Christianity Today recently published an article on the classical education movement, written by Louis Markos. Theologian and pastor Doug Wilson is front and center. He founded the first classical Christian school, he wrote the book on classical Christian education, and he founded the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS). There’s just one problem. Wilson is also a racist and a white supremacist.
Markos limits criticism of Wilson in a single paragraph:
Another strong critique of classical Christian education has come from advocates like Preston Jones. In a 2002 article in Critique, he took the ACCS to task for being anti-Catholic as well as denominationally separatist. Jones is also one of many who criticized ACCS founder Wilson for his utopian views of the Old South, as outlined in a 1996 pamphlet he co-authored. Though the pamphlet condemned racism and said the practice of Southern slavery was unbiblical, critics were troubled that it argued US slavery was more benign than is usually presented in history texts.
Over the years, I have grown increasingly upset that evangelicals like Markos and the editors at Christianity Today continue to reference and lean on Wilson as some sort of prescient theological giant without acknowledging his rank racism. The above paragraph may be Markos’ attempt to acknowledge just that, but if that is what it is, its attempt it falls far, far short.
Let’s recall Markos’ phrasing. He writes that Wilson has been criticized for “his utopian views of the Old South” as outlined in a 1996 pamphlet in which he argued that “slavery was more benign than is usually presented in history texts.” However, in that same pamphlet, Markos writes, Wilson “condemned racism” and “said the practice of Southern slavery was unbiblical.” One could read these words and still have literally no idea what Wilson’s pamphlet actually said—or who his co-author was.
Last year, I penned an article taking evangelicals like Markos to task for failing to sufficiently condemn Wilson’s racism. You see, Wilson isn’t just a “controversial” figure, or one whose kid glove treatment of the U.S. South has left critics “troubled.” In my piece, I outlined Wilson’s beliefs and actions over the years, marshaling this evidence to argue that evangelicals’ condemnation of Wilson should be sound and without hesitation.
I noted the following:
Wilson co-wrote a booklet defending antebellum slavery with Steve Wilkins, co-founder of the League of the South, a white nationalist organization that has increasing ne-Nazi tendencies and participated in the violence at last summer’s “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville.
Wilson is an evangelical pastor who calls himself a “paleo-confederate” and has multiple times urged judges to show leniency to child molesters who were studying at his (unaccredited) seminary in Moscow, Idaho, when they were found out. …
Wilson oversees his own Christian school association—his local school celebrates Robert E. Lee’s birthday but not Abraham Lincoln’s… (Wilson is listed as an editor of John Dwyer’s revisionist text, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War, which glorifies men like R. L. Dabney, a white supremacist who defended slavery and opposed public schools on the grounds that it was unjust “to raise taxes to give a pretended education to the brats of black paupers” on the backs of oppressed whites.)
You wouldn’t get any of this from Markos’ brief reference to Wilson condemning slavery as unbiblical but having “Utopian views” of the antebellum South. And you would have no idea that Wilson co-wrote his pamphlet with the founder of a literal white supremacist organization. Wilson’s association with Wilkins didn’t end then, either.
Here’s more detail from my article:
In the late 1990s, Wilson co-wrote a book defending southern slavery with Steve Wilkins, the co-founder of the League of the South. In their book, Wilson and Wilkins portrayed African Americans as inherently lazy, and southern slavery as inherently beneficial, even Christian. Wilkins, acting on these beliefs, co-founded The League of the South with Michael Hill. The League of the South participated in a funeral in 1995 at which Hill, referring to African Americans, spoke of “elicit rights bestowed on a compliant and deadly underclass that now fulfills a role similar to that of Hitler’s brown-shirted street thugs in the 1930s.”
When Wilson co-wrote his book with Wilkins [in 1996], Wilkins was on the League of the South’s board of directors. He would have been aware of language like that above, and aware that League members were advocating against creating African Americans Studies programs at universities in the South with arguments like: “If blacks have done anything worthy of study (and I cannot imagine what that would be), then work it into a regular class. … Lets face the truth. Blacks did not invent … anything of note anywhere in the world. … When blacks beat my LSAT score and earn a spot in law school, I’ll quit being racist.” And still, Wilkins remained on the board.
And Wilson, who now calls himself a “paleo-conservative” and continues to argue that the antebellum South was the last truly Christian nation of the West, co-wrote a book with him praising the institution of slavery as practiced in the antebellum South. And this man still has a platform in mainstream evangelicalism. Think about that for a moment. Think about the priorities that suggests. Think about the damage that does.
In his paragraph on criticism of Wilson, Markos does not mention that Wilson co-wrote his pamphlet with the founder and board member of a white supremacist organization that was at that very time portraying blacks as subhuman animals. These facts are, apparently, not relevant.
In 2004, Wilson was asked to clarify his relationship with the League of the South:
Now I am not a member of the League, and Steve [Wilkins] has recently resigned from the board of directors because his priorities have been shifting. But let me say this to support the League (mildly), even though I do differ with them. I am not a member of the League because I believe that the severe problems this nation has do not admit of a political or cultural solution. There is no way out for us apart from a massive reformation of liturgy and doctrine in the evangelical church nationwide. That is where I want to concentrate all my energies, and that is what I understand Steve as also wanting to do.
Wilson says he is not a member of the League because he believes the country’s problems need a liturgical and doctrinal solution, not a political or cultural solution. This is odd, because you might expect someone asked this question to say they are not a member of the League because they disavow its racism. But Wilson does not say this. He does not say it at all.
If you want to know what sort of rhetoric was coming out of the League concurrently with Wilson answering this question, well, have a look:
No less a man than Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney noted over a century ago that Southern whites recognized an obligation to treat Christian blacks (slave and free) as brothers in Christ, and to recognize their common humanity (original sin, all created in God’s image, etc.). …
This does not mean, however, that we must subscribe to the flawed Jacobin notion of egalitarianism, nor does it mean that white Southerners should give control over their civilization and its institutions to another race,whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants. Nowhere, outside of liberal dogma, is any nation called upon to commit cultural and ethnic suicide. Furthermore, our surrender would ultimately be regretted by all parties as the remaining liberties were squandered by those who had no desire to preserve the Eurocentric, (and therefore “racist”), institution of the rule of law.
Let’s return for a moment to Wilson’s clarification of his relationship to the League, because Wilson didn’t stop with saying that he differed from the League in where the solution lay. No, he went on to praise the League and call them “good diagnosticians” of the problems besetting American society today.
I believe that the League’s attempts to stop what is happening are in the same category as the attempts being made by Focus on the Family to get prayer back in the government schools.
As for the folks in the League of the South and Focus on the Family, God bless them. I wish them the best, and I understand why they want to get out there and make a direct challenge to the abortion culture, the homosexual culture, and so forth. But they will continue to fail because so many Christians still refuse to acknowledge Christ’s ownership of their babies, refuse to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, refuse to teach them the glories of celebrating the Lord’s Day, and refuse to conduct their worship services as though our triune God is holy, holy, holy.
The folks in the League are good diagnosticians.
Wilson is not someone evangelicals like Markos or evangelical magazines like Christianity Today should be engaging with or writing about except to condemn. Wilson is a literal white supremacist. Evangelicals need to stop treating Wilson as a member of the in-group.
This is really not that complicated, and yet here we are, over and over and over again. Why can’t evangelicals condemn Wilson and have it done? Why do they feel the continual need to tip toe around him? Why are they so loath to call it like it is? Does he have something over them?
If you’ve read enough already, feel free to stop here. I have made my point manifestly clear already. There is only one thing left to discuss: Markos’ description of Wilson’s pamphlet was profoundly inaccurate and misleading. Wilson did not argue that southern slavery was unbiblical; he argued the opposite. He did not present southern slavery as more benign than textbooks present it; he argued that it was benign. At this point, I’m going to turn to Wilson’s pamphlet.
Markos criticized Wilson’s pamphlet, “Southern Slavery As It Was,” for being a bit “utopian” about the “Old South,” and for portraying slavery as “more benign than is usually presented in history texts.” Markos added that the pamphlet “condemned racism and said the practice of Southern slavery was unbiblical.” I am left wondering whether Markos actually read Wilson’s pamphlet, because even this is a whitewash.
To start with, Wilson actually argued that it was biblical for a Christian to own slaves:
The abolitionists maintained that slave-owning was inherently immoral under any circumstance. But in this matter, the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground. May a Christian own slaves, even when this makes him a part of a larger pagan system which is not fully scriptural, or perhaps not scriptural at all? Provided he owns them in conformity to Christ’s laws for such situations, the Bible is clear that Christians may own slaves.
Why did Markos claim Wilson wrote that “the practice of Southern slavery was unbiblical”? Perhaps he read only Wilson’s introduction, which includes this bit:
Southern slavery is open to criticism because it did not follow the biblical pattern at every point. Some of the state laws regulating slavery could not be defended biblically (the laws forbidding the teaching of reading and writing, for example).
But even that does not fully explain Markos’ mischaracterization. After all, Wilson wrote only that some of the state laws regulating slavery could not be defended biblically, not that the practice itself was unbiblical. Indeed, Wilson does not believe that the practice of slavery is unbiblical.
Does Wilson condemn racism? Certainly! He argues that it would be racist to suggest that slave men would have let white masters and overseers have their way with their women.
You think I’m kidding. I’m not kidding.
Didn’t sexual exploitation undermine and destroy the black family? Critics of the South have consistently answered in the affirmative. They accuse slave owners and overseers of turning plantations into personal harems. Again, unfortunately for the thesis, the evidence on which these assumptions and conclusions are based is extremely limited.
Such arguments overlook the real and potentially large costs that confronted masters and overseers who sought sexual pleasures in the slave quarters. It would have been much easier, and less risky, for owners of large plantations to keep a mistress in town than to risk the possibility of the destruction of his own family by taking up with a slave woman. For the overseer, the cost of sexual episodes in the slave quarters, once discovered, was often his job. Nor would he find it easy to obtain employment elsewhere as an overseer, since not many masters would be willing to employ as their manager a man who was known to lack self- control on so vital an issue.
Further, to imply that black men would be indifferent to the sexual abuse of their women is to imply that they were somehow less manly than other men who would be indignant over such abuse. This common assumption about slave men is not only unrealistic and unsubstantiated but an insult to their humanity and patently racist.
So, yes! Yes, Wilson condemned racism! Being an abolitionists was racist! Telling the actual history of slavery is racist! Don’t do those racist things! (Next thing we know, telling the real history of the Holocaust will be anti-semitic, on the grounds that it is anti-semitic to think that millions Jews would have allowed themselves to be taken to gas chambers!)
And yes, you should feel sick right now. This is horrific, triggering stuff. That is just how bad Wilson’s pamphlet is. He wrote literal lies, disgusting, gross, harmful lies. He published this absolute rotting mess, and yet evangelicals like Markos—and the editors at Christianity Today—can’t bring themselves to call him what he is.
You want to know who the real bad guys in Wilson’s pamphlet were? The abolitionists. No really, in Wilson’s telling the abolitionists were the real bad guys. I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.
By the time of the War, the intellectual leadership of the South was conservative, orthodox, and Christian. In contrast, the leadership of the North was radical and Unitarian. This is not to say there were no Christians in the North, or that no believers fought for the North. It is simply the recognition that the drums of war were being beaten by the abolitionists, who were in turn driven by a zealous hatred of the Word of God.
Christian slaveowners weren’t doing anything wrong, Wilson writes. It was the abolitionists who were doing wrong, going against both God and the Bible.
It is obvious that in a fallen world, an institution like slavery will be accompanied by many attendant evils. Such evils existed with ancient Hebrew slavery, ancient Roman slavery, and with American slavery. The issue is not whether sinners will sin, but rather how Christians are commanded to respond to such abuses and evils. And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves.
Let’s recall how Markos described this pamphlet:
[Wilson has been criticized] for his utopian views of the Old South, as outlined in a 1996 pamphlet he co-authored. Though the pamphlet condemned racism and said the practice of Southern slavery was unbiblical, critics were troubled that it argued US slavery was more benign than is usually presented in history texts.
Markos’ description sounds nothing like Wilson’s pamphlet.
I mean good god, this is Wilson’s pamphlet:
Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates. This happened to such an extent that moderns indoctrinated on “civil rights” propaganda would be thunderstruck to know the half of it.
Let’s be completely clear here. Wilson didn’t present slavery as “more benign” than it’s presented in textbooks. He presented slavery as benign.
I’m unclear on how it’s “racist” to suggest that black slaves would “let” white owners and overseers perpetrate horrific abuses on them (which, again, what the actual literal hell), but somehow not racist to suggest that millions of black people would have been a-okay with being literal slaves. What, is freedom something only white people crave? That would certainly line up with the Wilson-praised League of the South’s claim that “the rule of law” is “Eurocentric.”
Wilson is racist. Wilson is a white supremacist. This is not complicated. All you have to do is read his words, and take a peek at his associations. Things evangelical journalists apparently can’t do.
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