Many churches in northern Idaho refused to close even as the pandemic peaked here. In September 2020, at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, founded by Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson, members staged a protest outside City Hall, singing Psalms maskless in defiance of local ordinances, resulting in three arrests.
National Republicans were watching this rebellion among these ardent right-wing Christians and tried to make it an election-year issue. “DEMS WANT TO SHUT YOUR CHURCHES DOWN, PERMANENTLY,” then-President Donald Trump tweeted.
Far from shutting down, Wilson’s congregation has doubled over the past four years. “A lot of the fomented discontent of the last two years, I would say, is 80% of the reason people come here,” said Wilson in a recent interview in his office. The pastor himself, while claiming his take on pandemic rules is more nuanced, has made dismissive fun of masking and argued in favor of fake vaccine cards for the unvaccinated.
Wilson, a controversial figure long popular among a subgroup of Reformed conservatives, has recently emerged as something of a Christian nationalist influencer. He blurbed a 2022 book co-written by Andrew Torba, the founder of the right-wing alternative social media website Gab, and Andrew Isker, a Minnesota pastor who graduated from the ministry program associated with Wilson’s church. (The church is also affiliated with a K-12 school in the town and New Saint Andrews College.) Wilson’s publishing house, Canon Press, recently released “The Case for Christian Nationalism” by self-described “country scholar” Stephen Wolfe, who was recently named as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
Rawles mentioned Wilson’s congregation in his 2011 blog post and even wrote a version of Christ Church into one of his survivalist novels, but Wilson insisted he doesn’t consider himself a “card-carrying member” of the Redoubt movement. (Wilson also claimed he wasn’t overly familiar with Rawles’ books until recently, although they were in his orbit: In a 2009 photograph in Christianity Today, a Rawles novel appears on a bookshelf behind Wilson, something Rawles celebrated on his blog at the time.)
In the interview in Moscow, Wilson also downplayed his church’s publicly stated intention to make the place a “Christian town,” insisting the effort was more about “evangelism and service” than a “hostile takeover.”
But Wilson doesn’t hesitate to describe his vision of a Christian America. Laws would ban abortion, he said, and while leaders would strive to “maximize religious liberty for everyone,” Catholics are unlikely to feel welcome — “I think it has to be a pan-Protestant project,” he said — nor would Christians who disagree with his stridently patriarchal social norms. When it comes to major social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, his theology represents a majority of only two major U.S. Christian groups, according to recent surveys — white evangelicals and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Asked to explain where liberal Christians fit into his theoretical Christian society, Wilson said they would be excluded from holding office, later noting similar prohibitions in early American Colonial settlements such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. When it was pointed out that Puritans executed Boston Quakers, Wilson said he would not “defend” the hanging of Quakers, but then argued it was important to understand the context of the time.
The possibility of the Christian visions of North Idaho coming to pass depends, at least initially, on their gaining political power. While Wilson scoffed at the notion of running for office, he did not rule out the possibility of his church members doing so. Their agenda, he said, would only be “to get the city to leave us alone.”