A Response to Philip Derrida
Ever since hundreds of young traditionalist mainline Protestants trudged through the snow to post 95 Theses against liberalism on the doors of hundreds of mainline Protestant churches this past Reformation Day, their movement, Operation Reconquista, has gained much criticism from the liberal elites in mainline denominations. However, there has also been criticism from the right, fearing that Reconquista is sending sheep into packs of wolves. In his article “The Mainline Question,” Phillip Derrida writes: “the mainline churches are not only unworthy of saving, but also there is no realistic path for saving them.” He goes on to critique the necessity and plausibility of retaking mainline denominations. However, there are several key details he did not address in his criticism of the movement.
Many Mainline Churches Are Still Conservative
Most criticisms from the right of Reconquista start by assuming that most, if not all, churches in mainline denominations are completely apostate. If that were true, Derrida’s criticism would be entirely sound. And yet, in every single broadly liberal mainline denomination, whether the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodists, Episcopalians, or even the United Church of Christ (UCC), there are traditionalist, conservative factions that oppose the liberalism in their denominations. Even if these factions only amount to about 10% of the whole denomination, that still means there are hundreds of conservative churches, and even more members, in each mainline denomination. Hundreds of pastors have unique experience fighting liberalism. PCUSA still has figures like Bruce Gore, whose views are nearly identical to the likes of Doug Wilson and the postmillennial crowd, except that Gore teaches at a beautiful, historic church in Washington state. The Episcopal Church has many strongly traditionalist parishes that refuse to ordain women, and several conservative dioceses like Dallas and Central Florida. The strategy of Reconquista is not to launch an amphibious invasion of liberal churches from the outside. Rather, it is to migrate to existing allied fortresses within them. Reconquista explicitly advocates against sending sheep into churches pastored by wolves.
Legitimate Heirs of the Reformation?
In his critique, Derrida claims the mainlines are “not the legitimate heirs to their great Western traditions.” In a sense he is correct, but he misses the greater picture of what it means to inherit a tradition. He is right in saying that the mainline churches (usually) do not inherit the theological convictions of the traditions they are named after, due to the rampant apostasy of leaders within them. But, despite not being legitimate heirs of their traditions, they have indeed captured such traditions. In the case of Germany’s occupation of France during World War II, it is right to say that the German puppet government of France was not the legitimate heir to France. That does not mean, however, that loyal French exiles could have or should have just started a new “France” elsewhere. They would have needed to recapture their land to restore their heritage. Progressives currently occupy—illegitimately, in this theological sense—the leadership of mainline denominations, so it is right to say they are not true heirs of their traditions. However, in order for those traditions to continue at all, faithful believers must recapture the lost territory of the institutions that are under occupation.
It is crucial to recognize that the Kingdom of God is not simply made out of individuals plus their ideas. Derrida seems to echo the ideas of Radical Two-Kingdoms (R2K) theologians—even though he does not hold to the R2K outlook—in saying “the church is primarily a spiritual body of the heavenly kingdom,” and arguing from that perspective to say that “earthly” possessions of the mainline churches such as historic buildings and brand names do not ultimately matter. However, many in the Reformed tradition might dispute this. The church is the means by which the “heavenly kingdom” colonizes earth, so it does, indeed, start in heaven, but it does not end there. It is meant to permeate every area of earthly society. Thus, the accomplishments the church makes in and for the culture are invaluable and irreplaceable. In a real way, earthly possessions, the historic holdings, so to speak, of the church do matter. Heritage matters, buildings matter, and names matter. These things grip the imagination. They are testaments to God’s work even if they have strayed or been acquired by hostile forces. Repossession of such heritage and property is not a ridiculous ambition. It is an ambition driven by justice, rootedness, tradition. Did the crusaders desire any less in their efforts to recapture Jerusalem from Islam, or is it just ironic, trad-memeing when triumphant, A.I. generated images bearing the Templar cross circulate on twitter?
Why Conservatives Previously Lost
Derrida goes on to argue, referencing past conservative defeats, that a conservative victory in the mainlines is utterly implausible. Contra Derrida, such losses can easily be explained by bad strategies that must be avoided going forward. The lesson is to learn from mistakes, not to abandon hope. There are three primary reasons as to why these conservative factions have failed to win over their denominations:
There is a common theme in all denomination splits – they always split into “original” and “conservative.” Whenever conservatives lose a denominational battle, they split off and form a new denomination. Whenever liberals lose a battle, they double down and fight harder. The clearest example of this was the recent United Methodist “split” if it can even be called such. In 2019, the conservatives had a victory with the UMC narrowly voting against same-sex marriage. The progressives responded with a firm commitment to stay in the denomination and fight for their agenda. Seeing that they had a robust battle-plan, hundreds of conservative churches panicked and split off to form the Global Methodist church, despite having won the vote, being forced to pay the UMC gobs of money to add to their humiliation. Conservatives tend to split off over what they fear might happen, whereas liberals will stay and fight despite having already lost battles. The result of this has been progressives conquering almost every major cultural institution, whether universities, churches, or media.
Despite painting themselves as tough stoics and painting liberals as sensitive snowflakes, conservatives are often far more timid in speaking up and getting involved in high positions to make change than progressives. Progressives are far more likely to make a stink, protest aggressively, and strike fear into the hearts of their opponents than conservatives. They are also far more likely to get involved in leadership committees and administration. In any given denomination, the conservative factions try to sound moderate and avoid being offensive out of fear of retribution, while the progressive factions use the most charged and shocking rhetoric possible and constantly push the boundaries.
Both inside and outside the church, progressives tend to demand everyone agree with them, whereas conservatives merely demand the freedom to believe and do as they please. This causes moderates to feel far more pressured to appease the progressives. Conservatives hope that moderates will be won over by their fairness and sympathize with them, but in most cases, the moderates will simply try and satisfy the loudest complainers.
If progressives could hijack Christian denominations, then Christians can re-hijack progressive denominations, unless God’s soldiers are somehow weaker than a few old liberals. Given that there are hundreds of faithful pastors left in the mainline and that heretics have stolen what was created for God’s glory, Reconquista is absolutely both plausible and necessary.
Image Credit: John Hilling, First phase, burning of the Old South Church, Bath, 1854.