In most regards, Moscow, Idaho, is the embodiment of the bucolic college town: tree-covered neighborhoods, quiet streets, quaint shops downtown, and a pretty University of Idaho college campus. But for people who live there, the insidious presence of Pastor Doug Wilson’s cult-like Christ Church—not at all obvious on the surface, but cumulatively overwhelming at times—can make life on the Palouse surreal, even nightmarish.
Moreover, as a deep profile by Sarah Stankorb at Vice reveals, Wilson’s domineering evangelical church—which buys up property and businesses throughout the Latah County community and bullies both members and non-members who question either his edicts or his far-right theology—is built on a fundamentally misogynist worldview that permits male members to rape their wives, and threatens any women who object.
Stankorb’s report details the stories of the women who have survived Christ Church’s “culture that normalizes sexual abuse and harassing survivors.” One described being raped repeatedly by her husband, then becoming an outcast when she divorced him. Others describe being sexually abused as teenagers by men who taught in the church’s schools.
This ethos within the church is a direct outgrowth of the theology that Wilson teaches. He asserts that husbands have complete spiritual responsibility for the household, which includes preventing the wife from failing to submit to his will in “spending habits, television viewing habits, weight, rejection of his leadership, laziness in cleaning the house, lack of responsiveness to sexual advances.”
Wilson contends that modern society has stripped men of their intended roles, including their sexual mores. He has written that “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party”; instead, “a man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants,” while a “woman receives, surrenders, accepts,” he argues. He concludes that “true authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.”
Despite its location in a remote rural college town, Christ Church is not merely a fringe cult. Wilson is a major figure in the evangelical home-schooling and “classical Christian school” movements, having helped found the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, which accredits institutions similar to Wilson’s. He also operates a publishing house, Logos Books, that provides curriculum materials for both homeschoolers and “classical schools.”
Its current expansion plans in Moscow include a new complex for Logos School, built on 30 acres of land on the town’s northwestern perimeter. A fundraising video reminds viewers “that much of what we are doing in education […] is exported to hundreds of classical Christian schools across the country and beyond.”
Much of what Wilson teaches has long been controversial. In 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok exposed both his church’s cult-like creeping takeover of Moscow, as well as the far-right Dominionist beliefs embedded in his school literature, including a defense of the Confederacy and slavery.
Wilson co-wrote a book, Southern Slavery: As It Was, featured in the Logos Books curriculum, which claimed in part: "Slavery as it existed in the South [...] was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence.”
It argued: "There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. [...] "Slave life was to them [slaves] a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care."
At a 2003 public forum in Moscow, Wilson attempted to defend the book, claiming it had been misinterpreted. "My defense of the South does not make me a racist," he said. "I am not interested in defending slavery. I don't believe we should practice slavery.
“What I said is that a Christian man in the South could be a slave owner. He needed to follow the rules in the New Testament. Christian slave owners were compelled to teach their slaves to read [and] teach them Christian values. When there is a chance for freedom, the Bible tells the slaves to take it. Paul lays out the peaceful end to slavery. That is not how Southern slavery ended in the United States."
Wilson has taken other racially incendiary positions. In 2013, he denounced pastors who voted for Barack Obama as unfit for the pulpit.
“Any evangelical leader—by which I mean someone like a minister or an elder—who voted for Obama the second time, is not qualified for the office he holds, and should resign that office,” Wilson wrote. “Unless and until he repents of how he is thinking about the challenges confronting our nation, he should not be entrusted with the care of souls.”
Moreover, Wilson wrote, Black pastors were especially corrupt in backing Obama: “Not only must the dignity of human life be upheld by white and black Christian leaders alike, to the extent we may allow any differences, it should be to expect a greater vehemence in opposing abortion (in the person of its advocates and enablers) from black leaders,” he opined. “This is because it is their people who are being disproportionately targeted by the white Sangerites. And a black Christian leader who cannot identify a Sangerite is a rabbit leader who does not know what a hawk looks like.”
In recent years, he has heightened his “traditionalist” attacks on modern mores, including a 2020 speech he gave on the UI campus titled “The Lost Virtue of Sexism,” in which he argued that everyone can agree the Bible is sexist—but that the Bible is always right. In the speech, he denounced the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira as “a skankfest,” adding: “You might think that women are being elevated by an activity that I would regard as degrading.”
Wilson’s church has also played a leading role in Moscow-area protests against COVID-19 health measures, including mask mandates. Three church members arrested in one of those protests, including Christ Church deacon Gabriel Rench, filed a federal lawsuit in March against Moscow city officials over their arrests at a September 2020 event.
As the home of a liberal-arts college, Moscow has long been viewed statewide as a hotbed of leftist politics, and its voting record has remained predominantly Democratic in most elections, including in 2020, when Latah County was one of Idaho’s few counties to vote for Joe Biden.
This, in fact, is the situation that Wilson has long intended to change. He calls his plans for Moscow a “spiritual takeover.”
“Basically this is a blue dot in a very, very red state and the blue dotters are pleased,” Wilson told Religion News Service in an interview. “Our mission is ‘All of Christ for all of life’ and if you drill that down, then for all of Moscow.”
Local residents have begun organizing a kind of underground resistance to Wilson’s takeover, reflected in the website The Truth About Moscow, which tracks all of Christ Church’s operations in the town. Other residents have begun speaking out in local forums.
“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,” Moscow resident Linda Pike opined in a recent Moscow-Pullman Daily News letter to the editor.
Wilson himself sees no room for compromise, foreshadowing the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection in a 2019 interview opining that the cultural war in Moscow reflected what was happening nationally. The country, he said, seems to be in a “slow-motion civil war with no bullets.”
“The only possible solution is a massive religious revival,” he said. “Short of that and we’re headed for trouble.”
Published with permission from Daily Kos.