Sunday, October 1, 2017

Gary Demar, My Confirmation Bias, and the Learning Curve

Below is a post that I wrote in January 2010. At the time, I was chewing on my own questions about whether I only saw what I wanted to see in some of the religious oriented organizations that we supported. Finding these discrepancies in the mission of Gary DeMar's American Vision published in the early 1990s and what it claimed in 2010 helped me put much of that into perspective. It wasn't just me.

Some say that this subculture fringe went berserk when Y2K didn't result in a shut down of society. (Many who followed Theonomy – the idea that God's laws should be our civil law – believed that if they stored enough gold, guns, and preserved food, they'd get to take over the country when computers failed.) It was about that time that they became more open about their more questionable teachings and behaviors, and some say that it resulted from their angst of frustration. If Y2K was a factor, it's all the more ironic that Demar became caught up in the aftermath. He wrote a very good book about Last Days Madness. For all his effort, he may have fallen into millennial madness anyway.

As I read this eight years later, the odd beliefs noted below have largely fallen out of vogue. Vision Form, a similar organization run by the son of a Religious Right heavyweight, fell apart due to his infidelity and indulgence. Doug Phillips was well known to bully people, and I suspect that much of his influence came about because he rode on his father's coat tails. His father was Howard Phillips, a heavyweight influence within the Religious Right and founder of the Conservative Caucus and what was once the largest third political party in the US: The Constitution Party.

Howard died not long before his son, Doug, fell into trouble publicly, losing the ability to contain the long growing scandal. I have the idea that many tolerated Doug out of respect for his father, but in daddy's absence, I don't think that people were willing to do it anymore. It seems perfectly plausible to me that, apart from his escapades, Doug Phillips lost his position of vicarious power when his very talented father passed away. But the publicity of the scandal that he himself created basically finished things for him. (I hope that they did end his efforts to propagate his very toxic version of patriarchy.) And all of that is just my opinion, but in the face of the scandal, others who denied Philips long standing mistreatment of others suddenly came forward to chime in with critics like me.

Gary DeMar was one who did not agree with my opinion of it all. I spoke of my concerns and wrote about them many times, culminating in an open letter to him. He did phone my husband as we requested, but he was too heartbroken to return the voicemail that DeMar had left him. What was the point?

To his credit, I looked at the American Vision website this evening. It no longer features the weirdness and has gone back to the simple statement of faith and (sound) quote from Greg Bahnsen on the role of apologetics in society. The bizarre social/religious campaign is long gone from the website. And also to his credit, shortly after I wrote the following post below in 2010, DeMar was a lone voice who detailed his issues with Phillips' family integrated church concept. Most others remained tight lipped until after World Magazine published an article about the Vision Forum sex scandal. I would have expected nothing less of DeMar when he came forward with his critique of the family integrated concept and the exclusivity that it demanded.  And I'm proud of him for deleting that other material, as those hobgoblins of consistency can be so difficult and painful to overcome.

Here is a revised copy of what I originally published on my blog
on January 7th, 2010.

Oddly, I’ve received two inquiries this week concerning Voddie Baucham and his connection to American Vision who apparently featured him as a speaker in one of their conferences, something that at least a couple of people found to be problematic.

I found it quite validating that I am not the only person who is offended that American Vision offers their platform to so many Vision Forum affiliates and features so many of their products. (Please note that American Vision and Vision Forum are different entities that both follow a Dominionist Calvinist Christian view.)

Concerning Gary DeMar

My husband lamented today about American Vision website's (new to us) 1000 Year Strategy/Introduction diagram:
It is so sad. I almost feel like I’ve invested in a Ponzi scheme. At least the first people who invest in a Ponzi scheme get a return, and the latter contributors get fleeced. As early contributors [to American Vision], I feel like we didn’t even get a good return. We were duped. It is so disappointing. It is difficult to put into words the sense of loss I feel...”
One thousand years? Seriously??? I can't accomplish half of what I plan or would like to accomplish on most single days! (Gary Demar didn't write like this before... I know it.)

Distractions and Dominionism

I used to support a number of Christian Reconstructionist organizations and have written about the topic often in the past.  Life became complicated, and for a few years, reading the latest copy of a theonomy magazine did not have a great priority in my home. When I did pick up these publications again in 2007, I didn’t like what I found in many of them

One of the questions I still ask myself was whether the organizations themselves changed into something different over time or whether confirmation bias allowed me to only see what I wanted to see in these groups. In retrospect and with some disappointment in my past idealistic naïveté, I still think that it was a mix of both.

Out with the Old?

For example, American Vision’s website once declared this about their mission – and with a few caveats, it's still a mission that I support:
American Vision is dedicated to the restoration of America's biblical foundation. Our goal is to help Christians think biblically. Right thinking precedes right action. Our mission therefore is to supply Christians of all denominations the spiritual and educational tools they need to become comprehensive, biblical thinkers. As individual lives are transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, society will also be changed to reflect Christ's Lordship over all of life.

All Christians should think Biblically, and I agree that action and emotion follow thought. But there's a problem with dishonesty among those in Christian Reconstruction about the fact that our Founding Fathers in the US did not agree on matters of religion or their individual convictions about Christianity. They want to go back to their preferred view of the faith that sees liberty and autonomy as enemies.

My husband and I took great joy in supporting a ministry that supplied resources to Christians of ALL denominations that countered the anti-intellectualism that I found dissatisfying in much of Evangelicalism. I believe that those with secular interests undermined information concerning the Christian influences on ’s foundation in government, and American Vision published and promoted excellent materials that preserved the Christian perspective of American History. 

I also understood ideologies like theonomy to advocate a 'grass roots' approach to good Christian stewardship in the arena of civil government that worked toward Christian representation in politics that flowed first from individual evangelism. I understood that it did not advocate for a “trickle down” approach that sought to establish any kind of theocracy, something that would be like evangelism through government. As Christians behaved as better stewards, the government would change by way of the process that our founding fathers gave us. 

As the quotable quote that many attribute to Alexis de Tocqueville declares that America is great “because she is good, and if she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” (Though Tocqueville's Democracy In America does imply this principle and may be a summary or paraphrase of Tocqueville, some controversy exists about the source of the statement.) As Christians become better thinkers, it follows that they will become most effective agents in the objective of making America both good and great.

(Blog host note 01Oct17: In fixing the formating of this post from 2010, I now wonder if this concept credited to Tocqueville was an inspiration for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.  -- I voted for Vermin Supreme.)

New Window Dressing

If one looks at the American Vision website as it appears today, they have adopted a motto of “Exercising Servanthood Dominion.”
American Vision provides Bible-based training for families and churches to expand Christ’s Kingdom to every corner of life for generations to come. Providing a coherent curriculum across the disciplines, while at the same time addressing key issues as they arise, American Vision reaches beyond traditional ministry and points to 1,000 generations of service and hope. Deuteronomy 6:6-7”
-pop-up window defining "Biblical Education"

I’m not entirely sure what on earth this means. It has a flavor that smacks of Botkin’s “200 Year Plan” and sounds like Vision Forum’s “multigenerational faithfulness.” According to their aberrant theology and interpretation of Deuteronomy chapter 5, Bill Einwecter claims that as the good works of Christians today create blessings for 1,000 generations, but that the consequences of the sins of the Redeemed today still visit their children to the 3rd and 4th generations.

Could one consider this American Vision statement as putting the positive twist on the double-edged “multigenerational faithfulness” concept of the Old Law as applicable to Christians under the New Covenant? It sounds to me like an odd Protestant version of the Roman Catholic concept of accumulated meritorious works as intercessory supererogation for the dead.

I also wonder whether their “1000 Year Plan” is a typo or whether the generations comment is a typo? Are they pointing to an approximation of a figurative 1000 generations that history has witnessed since Moses penned Deuteronomy 6 (I figure that only approx. 75 generations elapsed in 3400 years) or are they planning for an approximate 50,000 years of American Vision’s future fruitfulness?

Since the Vice President of American Vision once asked me just “what my husband thought” when offended at my opinion of Boerne Christian Assembly, I thought I would offer his recent thought on the new “Introduction” page for American Vision. (By the way, I the Boerne church a cult. Independent of me and without any coaching or advanced notice, the VP became quite inflamed when my husband said, “You mean that cult Doug [Phillips of Vision Forum] was running?”)

This was my husband’s response when I read the above quote about American Vision's 'servanthood dominion' to him:
It [American Vision and their mission statement] went from a clear cut ministry in support of the church into some nebulous nothing market strategy that sounds like it came from an MBA, denoting and connoting nothing. It’s all image and no substance. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve transmuted into the prototype of image over substance.