Part VI in a series on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference
Part I: First Impressions
Part II: Doug Phillips on God in History
Part III: "Religious Liberalism" and Those Magnificent Mathers
Part IV: Kevin Swanson Is Tired of Losing
Part V: Messiah States and Mega-Houses
Part VI: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century
Part VII: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
Part VIII: Closing Thoughts
On the evening of Friday, July 5th, attendees gathered in the Radisson's grand ballroom for prayer, music, and videos. The evening began with a Puritan call-and-response song lead by Doug Phillips, followed by a benediction. Next, the ballroom screens showed short videos on Vision Forum's latest projects. I distinctly remember the Hazardous Journeys Society, an all-male organization that seeks to explore the world through the lens of conservative Christianity. Hazardous Journeys Society presented itself as an alternative to National Geographic, which has allegedly interpreted the world through the lens of evolution.
After Danny Craig sang "America, America", several young women performed haunting renditions of traditional American songs on violins and harps. After a mixed sex Civil War Choir performed in historical garb, Doug Phillips delivered a talk entitled "The Meaning of the 20th Century: A Providential and Theological Overview".
The 20th century ushered in a new era, Phillips began, and to fully understand the 21st century, we need to understand the 20th. On the ballroom screens appeared a collage of 20th century images: Che, Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, a mushroom cloud, Earth from space, and many others.
Phillips recounted his time as a writer for the George Bush administration and a private driver for Billy Graham. While chauffeuring Billy Graham around Washington D.C., Phillips learned about history as Graham pointed out places where he met dignitaries and took part in events. Phillips used this story to explain that the best way to understand history is to study primary documents and meet the people who shaped it.
Phillips shared his version of early 20th century history, beginning with the revivalism of preachers such as Billie Sunday. However, the century would prove to be one of "God-hating nihilism" and genocide", he said. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, he claimed, the church was silent and withdrawn from public debate.
Huh? I thought. That's not what I remember from my college history classes.
Phillips had apparently forgotten Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker movement, the social gospel movement, Quadragesimo Anno, American preachers' condemnation of Nazism, regional church roles in Europe's anti-Nazi resistance movements, and countless other voices among the world's Christians. If by "the church", Phillips meant the global body of Christians, then "the church" was anything but silent in the early 20th century.
Phillips claimed that the 20th century church wasn't prepared to deal with genocide and the Holocaust. For this reason, abortion and birth control have now spread through Christendom, he lamented. One third of the people who could have been at the conference that night were "killed by their parents" thanks to abortion, he fumed.
In effect, the 20th century forgot God and turned against him, Phillips told listeners. He depicted the 20th century as an era that saw the rise of "rationalism" and the rejection of God as a higher authority. Enlightenment thinking had given rise to 19th century movements such as Marxism, feminism, socialism, and evolutionism. Then, despite the "restraining" influences of the British Empire and the Christian Queen Victoria, the 19th century's "compromises" produced the 20th century, he argued.
Phillips held considerable scorn for Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger. Freud introduced people to psychology, and today, every single branch of psychology is saturated with "anti-God" ideas and "evolutionary scientism", he claimed. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he blasted Margaret Sanger as possibly the most dangerous person of the 20th century, more dangerous than Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Satan seeks to foment racist extermination efforts, convince people to see babies as dangers to be eliminated, and make parents hate their children, he claimed, seeking to literally and figuratively demonize Sanger. Phillips accused Sanger of embracing eugenics, branding her "the killer angel" who spawned the modern abortion movement and allegedly fueled the ideology of Hitler and Stalin. "The death count is in the billions!" he grieved.
Belief in the state-as-God gave rise to 20th century totalitarian leaders and their genocides, Phillips claimed, pointing to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and Japanese atrocities during World War II. A century of supposed enlightenment produced barbarism, thus showing the failure of societies that reject Christ. (Phillips conveniently forgot that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology, and that earlier Christian anti-Semitism set the stage for Nazi racial policy.)
However, Phillips assured the audience that God uses such horrors as part of a larger plan. One of those who fled the Armenial genocide was Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, for example. Amidst the events of World War II, the hand of God was upon Winston Churchill, he claimed, who was used for a "godly" purpose. Phillips described Churchill as an "indefatigable" and "indomitable" man who stood up against evil.
Tell that to Dresden. And Poland, I thought. Wasn't Churchill allied with Stalin, that tyrant you condemned a few minutes ago? The problem with seeing the "hand of God" on political leaders is that it makes it difficult to acknowledge their morally ambiguous choices. I realize that Churchill fought the Nazi regime -- a noble and necessary task -- and had a net positive impact on the world. However, I also believe that lionizing political leaders as "godly" is highly problematic.
Phillips blasted 20th century "statism", condemning Roosevelt's New Deal as a means of making government a "parent" and overriding the family and church. He similarly slammed Johnson's Great Society programs as "leftist propaganda" that funded abortion and feminist movements.
Predictably, Phillips seethed at the thought of feminism, which began with Eve and exploded in the 20th century, he claimed. He was particularly livid at the thought of women working outside the home. For six thousand years, he insisted, children were raised in the home by mothers, but 20th century women working outside the home changed that. (Actually, women have been working outside the home for centuries. Slaves of both sexes were hired out to work outside the home in Roman times. Plenty of women worked in factories and textile mills in the 19th century. This is not a new phenomenon.)
Decade by decade, the U.S. plummeted into confusion, he explained. He tried unsuccessfully to bring up an image on the ballroom screens, then told listeners that the picture was of the size of babies who never made it into the world. When we reflect on Hitler, we should also reflect on the "abortuary" down the street, he instructed the audience. Phillips lamented the current state of the church, disgusted that even Christian women were having abortions.
Phillips did not want to end on an ominous note, however. He celebrated Christian publishing, apologetics, teachers who have inspired "men of action", and preaching that creates "warriors for God". He also held warm sentiments for the Christian homeschool movement, which sprang from the 20th century's apologetics and activism, he said. The 20th and 21st centuries are times of antithesis, Phillips preached, a time of abortion, evolution, and totalitarianism versus YOU, versus people who want Christ to be king in their home. The task before Christians, thus, is to choose between death or life, Phillips concluded.
Phillips talk was laden with the usual Religious Right chestnuts: abortion and the Holocaust as morally equivalent, disdain for feminism, and historically inaccurate caricatures of prominent figures. Behind the chestnuts, however, was a glimpse at how the Religious Right views the present. For right-wing Christians such as Phillips, the present is a time of barbarism and delusion, which Christians must struggle against. This distrust of the present era and refusal to recognize complexity and nuance in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals a great deal about the Religious Right mind.
More to come soon on Vision Forum's History of America Mega-Conference. Stay tuned!