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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?