I had the privilege of speaking at Women on the Wall this weekend. It felt like such an honor. My topic was “the Left’s takeover of churches.”
I certainly know a lot about this! But I felt compelled to speak on this topic because conservatives are still babes in the woods when it comes to the battle over Christian denominations. I expressed to the attendees that the conservatives’ fight against liberal dominance on college campuses had far more support, resources, and organizational infrastructure behind it. Even with all that heft, the effort to stave off liberal control of college campuses has failed.
Still, if you think of all the publications and organizations, in addition to individual commentators with a degree of fame (Victor Davis Hanson, Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk), the fight against campus liberal tyranny had its own machine to pit against the left’s (admittedly huger) machines.
And of course, the enormously well-funded thinktanks like American Enterprise Institute, Heritage, Family Research Council, and the rest have been poised to resist the left in the realm of law, government policy, and media information.
But as I explained to people at Women on the Wall, no such apparatus yet exists for conservatives to fight against what is happening in the churches. In fact, I see no evidence that conservatives intend to plan any strategy to counteract the looming leftist dominance in all matters ecclesiastical.
There is a strong case to be made that churches play a particularly important role in the composition of American civil society, especially if one is interested in carving out a livable landscape for people with conservative beliefs.
Yet most of the conservative movement’s engagement with Christian life has been tied to the fight for “religious liberty.” This is an inherently relativist construct, designed as a value-neutral position vis-à-vis the courts and social policy. “Religious liberty” was a term wielded by conservative activists who wanted to capitalize on Christian people’s frustration with the left, but who did not want to “get into the weeds” on theological particulars. Such conservative activists wanted the enemy always to be the usual cast of bogeyman in the right-wing morality tales: atheists, liberals, decadent degenerates, crazy artists.
Conservative activist groups have been loath to question church leaders who pay lip service to conservative values. And many of the arguments that have been important to conservatives in the realm of public policy or the courts have backfired in the world of church battles. For instance, the emphasis on local control and liberty has made it easy for left-wing infiltrators to take over local church councils, denominational governance bodies, or parliamentary conferences like the Southern Baptist Convention.
In many of the battles against liberals in the media and in education, conservatives often adopted positions that favored employers and encouraged the summary dismissal of crazy liberal teachers, writers, or editors. Remember that before the left went wild with cancel culture, conservatives went on crusades to get Ward Churchill fired. When the conservative movement got involved in Christian colleges in California, organizations threw their weight behind Christian colleges’ rights to fire professors and expel students without being sued. They did NOT seek actively to protect Christian professors or students from being fired or expelled when they wanted to live out their faith against their institution’s wishes.
What’s clear is that conservatives who wish to counteract the left-wing infiltration and control of churches will have to develop a new strategy and new tactics. What will that look like? That has yet to be seen.