Jun 05, 2009

Has Chuck Colson finally gone off the deep end?

Colson, a prominent and revered Religious Right author and theoretician, seems to have been drifting toward the edge of the flat Earth for years.

Colson converted to evangelical Christianity while doing time in prison for his felonious role in the Nixon-era Watergate scandal. After getting out in 1975, he founded Prison Fellowship and focused on helping inmates find God. His emphasis on rehabilitation instead of draconian punishment made him friends among progressives and enemies among the hard right.

But Colson quickly started to march toward fundamentalist theocracy. In recent years, he has demanded that Christians adopt a "biblical worldview" and impose their agenda across all aspects of American society. He blasts public education, reproductive choice, gay rights and church-state separation and demands a male-dominated family life.

During a June 2007 speech to a Southern Baptist pastors' meeting in San Antonio, Colson said, "What is our purpose in life? It is to restore the fallen culture to the glory of God. It's to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it's music, science, law, politics, communities, families – to bring Chris ­tianity to bear in every single area of life."

A few months later in a column for Christianity Today, he excoriated the faithful for being insufficiently ready to "defend Christian truth" and charged that Christians "worship at the altar of the bitch goddess of tolerance."

Now, Colson has taken an even bigger step toward the lunatic fringe. He's the featured speaker at the June 25-27 "Building on a Firm Foundation" conference of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS).

ACCS is the brainchild of the Rev. Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. The ACCS approach to private education and homeschooling has spread across the nation in recent years. You may have heard Wilson's name because of some debates he did with atheist author Christopher Hitchens.

But Wilson is better known in Idaho for his advocacy of outlandish religious and political viewpoints. His "firm foundation" seems to be Christian Reconstructionism, the extreme Religious Right theo-political movement that seeks to take "dominion" over America, scrap democracy and impose biblical law.

Reconstructionists read the Bible literally and think the legal mandates of the Old Testament should apply today, including application of the death penalty for a range of "crimes" running from adultery and homosexuality to witchcraft and worshipping false gods.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Wilson distanced himself from the Reconstructionist label, but not the movement's harsh views.

Asked if he would execute gays, he replied, "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."

OK. That makes us feel better – not!

Wilson's biggest controversy was his co-authorship of a booklet called "Southern Slavery: As It Was." The tract argues that the Bible approves of slavery and insists that slavery in the South "was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence."

The Southern Poverty Law Center called the booklet "a repulsive apologia for slavery."

Wilson, who refers to himself as a "paleo-Confederate," seems unrepentant, telling Christianity Today that he believes "the South was right on all the essential constitutional and cultural issues surrounding the war."

"You're not going to scare me away from the word Confederate like you just said 'Boo!'" Wilson told the magazine. "I would define a neo-Confederate as someone who thinks we are still fighting that war. Instead, I would say we're fighting in a long war, and that [the Civil War] was one battle that we lost."

Wilson says if fundamentalists admit the Bible's approval of slavery is outdated, their scripture-based attacks on abortion, feminism and homosexuality might be considered outdated too.

So let's get this straight: Colson is happily speaking at a conference whose founder and guiding light celebrates theocracy, defends slavery as biblical and expresses regret that the Confederacy lost the Civil War.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal. After Colson's appearance in Atlanta, maybe he will get a medal from Confederate President Jeff Davis posthumously.

Wow, Chuck, you've come a long way, baby! Unfortunately, the trip has all been in the wrong direction.