The Problem With ‘Fundamentalists’
Father John Jillions, a liberal Orthodox priest who was once the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, recently delivered a lecture criticizing conservative Orthodox Christians — including, by name, Father Chad Hatfield, rector of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and me. You can watch the whole thing here. Its title: “Preserve the Fullness of Thy Church”: Fighting Fundamentalism, Defending Dialogue and Reclaiming Catholicity.
I want to address Father Jillions’s specific criticism of me (Father Hatfield can speak for himself, if he chooses to do so).
He begins his lecture by quoting without naming him a senior Orthodox priest who criticized liberal Orthodox journals The Wheel and Public Orthodoxy as subversive of Orthodox truth, and lamenting that the Orthodox bishops don’t act against them to defend the truth. But Orthodox priests and laity need to know what’s going on (said the unnamed clergyman), and how these subversives work.
Then Fr. Jillions (henceforth “Jillions”) lights into Fr. Hatfield, criticizing him sharply for a lecture he delivered to seminarians, warning them about challenges from the Zeitgeist — including from theological liberals within the Orthodox Church — and urging them to hold strong in defense of Orthodoxy. He faults Hatfield for inviting “the well-known Orthodox controversialist Rod Dreher” to give the prestigious 2021 Schmemann Lecture at St. Vladimir’s seminary. Jillions was a signatory of a letter of protest over my speaking invitation, an epistle that criticized me as an apostle of “politicized religion.”
Interesting choice of words. I have never tried to align the Orthodox Church with the Republican Party (which I left in 2008 in anger over the Iraq War and the GOP’s close alignment with Wall Street). What the liberals who signed that letter mean is that I am firmly against liberalizing the Orthodox Church on LGBT matters. This is 100 percent about LGBT. Jillions goes on in the lecture to quote something I wrote in response at the time, in which I said that I don’t engage in “dialogue” with liberals whom I judge not to be seeking “good faith” engagement. I call doing that “a waste of time.”
Jillions said that the most disturbing part of my lecture was my urging no dialogue with progressives within the church. “Dreher and company view engagement as contamination,” he says. Hatfield and Dreher are accused of being “fundamentalists” because where our view prevails, “Communion is broken, and the Church’s catholicity is compromised.”
Jillions concedes in his lecture that there is Biblical precedent for breaking off dialogue, but “it is a danger to prematurely decide who is an enemy of the Church” Later in the lecture, he says fundamentalists want to run away from their opponents, or roll over them. We prove that we are “individualists” guilty of “the sin of the Reformation.” Fundamentalism, in his definition, is “anything that undermines the catholicity of the church”
Again, I can’t speak for Father Chad Hatfield, but my guess is that he and I feel strongly about this because both of us have experience with the deceitful ways certain liberals — especially those advocating for overturning orthodox teaching on homosexuality — use the concept of dialogue. Father Hatfield was once an Episcopalian, and I, as you know, am a former Catholic. We have both seen exactly how this works. They use hazy language to disguise their true intentions, and appeal to principles of openness, mutual respect, and so forth to gain a foothold in church institutions. And then, once they have come into power within the institutions, the dialogue ends, because The Church Has Spoken. The people who were once upholders of orthodoxy within the institutions now find themselves marginalized, and even persecuted.
The late Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus understood this dynamic well. He derived from it Neuhaus’s Law, which holds that wherever orthodoxy is optional, it will eventually be proscribed.
In the Catholic Church, which was once my home, the tireless LGBT advocate Father James Martin has enjoyed brilliant success by pushing for overturning the Church’s long-settled doctrines on homosexuality, while using language like “love,” “compassion,” and other terms that disarm opponents. And to my knowledge, the Jesuit has been very careful never to directly deny magisterial Catholic teaching on homosexuality. But then, he hasn’t had to. I think the genial and intelligent Father Martin represents something deeply destructive, but I credit him with being a skilled and effective revolutionary within the Catholic institutions.
I don’t want to see the same thing come to Orthodoxy. At this point, the pro-LGBT advocates are almost all intellectuals, and are a minority. But bishops — all bishops, in all churches — typically want to avoid controversy. If the Hatfields and the Drehers can be set apart as “controversialists” who are opposed to dialogue and the “catholicity” of the Orthodox Church, then we can be safely ignored. Eventually we will be marginalized, and the Orthodox Church will be queered. It will happen as sure as night follows day. I have seen how this works, and I am sure Father Hatfield has. A few years ago, I gave a talk at a Catholic university, and was told by closeted conservative faculty there that they would not dare to cite the Catechism on sexuality, or quote the words of Pope Francis, for fear of being denounced by students for creating a hostile classroom, and then thrown overboard by the woke administration.
This really happens. Faithful orthodox Catholics are fighting a rearguard action now to defend the truth within their own church. Orthodox Christians need to know what’s coming for them too — and who is leading the charge.
Y’all be good — I’m about to get on a plane for Budapest. See you on the other side.
UPDATE: Good morning from Heathrow. Real quick, I want to clarify that I am all in favor of dialogue about how best we as the Church can live out the Church’s authoritative teachings in the contemporary world (on sex, including LGBT, and everything else). That’s a very different thing than a “dialogue” about whether or not we should change the clear teachings. If you listen to Father Jillions’s speech, you’ll see that it’s a classic example of progressive obfuscation — the kind of thing that well-meaning priests and laity who have never dealt directly with it can easily fall for.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how one of these progressive advocacy organizations, Orthodoxy In Dialogue, issued a public statement calling on the Orthodox bishops to stop condemning abortion, normalize homosexuality and transgenderism, and to repent of past statements critical of LGBT. Read it and see for yourself. These people use “dialogue” the way old Soviet front groups used the word “peace” during the Cold War: to conceal their real aims and disarm those who defend the tradition and the truth.
UPDATE.2: A reader who knows how this kind of thing works writes to say that I am picking up on the well-established strategy for taking over once-conservative churches and religious institutions. He says, rightly, it goes like this:
- Liberal requests “dialogue”.
- Conservatives agree.
- Using rhetorical strategies (“these are hard questions with no easy answers,” “we should lead with compassion,” etc), the liberal introduces heterodox concepts disguised by euphemisms.
- When conservatives wake up and realize what is going on, and object to it, the liberal denounces “divisiveness,” “disunity,” and “hurting the catholicity of the Church.”
- Once the liberals have an advantage in numbers within the institution, the dialogue ends, and what was once considered heretical or heresy-adjacent becomes dogmatized. The Holy Spirit has spoken on the matter, God is doing a new thing, etc.