Lewiston Morning Tribune: It’s not about racism

Lewiston Morning Tribune | May 4, 2006

It’s not about racism

‘Grayfriar’ soon to graduate from ministerial training program says controversial Moscow pastor’s book on family drew him to apprenticeship

Christopher Morris

Christopher Morris, who’s been studying for almost four years at Christ Church’s Grayfriars’ Hall, calls Pastor Douglas Wilson a mentor and likens him to a “Green Beret” on the Christian front.

By DAVID JOHNSON of the Tribune

MOSCOW — Among the thousands of students finishing their higher education on the Palouse this spring, Christopher Morris says he doesn’t want to be known as a “token black.” Nor does he want anyone to think he’s been duped into subjugation. “I’m a Grayfriar,” proclaims Morris, 34. “No one knew Pastor Wilson was training me to be a pastor.”

That’s Douglas Wilson — pastor of conservative Christ Church, faculty member at controversial New Saint Andrews College, a local lightning rod for theological disputation and author of the contentious booklet Southern Slavery As It Was.

Morris, who’s been studying for almost four years at Christ Church’s Grayfriars’ Hall, calls Wilson a mentor and likens him to a “Green Beret” on the Christian front. “Here’s the thing,” Morris says, “Pastor Wilson practices what he preaches.”

What Wilson preaches is one thing. Some say what he’s written smacks of bigotry. Wilson himself concedes that he’s been called a racist. One of his undergraduate philosophy professors at the University of Idaho, Nick Gier, calls Wilson an “intellectually dishonest” purveyor of “very masculine, no-holds-barred Christianity.”

Morris dismisses such talk as intolerant persecution of a man who helped him change his life for the better. “He’s a role model.”

Wilson says Morris, unlike the group of critics he calls “intolerista,” understands the theology he’s come to learn at Grayfriars’ and as a black man can speak for himself about racism and slavery. “I didn’t need to do any extra explaining to Chris,” Wilson says of biblical references to slavery. “There was slavery in the old and new testaments. I wanted to be honest with the text and that meant not sand-papering it into something it’s not.”

Wilson continues to deny accusations of being a racist. And several of his critics seem to accept the disclaimer. “I like to discredit Doug Wilson at every opportunity I get,” Gier says. “But I take him at his word that he’s not a racist.”

The slavery booklet, co-authored by Wilson and Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., caused a big stir in late 2003 among critics in Moscow. The flap led to protests in early February 2004 at an annual history conference sponsored by Christ Church. The booklet, Wilson says, is a historical view of slavery based on the Bible. Critics say it is more of a window into the authors’ distorted notions about slavery.

Morris, who had already arrived at Grayfriars’ by the time everything blew up, says he’s still baffled about why so many white people were accusing other white people of racism. “They misunderstand Pastor Wilson. They’re misconstruing what he wrote. I agree with everything he says in there,” Morris says of the slavery booklet. And he says he remains confounded by how many Moscow people continue to attack Wilson, his church and New Saint Andrews College. “Pastor Wilson is a visionary.”

Before coming to Moscow four years ago, Morris was living in Washington, D.C., going to school at Washington Bible College and attending an all-black church. “It was all pretty much entertainment. It was a show,” he says of how church worship services were conducted. Then, pretty much by happenstance, Morris says he got wind of an evangelical reform church and checked it out. “The first thing that stood out was how the little children were disciplined and sat with their parents.” Then he listened to the pastor’s sermon.

“I learned more in that hour listening to that sermon than I would have learned in a year at the all-black church,” Morris recalls. “The reform church was all Christ.” And it was at the new church that Morris says he first learned about Wilson, his writings and a place called Moscow in Idaho. “I’m thinkin’ Ohio, or what? I’m figuring there’s no civilization, that the nearest neighbor is 15 miles away and there’s nothin’ but potatoes in between.” He’d also heard about Idaho’s reputation as a haven for white supremacists.

But he started reading what Wilson wrote. “When I read Pastor Wilson’s family book, I started highlighting every page. When you’ve got strong families, you’ve got a strong church. When you’ve got a strong church, you’ve got a strong community.” That, Morris says, is what Wilson and his followers bring to Moscow — a formula for a strong community. “They’re bringing what we call truth, beauty and goodness to the community.”

Detractors, many of whom still wage a verbal war against Wilson on the local Vision 2020 Internet bulletin board here, say Wilson’s kind of theology flies in the face of community building because it demands that everyone embrace his biblical take on the world. “I just think it’s a very destructive religious movement to be propagating,” Gier says. Critics also accuse Wilson, his church and officials at New Saint Andrews College of circumventing local zoning ordinances to make inroads into the town.

“They’re just making the church grow stronger,” Morris says of the salvos. “You know why it (church growth) is coming whether they like it or not? Because it’s about the sovereignty of Christ.”

Christ Church is a reformation church ruled by 12 elders (all men) and belonging to the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals. New Saint Andrews College is a sister ministry of the church with several elders, including Wilson, sitting on the college’s board of directors and serving as faculty members.

Grayfriars’ Hall is a three-year ministerial training program of Christ Church. It is not a seminary, Morris says, but is more like an “apprenticeship” for pastors. He’s done his studying, free of charge, under Wilson and the elders.

“Their payback is you succeeding as a pastor,” Morris says, who is married and works as a waiter at Applebees Restaurant here.

Rather than a diploma, Morris will receive a letter of graduation from Grayfriars’ Hall. He hopes the letter, the experience and Wilson’s endorsement will put him in good position to travel south and become a pastor at a small church. He may also apply to a reform theological seminary.

“He’s a man who does not compromise,” Morris says of Wilson. “And that’s what drew me to him.” He says he’s also watched Wilson stand firm amid all manner of criticism and accusations. “I watched him as a white man accused of racism, and you know what? I learned how to handle all this. If I want to be a pastor, Doug Wilson is the one.”

Johnson may be contacted at deveryone@potlatch.com or at (208) 883-0564.