“Make it a Christian Town”: The Ultra-Conservative Church on the Rise in Idaho

“Make it a Christian Town”: The Ultra-Conservative Church on the Rise in Idaho

The church is increasingly drawing people to the area who are attracted to the idea of northern Idaho as a conservative “redoubt” against American modernity, and by the church’s “reconstructionist” position, which holds that the world will need to be governed according to their interpretation of biblical morality before Christ returns to earth.

A Guardian investigation has revealed that a controversial church whose leader has openly expressed the ambition of creating a “theocracy” in America has accumulated significant influence in the city of Moscow, Idaho.

Christ Church has a stated goal to “make Moscow a Christian town” and public records, interviews, and open source materials online show how its leadership has extended its power and activities in the town.

Church figures have browbeaten elected officials over Covid restrictions, built powerful institutions in parallel to secular government, harassed perceived opponents, and accumulated land and businesses in pursuit of a long-term goal of transforming America into a nation ruled according to its own, ultra-conservative moral precepts.

The rise of Christ Church may be playing out in a small Idaho city but it comes at a time when the US is roiled by the far right, including Christian nationalism, and when social conservatives are seeking to roll back basic tenets of US life such as legal abortion, as well as dominating powerful national institutions, such as the supreme court.

In recent months, Christ Church has advocated for resistance to Covid mandates in Moscow, and Wilson has attempted to give theological ballast to opposition to restrictions and vaccination programs, as well as warning of political violence.

Last month, a video version of a post by Wilson at his well-read blog was removed from YouTube. The blogpost, entitled “A Biblical Defense of Fake Vaccine IDs”, was based on a conspiracy theory asserting that the vaccine response was a “power play” on the part of the Biden administration, which intended to leave the restrictions in place permanently.

Wilson further claimed that “we are not yet in a hot civil war, with shooting and all, but we are in a cold war/civil war” and urged readers to “resist openly, in concert with any others in your same position”, claiming that this would not be “rebellion against lawful authority” but “an example of a free people refusing to go along with their own enslavement”.

The post was met with outrage, including from other prominent evangelicals.

That was not the only time that Wilson’s activities and positions have led to criticism from other evangelicals, and associations with Wilson have led to crises in other churches.

In recent months, members and clergy resigned from Minneapolis’s Bethlehem Baptist church, and staff resigned from its associated Bethlehem College and Seminary (BCS), in part over the appearance of newly appointed BCS president Joe Rigney on Man Rampant, a video series hosted by Wilson and streamed on platforms including Amazon Prime. The show promotes Wilson’s long-held position that men need to assert themselves in society.

But they also say that the church is increasingly drawing people to the area who are attracted to the idea of northern Idaho as a conservative “redoubt” against American modernity, and by the church’s “reconstructionist” position, which holds that the world will need to be governed according to their interpretation of biblical morality before Christ returns to earth.

Christ Church’s previous controversies have garnered national attention.

Recent reporting focused attention once more on the church’s – and Wilson’s – handling of a series of sexual abuse cases, and the theological subordination of women.

In 2005, Wilson asked a judge for leniency in the case of Stephen Sitler, a former student at a Christ Church-aligned college, New Saint Andrews College (NSAC). Sitler was at that time convicted of sex offenses involving children.

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