Tag Archives: Rod Dreher

“The Master’s Hospitality”: Jesus and Dialogue

by Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions

Jesus teaches in the Temple
Image: iStock.com/sedmak

Come, O faithful, let us enjoy the Master’s hospitality:
the banquet of immortality.
In the upper chamber with uplifted minds,
Let us receive the exalted words of the Word, whom we magnify.
(Holy Thursday, Canon Ode 9)

In January 2022, I was invited to give the annual Father Georges Florovsky Lecture for the Orthodox Theological Society in America and one of the issues I addressed was the disturbing trend among some Orthodox to reject dialogue with their fellow Orthodox Christians on controversial topics.

Especially now, with the violence in Ukraine largely pitting Orthodox Christians against each other, one would have thought that this was precisely the moment to value conversation. Indeed, Vladimir Putin’s armed forces are devastating Ukraine with barbaric ferocity, and millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes as refugees. And yet, negotiators from Russia and Ukraine are still talking. If enemy governments can negotiate, can we who share the same Eucharist refuse dialogue with one another, even on the most sensitive topics?

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative is the most prominent champion against dialogue. “I only engage people who come to me in good faith and are willing to listen. I don’t waste my time with those who don’t. It’s not worth it. I’m not interested. I don’t grant legitimacy to those who are just trolling me or trying to own conservatives.” In the lecture I drew attention to Dreher’s views on dialogue, and a couple weeks later he responded with a blistering critique in The American Conservative. “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.”

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The End of “Conservative Ecumenism”

by Will Cohen

Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Not all critiques of secular liberalism over the past fifty years have involved flirtations with fascism, but in the apocalypse (literally, the unveiling) that Putin’s war on Ukraine has been, we can see more than ever the horrific consequences of not clearly separating the two. 

In January 1975, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary at the time, signed the Hartford Appeal, initiated by the future founder and editor of First Things, John Richard Neuhaus. The declaration named thirteen “pervasive, false, and debilitating” trends its signatories considered characteristic of the age, among them the idea that in comparison to “all past forms of understanding reality,” “modern thought is superior” and “normative for Christian faith and life.” The Hartford Appeal was an early instance of what Andrey Shishkov has called “conservative ecumenism.” It was a joint statement of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians critical of liberalizing, secularizing trends in society and religion.

Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority had yet to be formed in 1975. Among the 25 religious leaders who signed the Hartford Appeal were Peter Berger and Stanley Hauerwas, names little if at all associated with Christian conservatism today. Also notable in light of ascendant anti-democratic tendencies of Christian conservatives of recent years is Schmemann’s great gratitude for the freedoms afforded by liberal democratic society. In this he differed from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose worldview Schmemann in his Journals described after their first meeting in 1974: “Absolute denial of democracy. Yes to monarchy” (p. 43).

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The Moral Conservative Wayback Machine and the Deeper Sense of the Closure of Memorial

by Kristina Stoeckl | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Delorean

The identification of moral conservatives in the twenty-first century with historical periods that predate the experience of twentieth century totalitarianism reveals a fundamental blind-spot in contemporary conservatism. Conjuring up political constellations of the 1920s to 40s as analogies for contemporary struggles between conservatives and progressives willfully ignores the ‘lesson’ of totalitarianism. Nothing exemplifies this forgetfulness better than the recent closure of Memorial, the NGO dedicated to the critical memory of Stalinism, by Russian authorities.

On the pages of Public Orthodoxy, Aram G. Sarkisian recently pointed out the odd affinity which some American Orthodox cultivate vis-à-vis the time of the American Civil War and how ultraconservative Orthodox groups appropriate an eighteenth-century story to fit a twisted and ahistorical agenda of the twenty-first. The identification with past epochs it nothing unique to American Orthodox. In my own studies of moral conservatism in Russia and the US, I have also encountered this identification with the past, in particular with the period of the 1920s to 40s.

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Dreher vs. Schmemann: Church, World, Mission

by Archpriest Denis J.M. Bradley | български | ქართული | Ελληνικά | Русский | Српски

Cover, Schmemann's "Church, World, Mission"
Cover of Alexander Schmemann, Church, World, Mission

The January 2021 Schmemann Lecture delivered by Mr. Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor of The American Conservative, has provoked bewilderment and objections especially among former students of Father Alexander. Was Dreher—neither an academic nor a theologian but a polemical journalist who proclaims it pointless to “dialogue” with Orthodox progressives—the appropriate person to deliver a lecture named in honor of the late archpriest? Not, certainly, if one compares the scholarly and ecclesial standing of Dreher to previous Schmemann lecturers. Does the warm, even apparently tight embrace of Dreher by the current President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, signify an already accomplished “culture war” transmogrification of the seminary and portend further hardline, divisively ideological efforts to reorient the whole OCA? The answer to the first question seemed evident enough to provoke a letter of protest from a number of anxious alumni to the seminary’s board of trustees. But a plausible answer to the second question requires considerably more effort—an informed and judicious reading of many ecclesiastical signs, a dangerous task that few OCA clerics would be equipped or eager to undertake publicly. The recently provoked band of objectors seems confronted by a debilitating choice: naively continuing by impotent complaints to close the barn door after the horses have fled, or bravely and equanimously—but perhaps foolhardily (as many will surely think)—enlisting themselves among those who speak the neuralgic truth because it is the truth. Are there many people who want to listen much less act upon the latter?

Gregory Thompson, a Protestant pastor, who is himself an academically trained theologian, has written an extensive and trenchant critique of Dreher’s most recent book: see Comment, “Return of the Cold Warrior: Reflections on Rod Dreher’s Live not by Lies,” December 3rd 2020. Dreher’s book, the proximate source of his Schmemann Lecture, rhetorically targets the “soft totalitarianism” menacing American culture: in Thompson’s description, the “progressive, illiberal, and anti-religious ideology rooted in the Marxist tradition” Thompson, however, details what he considers to be four egregiously ruinous errors in Dreher’s “Cold War,” fearful political theology.  It is: (1) a morally black and white, Manichean account of history; (2) an ideological division of persons into godless progressivist villains and godly conservative victims; (3) an instrumental and tendentious use of people identified as allies; and (4) a self-confirming projection of Dreher’s own politicized religiosity but a reductively escapist account of the Church’s mission. All of these themes can be found in his recent Schmemann lecture.

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