Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference

Ahab of The Republic of Gilead attended Vision Forum‘s History of America Mega-Conference earlier this month. In this post I will offer links for each part of Ahab’s series detailing his experiences and impressions there, offering an excerpt from each.

Part I: First Impressions

About a dozen vendors were manning tables at the conference — mostly books, DVDs, and homeschooling curricula — and their titled amused me. The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches seemed keen on gender roles, judging by book titles such as Preparing Boys for Battle and Feminine By Design. At the Vision Forum merchandise table, alongside toy guns, toy swords, and books such as Large Family Logistics were DVDs with titles such as Tea with Michelle Duggar and Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?, a video on the evils of “child prevention”. I chuckled at the title of a video on food culture, Food Heresies: How to Reform Our Theology of Food Without Becoming a Selfish Marxist, a Radical Environmentalist, or an Imbalanced Vegan.

The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy table was stocked with books by Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, such as the colorfully named Noble Savages: Exposing the Worldview of Pornographers and Their War Against Christian Civilization.

Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History

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.

Part III: “Religious Liberalism” and Those Magnificent Mathers

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 manymainline 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.

Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing 

As the workshop churned on, Swanson’s gave voice to more visceral hatred ofThe Scarlet Letter. The moral of the novel, he insisted, was that witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, and feminism are better than Christianity. The Bible commands the death penalty for adultery, but Hawthorne and today’s average Christians loathe the death penalty.

Wait a minute. Did I just hear Swanson defend capital punishment for adultery? I thought. The audience sat rapt, apparently unfazed by Swanson’s rant. Are you people okay with this? Hello!?

Swanson observed that many Christians are embarrassed by what the Bible commands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft. Such Christians love Jesus but hate his law, he said, and thus American religion is solidly anti-Biblical law.

Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses

“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.

Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

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.

Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon

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.

Part VIII: 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.

. . .

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?


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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Ahab

    Thank you for yet another shout-out! You’re awesome.

    • Libby Anne

      No, you’re the one who is awesome! You attended the conference and put a great deal of effort into reporting on it! I appreciate that a lot! I would have asked to crosspost the whole thing, but HA got to it first!

  • Nancy Shrew

    I despised The Scarlet Letter, too, but I don’t think that’s what the moral of the story was.

    • Gillianren

      I haven’t read it, so maybe you can tell me. Homosexuality? That strikes me as . . . not something that would appear in a book of that era.

      • Feminerd

        It didn’t have anything to do with homosexuality lol. It’s a story about religious hypocrisy, mostly. I didn’t love it, but that’s mostly because Nathaniel Hawthorne isn’t that great of a writer IMO.

        The main character is a woman, Hester Prynne, who has a child out of wedlock and is shunned from her Puritan community. She has to wear a scarlet A on her clothes (for adulterer), which she embroiders very fancily and turns into a decoration instead of a mark of shame. Although given the chance to turn in the father of her child, she refuses. He doesn’t step forward to name himself. The book is about Hester’s life, how she gets treated by her “Godly” neighbors, and such. Unlike most literature of the time, the ‘sinner’ winds up with a good end; she’s related to some sort of nobility in England, so she can (and does) go back there after a time and it is implied that her daughter marries well. The true sins in the book are religious hypocrisy and cowardice in the face of love, not premarital sex.

        And guess who the father was?

      • Composer 99

        Haven’t read the book but will take a crack at the guessing game at the end here:

        And guess who the father was?

        The village pastor/priest?

      • Feminerd

        Ding ding ding got it in one!

        Though it actually is kind of sad- he was stuck in a situation where he wanted to come forward, but he knew it would ruin his life/reputation, and he just wasn’t brave enough to do so. He does die at the end, basically of stress-induced stroke/heart attack, at a very young age.

      • Nancy Shrew

        It’s been a few years, but not as far as I can remember. Not even read-between-the-lines homoeroticism that made A Separate Peace somewhat bearable.

      • Gillianren

        I’m given to understand they inserted some into the Demi Moore movie (which I haven’t seen, because by all accounts it’s terrible), or at least implications of it; is it possible, do you think, that they–like so many about-to-fail-English teenagers before them–are relying on the movie as being the same as the book?

      • Nancy Shrew

        That was a terrible movie, I pretty much blotted it from my memory. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

  • Feminerd

    Ahab, this was fantastic. Thanks for going and suffering through it for our edification.

    • wanderer

      Agreed. I recently attended church with a family member and 90 minutes of revisionist bullshit wore me out. I can’t imagine your stamina in attending this whole conference, thank you for doing this.

  • antimule

    Wonderful. They have locked themselves up in a parallel universe. If republicans ever win presidency again, it is going to be surreal, and not in a good way.

    • stacey

      I wish they WOULD lock themselves in an alternate reality, and just GO AWAY.

      • antimule

        Not going to happen. What’s the point of being godly and humble if you don’t get to order less godly and humble people around?

  • Jayn

    “Religious liberalism supposedly leaves no room for freedom, he claimed,
    since it reduces humans to evolutionary animals rather than moral agents
    accountable to God.”

    This is the weirdest definition of ‘freedom’ I’ve ever heard. “You wanna be free? Okay, here’s a list of the right things to do.”

    • Rosie

      Jayn, that’s exactly how freedom was represented to me when I was in the evangelical subculture. And the “unconditional” love of God was a love that would torture people for eternity if they did or believed the wrong things. And that the “wisdom” of God passes for “foolishness” in “the world”.

      It all looks pretty Orwellian to me now.

      • Libby Anne

        Me too. Freedom meant obedience to God’s laws. What you might call freedom we actually called slavery.

      • Feminerd

        *blink blink*

        My Orwell sense is tingling. I’m not sure if you’ve read 1984 or not, but a significant part of the book explains the meanings of the three main slogans of the totalitarian regime:

        WAR IS PEACE

        It sounds like some of the most fundamentalist evangelicals thought those sounded like good slogans, not ones meant to horrify …

      • Anat

        Ibn Gabirol had a poem in that spirit in the 11th century. can’t find a proper English translation.

        It goes roughly:

        Servants of Time are servants to servants
        Servant of God he alone is free
        Therefore when each human asks for his portion
        Let my portion be God, my soul shall say

        (Translated on the fly, can’t do rhymes)

      • guest

        This book has a fascinating analysis of how the Bible writers employed what we’d now call ‘Orwellian’ language. The one that sticks in my mind is the way the word ‘life’ is used in the Bible.

  • DoctorDJ

    ‘“War Between the States” is a curious term … and it surprised me since I’ve never heard of the Civil War referred to that way.’

    That one has been around for a long time, and is historically acceptable. It points to a regionalism and parochialism most of the country has long-since outgrown. (Before 1860, the phrase was “The United States are…” After 1865 it was “The United States is….”)

    The “War of Northern Aggression” is a newer neo-confederate term that exposes the attitude of the user.

  • Aimee Ruth Blue

    I admire the author’s restraint in his retelling and sharing of quotes from this conference. I myself would have a much harder time with it, wanting to lambast the ludicrousness of much of it. (By the way, not one thing is mentioned that I had never heard before, even though I was never homeschooled or in a Quiverfull family. But I was raised fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian.)

  • Saraquill

    You are incredibly brave. I would have been screaming and/or vomiting part way through.

  • AndersH

    Thanks for the quotes, Libby. Really want to read the original blogposts, but for some reason Ahab’s site is blocked by the wifi on this Baltic bus company.
    I always think of history as something that is often formed in a process to rationalise our place in the world, no matter how good our level of scholarship (we always have to make choices in what we highlight to draw a line from the past to the present), but it’s amazing to see the lengths people will go to narrow their vision enough to make history fit exactly with their ideological/philosophical view of the world.

  • gimpi1

    Ahab, my thanks as well. You did a fine job of getting the word out about the propaganda being passed off as scholarship at this “History” conference. Well done getting the word out the faux-scholarship, the Orwellian “Freedom is Slavery” nature and the confederate sympathizers that seem to stack Vision Forum. Everyone who actually cares about historical fact and real scholarship owes you a debt.

    If you can mislead enough people about the past, you can control the future. I, for one will try not to allow these lies to go unchallenged.

  • mid-life mama

    every time i read something like this, i’m glad all over again that i took my kids out of a “christian school” and did not join any homeschool groups.
    we did homeschool-we hired tutors and did the best we could. there have been ups and downs, but our faith is intact and open , and growing :)