With the release of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option book, both the main question (“how do Christians cultivate local institutions to pass on our faith?”) and various sub-questions–such as how to deal with the unique threat that the Sexual Revolution poses to historic Christian faith and practice–have emerged again into public discourse. I think that there’s a lot of really important stuff to discuss here, but I fear that we’ll drive right into a ditch if we aren’t careful. (FWIW, I have previously written about BenOp issues here, here, here, & here.)

Emma Green published an interview yesterday with Rod that gives him plenty of his own words to describe what the Benedict Option is, then hones in on a fairly specific question: how does the Benedict Option community relate to its neighbors, specifically LGBT people? Rod has a lengthy response that I think exemplifies why people get tetchy about the Benedict Option as it is currently discussed.

The main critique that Rod offers of the interview is that there was too much of a focus on LGBT issues, which in turn is a function of the overall obsession within the broader culture on sexuality and Christians. He goes on, however, to say, that “LGBT activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war.” (emphasis his). Rod has spent years blogging quite regularly about these issues; questions about how he thinks faithful Christians and LGBT people can get along seem wholly appropriate in this context.

Rod rightfully acknowledges that Christians do need to repent of the ways in which we have harmed gay Christians in the past and briefly mentions the need to love LGBT people, but then brushes off any concern that he needs to spell this out any further. Quite frankly, this doesn’t cut the mustard because all sorts of Christian mistreatment of LGBT people comes under the banner of “love”. I am sure that Rod means what he says by this, but the problem is that his readers don’t know.

By not being more specific, Rod does not distinguish himself between those who have harmed gay Christians in the past. Would forbidding someone who is gay and celibate to be employed by a church be “mistreatment”? (This is by no means a given, as many celibate LGBT people can attest to). Would letting one’s child spend time at a friend’s house with gay parents “disrupt our ongoing formation in truth”? What would “love and hospitality” mean if a child in Rod’s church realized he or she was gay? In places where Christians do continue to mistreat LGBT people, how do we root that out? If we are trying to avoid the “LGBT agenda” and that agenda is usually carried out by people, how do we relate to those people?

Rod argues that he is obsessed with LGBT activism because LGBT activism is obsessed with punching down on Christians, but he doesn’t seem to believe that there is any hope in de-escalating this conflict. He states that “activists and their fellow travelers hold all the cultural high ground today, but act as if they will not be free of fear until the last Southern Baptist florist is strangled with the guts of the last Evangelical pastor.” In a post last week, he said “The ACLU, most of the media, the legal establishment, the Democratic Party — they all hate us. I mean, hate us.” Besides the absurdity of stating that any group in our society holds “all” the cultural high ground or that they “all” hate us, such rhetoric does not really engender understanding and empathy. If one thinks LGBT activists are the core of an existential threat to Christians and that their activism is incompatible with Christianity in the public square, wouldn’t it make sense to read Rod’s book through that lens?

This kind of hyperbole poisons the well for real discussion and turns off Christians who might otherwise agree but don’t think it is that bad. There are plenty of activists who are sore winners and there are very real religious liberty threats that Americans are facing. If these threats prevail, it will be bad for us believers and bad for other vulnerable populations that we serve. I agree with Rod that Trump and Gorsuch are not really going to hold them back for very long. I agree that our churches are full of under-catechized Christians woefully unprepared to deal with these challenges.

However, I don’t think this is that much worse than in many other historical situations. (Remember when a few hundred thousand Americans killed each other because half of the Christians thought it was okay to own people?) If Christianity is under intense fire, there may be some areas where we need to retreat. There are others (mostly among the poor and oppressed, in my opinion) where we can advance to a more secure position if we are willing to fight. The question isn’t “how bad is it?” but “how do we make the most of this situation?”

Throughout history and throughout the world, Christianity has existed with varying levels of government subsidy and restriction. On the whole, Christians in America enjoy far more subsidy (through tax-deductible giving, grants, and federal education dollars) than restriction, but it is conceivable that this balance will tip in the next few years. Christians in America also still have incredible social and cultural power in a variety of arenas, though there are clearly loci of power dominated by forces hostile to faithful Christian practice. If and when the balance is tipped, the Church will be forced to adapt, as it has in countless other social and political milieus.

Again: I think this would be a bad thing because I genuinely believe that a liberal society that protects the consciences of its citizens is better than one that does not. Under persecution severe enough, the Church can die out or be totally emasculated (e.g. North Africa in the Middle Ages). However, God’s people have adapted and occasionally thrived under conditions of hardship in many places; examples abound from the first Christians in Antioch to the contemporary church in China. The Sexual Revolution is a unique threat to orthodox Christianity, but so was (and is) Christianity’s captivity to racism in America or the rise of Islam in the Middle East.

I want the BenOp to succeed because I do think that Christian communities in the West will need to implement the principles Rod talks about in order to remain faithful in the generations to come. I am pretty much in agreement with Rod on the dictates of human sexual morality as the Bible teaches it. Yet I (and many of my peers like me) are deeply sympathetic to Emma’s line of questioning because we have to find an answer to this question in order to live out the Bible’s commands in our daily lives, bear witness to non-believing friends, and teach our children how to do the same. Dealing with a world that hates us is nothing new, but every age will bring with it unique opportunities and challenges for how to do so joyfully. If the Holy Spirit is working in our world, then we have to ask where and how He is bringing about new life and testifying to Jesus in others– and being confident that we can participate with the Spirit in such a way as to even break “the tip of the spear at our throats”.

If Rod and other BenOp enthusiasts want non-Christians to parse between not wanting LGBT activists to drive Christians out of business and not wanting to get away from LGBT people, they’re going to have to start that parsing themselves because Christians have failed to do this over and over in the last few decades. If they don’t want journalists to make bad faith assumptions about their work, they’re going to have to stop making bad faith assumptions about every possible manifestation of LGBT activism. Most importantly, if we expect the Church to endure the threat posed by the Sexual Revolution (and thrive beyond it!), then explaining how Christians love and serve LGBT people– particularly under the regime which the BenOp anticipates– is inevitably part of bearing witness. A Benedict Option that isn’t good for LGBT people will not stand the test of time.

Posted by Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus lives with his family in South Sudan, where he teaches and practices Family Medicine at a hospital for women and children. He is a columnist for Christianity Today and a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org

11 Comments

  1. Great post, thanks.

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  2. I would like you to be right and Rod Dreher to be wrong, but I’m afraid he’s right. Unless we are willing to fully cave on all LGBT issues, we will be hated and shut out of social discourse on these issues. However, we do need to carefully articulate how we can best love our LGBT neighbors. Even this will be incresingly difficult, I fear. Many evangelicals will completely cave on all LGBT issues, especially among millenials, and that will make dinosaurs like me even more isolated and hated. Yes, hated.

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    1. I don’t know about this–as someone at a Seminary with a mix of affirming and non-affirming Christians, I have found that as long as you are willing to actually hear and consider the arguments presented by affirming Christians and LGBT persons, you are treated like any other person, even if you are non-affirming. I think a foundational dimension of the issue at stake here is that many conservative, non-affirming Christians–particular people like Dreher, make no discernible effort to even acknowledge that there are robust, scriptural and theological arguments from the other side of the debate. This is not to say that you have at agree with such arguments by any means. But you cannot simply act like they don’t exist, or discredit them without any meaningful interaction, and expect people to assume the best of your intentions.

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      1. Good point. As someone who questions the alleged essentialism of sexual orientation, I have reservations as to whether same-sex marriage should necessarily desire to pursue same-sex marriage. Even so, I have a hard time seeing that Scripture sets forth an unambiguous case against such relationships. I’d respect non-affirming Christians more if they would simply admit that their aversion to same-sex coupling probably has more to do with socio-cultural prejudice than with a critical reading of the Pauline corpus.

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  3. Thank you so much for this reasoned and wise response. I deeply appreciate your thinking here.

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  4. Two words: Brendan Eich. There is no nuance in the LGBT agenda right now. Pointing that out is not a “bad faith assumption.”

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    1. Eich didn’t merely state his personal reservations about same-sex marriage. Rather, he made donations to a group seeking to take legal rights away from LGBT people by means of a campaign built on defamatory lies and blatant fear-mongering. That’s what caused Mozilla employees to conclude that they could not work under him.

      It puzzles me every time I hear people complain about the treatment of Eich or Kelvin Cochran. Eich funded a vicious campaign that spread damaging lies about LGBT people in a no-holds-barred effort to ensure that same-sex couples were stripped of their right to enjoy civil recognition of their relationships. Cochran wrote a book comparing gay people to pedophiles and then forced copies of it onto his subordinates at work on company time. Both of these guys deserved their fate. The fact that conservative Christians believe that such conduct is acceptable is more telling of the morals of conservative Christians than it is of the morals of our society at large.

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  5. As a Christian, I do not have sympathy for a group whose purpose is to oppose God’s design and revelation. The group – not the individuals in the group – is irredeemable since redemption would include changing the essence of the group (which destroys the group though not the individuals that were in it). There is no way to have an openly activist homosexual group to be a redeemed openly activist homosexual group. However, although the group is irredeemable, the individuals composing it are redeemable. I am called (as a fellow sinner but saved by grace) to extend love toward every individual in that group with the love of the Savior who came to give His life to pay for their sins (which include homosexual acts). It should be the prayer and aim of every follower of Christ to demonstrate genuine love toward all persons, even those who oppose them in the public square as enemies that, as in the case of a wife with an unbelieving husband, the unbeliever may be won by the believer’s conduct.

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  6. Well said.

    I’ve followed Dreher for a while, and can’t understand why the LGBT issue animates him so much. For the life of me, I can’t see how I’m remotely affected by whether the same-sex couple in the condo down the hall from me has a marriage license or not. If LGBT people have come to view people like Dreher as enemies, perhaps it’s because guys like Dreher have spent much of the past 15 years seeking to ensure that their relationships are denied basic civil recognition.

    Moreover, Dreher seems to lose all sense of proportion over this issue, and can’t even seem to discuss the issue without stretching the truth and angrily dismissing cogent counterpoints. In perusing his hate-filled blog, I can’t imagine that he would be happy in an world besides one in which white, middle-class conservative Christians were restored to the position of cultural hegemony they once enjoyed.

    Dreher’s BenOp looks more like the spoiled kid who marches off with his toys because he can’t get his way all the time. Dreher is something of a thin-skinned narcissist, much in the vein of our President. As Green notes, Dreher seems to forget that conservative Christians enjoyed something of a cultural hegemony until just a few decades ago. During their cultural reign, they aggressively used their power to exercise unnecessary moral superintendency over the lives of others. And they still have the power to exercise such superintendency in many parts of the country, although to a lesser degree than before. It’s not as though conservative Christians are facing persecution. Not in the least! It’s simply that their current minority status doesn’t allow them enjoy the right to persecute others in the ways that they did in the past. When your “nightmare scenario” is that you may have to sell some bouquets that end up decorating a venue hosting a same-sex wedding ceremony, I have a hard time concluding that you’re facing persecution. The fact that conservative Christians are even rallying around some self-righteous busy-body like Stutzman is ample evidence of how vain and narcissistic the movement has become. I’m sure that Christians in northern Syria would gladly trade their fate under ISIS for the alleged “persecution” that Stutzman is facing.

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  7. […] very much appreciate what Alan Jacobs and Rod Dreher have said in response to last week’s post, which draws out an issue that I didn’t really address head-on. Alan puts it this way, in the […]

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  8. […] (and several others) have spent some time now arguing that the Benedict Option is dead on arrival if doesn’t integrate the work of social […]

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