A Response to Richard Ackerman
In the mid-1970s, a recent honors graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Wynn Kenyon (1948-2012), reported to his Presbytery that he would be willing to serve with women pastors and would not use his position to obstruct the ordination process of women pastors, but he could not in good conscience participate in the ordination ceremony of women. In response to this minor inconvenience, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) overturned Kenyon’s ordination. There could be no pushback no matter how compromised.
At the same time, it was quite possible and perhaps even common at that time for ministers in mainline Presbyterianism to deny virtually every sentence of the Apostles Creed (virgin birth, bodily resurrection, second coming, etc.) without any disciplinary consequences. How was it even possible that modern egalitarian concerns could trump the most ancient confession of the universal church? The answer is that a new religion had replaced mainline Presbyterianism just as it had replaced all the mainline traditions. It has worn those traditions like a skinsuit and occupied their buildings and carried on their names, but it is a blasphemous fraud.
In “The Secret to Retaking American Culture,” Richard Ackerman grapples with the mainline question by attempting to make the case for a conservative Reconquista of the mainline Protestant churches by way of joining, recruiting, networking, and outlasting the governing Leftists. This is a beautiful theory, but in reality, it is a naive fallacy, which by necessity makes it a foolish theory. In this response to Acerkman, I hope to show that the mainline churches are not only unworthy of saving, but also there is no realistic path for saving them.
The Mainline Are Not Legitimate Heirs
The author speaks of the history of the mainline as once having money, power, and prestige. They had Yale and Harvard. They hosted Handel’s Messiah. Nearly everyone who was anyone attended their services. Although I could only nitpick the author’s idyllic portrayal of those golden years, I am going to put the bulk of my attention on where the author and I differ most: the assessment, not of what the mainline churches “had,” but of what they currently “have” and whether what they currently have is worthy of saving intervention.
Ackerman maintains: “Mainline churches have the names, accomplishments, and works of generations upon generations of faithful Christians literally carved in stone, something that is utterly irreplaceable.” This is rather grandiose language for saying that the mainline churches have a corporation, a trademark, and some marvelous storefronts. Those legal possessions are quite impressive in worldly terms, but the church is much more than that.
The church is primarily a spiritual body of the heavenly kingdom. Having the storefronts and trademark is fine, but it must be more than whitewashed tombs full of dead people’s names, accomplishments, and works along with every type of uncleanliness. What is the point of those things? Christ has given the visible church on earth the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, and although the visible church sometimes appears small and aesthetically unappealing in the eyes of men, it is and will be preserved by God against the rage of the whole world until the end.
The corporations, trademarks, and storefronts are utterly replaceable. What matters is being a true church, and a true church is distinguished from a false one by a number of “marks,” which should include (1.) the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached, (2.) the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and (3.) proper church discipline is enforced. Even if we added a “more or less pure” qualification, it would be an incredible stretch to claim that the mainline churches possess even one of those marks, and I am not just speaking of individual, idiosyncratic congregations, but rather their entire institutions.
Does this assertion that the mainline fails to possess all or any of these marks really need to be elaborated on? Just look at their official positions on abortion and sodomy. They have destigmatized two sins that have universally been regarded as sins. Some even call them “holy.” How can they be expected to conduct proper church discipline when they are confused about something as basic as that? Do they conduct church discipline in any meaningful sense at all? How can they properly administer the sacraments when a huge chunk of the people allegedly administering the sacraments are forbidden to administer the sacraments? (I am speaking of the mainline’s universal acceptance of women’s ordination of course.) Is the gospel clearly preached in the mainline? From what I’ve gathered the gospel is frequently presented in a muddied fashion and more frequently misrepresented as something else entirely.
With all that said, the mainline churches clearly do not have the marks of a true church and are therefore not the legitimate heirs to their great Western traditions. Instead, the heirs are those congregations who broke off from the mainline in order to honor their theological forefathers.
There Is No Long March for Traditionalists
The author notes that “Left-wing elites know a secret about society that many modern conservatives unfortunately overlook: cultural change happens through elite institutions.” I am inclined to somewhat agree with this statement, but it is ever so slightly incomplete. What really occurs is the elite through elite institutions attempt to implement cultural change. I know this sounds like a nitpick, but it is significant because it is at the point of this slight misdiagnosis that the entire premise of reconquest begins to get off the rails.
Regime change (the circulation of the elite) does not happen with regular people rising up and saying “This has gone too far!” They happen when members among the elite lose confidence in the current order of things and these counter-elite fight the establishment elite for control using normal people to represent the popularity of their positions. The mainline churches have no viable counter-elite. What they have are dissidents: dissidents who the elite will drive out the mainline the moment they become too uppity as the Kenyon Case demonstrated.
What the Left has actually accomplished was more than merely “capturing” institutions. They captured institutions from liberals, who more or less subscribed to the “ideals” of openness and tolerance and were more or less sympathetic to leftist causes in the first place. When faced with a closed door, the Leftists accused the Old Liberal Guard of hypocrisy for proclaiming the ideals of freedom and openness while not living up to those ideals, then their sympathizers among the Old Liberal Guard proceeded to let the Left into the institutions. What is called the long march through the institutions was simply Leftists slowly replacing the Old Liberal Guard with like-minded Leftists, driving out their opponents, and closing the doors to non-Leftists. This framing of the transformation is important because it directly relates to whether the Leftist playbook for capturing institutions is repeatable or not. The Left is completely unfazed by accusations of hypocrisy, especially accusations of hypocrisy from people who have no power to do anything about it. They adhere to the “ideal” of tolerance to everything except intolerance, and that is what conservatives represent to the Leftists who currently control the institution. In short, there is no long march through the institutions for non-Lefists.
If the mainline churches are not legitimate heirs to their tradition, and if there is no viable path to saving them from themselves, we should have no interest in propping up their institutions whose sole identity is based on rejecting orthodoxy and providing a veneer of Christianity to the dominant leftist ideology. In fact, our current task should be to completely delegitimize the apostate mainline institutions, cheer for their collapse, and encourage the true heirs of those traditions to purchase their buildings. Perhaps working with local historical preservation societies and local governments could ensure that such properties are not converted into nightclubs or mosques or whatnot. Either way, this is not a primary concern. We must be willing to sacrifice the buildings. The true Reconquista requires defeating and driving out the infidels from the spaces they illegitimately occupy, not by joining and submitting to their leadership in the hopes of one day outlasting them.
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