How one Christian homeschooler activity is shaping the future of American politics
Photo by Ramin Talebi on Unsplash

The emergence of debate leagues for Evangelical homeschoolers has evolved into a springboard for far-right politicians, according to a report today at Religion Dispatches, a daily non-profit online magazine covering religion, politics and culture.

Citing the example of Republican Alaska state Rep. David Eastman, whose incendiary words have earned him censure from both parties — and thus, stardom on the right — author R.L. Stollar lays out how the “niche milieu” of the leagues have propelled such voices.

“Academic debate leagues have become immensely popular among evangelical homeschoolers,” writes Stollar, a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. “Recognizing and grasping the culture of homeschool debate is crucial to our broader understanding of Christian nationalism, as the young people who participated are beginning to have a significant impact on American society.”

The first Evangelical debate leagues were launched in 1997 by Michael Farris, the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), “a far-right lobbying organization for Christian homeschoolers,” writes Stolar. Farris co-founded a national homeschool debate league under HSLDA with his daughter, Christy Shipe, at the time a student at a conservative Baptist university.

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“Describing the goals of the league upon its founding, Farris declared that he aimed for children to obtain the “ability to stand for the truth of God’s word” and “to help homeschoolers address life’s issues biblically, with God’s glory, not their own, as the focus,” according to Stollar.

And there was this:

“Homeschool debate leagues have unique guardrails in place to ensure two things: first, that students only argue about “safe” topics, and second, that they focus primarily on speech performance. Questioning core beliefs is thus avoided. “Due to the limits of the conservative and Christian ideologies of the leagues, their resolutions, and our judging pools, everything was severely one-sided,” one participant told the magazine. “The goal of debate (for homeschoolers) is to bring up the next generation of rhetorical speakers who support conservatism. The content is not about identifying the truth. It’s about reinforcing the beliefs of the audience.”

And, the report concludes, “With Eastman and the other rising stars in the Christian Right, what we’re essentially seeing are those tools — and the corresponding, highly charged rhetorical style — being effectively used in service of Christian nationalism.

“These young people can be incendiary, yes, but they are also articulate and adept at persuading audiences. Michael Farris’s original vision for the league — to raise an army of communicators for Christ to infiltrate and take over American political and social institutions — appears to be coming to fruition. We underestimate that vision and its adherents at our peril.”

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