WASHINGTON ― The Republican candidate for governor of Montana has ties to Douglas Wilson, an Idaho pastor who once wrote, “one could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery,” and maintains that women are “created to be responsive and dependent to a man.”
Greg Gianforte, the wealthy technology entrepreneur who’s challenging incumbent Steve Bullock (D) for the Montana governor’s seat, served with Wilson on the board of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, which the pastor co-founded. (Wilson is an ex officio member of the board, which means he doesn’t vote.) Both men spoke at the group’s conferences in 2014 and 2015. Gianforte praised Wilson at the 2014 conference. “We have been Classical Christian from day one ― 20 years,” he said. “And I really appreciate Douglas Wilson’s comments about, avoiding, you know, vision drift.”
The Gianforte Family Foundation, a charitable organization that Gianforte and his wife established, gave more than $30,000 to ACCS between 2012 and 2014, according to filings. Gianforte remains the chairman and a permanent board member of Petra Academy, the Bozeman-based, ACCS-accredited school his son attended. (Craig Dunham, headmaster of Petra, said the school makes its own curricular choices. “We do not use Mr. Wilson’s book on slavery in our curriculum,” he added.)
Gianforte “is unfamiliar with Mr. Wilson’s writings outside of their mutual involvement with ACCS,” Aaron Flint, a spokesman for his campaign, told The Huffington Post.
Wilson’s writings on classical, Christian education inspired the formation of other schools, and he was involved in the effort to accredit them. But his views on slavery are so controversial that after learning about them in February, a Republican lawmaker in Tennessee withdrew a bill that would have helped ACCS. The Democrat who drew attention to Wilson’s views made claims that were “untrue and unfounded,” said ACCS President David Goodwin.
Wilson and a co-author rewrote slavery’s violent history in a 1996 pamphlet called “Southern Slavery, As It Was.” They cite narratives that they claim show Southern slavery was “a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care,” and note that “one could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery.”
In the same document, they claim “feminists, in rebellion against God, invert the order of the home established by God. They do so in a way that seeks to rob women of their beauty in submission.”
Goodwin said Wilson’s views on slavery are independent of the ACCS, and that the pastor only discussed education at conferences.
“We would distance ourselves from him if we thought he were a racist or a friend of slavery,” Goodwin said. “Wilson, in our judgment, when we read his materials and try to assess these things, is making academic arguments, and as a pastor, we don’t want to censor him for things that are reasonable, if read carefully, interpretations of history that other people have had.”
“We have multiple schools run, some of them by black individuals...I don’t think they’d be there if they really felt this was a racist movement,” he later added.
Wilson wrote four of the 14 classical Christian education books ACCS recommends on its website. The site doesn’t mention the 1996 pamphlet, but it does recommend an education book by Confederate chaplain Robert Lewis Dabney, who wrote in his 1867 defense of slavery that black people are “morally inferior.” (Goodwin was not familiar with that work, but said Dabney’s thesis on education is “consistent with our view.”)
Wilson and Gianforte appear to share educational goals, but are not close friends. Wilson told HuffPost that he would support Gianforte’s candidacy if he lived in Montana (he doesn’t), and described their relationship as “friendly at board meetings,” which he attends about once a year. He said that as far as his views on slavery go, “Greg and I never talked about any of that stuff.” Rather, meetings were focused on education.
Wilson emphasized that he is glad slavery is gone, and pointed to his 2005 publication, in which he argued, “we were not trying to maintain that slavery in itself was a positive good...our central interest was in defending the integrity and applicability of the Scriptures.”
But Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, contends that ACCS “apparently remains the same extremist organization that it was when Doug Wilson founded it.” He pointed to the fact that the association still carries some of Wilson’s writings, adding, “Wilson has unbelievably retrograde ideas about women.”
“I do not think they could possibly have any factual basis for their assertion,” Goodwin said in an email.
Wilson called SPLC “an organization of leftist hacks.” When asked by HuffPost whether he still believes, as SPLC noted, that “women are created to be dependent and responsive to a man,” he said, “absolutely,” but added, “God created them to be mutually interdependent.”