, but rather serves as a way for parents to lead their children through a “very treacherous battleground”. Christians do not want their children to be pushovers for government or culture, he said, so they must find ways to raise their offspring with wisdom, no matter how “confused” the church becomes on real-life issues.

Geoffrey Botkin told listeners that he wanted his children to face the 21st century with “boldness” and stand tall when “enemies scream at them”.

A Biblical foundation for children’s education, he explained, is a correct attitude toward children. Citing Luke 1:17, he invoked John the Baptist turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children to prepare for the Lord’s arrival as a metaphor for the right parental attitude. Geoffrey Botkin used himself as an example of a father whose heart was turned toward his offspring. Initially, he described himself as a former “bad guy” who was once a “disobedient Marxist” before he embraced Christianity. Now, he has rejected the Marxist vision of social transformation in favor of the fundamentalist Christianity vision of changing cultures through families. When his wife Victoria was pregnancy with their first child, Isaac, God turned his heart to his child, he told listeners.

Next, Victoria Botkin spoke at length about motherhood and homeschooling. At the 15:00 mark, she claimed that our “culture of egotism” has encouraged women to see their children as annoyances and assume that their lives are their own (!).

She casts feminism not as a movement that liberates and values women, but as a negative force alongside materialism.

“We have been raised in a culture of feminism and materialism, and of course, those things have been around a very long time. But our generation, I think, may be unique in that we have been raised in such a culture of egotism. Women have been encouraged to think that the only thing that’s really important is self-fulfillment. We’ve been strongly encouraged to think of our lives as our own. We’ve been encouraged to think of our children as a nuisance.”

Victoria spoke of her life as a mother of young children, when she found it difficult to balance child rearing with other activities. For instance, she loved sewing, but quickly grew annoyed when her children would interrupt her sewing time. After reflecting on Matthew 18:9 (“If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out”), she gave up sewing completely so that she could devote more attention to her children. In another example, she heard another woman holding up Maria from The Sound of Music as a role model because she loved being with children. Victoria liked this idea and wanted to have such a relationship with her own children, but struggled to balance time with her children with household duties such as cleaning and cooking. If she incorporated children into household tasks, he realized, she would not need to take time out away from them.

As Victoria continued, she continued to depict Christian homeschooling and child rearing as a task without rest for mothers. At the 18:29 mark, she explained that full-time motherhood and homeschooling meant no opportunities for recreation or socializing.

“We had a relative visiting, a woman about my age who asked me, ‘Well, do you ever get to do anything YOU want to do?’ Her question stopped me cold, and I knew what she meant. She meant going out shopping with a friend, or going out to lunch and an art exhibit like she did. And for a minute I was tempted to go down the road of self-pity because no, I never did do any of those things. But then, it was like a little voice inside me pointed out that this was a trick question, and all of you who’ve been to public school know what a trick question is. And I realized in reality, I got to do what I wanted to do all the time, and not just once a month or once a week or whatever like she did. I got to do what I wanted to do all the time because I loved being with my children. I loved taking care of them and living with them and learning with them, and it was just exactly what I wanted to do, and I got to do it all the time.”

Quoting Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”), Victoria claimed that when she chose to find delight in her offspring, God made that the desire of her heart.

Victoria Botkin’s commentary troubled me, and not just because of the cognitive dissonance.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the life of a stay-at-home mother, but neglecting all other activities is unhealthy. I love my job, but if I worked in the office from sun-up to sundown seven days a week, I’d be a basketcase. I take great pleasure in gardening, but if I spent every waking moment cultivating my garden without any time set aside for hobbies, volunteering, or a social life, I’d be miserable. Victoria Botkin’s advice is a recipe for burnout, as she fails to recognize the need for balance and rest in mother’s lives.

Victoria elaborated on the content of homeschooling, citing Deuteronomy 6 as a foundational text. Parents not only need to teach children to love God, make disciples, and take dominion of the earth, but also need to teach reading, writing, geography, science, and current events so that they can operate in the world. For instance, homeschooling parents should teach children history so they can see “God’s workings in the affairs of men”, civics so children know how government works versus how it’s “supposed” to work, and media literacy so children recognize how the media “twists” coverage of current events to manipulate viewers.

At the 22:40 mark, she rejected the idea of teaching academic subjects apart from God, insisting that it would render subjects “meaningless”.

“The public schools pretend to teach all these things, but there’s one big difference, and it is a colossal difference. If we are obedient to God’s sacred command to parents in Deuteronomy 6, we will be teaching all these things in light of the sovereign God who made all things and who rules all things by his might forever. And we simply cannot pretend that math, science, or history are secular subjects and they’re neutral. Being taught as kids are in public school that science, math and history were and are random happenings makes them meaningless, and that’s why these are the subjects that were especially boring in public school. Meaningless, random facts aren’t interesting or relevant. As Christians, I believe we need to teach our children to love learning about God’s ways and God’s deeds, and that includes loving to study science, math and so on.”

Children will love what their parents love, Victoria claimed, and thus parents should model a love of learning to their children. If Christians love God, they will long to understand God’s workings in all things, including science and history.

But what if science and history show your children facts that don’t agree with fundamentalist Christianity? What will you do if knowledge leads them to question your fundamentalism? I thought.

Geoffrey Botkin stressed that parents must cultivate correct knowledge about their children. Children are “godly seed”, not pupils or accessories, he argued. The Bible teaches that children are weapons of war, he added, asking listeners if they were truly acting like warriors.

Like other fundamentalist voices, Geoffrey Botkin described children as torchbearers for a fundamentalist agenda.

On the subject of discipline, Geoffrey Botkin insisted on absolute obedience from children. He spoke approvingly of spanking and “the rod”, and discouraged parents from countenancing any form of disobedience from their offspring.

“Discipline is not an option in your home. You have to bring discipline and order to your home. Disobedience is not an option in your home. Children cannot disobey parents, ever, either outwardly or passively. They can’t roll their eyes … We have to be very quick to rebuke them and reprove them in a way that we want. The rod and reprove give wisdom … Did we spank our children? Yes, we did spank our children. And there were times that there were children who were easy to spank, and children that were literally impossible and difficult to spank. And did we want to give up on that? Sure we did. And there were many times when I would come home and I would need to encourage Victoria and say, ‘Honey, were you faithful in obeying the Lord in this? Because when you discipline your children, they will delight your soul, and they haven’t delighted your soul today.'”

Throughout the webinar, the Botkins addressed listener comments. One commenter asked the Botkins how he and his wife could “detox” from the “garbage” they learned in public school. Geoffrey Botkin replied that they must replace their old public school teachings with “Biblical truth”. Public school teachings are part of a larger flawed culture, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We live in a “dirty toxic nation” that is “pagan”, he insisted, lamenting that many Protestant churches have embraced dubious ideas steeped in Greco-Roman thought.

WHICH Greco-Roman ideas? I thought. Greek and Roman thought was not monolithic. Why are you lumping it all together and discarding it?

Geoffrey Botkin’s disdain for Greek and Roman cultural contributions ran deep. Another listener asked about the role of Latin and classical texts in home education, to which Geoffrey Botkin gave a polemical response. At the 56:11 mark, he associated Latin with “pagan” indoctrination, caricaturing classical thought as anthropocentric and monolithic. 

“Latin was basic to the initiation process of pagan or deeply compromised academics to gain control over the training of each generation of Christian leaders in England and America. And it was the kind of thing that we must be careful about because the classics are pagan. Greek and Roman literature and philosophy is pagan. They were based on the premise that man is the total measure of everything, than man’s reason is ultimate. It’s such a toxic thing if our children begin to pick this up and become arrogant.”

In conclusion, the Botkins’ first installment of the “Ready for Real Life” series urged parents to homeschool their children with fundamentalist principles at the forefront. Their webinar placed great importance on parental involvement, the Bible, and studying subjects through a fundamentalist Christian filter.

Several recurring themes became apparent.

  • Children as Torchbearers — Christian homeschooling, for the Botkins, is a deeply political act. Geoffrey and Victoria Botkins saw their Christian homeschooling efforts as a means of raising children for future Christian dominion. Children were compared to weapons and arrows in a quiver, and their home education was intended to produce future Christians who would resist messages from society and the state. 
  • Dominionism — The Botkins repeatedly presented Christian homeschooling as a means by which Christians were to exercise dominion and train the next generation for dominion. Geoffrey Botkin spoke warmly of spoke of the Christian reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, whose books were required reading in the Botkin household. He even celebrated Rushdoony’s Institutes in Biblical Law as a “dinner table reference book” in the family’s conversations about current events. 
  • Christian Patriarchy — The roles that Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin prescribed for parents and children were heavily gendered. Women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers and devote themselves entirely to the education and upbringing of their offspring. Geoffrey Botkin also encouraged mothers to treat their sons like men, not boys, so as to prepare them to be future leaders. Revealingly, he did not say the same about daughters.  
  • Obedience — The Botkins called for children’s absolute obedience to their parents, as well as parents’ absolute obedience to God and the Bible.
  • Disdain with the Outside World — The webinar was riddled with condemnation of the state, public schools, humanism, feminism, alleged “political enemies”, and society in general. Christian homeschooling was presented as a form of resistance to “runaway, all-controlling government”, in keeping with Geoffrey Botkin’s fears of statism. Public schools were denigrated as ungodly learning environments that stuffed students’ minds with “garbage”. “Anyone who went through the American public education system in the last thirty years is not totally ignorant, but mostly ignorant,” Geoffrey Botkin insisted at the 58:25 mark. Society at large was demonized as “dirty” and “pagan”, with Christian dominion as the only true antidote to its ills. In short, the outside world, with its diversity and secularism, was framed as a malevolent force that Christian homeschool families must resist.

Stay tuned for commentary on the rest of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Eight, Closing Thoughts

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Eight, Closing Thoughts

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Eight of this series was originally published on July 18, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

I’ve infiltrated several Religious Right events for Republic of Gilead over the years, but none left me as drained as the History of America Mega-Conference. The fundamentalism and revisionist history pervading the conference was difficult to digest, but it offered me a glimpse into an disquieting homeschooling subculture. Woven through the conference presentations were several common themes:

Dominionism / Christian Reconstructionism — Dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionist thought were everywhere at the History of America Mega-Conference. From presenters who quoted from Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, to merchants who sold Rushdoony’s books, to the banner in the dealer room that read “READ RUSHDOONY”, it was difficult to ignore the affection that organizers held for Christian Reconstructionist writers. To boot, speakers such as Doug Phillips and Marshall Foster attributed Christian principles to America’s foundations, ignoring evidence to the contrary.

Patriarchy — A heavy musk of Christian Patriarchy ideology hung over the conference. All speakers were white men, several spoke harshly of feminism, and some romanticized stereotypical gender roles and family arrangements. Glaringly, most of the historical figures they spoke of were men. The idea that women have played dynamic roles in history, or that female presenters could have brought meaningful content to the conference, was ignored. When the speakers spoke of “men” in history, I don’t think they meant humankind, but rather people with Y chromosomes.

Christianity as Monolithic — It soon became clear that when presenters spoke of Christians, they meant fundamentalist Protestants. In more than one talk, America was celebrated as a “beachhead” for evangelical Christianity throughout history. Anti-Catholic sentiments reared their heads in several talks, suggesting that some speakers did not recognize Catholics as Christians. Moreover, Doug Phillips claimed that the church was silent on political and social issues in the first half of the 20th century, ignoring the rich contributions of Catholic and progressive Protestant Christians during that time.

Sanitization of Christianity in History — Speakers trumpeted real or imagined boons from the spread of Christianity while ignoring violence and oppression committed in Christianity’s name. Whether speakers were ignoring the violence of Iceland’s Christianization, the bloodshed of King Sigurd I’s Crusade, or the ethnocide of the Native Americans, the conference painted a very sanitized picture of Christianity’s role in history.

Distrust of Secular Government — Several speakers, including Doug Phillips and Geoffrey Botkin, condemned the U.S. government for its alleged “statism”. Government programs and social services intended to help the vulnerable were caricatured as the tentacles of a “Messianic” state.

Distrust of the Present and of Mainstream Culture — Speakers repeatedly slammed the modern era and its imagined boogeymen — “statism”, secularism, abortion, feminism, evolution, and same-sex marriage — as fallen and evil. Mainstream culture was caricatured as a corrupting influence from which homeschooling must shield children. At times, Vision Forum’s history conferences hints at a longing to return to the past, a past imagined as more virtuous and Christian.

Children as Torchbearers — Presenters understood children to be transmitters of fundamentalist Christianity unto future generations, and thus concepts such as “generational thinking” often came up. The History of America Mega-Conference was a homeschooling conference, after all, and its revisionist ideas were intended for the curricula of homeschooled children. To boot, children are to be steeped in fundamentalist Christian thought and shielded from mainstream culture, according to Kevin Swanson. Presenters refused to consider how such revisionist education might leave children ill-prepared to integrate into American society, and failed to grasp that some children might reject their fundamentalist upbringing altogether.

At the History of America Mega-Conference, I was exposed to a subculture whose worldview is at odds with modern society. As American society slowly embraces religious pluralism, gender equity, LGBTQ equality, and the paradoxes within its own history, fundamentalist subcultures find themselves out of place in their own country. Since these social upheavals show no signs of abating, will fundamentalists subcultures such as this one retreat even further into their own bubbles? Or will they desperately try to reshape society in their own image by molding the minds of the next generation?

As I listened to workshop after workshop on revisionist history, my heart broke for the children being raised in fundamentalist homeschooling households. The vision of the world they were receiving was incomplete and inaccurate, and I worried about how they would integrate into the larger society as young adults. Would they have the curiosity and will to seek out fresh perspectives and new information, or would they be weighed down by the propaganda of their youth?

As people who recognize the problems with fundamentalism, how do we counter the messages of groups such as Vision Forum? By challenging historical revisionism. By remembering that history encompasses many narratives, not just one. By demanding accuracy in homeschool curricula. By reaching out to current and former homeschoolers and making accurate information available to them. And finally, by educating ourselves on the past and recognizing its impact on the present.

To end on a lighter note, after days of listening to History of America Mega-Conference workshops, I think I’ve earned a beer. Let’s toast to a world free of fundamentalism someday!

Photo courtesy of Ahab at Republic of Gilead.

*****

End of series.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part 7, Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part 7, Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Seven of this series was originally published on July 18, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

The History of America Mega-Conference schedule was packed with workshops that sounded interesting (or disturbing), but I could not observe them all, sadly. Fortunately, a kiosk in the Radisson grand ballroom was selling audio recordings of of keynote speeches and workshops, so I purchased CDs of “The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” and “The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration”. The former painted Norse voyagers as Christians carrying out a Biblical dominion mandate, while the latter imagined the European “discovery” and colonization of the New World as willed by God.

“The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” was presented by Col. John Eidsmoe, the same presenter who delivered “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” workshop. Eidsmoe asked aloud “why men climb mountains” — that is, why they explore. He explained human exploration as a product of two forces: the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, and the great commission to convert the world of Matthew 28:19-20.

Earth has likely been explored many times over through human history. One example of ancient explorers was the Phoenicians, who were genetically and linguistically related to the Hebrews. However, he quickly reminded listeners that the Phoenicians lived under a “totalitarian” god-king and followed a “religion of paganism and fertility and human sacrifice”.

The Phoenicians, Eidsmoe explained, carried out sea expeditions along Africa’s eastern coast, Britain, and possibly North America. To lend plausibility to the latter, Eidsmoe cited the “Mechanicsburg stones” (also known as the Phoenician Stones or Susquehanna Stones) found in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, allegedly with Phoenician writing upon it.

Eidsmoe shared stories of northern Europeans who set sail, reminding listeners that such stories might be fanciful concoctions or actual historical events that were later embellished. He spoke of the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator (St. Bréanainn), an Irish monastic who embarked on an sea journey with fourteen monks in the 6th century. According to Irish legends, he recounted, St. Brendan and his traveling companions found the island of Paradise, discovered an island of monks with magic loaves that prevented aging, faced a volcanic island with demons, and came face to face with Judas Iscariot.

Another northern European traveler that Eidsmoe discussed was Prince Madog, a Welsh “sea king” who allegedly came to the New World. During the Elizabethan era, when England and Spain competed for the New World, English writers used the Madog legend to justify England’s claim to the Americas, Eidsmoe added. Legends also claims that Scottish nobleman Henry Sinclair explored North America in the late 14th century, nearly one hundred years before Christopher Columbus’ arrival.

Many of these examples were fanciful legends — something Eidsmoe admitted — rather than solid historical fact supported by evidence. I wondered why Eidsmoe was citing legends about men who may or may not have come to the Americas, rather than exploring known history.

Eidsmoe noted that Chinese and Muslim civilizations may have also visited the Americas centuries ago. Eidsmoe claimed that Nihad Awad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alleged that Muslim expeditions from Morocco and Iberia may have visited North America centuries ago. However, Eidsmoe quickly dismissed this claim as being based in “political correctness” rather than historical evidence.

The Vikings, Eidsmoe explained, were the first pre-Colombian explorers whose visits to North America had “solid” basis in fact. Before delving into Norse expeditions to the New World, Eidsmoe briefly discussed the Christian conversion efforts of King Olafr and Thangbrandr, neglecting to mention the violence and threats that reportedly accompanied the Christianization of the Norse. (Doug Phillips sanitized Norse Christianization in a similar manner in his July 2nd opening speech.) He quoted Shane Leslie’s writings, which spoke glowingly of Christianity overcoming traditional Norse and Celtic religions.

Eidsmoe celebrated other Christian Norse leaders, including Norweigan King Sigurd I the Jorsalafari (“Jerusalem-farer”), who vowed to lead an army of 10,000 warriors on a Crusade. After sailing around Europe’s coast and battling Moors, King Sigurd I received hospitality from King Baldwin I of Jerusalem upon reaching the Holy Land. During his stay with Baldwin, Sigurd I reportedly vowed to take any Muslim city. After Baldwin encouraged him to conquer Sidon, Sigurd I’s forces took control of the city. Siggurd I’s greatest regret, Eidsmoe claimed, was that he never had the opportunity to directly engage the Turkish fleet in a sea battle.

Eidsmoe depicted the Norweigan Crusade as a swashbuckling adventure, failing to mention the looting and massacres of non-Christians that it entailed. The fig leaf of faith cannot hide the realities of war, slaughter, and looting.

Eidsmoe delved into accounts of Erik the Red and his son, Lief Erikson, who converted to Christianity during a visit with King Olaf. After sharing stories of Norse expeditions to Greenland and New England, as well as violent encounters between Norse voyagers and skraelings (indigenous North Americans), Eidsmoe offered speculation as to why no permanent Norse colonies succeeded.

“Why were these Viking colonies unsuccessful? I’m going to suggest to you why. Because even though they were Christian, they showed no interest in sharing Christ with the natives. They spoke derogatorily about them with a term of derision, skraelings. Sometimes when they came upon Eskimos in Greenland, they simply called them ‘trolls’. In other words, they followed the dominion mandate, but they ignored the great commission.”

I found this theory darkly amusing. First, it ignores the fact that the Norse were intruders on Native American soil, which might explain the lack of interfaith dialogue. Second, it disregards other possible roots of Norse colony failures — disease, difficulties adapting to a new land and climate, lack of critical mass, ongoing hostilities between Norse colonists and Native Americans — in favor of a dominionist Christian narrative. Finally, Eidsmoe’s comment could be interpreted to mean that later European colonists succeeded because they proselytized to the Native Americans, regardless of the conquest and ethnocide it entailed.

Toward the end of his talk, Eidsmoe spoke of the Kensington stone in Minnesota and the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, arguing that these could be remnants of Norse visits to North America. While he did mention that evidence is not fully conclusive, he argued as to why these could plausibly be Norse artifacts from pre-Columbian Nordic visits to North America. He dismissed claims that the Kensington stone is a hoax, apparently eager to show that Norse explorers had an extensive presence in North America.

Eidsmoe’s history of early European travelers wove together history and legends into a decidedly Christian narrative about ancient voyagers and evangelists. In doing so, I feel that he downplayed the violence inherent in that narrative, sugar-coating conquests and crusades as Christian “dominion”. Eidsmoe’s talk, like many others at the History of America Mega-Conference, serves as a reminder of the problems inherent in a narrow view of history.

*****

“The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration” was presented by Marshall Foster, founder of the World History Institute (formerly the Mayflower Institute). Foster began the workshop with a statement about God’s intent for human exploration.

“God, from the beginning of time, has made us adventurers. He has made us explorers, and there really is no age of exploration, there is simply unbelief and belief in the power of God to explore. Depending on the time, depending on the age, there has been an ebb and flow of an understanding of God;s purpose for mankind, and during specific times — that’s why we call it the age of exploration — there was an explosion of exploration and settlement of places around the world. and it took place in the 15th and 16th century, coming out of Europe.”

Exploration and settlement by whom? I thought. Plenty of those places were already explored and settled before Europeans came along. These were stories of European conquest.

A series of events over the centuries brought forth America as we know it, Foster explained. To understand this history, we must go to the root of history, he said. Everything must be seen in context of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is in relationship to God. Everything one needs to know about God and oneself is written in the Bible, he argued, and to the extent that people understand their purpose, they will become “mighty warriors for God” who transform nations.

God created man in his image, and created man and woman together so as to subdue the Earth, Foster said. He assigned Adam the task of naming the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden, thereby structuring the garden with the expectation that Adam would take the “wilderness” and transform it into a “city on the hill”. God designated humans as his “sub-regent of the universe”, making the dominion mandate a godly task. This command was established through families in the Old Testament, he argued, citing Adam and Eve, Noah and his descendants, and Abraham and his descendants. Foster stressed that the Biblical God devised a predestined plan for humanity, not the “god of the Muslims” or the “11,000 gods of the Hindus”. Foster seemed to have ignored the fact that the Quran clearly establishes Allah as the god of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

When we understand this mandate, Foster argued, we can understand the great explorers. He lamented that humans quickly took the dominion mandate too far, with conquerors exercising dominion over other men. Ancient civilizations were plagued by five grave sins: tyranny, human sacrifice, enslavement of both one’s own people and foreigners (empire), the establishment of laws independent of God (autonomy), and persecution of believers.

“Mankind went out and took dominion. The only problem is that men took dominion and they went over what God said. God did not say take dominion over other men, he said take dominion over the plants and the animals. What men figured out through Cain and Abel, and then through the great tyrannies of the ancient world, from the Egyptians to the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Romans, was that you just simply needed to take dominion over other men and then you could make them your slaves. Come up with a false religion, guilt them into obedience to you, and have them build your pyramids, have them build your great tombs called the Seven Wonders of the World. And what you’ve got now is civilization structured on a perverted view of the cultural mandate.”

In making this argument, Foster ignored divinely-sanctioned slavery, patriarchy, conquest, and genocide in the Old Testament, reluctant to admit that the Israelites exercised a “perverted view of the cultural mandate” too.

Foster argued for the supremacy of the Christian faith in history. Rome was an unjust empire, but it now lies in ruins, whereas Christianity has risen from the catacombs to become a major world religion. As proof of its supremacy, Foster claimed that Christianity is the only truly world religion, having spread to multiple continents.

Um, Marshall? Islam and Buddhism would like to have a word with you, I thought.

Christianity allegedly exerted a “civilizing influence” over the ancient world, persuading people to give up their “pagan ways”. He likened ancient Christian evangelists to explorers, spreading Christianity far and wide. In the 15th and 16th centuries, “God put all the pieces together” following the Christianization of Europe, he claimed. Europe had lost its missionary zeal, much like modern America, he argued, and “God was going to shake up the troops”. This alleged shake-up took the form of the “Muslim hordes”, first unleashed in the 7th century, then later surging as the Ottoman Turks. After the Byzantine empire, the “greatest culture of the world”, fell to the Ottomans, many Europeans thought they were facing a “countdown to Armageddon”, he claimed. By frightening Christian Europe and forcing it out of its comfort zone, God was allegedly disciplining Europe and setting the stage for later exploration.

Foster cited Psalm 107, calling it a psalm of exploration that inspired Christopher Columbus. “God is in control of the wave of history,” Foster proclaimed, assuring listeners that God had supremacy over Satan in the world. If one walks with God, God will bless one’s culture, as history demonstrates, Foster asserted.

The travels of Christopher Columbus and other explorers led to the creation of America, Foster reminded the audience. He narrated a history of Columbus’ early life that included a vision to take Christianity abroad.

“[Columbus] goes on to have a vision of what God wants him to do, begins to read the scripture, and his vision is to go to the west and find the Indies, not only to find treasure, but to find a way to reach Jerusalem and take the gospel to the nations.”

Foster shared the story of Columbus’ commission, 1492 voyage, and eventual arrival in the Caribbean. Foster called Columbus a “good man” and a “godly man” while briefly acknowledging that he was a poor governor and witnessed evil take place under his management.

That’s an understatement, I thought. Kidnapping, exploitation, and colonization aren’t exactly the legacy of a “good” man.

However, Foster was quick to demonize the indigenous people that Columbus ruled over as cannibals, likening their alleged cannibalism to modern-day abortion. I wondered if this was intended to soften Columbus’ sins in the eyes of the audience by depicting the colonized Native Americans as monsters.

“The natives were not exactly super-friendly. In their second and third voyage they found the Carib Indians, who created children so that they could string them up, abort them, and eat them for bacon, and so … they were cannibals … This is not unnatural, and I’m not looking down on those Native Americans, because this was a way of life for the Romans, for the Greeks, for most civilizations throughout the world, for the Aztecs, for the Incas, and so when people are found in pagan cultures, they almost always are involved in human sacrifice, and then as Christian cultures become more pagan, what do they do? They go back to that human sacrifice, and there are 58 million babies dead today in America because we have forgotten our vision as a Christian nation.”

Baby bacon? Has Hannibal Lecter heard about this? I thought.

Foster briefly recounted the travels of explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci, Balboa, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon. Foster wove these voyages and their subsequent cultural upheavals into a Christian narrative, arguing that God arranged these events to create a Christian nation.

“Now, those who had a vision for the world, the great commission, the cultural commission had a whole other continent, a wilderness to turn from a wilderness to a city on a hill. And isn’t it interesting that it took five thousand years for the civilized world to discover these continents? You think that maybe providence has set aside for such a time as this for the past four hundred years, the development of the world’s first [inaudible] republic since ancient Israel? Do you think it might be providence that set aside America to be the fountainhead of evangelical Christianity, that creates even to this day 80% of the money that goes for missions in the world? Do you think that even to this day that America is set aside as a land that still can and has represented Christian law to the nations by the fact that our constitution still rises from its base every morning and can be seen and should be understood? Could it be that God has us, at this very moment, as explorers for our day? It’s quite obvious.”

Foster left out many disquieting historical facts from the European colonization of the Americas. First, the Native Americans were erased in Foster’s narrative. The New World was discovered and “civilized” by Europeans, in Foster’s narrative, instead of having been already discovered and settled by the ancestors of the Native Americans. Even more egregiously, Foster ignored the ugly realities of European conquest, colonization, genocide, and ethnocide in favor of a glorious Eurocentric, Christocentric vision. Finally, he shoehorned divine providence into the European colonization of the New World and misrepresented America as a Protestant Christian nation with a “Biblical structure of government”. In doing so, Foster refused to acknowledge that the United States was founded as a secular democratic nation, informed by Enlightenment ideas, and shaped by a religiously diverse populace past and present.

In Foster’s eyes, the European colonization of the New World proved that an “army of compassion” could conquer a land by faith instead of by the sword, ignoring the use of both faith and sword to subjugate indigenous populations. Furthermore, he argued that the history of the Americas showed that a nation could be built on Biblical principles and sola scriptura, ignoring the absence of both concepts in the United States’ founding documents. The fingerprints of God, he argued, are all over the history of the New World.

“God planned the location of the continents, the direction of the sea breezes, the theology of the explorers, all in such a way that America, the America we know, the United States of America, could be developed a few hundred years later.”

In conclusion, Marshall Foster’s account of history was one in which Christian proselytization, exploration, and colonization were all part of a divine plan. By holding up a Eurocentric, Christocentric narrative as the only valid one, Foster effectively erased Native Americans, non-Christians, and non-Protestants from the history of the New World. Foster’s version of history does not force us to wrestle with atrocities of the past, or face the effects of colonization and ethnocide that still linger today. In short, Foster’s history is a shame-free history that absolves us from having to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors.

Stay tuned for closing thoughts on the History of America Mega-Conference.

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Six of this series was originally published on July 10, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

On the evening of Friday, July 5th, attendees gathered in the Radisson’s grand ballroom for prayer, music, and videos. The evening began with a Puritan call-and-response song lead by Doug Phillips, followed by a benediction. Next, the ballroom screens showed short videos on Vision Forum’s latest projects. I distinctly remember the Hazardous Journeys Society, an all-male organization that seeks to explore the world through the lens of conservative Christianity. Hazardous Journeys Society presented itself as an alternative to National Geographic, which has allegedly interpreted the world through the lens of evolution.

After Danny Craig sang “America, America”, several young women performed haunting renditions of traditional American songs on violins and harps. After a mixed sex Civil War Choir performed in historical garb, Doug Phillips delivered a talk entitled “The Meaning of the 20th Century: A Providential and Theological Overview”.

The 20th century ushered in a new era, Phillips began, and to fully understand the 21st century, we need to understand the 20th. On the ballroom screens appeared a collage of 20th century images: Che, Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, a mushroom cloud, Earth from space, and many others.

Phillips recounted his time as a writer for the George Bush administration and a private driver for Billy Graham. While chauffeuring Billy Graham around Washington D.C., Phillips learned about history as Graham pointed out places where he met dignitaries and took part in events. Phillips used this story to explain that the best way to understand history is to study primary documents and meet the people who shaped it.

Phillips shared his version of early 20th century history, beginning with the revivalism of preachers such as Billie Sunday. However, the century would prove to be one of “God-hating nihilism” and genocide”, he said. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, he claimed, the church was silent and withdrawn from public debate.

Huh? I thought. That’s not what I remember from my college history classes.

Phillips had apparently forgotten Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker movement, the social gospel movement, Quadragesimo Anno, American preachers’ condemnation of Nazism, regional church roles in Europe’s anti-Nazi resistance movements, and countless other voices among the world’s Christians. If by “the church”, Phillips meant the global body of Christians, then “the church” was anything but silent in the early 20th century.

Phillips claimed that the 20th century church wasn’t prepared to deal with genocide and the Holocaust. For this reason, abortion and birth control have now spread through Christendom, he lamented. One third of the people who could have been at the conference that night were “killed by their parents” thanks to abortion, he fumed.

In effect, the 20th century forgot God and turned against him, Phillips told listeners. He depicted the 20th century as an era that saw the rise of “rationalism” and the rejection of God as a higher authority. Enlightenment thinking had given rise to 19th century movements such as Marxism, feminism, socialism, and evolutionism. Then, despite the “restraining” influences of the British Empire and the Christian Queen Victoria, the 19th century’s “compromises” produced the 20th century, he argued.

Phillips held considerable scorn for Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger. Freud introduced people to psychology, and today, every single branch of psychology is saturated with “anti-God” ideas and “evolutionary scientism”, he claimed. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he blasted Margaret Sanger as possibly the most dangerous person of the 20th century, more dangerous than Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Satan seeks to foment racist extermination efforts, convince people to see babies as dangers to be eliminated, and make parents hate their children, he claimed, seeking to literally and figuratively demonize Sanger. Phillips accused Sanger of embracing eugenics, branding her “the killer angel” who spawned the modern abortion movement and allegedly fueled the ideology of Hitler and Stalin. “The death count is in the billions!” he grieved.

Belief in the state-as-God gave rise to 20th century totalitarian leaders and their genocides, Phillips claimed, pointing to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and Japanese atrocities during World War II. A century of supposed enlightenment produced barbarism, thus showing the failure of societies that reject Christ. (Phillips conveniently forgot that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology, and that earlier Christian anti-Semitism set the stage for Nazi racial policy.)

However, Phillips assured the audience that God uses such horrors as part of a larger plan. One of those who fled the Armenial genocide was Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, for example. Amidst the events of World War II, the hand of God was upon Winston Churchill, he claimed, who was used for a “godly” purpose. Phillips described Churchill as an “indefatigable” and “indomitable” man who stood up against evil.

Tell that to Dresden. And Poland, I thought. Wasn’t Churchill allied with Stalin, that tyrant you condemned a few minutes ago? The problem with seeing the “hand of God” on political leaders is that it makes it difficult to acknowledge their morally ambiguous choices. I realize that Churchill fought the Nazi regime — a noble and necessary task — and had a net positive impact on the world. However, I also believe that lionizing political leaders as “godly” is highly problematic.

Phillips blasted 20th century “statism”, condemning Roosevelt’s New Deal as a means of making government a “parent” and overriding the family and church. He similarly slammed Johnson’s Great Society programs as “leftist propaganda” that funded abortion and feminist movements.

Predictably, Phillips seethed at the thought of feminism, which began with Eve and exploded in the 20th century, he claimed. He was particularly livid at the thought of women working outside the home. For six thousand years, he insisted, children were raised in the home by mothers, but 20th century women working outside the home changed that. (Actually, women have been working outside the home for centuries. Slaves of both sexes were hired out to work outside the home in Roman times. Plenty of women worked in factories and textile mills in the 19th century. This is not a new phenomenon.)

Decade by decade, the U.S. plummeted into confusion, he explained. He tried unsuccessfully to bring up an image on the ballroom screens, then told listeners that the picture was of the size of babies who never made it into the world. When we reflect on Hitler, we should also reflect on the “abortuary” down the street, he instructed the audience. Phillips lamented the current state of the church, disgusted that even Christian women were having abortions.

Phillips did not want to end on an ominous note, however. He celebrated Christian publishing, apologetics, teachers who have inspired “men of action”, and preaching that creates “warriors for God”. He also held warm sentiments for the Christian homeschool movement, which sprang from the 20th century’s apologetics and activism, he said. The 20th and 21st centuries are times of antithesis, Phillips preached, a time of abortion, evolution, and totalitarianism versus you, versus people who want Christ to be king in their home. The task before Christians, thus, is to choose between death or life, Phillips concluded.

Phillips’ talk was laden with the usual Religious Right chestnuts: abortion and the Holocaust as morally equivalent, disdain for feminism, and historically inaccurate caricatures of prominent figures. Behind the chestnuts, however, was a glimpse at how the Religious Right views the present. For right-wing Christians such as Phillips, the present is a time of barbarism and delusion, which Christians must struggle against. This distrust of the present era and refusal to recognize complexity and nuance in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals a great deal about the Religious Right mind.

More to come soon on Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference. Stay tuned!

*****

To be continued.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Five, Messiah States and Mega-Houses

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Five, Messiah States and Mega-Houses

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Five of this series was originally published on July 9, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

On Friday, July 5th, I observed an afternoon workshop entitled “The Rise of the Messiah State: From Wilson to Johnson”. Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences delivered a talk on the supposed ills of social safety nets and the evolution of the so-called “Messiah state”. Botkin, a long-time ally of Vision Forum, has a controversial history with Great Commission Ministries, according to commentaries at Under Much Grace (see here and here).

At the start of his workshop, Botkin explained to his audience that a major challenge is to communicate how society should be organized to a culture unused to thinking theologically. “All history is theological,” he insisted, echoing the sentiments of other speakers at the conference.

Botkin complained that the U.S. is comfortable with a “Messianic state” now. Quoting Christian Reconstructionist thinker Gary North, he claimed that the “welfare state” died when the Roman Empire fell in 400 AD, but reemerged in the 20th century. From 1913 to 1973 — from the Wilson administration to the Johnson administration — America’s social order changed theologically to a “welfare-warfare state with fiscal and moral deficits of crushing … consequences,” Botkin claimed.

Botkin understood the state, church, and family to be God-created institutions, each with their own sphere of influence. However, the modern American state is so divorced from God’s will that its power to do good has decreased, he said. Over the span of a few decades, “the power of the state to do evil” allegedly grew.

Botkin shared quotes from Christian Reconstructionist authors on the alleged evils of an overbearing state. One quote from Gary North claimed that the “welfare state” is defended as a network of social safety nets, in which business profits are seen as a tax base for the welfare state. Another quote from R. J. Rushdoony caricatured humanists as revering the state as their lord and savior. Revealingly, Botkin’s presentation shared another quote from Rushdoony which accused society of succumbing to the “heresy of democracy”. In Botkin’s eyes, “statists” cannot revere God because they revere the state instead.

“Messianic statism”, as Botkin defined it, is an organization of men who provide answers to all of humanity’s problems through reorganization of society under the scientific/secular/socialist state, rather than Christ. The state, in effect, replaced God in people’s minds, he explained. Changing, man-made laws result in society’s “moral dissipation”, he claimed, making the state a “maternalistic necessity”. As a result of Messianic statism, men become “emasculated”, unable to take responsibility in their lives, Botkins claimed. A cycle of dependency emerges, where the more men descend into moral dissipation, the more they need a “nanny” or “mommy” state to care for them.

Emasculation? “Maternalistic necessity”? Mommy states? Someone has masculinity issues, I thought.

Tastelessly, Botkins used natural disasters as an example of dependency on the state. When a hurricane causes devastation, everyone whines “Where is my Messianic state!?”, he sneered. His utter callousness to the suffering of disaster victims and disdain for any safety net to help them recover startled me.

Botkins proceeded to caricature the policies of U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon B. Johnson. He reserved special animosity for income taxes, Social Security, the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, and public education, which he derided as “free babysitting”.

His diatribe was peppered with fundamentalist commentary and disgust for real or perceived immorality. For instance, he described Woodrow Wilson as an agent of “totalitarian experimentation” who did not trust the authority of scripture. He defended Warren G. Harding as a president striving for normalcy in a country destabilized by jazz music, movies, and prostitution. He spoke approvingly of the Hays Code, claiming that it prevented entertainment from undermining society, as it allegedly does now. Tellingly, he painted women’s organizations lobbying for pensions for mothers and widows during the Coolidge administration as “less productive” people seeking to exploit the system by looking for handouts.

In his conclusion, Botkin likened the Messianic state to ancient god-kings and notions of divine kingship. He shared a quote from R. J. Rushdoony likening state worship to Moloch worship, calling both examples of “political religion”. Like the ancient god Moloch, the Messianic state demands total sacrifice from its subjects, he warned the audience.

I don’t think Botkin grasps the purpose of social services or a social safety net. Such measures are not the sinister tentacles of a “Messianic state”, but a means by which governments and communities help people in need. The mark of a civilized society is its willingness to help its most vulnerable members gain self-sufficiency. Frankly, I do not want to return to a society where the downtrodden are without recourse. A country without a social safety net, with charities in the place of fair programs, would have a devastating impact on the populace, as S. E. Smith recently observed. The callousness with which Botkin demonized the U.S. social safety net struck me as cold-hearted.

I also found Botkins’ workshop highly ironic. A man trumpeting Christ and scripture while ignoring Jesus’ teachings on compassion left me shaking my head. Whatever happened to “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”? Whatever happened to “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? Matthew 25:31-46 is lost on such people.

*****

Later that afternoon, Vision Forum director Doug Phillips and Weir Capital Management founder Erik Weir spoke at a workshop entitled “How Architecture Helped to Shape the Character of the American Family”. Phillips posited that a symbiotic relationship exists between architecture and the family, influencing each other in countless ways. This relationship isn’t a function of income level, he insisted, but of vision, making it applicable for tents and palaces alike. Phillips listed three foundations — aesthetics, design, and architecture — for designing homes.

Phillips argued that modern-day architecture is diverging from the past, elevating form over function, often abandoning aesthetic principles, and neglecting to consider the family. He looked askance at the deconstructivist school of architecture, contrasting photos of eye-catching deconstructivist buildings with a photo of Monticello.

C’mon Doug. A little architectural experimentation is perfectly fine, I thought.

Phillips stressed the importance of bringing every aspect of the home into obedience to Christ. He asked aloud if a home is to be designed to unite families in common spaces, or to cocoon them in separate bedrooms. Colonial and frontier homes, he observed, were organized around a central hearth where the family interacted, for example.

Monticello held special appeal for Phillips, who praised it as a reflection of Thomas Jefferson’s worldview. Monticello functioned as a place to entertain guests, a site of industry and production, a personal study, and a setting in which the new American spirit would be modeled. I noticed that Phillips conspicuously left out Monticello’s underground slave areas, where unseen slaves produced food and sundries for Jefferson’s guests. This, too, was a reflection of Jefferson’s worldview (specifically, his acceptance of slavery), a stain that Phillips left out.

Phillips also praised Montpelier, the historic plantation of James Madison. He described Montpelier’s central core, in which children were educated, parties hosted, heads of state entertained, and the family business operated. Montpelier, like other estates of the era, was built with the assumption that future generations would live there an exert an ongoing influence on the area.

Phillips contrasted the communal homes of the past with the homes of the present, which he likened to “flophouses”. In the past, it was common for three or more generations to live under the same roof, either out of custom or necessity, he said. He contrasted such multigenerational homes to the dwellings of the “selfish generation” which segregates its elders. Today, families are getting smaller while houses are getting bigger, so families tend to share less space. By living and working near each other, families experienced less infidelity, closer ties existed between parents and children, and more economic incentives to perpetuate family life.

I chuckled to myself at Phillip’s assumption about infidelity, as the reality was far less pleasant. Less infidelity? Hardly. Slave owners sexually abused slaves in that time period. Plenty of men patronized brothels in that time period. There was plenty of infidelity.

Phillips stressed the importance of generational thinking regarding architecture and the home. For example, he encouraged listeners to avoid faddishness and cheap quality in home decorations and furnishings in favor of long-term, durable furnishings that will last for many years. In choosing and designing homes, Phillips encouraged listeners to consider multiple considerations: geography, climate, space use, flow, and many others.

It occurred to me through the talk that Phillips’ home advice, while well thought-out, would only be applicable for well-to-do families. If families are struggling economically, they won’t be able to afford the durable, long-term furnishings. If families are limited in what kind of housing they can afford, they may not be at liberty to base home or apartment choices on a wide range of considerations. In an ideal world, everyone could consider furnishings, geography, and flow in their home choices, but we do not live in an idea world.

This realization grew stronger as I listened to Weir’s part of the workshop. Weir’s wealth was evident as he described his home, Magnolia Hall Plantation, inspired by the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. His family chose a large property that would allow space for future growth, including a row of oak or magnolia trees and on-site housing for his children, he explained. Sharing photos of his home, he proudly pointed out the “manly” Doric columns they chose instead of “flutey” Corinthian columns. As photos from the inside of the home flashed on the screen, Weir explained that he wanted to create an inviting interior. (The foyer, while sleek and pristine, struck me as cold and a little too perfect, however.) Weir and his wife chose fine wood for their floors so that guests with children wouldn’t have to worry about sullying a carpet with spills.

This is great, but … how does this apply to middle and working class families? I thought. Most of the people in the audience probably can’t afford to make these choices.

In short, the workshop on architecture was a paradox, an example of intricate thought and little thought. On one hand, Phillips and Weir clearly spent time reflecting on aesthetic values and home functionality, demonstrating a level of forethought that I respected. On the other hand, they seemed oblivious to the fact that only well-off people could meaningfully apply these principles. Weir’s home, while lovely and well-planned, is the home of a wealthy man. How relevant would Weir’s description of his home be to a couple struggling to feed and clothe multiple children? After taking in Botkin, Phillips, and Weir that afternoon, I wondered how often they reflect on the middle and working class.

Stay tuned for more on the History of America Mega-Conference!

*****

To be continued.