Four of the Jackson Brothers Plead Guilty in Incest, Rape Case

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

In May 2014,  news broke about a homeschooling family — the Jackson family from North Carolina — that hid child sexual abuse within the family for over a decade. A young girl (then 16 years old) was repeatedly molested and raped by the six Jackson brothers, Eric (27), Jon (25), Matthew (23), Nathaniel (21), Benjamin (19), and Aaron (18). This sexual abuse occurred from the time she was 4 until she was 14. The boys’ parents, John and Nita Jackson, knew about the abuse and yet did nothing to prevent it.

The original news report from WTKR notes that in addition to the brothers being charged, the parents were also charged “because they witnessed the abuse” and took no action. Furthermore, as Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board has pointed out, “At the time of the alleged abuse, they were living in North Carolina and two of the brothers were reportedly members of Scott Brown’s church, Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.” This would be the same Scott Brown who has “very close ties with the now defunct Vision Forum Ministries and recently fallen Christian Patriarchal leader, Doug Phillips. Brown also heads up National Centers for Family-Integrated Churches.”

The latest development in the Jackson family story happened last Thursday, May 21, 2015. As reported by WAVY, four of the six brothers pleaded guilty to the charges against them:

The oldest brother, Eric Jackson, who first came forward about the sex crimes happening in the family’s home, pleaded guilty to first-degree sex offense. The second-oldest brother, Matthew Jackson, took the same plea deal, leaving both brothers to serve 12 to 15 years in prison.

The two oldest brothers could barely speak through their tears Thursday afternoon, as they asked for the victim’s forgiveness. They said they were trying to make the situation right, and will do whatever God calls them to do in the future. The victim responded, saying, ” Forgiveness is not mine to give. It’s God’s. You need to take it up with Him.”

Nathaniel and Benjamin Jackson pleaded guilty to 4 counts and 3 counts of incest, respectively. They will receive 20 to 24 months in prison, followed by 36 months probation.

The other two brothers, Jon Marc and Aaron Jackson, are taking slightly different routes. Jon Marc’s case is being postponed until July due to an alleged conflict of interest on the judge’s part. However, Jon Marc is still expected to plead guilty. Aaron Jackson, on the other hand, declined the state’s plea agreement and desires his case to go to trial. He is thus expected back in court at the beginning of next year.

Both of the Jackson parents are also expected to appear in court in August to face charges of child neglect, child abuse, and accessory to sexual abuse charges. During the brothers’ trial, the victim said that, at one point during her 10 years of abuse, the mother, Nita, witnessed the girl being assaulted and “walked away.” The young girl also said that “she believed she would go to hell if she told anyone about the assaults.” She thanked the oldest brother, Eric, for stepping forward and admitting the abuse to his pastor.

For more information about this case, read our original article on it: “This is What Child Abusers Look Like in Homeschooling Communities.”

This is What Child Abusers Look Like in Homeschooling Communities

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

We like to think that we know what child abusers look like. That we can pick them out of the crowd based on their creepy mustaches, darkly-tinted cargo vans, or their giant, thick-rimmed glasses.

But those stereotypes are just that: stereotypes.

And like all stereotypes, they fall tragically short. The fact is, child abusers are not Others. They do not walk around with signs that say, “Monster.” They are able to violate our trust — and children’s lives and bodies and minds — because we trust them. Which means they have our trust, because they are a part of our community. They are friends and family and teachers and loved ones. Boz Tchividjian from G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) is spot-on when he says,

“Those who pose the greatest risk to our children are within our families, churches, and circle of friends.”

A month ago, news broke that demonstrates just how true this is. A homeschooling family — the Jackson family from North Carolina — was revealed to have hidden child sexual abuse for over a decade. Homeschooling’s Invisible Children reports,

A 16-year-old girl was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by the six Jackson brothers (Eric, 27; Jon, 25; Matthew, 23; Nathaniel, 21; Benjamin, 19; and Aaron, 18) from the time she was 4 until she was 14. Though the girl was not identified, it appears that she was the brothers’ younger sister. The boys’ parents, John and Nita Jackson, knew about the abuse and did nothing to prevent it.

You can read the original news report from WTKR here, which notes that “the Jackson brothers’ parents were charged in this case because they witnessed the abuse.” Furthermore, as Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board has pointed out, “At the time of the alleged abuse, they were living in North Carolina and two of the brothers were reportedly members of Scott Brown’s church, Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.” This would be the same Scott Brown who has “very close ties with the now defunct Vision Forum Ministries and recently fallen Christian Patriarchal leader, Doug Phillips. Brown also heads up National Centers for Family-Integrated Churches.”

I was intrigued to find out that the Jackson brothers still had their Facebook pages active. So I decided to go look at their pages and see what their public lives had looked like. I was interested — but not surprised — to find out that the Jackson brothers had mutual Facebook friends with me. Several brothers actually had quite a few. So these kids (some now adults) clearly had somewhat social lives. They weren’t growing up in a stereotypical compound in the middle of nowhere. They existed within groups — like homeschool speech and debate — that I used to exist in. And yet no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. No one, including some people I myself know.

But here’s the thing: their Facebook pages look normal. They look like the Facebook pages of conservative Christian homeschool students and graduates. And that is exactly the point here. If this case wasn’t being criminally prosecuted, how many people do you think would be defending these people as “godly” and “upstanding” men who would “never do something like that” because they “love Jesus”?

To make this point more salient, let’s look at what the average Facebook posts by the Jackson brothers look like. Because this will tell you what child abusers look like in homeschooling communities.

What Child Abusers “Like” on Facebook:

Eric Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.18.20 PM

Matthew Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.24.09 PM

What Books Child Abusers Read

Matthew Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.25.03 PM

Eric Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.37.31 PM

What Movies Child Abusers Watch

Aaron Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.26.19 PM

Nathanael Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.27.25 PM

What Child Abusers Post About on Facebook:

Nathanael Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.28.40 PM

Eric Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.30.17 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.31.15 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.32.20 PM

Aaron Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.33.33 PM

Matthew Jackson

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.35.07 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.35.24 PM

Obviously one can “like” any of the above sites, people, books, or movies and not be a child abuser. One can post pictures of sunsets and attach Bible verses to them and not be a child abuser. But it’s the opposite mindset we need to focus on, isn’t it?

— The mindset that assumes people who love the Bible and share its wisdom and love respected homeschool leaders are somehow safe, or safer to “ungodly” people.

— The mindset that “good Christian boys” would never abuse anyone.

— The mindset that homeschooling will make better, more holy, children.

We will not be able to fight child abuse in homeschooling communities until we realize that the child abusers among us effortlessly blend right in. They might be our respected leaders (in fact, sometimes they have been our respected leaders, like Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips); they might be a homeschool celebrity that HSLDA publicly calls a “hero” (like Michael Gravelle); they might be the owners of our beloved companies or those owners’ children (like the son of Paul and Gena Suarez, owners of The Old Schoolhouse); they might even be some of the people claiming to be allies of abuse survivorsThere is no magic formula.

This means we must constantly be on our guard. It means we must know the warning signs and know how to report abuse to law enforcement and we must actually report the abuseWe cannot sweep it under the rug or turn a blind eye. We cannot shame those trying to bring it to light. We must start taking a stand, we must start raising a ruckus, and we must demand that our leaders and communities do so as well.

We must demand that our leaders and communities do more than write blog posts about not looking away and actually do the hard work of not looking away.

Christian Patriarchy Just Made WORLD Magazine $11,200 Richer

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 2.57.09 PM

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

WORLD Magazine, a biweekly conservative Christian news magazine, was and continues to be immensely popular among homeschooling families. As a kid, I remember eagerly anticipating each new edition of WORLD. I particularly loved the music reviews, since I used them to convince my parents that I should be allowed to buy new CDs. My family certainly was not alone in our admiration for WORLD: Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism, for example, also “grew up in a family that read every single issue of WORLD magazine thoroughly.”

The popularity of WORLD among homeschoolers probably isn’t a coincidence. One factor here is staff overlap: WORLD’s longtime (now former) culture editor, Gene Edward Veith, is the Provost of the HSLDA-funded Patrick Henry College, founded by Michael Farris — who also founded HSLDA. WORLD’s editor-in-chief, Marvin Olasky, is the Distinguished Chair in Journalism and Public Policy at Patrick Henry College. And Les Sillars, the current Mailbag Editor at WORLD, is also (currently) Patrick Henry College’s Professor of Journalism.

Another factor is the content of WORLD. WORLD’s founder, Joel Belz, wrote back in 2003 about homeschoolers being the “Secret Weapon” for conservative Republicans — which HSLDA broadcast in their 2004 Court Report while promoting its Generation Joshua program. Furthermore, as Libby Anne has pointed out, a rather friendly relationship has existed between WORLD and Christian Patriarchy, especially Doug Phillips and Vision Forum:

At least a few WORLD magazine writers have been fans of Vision Forum, attending major Vision Forum events, etc. … WORLD magazine published an article by Doug Phillips in 1998. Also in 1998 WORLD magazine also praised one of Phillips’ books and spoke positively of Vision Forum’s publishing wing. … WORLD Magazine…promote[d] the recent patriarchal Vision Forum—related movie Courageous up and down. If WORLD magazine is serious about having nothing to do with the patriarchy movement, they need to be more proactive and less ambiguous.

If WORLD is serious about having nothing to do with the patriarchy movement, they need to be more proactive and less ambiguous. That’s the same criticism we’re hearing about Patrick Henry College’s chancellor, Michael Farris, who gave a tepid and responsibility-shirking criticism of “Christian Patriarchy” in World Net Daily and also recently “critiqued” it via insulting LGBT* and atheist homeschool alumni.

Of course, WORLD has started covering several of the recent scandals within Christian homeschooling — including Bill Gothard being placed on administrative leaveresigning, and the charges against him; as well as the fall of Vision Forum and the sexual assault lawsuit against Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips. Yet in their just-published “2014 Books Issue,” it appears that money speaks louder than principles. Because just like HSLDA continued to receive ad revenue from promoting Vision Forum in Michael Farris’s official HSLDA emails (while claiming it was trying “to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement”), WORLD Magazine covers the crumbling public face of Christian Patriarchy all while taking its money to promote it in full page ads.

In WORLD’s most recent print edition, the magazine features two full page ads for the biggest names in Christian Patriarchy. The first is for Kevin Swanson’s new (and academically embarrassing) book “Apostate.” The second is for a NCFIC (National Center for Family Integrated Churches) conference featuring Christian Patarichy celebrities like Scott Brown, R.C. Sproul, Jr. Kevin Swanson, and Geoff Botkin.

You can check out the ads here, the photographs of which are courtesy of Chris Hutton at Liter8 Thoughts:

The NCFIC ad is for their upcoming “Church and Family” conference. You can see their speakers are a Who’s Who of Christian Patriarchy — and basically a list of everyone who previously walked in line with Doug Phillips: Scott Brown, Kevin Swanson, Don Hart (General Counsel for Vision Forum Ministries!), Geoffrey Botkin, R.C. Sproul, Jr., etc. You honestly can’t get much more Christian Patriarchical than this. As Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board has said, Scott Brown is “posed to fill the void left by Doug Phillips and Vision Forum to further the Christian Patriarchy Movement among homeschool families and family-integrated churches.”

And Kevin Swanson’s “Apostate”? Really, WORLD? You want the guy who talks about “feces eaters” and compares abused children to “dead little bunnies” advertising in your magazine? That’s a new low, especially since “Apostate” is a book that seriously proposes that “Charles Darwin’s farting at night (not kidding) is relevant to his philosophic and scientific influence.”

Not to mention that many WORLD subscribers are conservative Catholics and one of the “Apostates” that Kevin Swanson believes helped usher in the end of Christianity is Thomas Aquinas. Yes, like the classic Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas. But despite Aquinas being Evil Incarnate to Swanson, Aquinas’s face is absent from Swanson’s WORLD ad. Pretty convenient, right?

Ultimately, money makes the world go round, and that’s evidently no less true for Christian magazines. Considering that full page ads are $5,600 each, Christian Patriarchy just made WORLD $11,200 richer this month. And WORLD just brought Kevin Swanson and NCFIC into the homes of 100,000 families. Wink, nod, shhh.

Christian Patriarchy is Alive and Well: NCFIC’s Scott Brown Moves to Fill the Void


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on January 31, 2014.

With the demise of Vision Forum Ministries and the vacancy left by Doug Phillips after the public disclosure of his sexual immorality, the most likely candidate has stepped up to the plate to fill that void: Scott Brown.  Scott Brown is the director of National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC), which was originally part of Vision Forum Ministries, but later branched off into an independent ministry effort.

One of the highly acclaimed programs at Vision Forum was the internship opportunities for young men (read:  Christian Patriarchy Indoctrination 101 and free labor help for Doug Phillips). Mr. Brown has jumped on that bandwagon and is now putting out the call for his new internship program at the National Center for Family Integrated Churches whose goal is:

dedicated to promoting the restoration of biblical church and family life. We believe that God’s design for the church family will not be realized unless men reclaim the mantle of sacrificial leadership at home, in the church, and in society, at large.

What does NCFIC intern program look like?

You as an intern will learn about the biblical doctrines of church and family, work to communicate the message of the NCFIC, and provide the manpower necessary to carry out various conferences. 

Here is the list of books interns must bring with them (recent editions preferred):

  • The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Steven Lawson
  • Knowing God, J.I. Packer
  • The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever
  • How God Wants Us to Worship Him, Joe Morecraft
  • Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon
  • Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Bruce Ware
  • God-Breathed, Louis Gaussen
  • Preaching: How to Preach Biblically, John MacArthur
  • Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer
  • Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray
  • The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (McNeill)
  • Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof
  • The Lord’s Day, Joseph A. Pipa, Jr.
  • Always Ready, Greg Bahnsen
  • God’s Gospel of Grace, Jeff Pollard
  • Family Reformation, Scott Brown
  • A Weed in the Church, Scott Brown
  • Building a God-Centered Family, Matthew Henry

Because the interns will be serving at Hope Baptist church, they will be required to sign some paperwork first:

Before coming to Wake Forest, interns must read the Hope Baptist membership package and doctrinal statement. Interns must also be in agreement with and sign the Hope Baptist church covenant, effective for the duration of their internship.

This is part of the application paperwork:


Some of the questions asked on the application:

  • Explain the key elements of the biblical doctrine of the family

(AKA: They want to know, did your daddy teach you that you will be ruling over your wife and children?)

  • Explain key elements of the biblical doctrine of the church

(AKA:  They want to know,  do you know your Reconstructionism doctrine?)

  • Explain key elements of the biblical doctrine of repentance

(AKA: they want to make sure you don’t embarrass them like Doug Phillips did.)

Folks, if you thought Christian Patriarchy Movement was dying out because of Doug Phillips, think again.

I suspect the Christian Patriarchy crowd will be stronger than ever in their attempts to spread their Patriarchal and essentially Reconstructionist message to the masses.  What a great way to vamp up this message by getting free and enthusiastic labor from young men who are already sold on these ideas.

P.S.  Did Scott Brown — ahem — “borrow” intellectual property when making up the intern application? Here is a cached version of the Vision Forum’s application.

Peter Bradrick, Former Executive Assistant to Doug Phillips, Speaks Out on Being “Formally Disowned” and “Declared to be a Destroyer”

Peter Bradrick and Doug Phillips.
Peter Bradrick and Doug Phillips.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on November 30, 2013.

For those of you who aren’t entirely up to speed, Peter Bradrick is a Vision Forum intern turned executive assistant to Doug Phillips. He doesn’t work for Vision Forum any longer, but even after he left as an employee he was involved in their “Hazardous Journeys” trips, and was pretty much BFFs with Doug. He’s married to the daughter of Scott Brown (not the politician, the one who’s head of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, an organization that Doug was on the board of until his scandal broke).

Anyway, everybody close to Doug and Vision Forum—Peter included—have been tight-lipped about Doug’s affair and the closing of Vision Forum Ministries. Tight-lipped until now, that is. As late as the end of Thanksgiving night, 11/28, Peter’s Facebook was locked down and all but a few random posts from months ago were private. That changed day after Thanksgiving when Peter made the following posts public on Facebook. I’ll post them chronologically below.

Tuesday, 26 November, 2013 (Facebook | Screenshot | PDF)

Dear friends, after a long and weary season of business failure and more recently significant shock and disappointment regarding a very tender matter close to me, I am planning on going off Facebook and other public platforms for a season. This is motivated solely because I want to focus on my private life. However, I know this will be misinterpreted by many, particularly since there has been a troubling silence regarding a recent difficult public situation. Before I go “offline” there are things that I need to share. In the coming days and weeks I will be sharing my heart with my friends regarding some difficult things that need to be said. After which, I hope to transition to a season of life focused on a new direction in business, focused on personal spiritual growth, and focused on my precious wife and children.

Tuesday, 26 November, 2013 (Facebook | Screenshot | PDF)

I apologize to many of you who have reached out and contacted me in the past days and weeks, and to whom I have not responded. I ask for mercy and understanding knowing many of you will realize this is a VERY difficult time for me and my family. I am attempting to exercise discretion, and to faithfully exercise my limited duties in this recent situation. In line with that, I have been leery of talking to many of you to whom I owe calls, emails, texts and FB messages back to, because I am committed to not “feed the gossip mill”, or pass on dainty morsels. And just not talking has been one way I have attempted to walk a very difficult line in a very messy situation.

Greater knowledge brings with it greater responsibility, particularly for those who have had close relationships with those involved. I’ve attempted to only communicate with people that have reason to know at this point. Please be patient with me. I promise I still love and care for each of you, and hope that you will understand.

Wednesday, 27 November, 2013 (Facebook | Screenshot | PDF)

The past decade of my life has been defined by my close relationship with my mentor and former spiritual father. Those who know me recognize my longstanding, fierce commitment to his family, his work, and his legacy. As soon as I caught wind of what was going on, I became very involved in working towards fulfilling the duties of friendship and brotherhood – to confront a man who has been like a father to me for a third of my life and plead with him to truthfully confess, and to genuinely take responsibility for longstanding betrayal of everything we had fought together for with the hope of ultimate restoration.

Friends… truth and justice are mercy. Covering sin is not mercy. (Proverbs 28:13, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”) This was the message of the men that joined me to go in person to plead with him. Men he’s called “bosom brothers”, son’s in the Lord, close friends, and a mentor of his. What for us was a tender, emotional, mission of mercy and plea for true repentance was met with something, and by someone I never could have imagined. Instead of being received as the “wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6), I was formally disowned and declared to be a “destroyer” to my face.

There is no way to describe the soul crushing blow I was dealt that day and it’s overall impact on my life. It’s was like experiencing the scene from Braveheart… where William Wallace finds out he’s been betrayed by Robert the Bruce, over and over again. Walking away from that meeting, I couldn’t speak for hours I was so stunned. I am still physically, emotionally and spiritually broken and asking God to give me wisdom. I know many people are so very hurt and confused regarding what has transpired and my prayer for myself, my family, and everyone involved is that we look to Christ alone with hearts of love, mercy, and repentance seeking to root out the sin in our own lives. Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Particularly worth noting is the comment left by Joe Morecraft, himself a well-known figure in the Reformed part of the patriarchy world. The comment reinforces the idea that Doug Phillips still is not repentant and those in his circles are well aware of that reality.


And finally:

Friday, 29 November, 2013 (Facebook | Screenshot | PDF)

“For one thousand years, this principle has guided Western civilization. Simply stated, that principle is this: the groom dies for the bride, the strong suffer for the weak, and the highest expression of love is to give one’s life for another. The men aboard the Titanic recognized their duty because they had been raised in a culture that implicitly embraced such notions. Only by returning to these foundations can we ever hope to live in a society in which men will make the self-conscious decision to die so that women and children may live. This is the true legacy of the Titanic.” Douglas Phillips

When those who champion “women and children first” hide behind smooth words instead of “suffering for the weak”… When the strong take advantage of the weak, and then turn them out like so much garbage… When the strong seize the lifeboats and leave the weak drowning in the icy water… it leaves no choice for men of God other than to rise up and oppose them when they discover the truth. Woe to those that do not.

Either Peter is positioning himself to take over and pick up the pieces, or this post looks like he’s completely had it and is fed up with being diplomatic about Doug Phillips. Even the third post where he talks about being “disowned” reads like something that had some thought put into it. This post looks like when I get royally fed up and go on a Facebook tirade.

Also of note is this comment by close Phillips associate Bob Renaud:


Again, this time from someone much closer to Phillips than Morecraft is, another comment from someone who believes that Doug Phillips is still in active sin and unrepentance.

The real question is why go public now? Has something changed such that people are breaking their silence as a result? Or did Peter Bradrick just finally hit his breaking point as he realized he spent the last decade idolizing this man only to discover that everything he thought he knew was based on a lie?

Here’s hoping that this gets him to realize that Doug Phillips’ patriarchal vision is a pack of lies and he and his family are able to move on to a normal life in the real world outside of the crazy of fundamentalist homeschooling.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop when the Vision Forum Ministries board starts trying to untangle the finances between the non-profit and Doug’s personally-owned for-profit Vision Forum, Inc. side of things. I keep hearing suspicions that the finances are seriously sketch.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

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 Three of this series was originally published on July 7, 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 Wednesday, July 3rd, I took in two workshops at Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference: “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” and “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. The first was a swipe at progressive Christianity and 19th century spiritual movements, while the latter praised Cotton Mather and his forefathers for their piety and devotion to family life.

On Wednesday morning, Col. John Eidsmoe of the Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy presented “The Rise of Religious Liberalism”. The workshop was a polemic look at the rise of Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and other forms of “religious liberalism” in 19th century America.

Eidsmoe spoke warmly of early Americans who celebrated Christianity. The Constitutional Convention, he claimed, had mostly Christians in attendance and involved God in their work. He dismissed the deist Founding Fathers in attendance as “outliers”. He discussed the message of 18th century preacher George Whitfield, who did much to unite Americans under a common faith, he claimed.

Eidsmoe also smiled upon Benjamin Franklin for praising Christian preaching and social endeavors, suggesting that the Founding Father appreciated Christianity. However, I found his portrait of Franklin to lack nuance. While Franklin did celebrate the Puritan virtues of his upbringing and respect preachers such as George Whitefield, he also referred to himself as a Deist in his 1771 autobiography, embraced Enlightenment ideas, endorsed religious pluralism, and spent time at a London Unitarian congregation.

In the 1800s, despite the Second Great Awakening, America sees the emergence of Unitarianism. Eidsmoe pointed out that 19th century Unitarians were different from today’s Unitarian Universalists, describing them as “strongly moral” people who revered the Bible but did not believe in the Trinity.

The 1800s also saw the emergence of Transcendentalism, which Eidsmoe described as a belief in God’s presence within nature and humans. Transcendentalists, Eidsmoe stated, believed that all humans have a divine spark within them, and that by getting in touch with that divine spark, they can become godlike. According to Eidsmoe, Transcendentalists rejected the idea of original sin and did not see the need for a savior, thus contrasting them to Christians.

Eidsmoe didn’t seem to think highly of Transcendentalists, sneering at failed Transcendentalist projects such as Fruitlands commune. He briefly discussed major Transcendentalist thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who drew inspiration from German thinkers such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Buddhism, and the Bhagavad Gita. Eidsmoe also discussed Henry David Thoreau in unfriendly terms, scoffing at Thoreau for trumpeting his return to nature inWalden while eating meals at his parents’ house and drinking coffee in town. Thoreau defended civil disobedience in his classic essay, but Eidsmoe claimed that this was actually a Biblical concept rooted in obedience to God over obedience to civil authority. (For a more in-depth, non-polemical look at Transcendentalism, click here.)

Practice eisegesis much? I thought.

Transcendentalism led to the rise of “religious liberalism” by leading Americans away from Biblical Christian principles, Eidsmoe argued. While he praised Albert Schweitzer for his scholarly and humanitarian work, he disagreed with his “liberal” view of Jesus in Quest for the Historical Jesus. Eidsmoe also disagreed with the work of Julius Wellhausen, who theorized that the Pentateuch was written by four authors in different time periods rather than Moses (later known as the documentary hypothesis or Wellhausen hypothesis). Wellhausen’s theory was rooted “squarely upon evolutionary thought”, Eidsmoe insisted, even though Wellhausen was not the first scholar to speculate that someone other than Moses penned the Pentateuch. Eidsmoe frowned upon the Wellhausen hypothesis, seeing it as an attack on the divinity of Jesus himself who acknowledged Moses as the author of the Torah. Finally, Eidsmoe was also disdainful of the alleged Darwinist worldview, which he caricatured as positing that humans started in the “slime” and evolved, rather than being created by God with moral responsibility.

These 19th century forces contributed to religious liberalism, which exerts influence even today, Eidsmoe argued. He criticized modern “open-minded” liberalism as being closed-minded to anything evangelical, and caricatured religious liberalism as having five characteristics:

  • Denial of absolute truth in favor of a view of truth as relative, subjective, and evolving.
  • Emphasis on man rather than God, with God as a servant of man instead of vice versa.
  • “Presumption against the supernatural” and miraculous.
  • Optimism about progress, public education, medicine, and democracy heralding a new dawn, before events such as World War I and World War II casts shadows on progress.
  • A belief that the Bible is accurate in its conclusions but not its details, or the belief that parts of the Bible are divinely inspired but not inerrant.

The fact that this does not accurately describe progressive Christianity, past or present, seemed to have escaped him. Progressive and moderate people of faith would not describe their beliefs as such, which also seemed to have escaped Eidsmoe.

Eidsmoe listed several alleged dangers of religious liberalism, including the supposed lack of a basis for morality, the supposed lack of basis for evangelism, and the reduction of Jesus to a mere man or to one path to truth among many. Religious liberalism supposedly leaves no room for freedom, he claimed, since it reduces humans to evolutionary animals rather than moral agents accountable to God. He accused religious liberalism of having no means of maintaining Christianity or perpetuating the faith, claiming that liberal Christian denominations are losing members. (Perhaps he forgot that many mainline denominations and religious schools are losing members too?) Germany serves as a model for what can go wrong with religious liberalism, he insisted, claiming that one-hundred years of liberal German thought gave rise to Hitler and the Holocaust. In short, Eidsmoe demonized religious liberalism, using straw man arguments to grossly misrepresent what liberal Christians actually believe.

Eidsmoe concluded the workshop by warning listeners that religious liberalism could seep into their churches. He urged the audience to stay alert for liberal trends in their churches and seminaries, and to stay faithful to belief in Biblical inerrancy. In short, his workshop was not so much a tour of 19th century religious thought as a polemic against non-fundamentalist Christianity, complete with caricatures, oversimplification, and fear.


On Wednesday afternoon, Scott Brown presented “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. Brown, a pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC and the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, praised the Mather family as a model of piety.

Brown’s workshop focused on three men in the Mather family — Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather — whom he praised for the “fruitfulness”, citing John 15:5-8 and John 15:16-17. Three generations of the family “cried out for a rising generation”, Brown observed, celebrating the Mathers as a “beacon of light” for families.

According to Brown, the Mathers resolved to bring everything into obedience with the Bible. Every member of the family was dedicated to God and lived for something beyond themselves, he claimed. By looking to scripture alone, the Mathers knew who they were and what role they were to play in life, rather than asking “who am I?”

Brown delved into the individual histories of Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather, with emphasis on their religious lives and concern for the next generation. I noticed anti-Catholic bias in Brown’s description of Richard Mather when he noted that Richard’s father almost allowed Catholic merchants to fund his education. The Catholic merchants “coveted” Richard’s gifts, and Brown considered it pivotal in Richard’s development that he was not educated by Catholic. Brown then drew parallels to modern times, when “great pagan institutions” allegedly “pickle” children’s brains by pouring “paganism” into them.

Okay, you guys keep throwing around the word ‘pagan’. I don’t think it means what you think it means, I thought.

Brown observed common themes of moral decline in the preaching of Increase and Cotton Mather. For instance, Increase scoured the Old Testament for patterns among the prophets regarding God’s blessing and judgment, Brown said. Increase was reportedly concerned about the “onslaught of wickedness” in his society, and preached sermons on the importance of teaching piety to the next generation. Likewise, Cotton Mather was said to be watching his society decline, and encouraged cultivation of piety in children, Brown stated. Cotton Mather taught parents that children belong in church and are part of the congregation, a belief that Brown seemed to admire.

Brown devoted much of his discussion to Cotton Mather’s admonishments for parents on the spiritual upbringing of children. According to Brown, Cotton urged parents to set good religious examples for their children, concern themselves with their offspring’s spiritual state, and “plead God’s promises” to their children. Moreover, Cotton penned a list of twenty-one resolutions for fathers, including praying for their children, preaching to the family, encouraging children’s self-reflection on their souls, and “marrying” their children to Christ.

At the conclusion of the workshop, Brown listed six lessons that families can derive from the Mathers’ example. Modern Christian families, like the Mathers, must strive to be families (1) dedicated to future generations, (2) possessing clear visions of home life, church life, and civil life, (3) aware of the times and responsive to them in both public and private ways, (4) dedicated to the prosperity of the church, (5) determined to honor each other even as they disagree, and (6) crying out for their sons.

In his haste to praise the piety of the Mather family, Brown ignored the dark side of that piety. He neglected Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, a 1689 treatise on the dangers of witchcraft and demons that was widely read in late 17th century New England. Some historians speculate that Cotton Mather’s writings on witchcraft contributed to the anti-witchcraft hysteria that spawned the Salem Witch Trials. He ignored Cotton Mather’s zeal to convert black slaves to Christianity in The Negro Christianized: An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in ChristianityThe 1706 treatise encouraged slave owners to convert their black slaves to Christianity, assuring them that Christianity permits slavery and will not bring about slave’s liberty. The transmission of piety to young generations must be done in a spirit of self-reflection, lest that piety lead to destructive ends as it did with Cotton Mather.

I can accept the idea that the Mathers longed to do well by their children and grandchildren, striving to raise them well and encouraging other parents to do the same. Given Increase and Cotton Mather’s ties to witchcraft myths and the Salem Witch Trials, however, I draw a different conclusion from their lives. When parents teach their children spirituality, that spirituality must also include empathy, humanity, and critical thinking. Piety without these elements can devolve into fanaticism, with unsettling results.

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


To be continued.

Vision Forum and “Historical Revisionism”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 15, 2013.

American history today isn’t what it once was. There was a time when American history privileged the white, the wealthy, and the Christian, and ignored the stories of marginalized, the complexities of events like the American Revolution, and the genocide of the Native American population. This has changed, and universities today tell the stories of the marginalized and challenge traditional black and white patriotic narratives.Not everyone is happy with this, however:

Are you and your children equipped to defend America’s godly heritage against today’s fierce onslaught of historical revisionism? To help address this need, Vision Forum Ministries is pleased to announce the History of America Mega-Conference, an exciting five-day event to be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Join a faculty of distinguished scholars and thinkers delivering more than fifty stirring lectures on a host of topics concerning America’s past—all from a distinctively Christian worldview.

What all will the conference cover?

This conference will offer the most comprehensive overview of our nation’s history that we’ve ever given to date. Over five days, you’ll receive a thorough and biblically-sound examination of America’s past that you’ll search in vain to find in today’s college classroom. The academically-potent lectures will span four centuries — it’s an American history crash-course you won’t find anywhere else.

Antagonists to the Christian faith are stealing our history, and it’s time we take it back. The engaging messages given at this conference will arm your family with the truth to combat the lies of the Left — to have a sure foundation for the 21st century.

Were our Founding Fathers Deists? How should we view our government’s treatment of American Indians? What are we to make of the War Between the States? These and other raging controversies will be answered.

Here’s the video promo, complete with lots of shots in costume:

There are more videos here, most of which I have not yet watched.

Did I mention that Vision Forum only sells grey civil war cap, and not a blue one? Or that their description of a Civil War history tour is a bit, well, one-sided? And then of course there’s this picture of Doug Phillips’ son posing in front of a monument to the founder of the KKK and the racist blackface knickknack in the Phillips’ home. The most blatant, of course, is the fact that Vision Forum sells books by Robert Lewis Dabney, describing the nineteenth century southern theologian known for his racism and his influence in the post—Civil War South in glowing terms.

In an anthropological sense I think it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at Vision Forum’s upcoming History Mythology of America Mega-Conference, but at the same time when I think about what it is they’re teaching, and to a willing audience, I’m absolutely appalled.