Folks who live in the university town of Moscow, Idaho, had better sit up and take notice: a far-right fundamentalist pastor with extreme and intolerant views wants to take over your town.
Religion News Service (RNS) reported recently that Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church of Moscow is planning a “spiritual takeover” of the city of about 25,000 residents.
“Our desire is to make Moscow a Christian town,” reads a statement on the church’s website. “[T]hrough genuine cultural engagement that provides Christian leadership in the arts, in business, in education, in politics, and in literature.”
Right off the bat, we need to be clear about one thing: Wilson’s not just talking about a “Christian” takeover of Moscow. He wants to impose his narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity on the community. I’m sure there are plenty of Christians in Moscow who would strongly disagree with Wilson’s interpretation of that faith. The man does not speak for all Christians in Moscow or elsewhere.
Wilson’s beef with the town seems to be that it’s a progressive outpost in an otherwise solidly red state. RNS noted that 60 percent of Idaho residents voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but in Moscow, that number was lower at about 50 percent. Reflecting national trends, Moscowites also show growing indifference to institutional religion.
Wilson’s views are pretty out there. He takes some standard right-wing fundamentalist lines such as arguing that wives should submit to their husbands, but has in the past endorsed harsh forms of "biblical law." He told Christianity Today in 2009, "You can't apply Scripture woodenly. You might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim. There are circumstances where I'd be in favor of execution for adultery.... I'm not proposing legislation. All I'm doing is refusing to apologize for certain parts of the Bible."
Wilson also holds alarming, un-historical views on race. In 2004, he organized a conference at the University of Idaho that was supposedly a historical look at Southern slavery. The conference was based on a pamphlet Wilson had written full of pro-Confederate, pro-slavery apologetics. The pamphlet, “Southern Slavery: As It Was,” asserted the South’s practice of owning, buying and selling humans created “a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” (The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Wilson's pamphlet "a repulsive apologia for slavery.")
In a recent video, Wilson asserted, “It’s not the job of the preacher to be a firefighter out in the world; we’re not supposed to be running around putting out other people’s fire. We are supposed to be arsonists.”
It’s a disturbing analogy. An arsonist creates destruction and chaos on purpose. Arsonists tear down – they don’t build up.
In a recent letter to the editor of the Moscow Daily News, local resident Linda Pike observed, “Moscow, a university town with a diverse population, should be a welcoming community for all faiths and beliefs. Christ Church’s goal promotes division and excludes our many friends of whatever faiths including Jewish, Muslim, atheists or anyone besides Christians, as defined by Christ Church. Moscow should not be defined by any religion and certainly not owned nor controlled by any church.”
Well said, Ms. Pike! Not only is that a strong rebuke to the nightmarish theocracy championed by Wilson and his ilk, but it’s also a vision Moscow – and indeed communities all over America – should strive for. It’s a vision for our country that Americans United champions every day – join us!