April 2016 Church & State - April 2015

Tenn. Lawmaker Steps Away From Bill Recognizing Neo-Confederate Schools

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A Tennessee lawmaker in February postponed a vote on a bill that would have granted official recognition to a string of Christian schools affiliated with “Christian Reconstructionism,” which promotes a theocratic form of government.

As reported by Nashville Scene, S.B.  1792, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), would have added the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) to a list of accreditation bodies recognized by the state. This by itself would not have necessarily entitled ACCS-affiliated schools to public funding, but state legislators have been debating a voucher bill. If it passes, ACCS schools could eventually receive taxpayer aid.

Douglas Wilson founded the ACCS and currently heads Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Wilson has at various times urged exiling LGBT people and stoning adulterers; he has also defended the slave-holding antebellum South.

Kelsey apparently did not know the extent of Wilson’s extremism.

“I’m not sure of the actual person,” he told Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) during debate on the measure. Kelsey then postponed a vote on the bill, which effectively killed it for this legislative session.

Wilson is a strict Calvinist who has repeatedly railed against feminism and LGBT rights. In a response to Matthew Vines, an author who identifies as a gay Christian, Wilson claimed that supporting marriage equality was “far more serious” than supporting slavery.

Wilson also has a history of being a Confederate apologist. He has spent much of his career attempting to convince the public that ending slavery by “revolutionary means” was somehow more sinful than the practice of buying and selling humans. In Slavery As It Was, a work he co-authored with the League of the South’s Steve Wilkins, Wilson claimed that the “system of slave-holding in the South was far more humane than that of ancient Rome.” He has also portrayed U.S. slavery in idyllic terms, suggesting the system wasn’t so bad for those held in bondage.

Aside from Confederate nostalgia, Wilson has suggested that “men dream of being rapists.” Former parishioners have accused him of arranging the marriage of a young woman in his church to a known pedophile.

Americans United Communications Associate Sarah Jones noted in a “Wall of Separation” blog post that Sen. Kelsey should have known more about Wilson’s background before proposing a bill that could have resulted in state money being handed over to a far-right extremist.

“Had Kelsey spent a minute or two with his trusty friend Google, he’d have learned everything he needed to know about Wilson and ACCS,” Jones wrote. “These schools do not merit state recognition in any fashion, and had Kelsey successfully pushed the matter there’s a real chance ACCS schools could have eventually received public funds.


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