Friday, September 19, 2008

Racist Roots of the Constitution Party? Maybe Some Tree Branches...

The other day, I received an email asking about what I knew of the “racist roots of the Constitution Party.” I denied that there are racist roots but I did explain that I believed that there were Christian Reconstruction roots from a vein that appealed to the writings of Confederate Presbyterian ministers.

 I don’t think it’s fair, right or reasonable to say that the roots of the organization extend much beyond states rights and a notably Christian perspective, but the Constitution Party (CP) unfortunately does attract "racialists," racists, and neo-confederates. There’s also the problem of the League of the South (LoS) which, at its inception, did not appear to be an organization with any racist or racialist interest. (This may be idealistic naivete on the part of my husband and myself, but this is what we believed.) I’ve never heard anything racist or anything remotely racialist from the CP itself during our participation which ended in 2003, and I know only what everyone else does about its inception. Our departure from the CP came about because of the patriarchal rhetoric from both Doug Phillips who directed the CP efforts of the state we lived in at the time and from Michael Peroutka during the 2004 election.

My introduction to Christian Reconstruction came about through my mentor who attended Lee University (then College), the Church of God institution in Cleveland, TN that had a notably Reformed presence in their Theology Department. During Christian school devotions every morning, he would sometimes play tapes from D. James Kennedy. I supported Coral Ridge Ministries for many years thereafter, particularly when Kennedy started highlighting Creation Science. In the early ‘90s, my husband and I also began supporting American Vision (Gary DeMar’s organization) and the then Taxpayers Party (now CP) because they strongly reflected our views (to the best of our ability to discern at the time). Neither of us would have even entertained the thought of promoting theocracy, let alone racism. In fact, American Vision’s website hosts Gary DeMar’s articles noting the errors in Dabney’s arguments justifying slavery.

We moved to Maryland in the early ‘90s, and we eventually participated in the then Taxpayers Party (which later became the CP). About this same time in ‘93 -‘94, Coral Ridge launched their Washington, DC office, and we received all sorts of appeals to participate in what basically sounded like a Christian lobbyist group in the summation of it. We prayed about participating, and though I loved the concept, surprisingly, “I had no peace about it.” At about the time that Coral Ridge launched these efforts, we started receiving three or four large mailings from them per week. I understand marketing techniques and their effectiveness at generating income, but I found this barrage of waste quite ridiculous. We were so put off by this that we dropped all support of Coral Ridge Ministries and have not contributed since. We like to give to worthy causes, but we do not like to be coerced into doing so. I don’t believe that coercion and manipulation demonstrate good Christian character, particularly concerning fund raising.

During our time in Maryland, we eventually participated in the CP. I never heard anything remotely racialist or racist from them, in theory or practice. I never had any indication that the group was anything other than a group of Christians who wanted to restore the system of government that our founders had given us – that of a decentralized federal government. The group was notably Christian, though there was not any type of flavor of this American nationalism that is purveyed by Vision Forum. (If there was, I did not recognize it as anything overt or inappropriate for a Christian.) I could tell that Howard Phillips held to a Reformed view, whether he stated this openly or not, I do not specifically recall. I really loved attending the local meetings of the CP, and I still strongly agree with Howard that the Republican Party does not significantly differ from the Democratic Party anymore. I did like certain Republican Candidates like Alan Keyes, and it was interesting to note that the CP featured him as a speaker then, and I believe that the CP still invites him to speak at their functions. Were it not for Keyes’ strong view of world government which the CP platform opposed, I would have expected Howard to offer him the VP ticket in ‘96.

In ‘97, we moved to the San Antonio, TX area and became busy about life outside of politics. Shortly thereafter, I heard Doug Phillips on a local, afternoon radio program when he filled in as host for the week, realizing that he too had moved to the area. It was then that I realized that he was Howard’s son. About a year later, we learned that he attended the same Presbyterian church that we did, though I don’t know whether he was an “official member” of the church. Homeschoolers and church members frequently mentioned his name and beliefs, as many of the churchgoers there participated in his local homeschooling support efforts. The Phillips family attended there irregularly, so we rarely saw them. We anticipated meeting Doug, considering that we would like to participate in the Texas CP efforts. But this meeting at church proved disappointing, as it was clear that we did not meet Doug’s “legalistic standards of acceptability” for participation, even with the party efforts. We asked to help with the party as we had done in Maryland, but we were clearly not welcome.

About this time, my husband decided to start contributing to the League of the South. At their inception, though they supported secession, the group seemed to be something of an historical society that preserved the Southern and Christian Perspective. My husband had studied Southern History under James I. Robertson, Jr. (the preeminent authority on Lt. Col. “Stonewall” Jackson) while at Virginia Tech, and the LoS appealed to his fondness for that course work and perspective. My husband cannot recall if he found out about the group from “The Lofton Letter” or from some tie to the Chalcedon Foundation, but all of these groups interconnected informally with individuals involved in the CP. When my husband approached me about the LoS, he assured me that the group had no racist interests. I would later learn that though the LoS made no racist statements at its inception, it would later make formal statements in support of kinism, “racialism” or a preserving of one’s own ethnic and racial group. We were also unaware of Steve Wilkins’ and Doug Wilson's interest and support of Southern slavery. (We had no knowledge of outwardly “racialist” ideals that were openly expressed by Michael Hill in his capacity as LoS President circa 2004. We did not learn of kinism as a concept or that it was formally associated with the LoS until 2007 when we investigated Doug Phillips’ increasingly notable influence with American Vision and the Chalcedon Foundation, choosing then to withdraw support from them because of Doug Phillips spiritual abuse and aberrant teachings. We certainly would never have participated with the LoS if we knew that anything like kinism was a factor.)

After spending more time at the Presbyterian Church in San Antonio (circa 2000) and watching the exodus of families that left when Doug Phillips formally founded his local church, we believed beyond doubt that his group demonstrated significant spiritually abusive practices. I believe that in 2002, the CP held a local conference which my husband attended, though I refused to attend the sessions because Doug Phillips had no interest in our offers of help with the Texas CP. (Why would I want to participate in local efforts if we were not welcome when Howard Phillips left town?) At that time, Howard Phillips said to my husband in an open session of about 12 people that “We could sure use your help again back in Maryland.” What was not spoken was that we were not welcome as active participants in the Texas efforts of the party, and Doug would not so much as make eye contact with either my husband or me. In addition, the better part of a day of the CP conference involved a trek to Vision Forum and I assume Boerne Christian Assembly’s grounds or Doug’s home for a BBQ which my husband declined. That CP conference communicated Doug’s position of influence in the party, one that we found deeply disconcerting.

About that time as well, we started to receive small, cardboard boxes from the CP with fundraising letters enclosed. I assume that sending letters in a box instead of an envelope would decrease the chances that the information would not be discarded as junk mail. We gave regularly and fairly generously to the CP at this time, so I found this additional fund raising tactic to be disturbing, just like the four and five letters per week from Coral Ridge Ministries that we’d received in years past. Shortly thereafter, Doug Phillips published the declared “sins” (any alternative to homeschooling, educating or working of women outside the home) in his short-lived, revised version of his“Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” and became quite vitriolic with other ministers who disagreed with him. During the expensive process of another, cross-country move and in consideration of our growing concerns about the party, we ceased contributing to the CP in 2003. We also ceased contributions to the LoS around this same time.

Then Michael Peroutka formally entered the scene as the 2004 Presidential Candidate, just after we relocated and settled into our new state of residence. When the 2004 election approached, I reviewed information about the CP candidates, learning of Michael Peroutka for the first time. I find it odd that we’d never encountered him (like we had John Lofton), particularly considering that we lived so close to Annapolis when we lived in Maryland. Within months of studying Doug Phillips’ family rhetoric while writing an article addressing cultic Christianity, I found Peroutka’s rhetoric to be far too similar to Vision Forum’s language. Both my husband and I found Peroutka’s message to be very disturbing and we did not vote with the CP in the 2004 election.

We also observed a shift in American Vision’s approach and philosophy from one of what I esteemed as a libertarian honor of freedom to a more theocratic approach. Doug Phillips’ materials also began to appear regularly in American Vision’s publications. I’d never observed any kind of openly theocratic sentiment in Gary DeMar’s writings until sometime after 2000, one that has grown so that patriocentrists (and their products) now figure prominently if not centrally in American Vision publications and emails. They also now openly promote Gary North's products, another individual with many troubling beliefs. We seemed faced with a new concern: In the off-chance that the CP candidate would ever win the Presidential election, it seems likely that Doug Phillips would be awarded some position of influence (?ministry of containment and habilitation of the non-normative?). And we wondered whether Peroutka also formally held the odd view of family advocated by Doug Phillips because of the similar language. It also raised questions as to where Doug Phillips first learned and developed his odd gender obsession. Did his father encourage his love for R.L. Dabney, his odd views about women (very different from that of the CP) and Doug’s reputation of threatening to sue his critics and fellow believers? With these concerns in mind, I wrote to Howard to ask if he would make a position statement about Doug’s beliefs or if he could tell me what kind of role his son would play in the party. I never heard a response.

So our reasons for leaving the CP had to do with the worship of family mixed with Christian nationalism, not racism or racialism specifically. We left the party because of the hierarchical view of the family and the authoritarian style of both Doug Phillips and Michael Peroutka’s similar messages and disturbing tone associated with the 2004 election. Peroutka’s message was notably different to us, not carrying the spirit of liberty that we heard from Howard Phillips, but rather a message of paternalism and something akin to Doug Phillips’ folk religion of ersatz-Calvinism, family and American nationalism. I wonder now how much of my naivete in the past stemmed from my own denial, desiring to see only what I wanted to see in Christian Reconstruction or whether the paternalistic, authoritarian leanings that may have always been a part of Christian Reconstruction had become more mainstream and public? As others share the same sentiment about the shift towards more authoritarian styles and an advocacy of what could be considered a theocratic goal, I believe that BOTH this new paradigm shift in Christian Reconstruction AND my own idealism likely contributed to my ignorance.

That “racialist” factor did not unfold for us until we started to study the roots of Doug’s patriarchy and his worshipful devotion to R.L. Dabney, an individual who would be considered openly racist by today’s standards, or what some describe as a white supremasist. Prior to actually reading the writings of Dabney himself, my husband denied that Dabney did make such statements because Dabney had been portrayed as virtuous during his study of Southern History. In the process of studying the “church and home” connection, the reality of the neo-confederate groups presented as an unavoidable factor because of their presence within Doug Phillips’ demographic. The patriarchs venerate Dabney and their vision of “the natural religion of family” which reads nearly identically to the writings of Palmer. Doug Phillips has spoken publicly in the past about his views that slavery of some variety (I’m assuming indentured servitude) as a part of his answer to current economic crisis in the U.S. He’s made apologies for his birth above the Mason Dixon Line, characterized Yankees as a generalized group of unbiblical Unitarians and Transcendentalists, and expressed fondness for the 17th century Puritan colonies who persecuted and exiled anyone who did not fit their often cruel and intolerant religious paradigm. He has posted poetry online that makes racist statements, something that many have viewed as a serious error in judgement. This is all in addition to his views on women – views that were never openly communicated by his father and not included in any way in Constitution Party policy or function. Brad Phillips, Howard’s other son once stated that his favorite book was authored by Dabney (as opposed to C.S. Lewis or Tolkien or Schaeffer or Rutherford, etc.). As I stated in a previous post, I believe that the Christian Reconstruction efforts of Rushdoony influenced men like Howard Phillips who founded the CP. And Rushdoony who regretfully made some “racialist” statements in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (though he did not live like a racist or racialist to my knowledge) did appeal to the writings of the Confederate Presbyterians to aid in the efforts of Christian Reconstruction.

Though I have not seen anything racist or racialist emerging from the Constitution Party itself, I find serious problems in the ideology of at least one of the sons of the party’s founder. In the last election, I found Peroutka’s message to be far more authoritarian than that of Howard Phillips’ message. There is a great deal of crossover between the leadership in the CP and the LoS, including many speakers like Peroutka. They may only be participating because of an opposition to a top-heavy and highly centralized federal government and shared Christian beliefs. But they are also responsible to answer for the professions of LoS founder and president Michael Hill who argues for the centrality of Christian white men in the South and for the ideology of kinism which calls for a separation of the races as a Biblical mandate. If they want to associate with an organization whose president espouses such beliefs, they will have to bear the weight of criticism and scrutiny for that association. Key leaders within the CP (just look at the plenary speakers of the recent annual conferences of the LoS) and the 2008 CP Presidential Candidate Chuck Baldwin boast membership and/or involvement with the LoS.

Here are some legitimate questions:

1. Did Howard Phillips’s sons acquire their deep love for if not worship of R.L. Dabney because Howard shared these same sentiments with them, training them as a dutiful father?

(Doug Phillips quotes from Dabney and others agrarian ideologues, writings that Rushdoony advised should be studied and republished for the benefit of Christian Reconstruction.)

2. If Dabney was a trustworthy and notable prophet, was Dabney only an accurate prophet concerning women, children, homeschooling and secession and an inaccurate prophet when advocating for slavery and white supremacy?

(What Dabney said of Native Americans was just as offensive as his statements about those brought from Africa, and it was racial and personal. He may have started out with an argument against them because of paganism, but the hatred he communicated was definitely racial.)

3. Can Dabney and the other pro-slavery Confederates be the only advocates for homeschooling, social order and responsible government?

(Are there other advocates for these things that did not boast openly racist sentiment? If there are, why are they not used and hailed as prophets? If there are none, why are there no strong disclaimers made against slavery and racism?)

4. Is the League of the South truly the only organization that advocates for decentralized federal government and strong Christian values?

(If their president and founder and many members have issues concerning race and racialism, why would anyone in the CP want to have such close ties with the LoS, if only for the sake of the CP? They may not share all the sentiments of the organization, but if so many prominent people in the LoS hold to pro-slavery and pro-“racialist” views, why would key leaders in the CP continue to have anything to do with this group?)

5. If Howard Phillips and the CP deny kinism and slavery, why do their most notable members and candidates continue participation with the LoS?

If Howard Phillips’ son preaches that Dabney was a prophet and the CP Presidential Candidates are all notable participants with the LoS (after publication of openly kinist and white supremacist statements), why would that not reflect poorly on the CP?

If someone like Billy Graham started speaking at Obama rallies, appearing at Islamic organization meetings and started advocating for stem cell research, wouldn’t people take notice? If Franklin, Billy Graham’s son, attended these functions to applaud his father’s speeches, would not and should not many people have legitimate concerns about the beliefs of the both of them? How likely would you be to give to the Samaritan’s Purse thereafter? In the reckoning the central message preached with everything else, the equation does not produce an answer that is remotely consistent with either of the Grahams’ primary and public professions. That’s not an informal fallacy of “guilt by association,” that’s reasonable discernment at work.

So, the answer to the question of whether the CP has formal racist roots is a definite “No.”

But do they give cause to question whether those who participate in the party have issues with racism or with slavery, an issue that the Southern Confederates attached to race and not religion? I believe the answer to that is “Definitely.” It has nothing to do with what has been formally stated by the party itself or even from what I’ve heard from Howard Phillips, but it has much to do with professions and activities of those close to Howard and those who are powerful in the party.