Far-right pastor Doug Wilson meets with local critics in Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho (FaVS News) — More than 100 people attended the forum, which was held on the University of Idaho campus and organized by the student group Collegiate Reformed Fellowship.

About 100 people attend a town hall about Christ Church on Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. (Photo by Tracy Simmons/FāVS News)

MOSCOW, Idaho (FaVS News) — In a rare public forum, controversial pastor Doug Wilson took center stage Thursday night (April 11) at an auditorium on the University of Idaho campus, to field digital questions from the local community, accompanied by two leaders from his Christ Church ministry.

“We are part of this town, and we would like to get along as much as possible,” said Wilson, explaining the purpose of the town hall.

Since its founding, Christ Church has frequently clashed with the wider Moscow community. One recent point of contention was the church’s vocal opposition and active resistance to federal and local COVID-19 restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic’s spread. Wilson urged followers to “resist openly” these measures, referring to it as a “cold civil war.”

In September 2020, the church organized two anti-mask protests at Moscow’s City Hall, leading to citations, arrests and a subsequent legal battle where a judge ruled the city wrongfully arrested protesters since religious and protest activities were exempt from mask mandates. 

The church was founded in the 1990s, and experts studying the church estimate the size of the congregation and its offshoot churches at about 2,000, or 10% of the city’s total population, according to The Guardian.

Keely Emerine-Mix, left, protests before a town hall meeting with Christ Church on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Moscow, Idaho. (Photo by Tracy Simmons/FāVS News)

Keely Emerine-Mix, left, protests before a town hall meeting with Christ Church on Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Moscow, Idaho. (Photo by Tracy Simmons/FāVS News)

Wilson told the town hall that members of Christ Church have “substantive disagreements” with the secular worldview but added, “It is not the case that we have to disagree about absolutely everything. … So I have a very modest goal, which is to remove misunderstandings and unnecessary disagreements that simply create unnecessary friction in our town.”

As he spoke some members from the audience jeered, many carrying signs that read “Christ Church Not Welcome Here” and “F _ _ _ Christ Church.”

Wilson said those heckles are why Christ Church doesn’t host more community forums.

Wilson and other ministers have also faced widespread criticism for the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases in its congregation. The allegations against the church involved requesting leniency for convicted abusers, siding with alleged perpetrators over victims and discouraging victims from speaking out. 

Several members of the church, including former deacon Alex Lloyd who pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in 2022, have faced arrests and convictions related to sex crimes.

When asked about this at the town hall, Wilson stated that any church leader admitting to a sexual offense would be required to resign.

However, there have been accusations that the church has not always properly reported alleged crimes to law enforcement. One of those accompanying Wilson, King’s Cross Church Pastor Toby Sumpter, maintained that if made aware of a crime, the church would notify the police. Critics have questioned the church’s transparency and responsiveness in dealing with such allegations among its members.

Adding to locals’ unease, Wilson co-authored a 1996 book, “Southern Slavery as It Was,” that portrayed slavery in the pre-Civil War American South as relatively benign, sparking accusations of racism. The first question of the Town Hall Thursday night was about Wilson’s book.

Wilson said his church can’t “defend anything that’s indefensible,” including the accounts of slaves who were abused and mistreated, but noted that wasn’t the case for all enslaved people.

When the crowd hollered responses to Douglas, they were met with “Be quiet!” from Christ Church members in the audience, who seemed to be the majority. The panelists quickly moved to the next questions.

In addressing the misconceptions the community has about Christ Church, Wilson said his congregation doesn’t want to conduct “a hostile takeover” of Moscow, making a reference to “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

But Wilson reasserted several of his controversial viewpoints that have sparked tensions with the broader progressive voices in Moscow in the past. He reiterated his belief, based on biblical teachings, that women should be prohibited from certain leadership roles within the church. He also expressed skepticism about climate change, questioning whether it is a real phenomenon, if it is caused by human activities and if it can be reversed, while adding that he does not necessarily view climate change as inherently negative.

Furthermore, Wilson reaffirmed his long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage and his stance against abortion, including in cases where the pregnancy results from rape and incest. 

Wilson, who has said he wants Moscow to “become a Christian town,” explained at the forum that he stands by that but wants it to happen “by means of persuasion and evangelism and by us being good neighbors and serving our neighbors and cultivating good relationships. That’s what I want. But what I don’t want is any kind of coercive top-down takeover.”

The panelists emphasized the church is evangelizing the town through Christian education, family and business. “We also have a number of entrepreneurial business people in the church that are trying to provide goods and services for the community,” Sumpter said, noting Christ Church members own numerous coffee shops and restaurants throughout Moscow.

More than 100 people attended the forum, which was organized by the student group Collegiate Reformed Fellowship.

University of Idaho student Henry Truillo said he was disappointed more students didn’t attend the forum, noting it felt like mostly Christ Church members in attendance. “It felt like it was set up by them and that the questions weren’t from college students,” he said.

Student Josie Gregg agreed, adding that Wilson seemed to be defending the accusations against his church, which seemed unChristian. 

They left the forum early, both agreeing the town hall didn’t accomplish its mission to bridge any divides in town.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!