Slaves, Heroes and Communists: Home Schooling and Race Education

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About the author: Annelise Pierce blogs at www.annelisepierce.com. She spends her days being a mom first and a free-lance writer second while spending as much time as humanly possible thinking and reading about the issues that she cares about most. Annelise has lived all over the map, first with the Navy and then in East Africa. Now she and her family are having a quiet rooted time in the Beautiful Northern California.

I was home schooled my whole childhood or “all the way through” as the home school community proudly refers to it.   My family of origin is intelligent, curious, and out-of-the-box. That’s probably what led them to home educate, a way of life that allowed them to emphasize their particular form of intelligence and indulge their curiosity and worldviews with a rapt audience of six – children, that is.

My mother taught me all I knew about history. I didn’t have the internet to turn to in those days and every library book I brought home was carefully checked over for appropriateness. Some were turned away, even books about historical fiction. Some were not considered appropriate. I was never sure why, as my hurried and discrete pre-review behind the library aisles had not yielded any sign of falling in love, bodies touching or other topics that might anger my mother. Over time I learned from her that some people’s ideas of history were threatening, even dangerous. That much of the world wanted to teach me a series of lies and that if I believed them I too would be a bad person. This was why we didn’t read a lot of those kinds of books.

This left me with an ever-present feeling of vague dread and a deep distrust for the world around me. I realize only now that perhaps it is part of why I never liked history much. It seemed like endless stories of war with dubious winners and a thousand dates to memorize. I found few heroes there, few people I would wish to emulate or who led me to dream of how I myself could change the world.

My mother had a hero though. He was Robert E Lee, a southern general during the Civil War. We celebrated his birthday with cake most years. I still remember that.

I remember too, hearing about some of the villains of history. There were the obvious ones such as Hitler and Stalin. And some that remained shrouded in mystery such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, evil in a way that I did not understand and which was never talked about.

In my twelve years of schooling I never learned more about Martin Luther King than that he was a communist. 

Needless to say we did not eat cake or get a day off on his birthday – with home schooling, you get to choose your own holidays.

No, we never learned about MLK, we just skipped right over that part of the A Beka textbook, because even Christian textbooks aren’t all good. We did, however, learn lots about the War Between the States. Not the Civil War . . . . we were carefully taught that that name itself was propaganda. Books on the War Between the States populated our shelves and we learned in detail how a few bad slave owners were used to color the whole bunch of slave owners and make them all look bad. Most of them, we were taught, were actually a kind group of people who were doing the best they could to look after the African slaves and give them a chance at a good life.

This puzzled and worried me as I have always had a strong sense of justice for as long as I can remember and the idea of slavery always felt so wrong. To add to my puzzlement, I remember that we had home schooling friends growing up who believed slavery was still a healthy way of life. They called themselves theonomists – they were looking to create slave relationships but somehow it hadn’t worked out yet. I remember wondering as I watched their two cute young children, how you went about finding someone to be your slave? It seemed strange, dark and frightening, yet they looked so normal. I wondered how their children would grow up.

Now, at thirty-four I have found new friends and new perspectives – ones that fit my deep calling to justice. I am still exploring the great big wide world of history as seen with no blinders on. My heroes are MLK, Ghandi and Mandela. I am reading my way through Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series and loving every minute of it. I follow Feminista Jones and I learn every day about what race is and how it shapes me and those around me. I teach my children about white privilege.   We read and reread books about Ruby Bridges and they marvel at a little girl’s courage to stand up for equality.

History will always be a matter of perspective. But the wonder of multiple history teachers is that we learn over time that each person’s perspective on history is different; that even those recording the “facts” have their own bias. That is what I missed when I home schooled “the whole way through.” And that is what my children could so easily have missed too, had I drunk the Kool-aid and continued the home educating cycle without reading and learning outside of the boundaries I had been given.

This is what can make home education dangerous – propaganda. Yes, that very word I learned to fear growing up, used so often about the “left wing”, “communists” and public schools is very much a part of home education too. It surfaces in a million ways with a million stories. And as it touches our young, developing brains, it shapes the very fabric of who we are.

I’m glad that I am someone else now.

When You’re Raised by Racists: Junia’s Story

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Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Junia” is a pseudonym.

I was raised by a mother who was intensely racist.

I didn’t realize it for years, but she was, and is. My father is as well, but less obviously, more in an oblivious sort of way.

As far as education went, I always thought that we received above average education. My mother was committed to good education, erudition was a trait that my parents prized highly, to the point that friends of the family would comment on how intelligent we were and note it as a family thing. I will always be grateful for the education I received from her and from the other teachers, both in co-ops and online, that she arranged. But one area that I completely missed was race.

We’re white, with one distant Native American ancestor. But otherwise we’re Western and Northern European through and through. I never realized until the past year how much this has colored, no pun intended, my life and worldviews.

With history we were raised on the motto, “The South was Right.”

Slavery was justified because of Bible passages about how to treat slaves. If slavery was inherently wrong God would have banned it, wouldn’t He? We listened to speeches from the group The League of the South and read its literature. It’s still hard for me to admit that this group promotes racial inequality by justifying slavery. I was really into the Civil War, or as I called it, the War Between the States, in high school. I spent hours reading about it, but almost nothing from the perspective of anyone in the Union or the perspective of people like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. I even had a livejournal account about the War. Mostly copy/paste of historical documents or letters etc. Inspirational stories about specific individuals.

I had only friend growing up who wasn’t white. She was mixed race, her dad was black and her mom was white. She and I used to play together a lot. I’m not sure why my mother was okay with us, why she was friends with the family, but I guess the whiteness of the mom made the family safe as far as my mother was concerned. I know my friend was really sensitive about being mixed race. She didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere, she was too dark for whites and too white for blacks. At one point in high school she saw my livejournal account and asked me to take it down because she was offended.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t.

I told her that she shouldn’t be offended, I was just posting historical things. We drifted apart, for a lot of different reasons.

None of this is to say that I believed in white superiority or hated blacks or anything like that. I just obliviously dismissed stories of racism as playing the race card. I was uneducated about the true story of racial inequality and hate and the continuing structural racism that exists today. I was never allowed to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a child because my mother said it was racial propaganda designed to stir up race hate. I thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist because the only times I heard my parents mention him were in negative contexts. A friend asked me within the last year if I knew who Jackie Robinson was and I had no idea. My boyfriend, now my husband, was the first person to tell me about the LA Race Riots. That they even took place.

Even this year I still clung to the idea that Southerners weren’t racist, they had slaves, but they weren’t really racists. There must be some misunderstanding. There’s just misunderstood regional pride. White people have moved on now anyway, we don’t allow slavery any more. People just play the race card when they don’t want to face that they didn’t get a job because they weren’t as qualified, etc. That minorities use their race as a weapon to get ahead.

I was blind to my privilege because I was born with the skin tone I have.

Then there was the murder of Trayvon Martin. I was angry and sad. I saw it as a crime that was at the very least made more likely because of Martin’s race, and at worst as racially motivated. But my awareness was still embryonic. It was after that that I decided that I should read To Kill a Mockingbird and find out what it was all about. I was shocked. I thought it was an exaggeration for monetary profit on the part of the author. I wish that had been true.

A few months later I read a newspaper article about the conviction of the ringleader in the murders in 1964 of the civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. I was horrified. I read the comments on the article and I didn’t know what one of the commentators was talking about when he referenced Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 at the age of 14. I felt sick to my stomach as I read accounts of what happened to him. A 14 year old boy was beaten and murdered for daring to flirt with a white woman, at worst for being obscene (if you were to believe what local white people said of him).

I now realized that To Kill a Mockingbird really wasn’t exaggerating.

It was all to true to reality. Then I followed more links and saw the records of more deaths, schoolgirls blown up in a church, men and women murdered sometimes just on the side of the road because of their race, men and women both white and black murdered because they were peacefully protesting inequality.

There was a whole world of pain that I was utterly unaware of.

When I was in middle school and high school I vaguely remember that my older sister who had married at 18 and left our home say things about racial inequality. My parents would say that she was just full of white guilt, and that it wasn’t right for us to feel guilty about the crimes that some white people committed against those of other races. I had never investigated for myself, to my shame.

I was perpetuating racism without being aware of it. And I would have been more in tune with reality if I had been taught about racism and black people with any depth. If my knowledge of blacks in American history hadn’t been limited to knowing a lot about George Washington Carver and that Rosa Parks was tired and said no. If I hadn’t been told that Harriet Tubman was making the problems worse by encouraging runaways, which was clearly in violation of things like the book of Philemon.

But I was taught a white centric view of American history and life.

I feel deeply handicapped in dealing with life today because there was so much racism in my family of origin and I am so far behind in what I should know about what minorities, especially blacks, have been facing at the hands of a white dominated society.

I’m grateful in so many ways that I was educated at home. But because of the issue of race, I would never be a homeschooling parent.

How We Removed Anything That Might Make America Look Less Godly: Liz’s Story

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Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Liz” is a pseudonym.

I don’t know if my story about race is what you are looking for. I am a white southerner and have never had a close friend of another race.

In my small circle of homeschoolers and other like-minded, ultra-conservative Christians, I don’t think I ever saw a person of another race.  

Oh, except for adopted children. They were the only exception. I distinctly remember a family coming to our church and two of the children were biracial.  I can’t remember if anything specific was said, but I had the impression that this was somehow shameful.  They weren’t adopted, I guess that makes a difference.

What I distinctly remember is my dad giving us talks about the problems with interracial dating/marriage.  He would say that he didn’t have a problem with it and had even dated a black girl once, but that the cultural differences were so large that he felt it did not make for a good marriage.  Now that I think about it, I find it odd and slightly laughable that the only racial conversations we ever had were focused on the civil war or marriage. I’m not even sure why he discussed this with us since he had to “approve” anyone who wanted to date us anyway. He could have easily weeded out anyone of an “inappropriate race.”

The idea of having just a friendship with someone of a different race was never even discussed.

My schooling was very clear on a few key facts about race.  Let me preface this by saying, this is not what I now believe at all, but it is what I was taught:

  • One, the civil war was not about slavery, it was only about states’ rights.

Slaves were actually treated very well and many were not capable of caring for themselves anyway so their white masters were just benevolent care takers.  Slavery would have slowly ended on its own if Abraham Lincoln had just respected the states and stayed out of it.  I remember reading one of the American Girl books about Abby (a black slave girl) and being disgusted that it was so “historically inaccurate” in its portrayal of her life as a slave.

Needless to say, I am ashamed of many things I believed as a child/teenager but I was only believing what I was taught.  

  • The other key point that was drilled into my head about race was that even though slavery was wrong, the civil war was a long time ago and it was high time that black people just let it go.

Of course us calling everyone North of the Mason Dixon line a Yankee wasn’t something we should all let go of. I did not know anything about the civil rights movement.  It was not until I was an adult in college that I realized many of the horrible things that had happened had occurred in the lifetimes of my classmates’ parents and grandparents, not over a 100 years before. Other things had occurred in my own lifetime.

I was shocked and horrified.

No wonder these things hadn’t just been “let go” (as if even the years of slavery should be “let go” anyway no matter how many years have passed). I had been taught for years that black people were entitled and unforgiving (again the irony of southerners still holding quite the grudge against the entire northern half of the country is not lost on me).

It only took a semester of history in college for me to realize how biased and simply wrong my education had been. I had never read a real history book (The Light and the Glory anyone?)  I soaked in every bit of my history classes and went on my own research binges.  I found that there had been terrible race riots in my own rather small hometown–they even made my college textbook.

This was not the first time I was disillusioned with my homeschool education, but it is probably the deficiency I am most ashamed of.  

  • The other race issue that was often discussed in my border state, was all of the “illegals”.

It was made clear that it had nothing to do with their race, only that they were coming into the country illegally.  However, when a white woman came to our church who had also fled her country into the U.S. illegally, the church gave her financial support to continue her fight to stay in the country.  Any person who looked hispanic was considered an illegal alien until proven otherwise.  Not to say this was or is a homeschooling phenomenon. I am a public school teacher and heard a conference between middle school girls about another girl they were purposefully ostracizing because they believed her family was “illegal”.  I have had more than one class discussion about the use of racial slurs in my classroom.

One thing that continues to baffle me is that my parents are very intelligent people.

They both had a public education, which regardless of how good or bad at the very least covered the Jim Crow era. They lived through the civil rights movement. My dad has a college degree and my mom attended 3 years of college.

Where in all of that did they become so brainwashed by the religious and homeschool leaders to think it was okay to simply ignore that part of our history?

Why was it considered right and okay to gloss over or completely remove anything that might make America look less godly or right?  

I also realize that it is likely they were also taught a different but highly biased version of that point in our history (they graduated in the early 70s). But then again, isn’t it the obligation of an educator to overcome their biases, learn, and teach the truth?

I certainly consider it so as a teacher myself — and I am not claiming or trying to be the god-ordained teacher of every subject my children will study.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Five, High School Textbooks

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Five of this series was originally published on December 12, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

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Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College

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Elementary school and junior high were marked by a lot of experimentation with curriculum.

My mother got a homeschool catalog in the mail, and she’d sit down and go through it, highlighting anything she thought was interesting, and I’d pick out a few things that I thought were cool, and that’s what we’d end up doing for electives. However, once we hit high school, I was focusing pretty intently on my piano, as well as my writing, so I wasn’t very interested in electives besides those two. We stuck with the core high school curriculum, and for the most part only used A Beka and BJUPress.

I have very clear memories of my high school experience. I remember the way all the books looked, I remember specific passages and illustrations. I remember quizzes and homework problems.

10th grade was A Beka biology, grammar, and history, BJUPress geometry and literature.

The biology was absolutely ridiculous, in retrospect. They argued a few things about evolutionary missing links that when I did research years later were either exaggerations or misrepresentations. They spent a lot of time presenting their version of evolutionary theory, and what they did was give me nothing more than a straw man. They made assertions about what evolutionists think that make evolutionists look patently ridiculous– the problem is, modern evolutionists haven’t thought or expressed any of those ideas in over a century in some cases. The textbook spends an inordinate amount of time building a case for philosophical Modernism– it doesn’t really have much to do with science, but it has everything to do with conservative and fundamentalist religion.

The grammar and vocabulary books were fine, for the most part, except that A Beka has a very particular agenda to push when it comes to grammar. All of their books explicitly teach prescriptive grammar, and condemns all dictionaries past Webster’s 3rd as absolutely corrupt. The BJUPress literature book taught the same attitude, haranguing almost any author past the 18th century for their amorality and relativism. In fact, the only author I read that could at all be described as post-modern would be T.S. Elliot, and he barely qualifies. I also don’t remember much — if anything — written by someone who wasn’t a white man. So, while most of my peers read books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye or 1984, I didn’t read any of them until I got to graduate school.

Both the A Beka biology book and the BJUPress geometry book made it absolutely clear that the only way a scientist can discover anything is if God allows it.

Aside from it painting a dubious picture of God as well as leaving the impression that scientists are bumbling idiots stumbling around in the dark and God occasionally allows them to bump into something (a la endless lists of scientific discoveries that were made “by accident”), these books make it clear that the only possible way of finding truth is if you’re a Christian. Newton discovered his theory of gravity because he was a Christian (which, are you sure you want to claim this guy, A Beka?). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to “real Christian scientists” that is placed in direct opposition to their chapter of “evolutionist hacks.” I’m particularly bothered by this claim, because it’s feeding into Christian privilege and demeaning the hard work and abilities of most scientists.

And the history… well, calling A Beka textbooks “history” is almost laughable. I heard many of my professors and educators complain about “revisionist” history, but knowing what I know now about the material contained inside these textbooks just makes me shake my head. The Civil War is the “War Between the States” or “War of Northern Aggression,” and almost any discussion of the brutalizing horrors of chattel slavery is dismissed. They explain the concept of “Indian Giving” and paint the French-Indian War as something completely unprovoked by any of the English settlers. American history is completely white-washed. The chapter title for Africa in the World History book is un-ironically “The Dark Continent,” and the white-and-Western-centric point of view is hailed as the only truth and manifest destiny is praised. There are entire sections devoted to the evils of pluralism and multi-culturalism, and they call modern India “backwards.”

In short, the only real purpose of their textbooks is indoctrination.

11th grade was more of the same, except I tried both Algebra I and chemistry. I read the chemistry textbook, but it was largely useless outside of the labs and experiments, and we couldn’t do any of those. I ended up basically reading the textbook for the first week and then not having anything else to do. This is the year when I spent most of my time reading books written by young earth creationists– I’ve always been fascinated by science, and this was the year that my frustration with school shot through the roof. As I’d gotten older, I’d gone through whole periods of wanting to be a veterinarian, a vulcanologist, a marine botanist, a cancer researcher, an astrophysicist.

But this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that.

This was the year I realized that my dreams of becoming a scientist were absolutely futile. And I knew it, because I was never going to have the science or math education to survive college.

There were a few factors playing into this– one of them being that I was being told by friends, by family, by my church, by the books I read, that women are not just limited to homemaking by the Bible, we’re limited to homemaking because we’re incapable of being anything else. I couldn’t be a scientist because women are bad at science and math.

Throw that into the pot of not being able to teach myself chemistry and algebra, and you’ve got a problem.

I struggled through algebra every day, hiding in my room so I could cry in frustration because I didn’t understand anything the book was trying to teach me. I tried to ask my mother, but that turned out to be largely futile– my mother had to try to re-teach herself algebra from her foggy memories of high school every single time I asked her to help me, and she was incapable of teaching algebra to me in any other way except how she understood it. She didn’t understand algebra well enough to explain it to me in a way that I could understand.

She didn’t know how to teach math.

This isn’t a reflection on my mother. My mother is brilliant. The problem is my mother was constantly fed the lie that you don’t have to know anything about teaching in order to teach your children. She didn’t know any different, and when we realized that I’d already met the math requirements under the umbrella school to graduate, we both gave up. I accepted my place as a woman and started preparing for a music degree instead of the science I’d always wanted, and my mother accepted what it seemed like I suddenly “wanted.”

My last year in high school my focus switched almost absolutely to practicing piano. I was enrolled with an incredibly demanding teacher and entering competitions like crazy, so school just sort of… fell apart. I whipped through all my English and history classes, half-assed my way through physics (we got the A Beka video tapes, but I didn’t do any of the homework and crammed for all the tests and did very badly– giving up my most recent goal of becoming an astrophysicist hurt a little too much to deal with it), took a “consumer math” course, and got accepted to a fundamentalist college.

I realize that this is more of a literature review than anything else, but I decided to talk about this facet of my high school experience today because both A Beka and BJUPress are still some of the largest distributors for homeschool textbooks, even today. Other curriculum, like Sonlight, are becoming popular, as are people just using the same textbooks as their local public school.

But for the still-dominant religious homeschooling culture, A Beka and BJUPress are still popular.

To be continued.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Two, Doug Phillips on God in History

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Two, Doug Phillips on God in History

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 Two of this series was originally published on July 7, 2013.

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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

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On July 2nd, I observed the History of America Mega-Conference at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg in Camp Hill, PA. The event is sponsored by Vision Forum, a ministry with a strong Christian Patriarchy slant that focuses strongly on “Biblical education” for children. On Tuesday evening, I sat among hundreds of Vision Forum supporters in the Raddison grand ballroom, where Vision Forum director Doug Phillips opened the conference with a talk about history, language, and forgetting. For nearly an hour, Phillips’ voice alternated between calm speech and shouting as he shared a narrow, fundamentalist view of  history.

On stage, reenactors in costume performed on bagpipes and drums, concluding their performance by circling the room. The introductory speaker praised America’s forefathers, reminding the audience that they are still part of the great American experiment. Ominously, he claimed that the world is watching to see if the U.S. will be chastened by God for forgetting its past. Next, another man delivered the evening’s benediction, praising God as “the only redeemer of sinners and cultures”. He praised Doug Phillips as one of the most important Christians in the country for recognizing the Christian responsibility to be a “civilization-builder” and restore “Christendom”.

Doug Phillips delivered the evening’s main talk, entitled “The Panorama of God’s Providence in the History of America”. Phillips thanked God for the nearly one-thousand people in attendance. He lamented that this generation has supposedly forgotten our fathers and the goodness of God. A theme he impressed upon the audience was “now is the time”, since the day may come when there are no longer opportunities to have conferences and monuments. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this — was Phillips envisioning a time when Vision Forum would not be hosting conferences, or was he trying to frighten the audience by claiming that a time of oppression and censorship would come? Given fundamentalist Christians’ predilection for claiming that they’re being persecuted, I lean toward the second interpretation.

Phillips provided an overview of the conference, discussing the historical reenactors in attendance, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the “War Between the States”. “War Between the States” is a curious term I’d hear throughout the conference, and it surprised me since I’ve never heard of the Civil War referred to that way. When Phillips announced a Saturday reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, he cheerfully boomed, “We brought Lincoln back!” Boos rose from a section of the audience. Please tell me those were just Confederate reenactors acting in character, I thought.

After a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Danny Craig, Phillips dove into theology. “God speaks to everything,” Phillips insisted, arguing that God speaks through every part of our history and culture as part of his plan. Phillips emphasized “the primacy of God’s providential history”, urging parents to teach God’s history to their children.

Phillips asked the audience what they would do if they lost their identity and didn’t know their name, parents, or nationality. Without any context for who they were, what would their lives be like? He shared the story of an elderly former admiral he met while visiting his ailing father. Even though the man had been a powerful military leader, his family wasn’t there and no one at the facility knew of his accomplishments, thereby reducing him to a man without context. That is us in modern America, Phillips said. The “might hand of God” can be seen in monuments around the country, but many people do not know they’re there. He likened Americans to the ancient Israelites when they forgot God, arguing that Americans have forgotten God, the names of their great-grandfathers, and their history. “The average schoolboy in the beginning of the 19th century knew more about history than the average college professor does today,” he claimed.

Americans have also lost their vocabulary, Phillips lamented, offering a dubious interpretation of one of the most famous lines in America’s founding documents.

“We’ve lost our vocabulary. It used to be that we used words that meant something. When we said, ‘All men are created equal’, for example, we didn’t mean that all men were created at the same income level. That’s a socialist concept. We didn’t mean when ‘all men are created equal’, that there were to be no hierarchy or differences within society. That’s a Marxist concept. When we said ‘all men are created equal’, we understood that to mean that we’re all judged by the same standard by the living God, the king and the pauper. Everyone has the same standard under God, and we’ve lost our vocabulary.”

Frankly, I don’t know how Phillips arrived at that interpretation, given that the line appears in the Declaration of Independence in a passage discussing inalienable rights and the consent of the governed.

Words such as “freedom”, “Christian”, “family”, and “marriage” are being redefined too, Phillips insisted, taking a moment to blast a recent Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). He stated that ancient societies did not recognize same-sex marriage, ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary from pre-modern ChinaEuropeAfricaindigenous North Americaand other cultures.

“We’ve lost our meaning of freedom. We’ve lost the understanding of what it means to be free men. We have redefined the word ‘Christian’, and you understand, brothers and sisters, that whoever defines, wins the culture. You change the words, you change the culture. How about this one? ‘Family.’ ‘Marriage.’ How about that one? Do you understand that yours is the first generation in the recorded history of the world in which the state has sanctioned two men as legitimately being, quote, married. Oh, listen. There has always been perversion. There’s always been wickedness. There’s always been evil. But even the Romans didn’t call it marriage. Even the Greeks didn’t call it marriage. The most vile pagans didn’t call it marriage. Your president calls it marriage. That’s wrong. We’ve lost our vocabulary. We’ve lost our definitions.”

Wrong, Phillips could use an LGBTQ history course, I thought.

Phillips told the audience that they were at the conference to “pick a fight” over America’s language and history, lest “radical” forces such as evolutionists and feminists co-opt them.

“We are here to pick a fight this week. We are here to take it back. We are here to say that were are going to take it to the wall, and we are going to fight for those words, we’re going to fight for those definitions, we’re going to fight for the things that the Lord gave us, and we’re going to say Jehovah is our God. That’s why we are here this week. We do not want out vocabulary to be co-opted by Marxists, feminists, radicals, evolutionists, and others that would destroy it before our very eyes.

Using a common argument among Christian nationalists, Phillips claimed that modern American law draws heavily from the Bible, an argument I found dubious. The idea that the United States was not founded as a theocracy, that the American legal system draws from many ancient and contemporary sources, or that legal systems do not evolve in a straight line, did not factor into his argument.

“Every single time you walk into a courtroom and someone wants to enforce contract law, they’re getting it from the book of Exodus. Every single time someone says you just can’t go assault somebody, they’re getting it from the Pentateuch. Every single time you want to see order or civilization, they are hearkening back to a set of laws that a man by the name of King Alfred required becomes the laws of England that would ultimately transported over to America as part of what we would call, ultimately, our common law heritage, which was built on the word of God and the Bible. It was the Old Testament law applied to local custom … While we have lost the vocabulary, and we have lost the reference points, we still have all around us these reminders, oh, that came from God, that came from Jesus Christ. That came from the law of Moses, breathed by the Holy Spirit, and then applied by our Founding Fathers.

Phillips spoke at length about his late father, who read prolifically, gave history books to his son, and arranged for his son to meet historians and engaging figures. He warmly quoted his father’s advice on studying history, such as the need to recognize imperfect people in history and the dangers of hagiography (a pejorative term for uncritical, sanitized views of history). Hagiography is to be avoided as an “error of the revisionists” who change facts or fail to see God in control of history, he explained. The irony of Phillips’ words made me smirk.

History is about antithesis, Phillips claimed, arguing that history shows contrast and tension between those who obey Jesus Christ and those who do not. Every departure from Jesus in history is a move closer to a false understanding of reality, he insisted. God’s providence in history is the outworking of his character through which he shows his mercy, justice, and immutability, Phillips said. The work of Christ and his love for the church is the “centerpiece” of history. Whereas the ancient Greeks saw God as part of nature, God is actually above and beyond it, he argued.

WHICH Greeks? Greek thought wasn’t homogeneous on this topic, I thought. And if the Christian God is supposedly the centerpiece of history, where does that leave thousands of years of pre-Christian history? Or the rich histories of countless non-Christian cultures? Such historical tunnel vision could prevent someone from studying or appreciating world history, I thought to myself.

Phillips offered examples of God’s alleged work through history. The rise of the Roman Empire facilitated the spread of Christianity, while the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada meant that America would be a “reformation Christianity beachhead” instead of a Catholic land under Spain. Yeah, because those dirty Papists aren’t real Christians, right Doug? I thought.

Dedicated minorities, not majorities, shape history, he claimed. If the conference had 900 people in attendance who were “absolutely unswerving” in their mission, the world could be changed, he assured listeners.

Phillips painted America’s founding as one “drenched with Biblical Christianity”, arguing (dubiously) that America is indeed a Christian nation.

“Was America founded as a Christian nation? … It really depends on what you mean. If what you mean is was America founded such that everyone in it was a born-again, regenerate Christian, then I would suggest to you not only is that impossible … but your understanding of the terminology is completely wrong. It has never been that way, and that is not what determines whether something is a Christian nation or not. When we speak of America as founded as a Christian nation, we mean was America, in its inception, one perhaps though imperfectly which was dedicated to the God of the Bible, whose law systems were rooted in the holy scriptures, whose people perceived themselves as serving Jesus Christ of the Bible, where its basic ethical standards reflective of Christendom and the body of beliefs which we describe as Christian? Was this a nation in our laws, in our ethics, in our foundings, in our charters, in the hearts of our people one which was predisposed and dedicated at least in part to the God of the Bible? And the answer is emphatically yes.”

Phillips depicted the Christianization of the Native Americans and other non-Christian groups as overwhelmingly positive. He reserved special praise for the Christianization of Iceland, which purportedly ended the exposure of unwanted infants.

“This was a country that was historically visited by Vikings  … who may have very well have been Christians. You know, the very first Christian parliament did not take place in England. It took place about 999 in Iceland. You know, one of the very first laws enacted by a Christian parliament? You can’t kill babies. One of the very first laws, because that’s what pagans do. They kill babies. That’s what PAGANS do! PAGANS KILL BABIES! Christians protect women and children. That was part of the legacy of Christendom. And we look back and we say, oh God, how beautiful it was when our people came and saw the great commission as leading the lost to Christ. The Indian nations and the Englishmen who knew not God. How beautiful it was when they sought to declare your law as the foundational law.”

Actually, Christian men have mistreated women and children as well. Early Christians kept slaves that included women and children, and men perpetrated domestic violence in predominantly Christian cultures, both medieval and modern. Once again, Phillips’ pristine view of Christian history does not necessarily conform to historical facts.

As for Iceland, I suggest that readers take a closer look at the Icelandic kristnitaka before they attributes too many civilizing qualities to it. Phillips conveniently forgets the missionary efforts of Stefnir Thorgilsson, who reportedly destroyed non-Christian religious sites, and Thangbrandr, who reportedly had his critics murdered. He also forgets the actions of King Olafr, who reportedly threatened to kill non-Christians when faced with setbacks in converting Iceland to Christianity. (See the Íslendingabók, a 12th century account of Iceland’s conversion.)

As for the Christianization of Native Americans, Phillips conveniently forgets the dark side of those proselytization efforts, such as demonization of Native American religions, the 1883 Code of Indian Offenses, Indian boarding schools, and other chilling attempts at ethnocide. For Phillips to sugar-coat Christian history just a few minutes after discouraging hagiography struck me as darkly amusing.

Phillips concluded his talk by urging homeschooling parents to teach both scripture and providential history to their children. With this view of history, Christians can fight for their culture. The nation is on a trajectory that cannot fail, he stressed. As with other Religious Right ministries, Phillips understood children to be torchbearers for the agendas of their parents’ generation, urging parents to teach them in a manner that would continue that agenda. However, in an age of the internet, widely available books, and a rapidly shrinking world, those very children will likely be exposed to non-fundamentalist historical accounts at some point in their lives. Whether Vision Forum’s efforts to instill providential history in children will prove successful remains to be seen.

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

*****

To be continued.