Saturday, September 23, 2023

In US, Orthodox Christianity Making Inroads among Southern Evangelicals

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 19 – On Sept. 16, the Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship, which seeks to recruit Southern Evangelical Christians into the Orthodox Church on the basis of what the organization’s leaders say are common values, held its inaugural conference in a small town in North Carolina.

            According to Meagan Saliashvili of the Religious News Service, there were 125 people from ten states in attendance. There would have been more by fire code restrictions limited attendance (

            The RNS reporter says that “many of the conference attendees and speakers call themselves traditionalists, advocating for young marriages, home schooling and trade schools over universities. Many also believe monarchy is the best form of government but grudgingly accept liberal democracy.”

            She adds that those in attendance are “unhappy with both political parties; but for most, Donald Trump is the favored option for president.”

            Rebecca Dillingham, one of the co-founders of the group and the organizer of the meeting, said that “we love Jesus, we honor our ancestors and we want Orthodoxy to grow in our homeland.” In her blog, Saliashvili continues, Dillingham has called for the South to secede again and “attempted to show parallels between Southern and Russian identity.”

            Moreover, she has “compared what she sees as American authoritarianism imposed on the South to the suffering inflicted by Bolsheviks and has likened figures such as Lee, wrongly demonized in her opinion, to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.”

            John Whiteford, the other co-founder of the fellowship, “is a priest from Spring, Texas, at the St. Jonah Russian Orthodox Church” there, also part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia which is now in communion with and partially subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

            He shares Dillingham’s views; and at the conference, he “emphasized that Southern culture and American culture are different. ‘The American way is to impose our democracy and make everyone lie us … but not everyone wants to be American.” Moreover, “the foreign policy of the South generally has been isolationist … but American provokes incidents, starts wars.”

            There is no public indication that Moscow has anything to do with the group and its activities, but the views the leaders expressed are certainly not at odds with those of the Russian government and the Russian church. Moreover, a check of the Yandex news index shows that Russians are paying a great deal of attention to a group few Americans have ever heard of.

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