Part VIII 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
I've infiltrated several Religious Right events for Republic of Gilead over the years, but none left me as drained as the History of America Mega-Conference. The fundamentalism and revisionist history pervading the conference was difficult to digest, but it offered me a glimpse into an disquieting homeschooling subculture. Woven through the conference presentations were several common themes:
Dominionism / Christian Reconstructionism -- Dominion theology and Christian Reconstructionist thought were everywhere at the History of America Mega-Conference. From presenters who quoted from Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, to merchants who sold Rushdoony's books, to the banner in the dealer room that read "READ RUSHDOONY", it was difficult to ignore the affection that organizers held for Christian Reconstructionist writers. To boot, speakers such as Doug Phillips and Marshall Foster attributed Christian principles to America's foundations, ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Patriarchy -- A heavy musk of Christian Patriarchy ideology hung over the conference. All speakers were white men, several spoke harshly of feminism, and some romanticized stereotypical gender roles and family arrangements. Glaringly, most of the historical figures they spoke of were men. The idea that women have played dynamic roles in history, or that female presenters could have brought meaningful content to the conference, was ignored. When the speakers spoke of "men" in history, I don't think they meant humankind, but rather people with Y chromosomes.
Christianity as Monolithic -- It soon became clear that when presenters spoke of Christians, they meant fundamentalist Protestants. In more than one talk, America was celebrated as a "beachhead" for evangelical Christianity throughout history. Anti-Catholic sentiments reared their heads in several talks, suggesting that some speakers did not recognize Catholics as Christians. Moreover, Doug Phillips claimed that the church was silent on political and social issues in the first half of the 20th century, ignoring the rich contributions of Catholic and progressive Protestant Christians during that time.
Sanitization of Christianity in History -- Speakers trumpeted real or
imagined boons from the spread of Christianity while ignoring violence
and oppression committed in Christianity's name. Whether speakers were
ignoring the violence of Iceland's Christianization, the bloodshed of King Sigurd I's Crusade, or the ethnocide of
the Native Americans, the conference painted a very
sanitized picture of Christianity's role in history.
Distrust of Secular Government -- Several speakers, including Doug Phillips and Geoffrey Botkin, condemned the U.S. government for its alleged "statism". Government programs and social services intended to help the vulnerable were caricatured as the tentacles of a "Messianic" state.
Distrust of the Present and of Mainstream Culture -- Speakers repeatedly slammed the modern era and its imagined boogeymen -- "statism", secularism, abortion, feminism, evolution, and same-sex marriage -- as fallen and evil. Mainstream culture was caricatured as a corrupting influence from which homeschooling must shield children. At times, Vision Forum's history conferences hints at a longing to
return to the past, a past imagined as more virtuous and Christian.
Children as Torchbearers -- Presenters understood children to be transmitters of fundamentalist Christianity unto future generations, and thus concepts such as "generational thinking" often came up. The History of America Mega-Conference was a homeschooling conference, after all, and its revisionist ideas were intended for the curricula of homeschooled children. To boot, children are to be steeped in fundamentalist Christian thought and shielded from mainstream culture, according to Kevin Swanson. Presenters refused to consider how such revisionist education might leave children ill-prepared to integrate into American society, and failed to grasp that some children might reject their fundamentalist upbringing altogether.
At the History of America Mega-Conference, I was exposed to a subculture whose worldview is at odds with modern society. As American society slowly embraces religious pluralism, gender equity, LGBTQ equality, and the paradoxes within its own history, fundamentalist subcultures find themselves out of place in their own country. Since these social upheavals show no signs of abating, will fundamentalists subcultures such as this one retreat even further into their own bubbles? Or will they desperately try to reshape society in their own image by molding the minds of the next generation?
As I listened to workshop after workshop on revisionist history, my heart broke for the children being raised in fundamentalist homeschooling households. The vision of the world they were receiving was incomplete and inaccurate, and I worried about how they would integrate into the larger society as young adults. Would they have the curiosity and will to seek out fresh perspectives and new information, or would they be weighed down by the propaganda of their youth?
As people who recognize the problems with fundamentalism, how do we counter the messages of groups such as Vision Forum? By challenging historical revisionism. By remembering that history encompasses many narratives, not just one. By demanding accuracy in homeschool curricula. By reaching out to current and former homeschoolers and making accurate information available to them. And finally, by educating ourselves on the past and recognizing its impact on the present.
To end on a lighter note, after days of listening to History of America Mega-Conference workshops, I think I've earned a beer. Let's toast to a world free of fundamentalism someday!