It is hard for single Christians to stay on that path, but at least straight Christians have the prospect of marriage to comfort them. Not so for our gay brothers and sisters. Christians—individually, within families, and within parish churches—must give honor, respect, and friendship to gay Christians who have embraced celibacy.
Moreover, gay Christians who reject traditional teaching must still be treated with love, because they too are image-bearers of Christ. Love wins, though not in the way the LGBT movement says. But it still wins. Christians don’t dare forget it.
Hear that? “Gay Christians who reject traditional teaching must still be treated with love, because they too are image-bearers of Christ.” And I would say gay non-Christians too. Those are actual words. That I wrote.
I could be wrong, but it’s hard for me to conclude other than that for this reviewer, affirming homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is the most important thing Christians should do. Inadvertently, this points to why orthodox Christians have to spend so much time dealing with this topic: because the pressure coming against the churches from outside (as well as from sympathizers within) is constant.
It didn’t occur to me to spend much time in the book dwelling on how Christians are to live in a pluralistic world because it’s obvious that we have no choice. In fact, though, I do address this in this section from The Benedict Option, talking about the Benedictine habit of hospitality. I’m writing here about the Benedictine monks in Norcia:
The monks live mostly cloistered lives—that is, they stay behind their monastery’s walls and limit their contact with the outside world. To do the spiritual work they are called to do requires silence and separation. As lay Christians living in the world, our calling is to seek holiness in more ordinary social conditions.
Yet even cloistered Benedictines practice Christian hospitality to the stranger. The Rule commands that all those who present themselves as pilgrims and visitors to the monastery “be received like Christ, for He is going to say, because He will say, ‘I was a stranger, and you took me in’ (Matt. 25:35).” If you are invited to dine with the monks in the refectory, they greet you the first time with a hand-washing ceremony prescribed in the Rule.
Brother Francis Davoren, forty-four, the monastery’s brewmaster, used to be the refectorian, the monk charged with overseeing the dining room. He approached that task with sacramental imagination.
“Saint Benedict says that Christ is present in the brothers, and Christ is present in our guests. Every day I would think, ‘Christ is coming. I’m going to make this as pleasant for them as I can, because it showed them that we cared,’” he said. “That’s a good outreach to people: to respect them, to recognize their dignity, to show them that you can see Christ in them and want to bring them into your life.”
As guest master, Brother Ignatius is the point of contact between pilgrims and the monastic community. He explains why the monks take Christ’s words about receiving strangers so seriously: “It is kind of a warning: if you want to be welcome in heaven, you had better welcome people as Christ himself now, even if you don’t like it, even if you suffer because of those people,” he said. “If your life is to seek Christ, this is it. You will find redemption in serving these guests, because Christ is coming in them.”
Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world—to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’t really welcome anyone.”
The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality.
Rather than erring on the side of caution, though, Father Benedict [Nivakoff] believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.”
The power of popular culture is so overwhelming that faithful orthodox Christians often feel the need to retreat behind defensive lines. But Brother Ignatius warned that Christians must not become so anxious and fearful that they cease to share the Good News, in word and deed, with a world held captive by hatred and darkness. It is prudent to draw reasonable boundaries, but we have to take care not to be like the unfaithful servant in the Parable of the Talents, who was punished by his master for his poor, fearful stewardship of the master’s property.
Is it not clear that we are to relate to those outside our communities with love and hospitality? We have to draw the line at the point where that hospitality threatens to disrupt our ongoing formation in truth. I get the idea that it is not enough that we relate in peace and tolerance to our neighbors who don’t share our religious convictions. We must approve.
One more excerpt from the Atlantic piece. Emma Green recognizes that for cultural traditionalists, these truly are alienating times:
And yet, Dreher begrudges a similar fear in people unlike him, including LGBT people who have long wanted to live freely in public—something that was largely impossible when conservative Christians dominated mainstream American life. From this vantage, his Benedict option seems less a proposal for pluralism than the angry backwards fire of a culture in retreat.
I did not record my interview with Emma, so I could be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure I said that I do not want to go back to the days of the closet. That I think it is a good thing that gays and lesbians are treated with more dignity and respect now. I even supported civil partnerships back in the day. But it’s not marriage. Anyway, how, exactly, do I begrudge a similar fear in people unlike me? If it’s LGBTs, the only grudge I have is 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. They treat conservative Christians as if we still hold all the cultural trump cards, and point to the election of Donald Trump — an openly pro-gay Republican who doesn’t have a religiously conservative bone in his body — as if that proved anything. You watch: the GOP Congress will not send any meaningful religious liberty legislation to Trump’s desk. If they do, then I might be willing to listen to complaints that LGBTs have to live in fear of the Jesus-Freak mob. From where I sit, we conservative Christians really are in retreat, and are being driven out of the public square mostly because we don’t affirm the new orthodoxy.
You want to talk about tolerance? How much tolerance would a conservative Evangelical or an orthodox Roman Catholic face on most college faculties, in most law firms, in most newsrooms, and in all the other centers of cultural power and formation? This is where the real power is for the long term.
Last quote from the Atlantic piece:
Dreher wrote The Benedict Option for people like him—those who share his faith, convictions, and feelings of cultural alienation. But even those who might wish to join Dreher’s radical critique of American culture, people who also feel pushed out and marginalized by shallowness of modern life, may feel unable to do so.
Well, yes, I can state without fear of contradiction that I wrote The Benedict Option for Christians who share my faith, convictions, and feelings of cultural alienation. That’s why the subtitle is “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”! The Ben Op cannot be all things to all people. It is not going to appeal to secular people or religious liberals. The fact that some people see examples of conservative Christians attempting to hold on to theological and cultural distinctives in a culture that is overtly hostile to them as weird or otherwise threatening — this, in a culture that does not see a threat from other groups doing the same — goes a long way toward explaining why The Benedict Option is so necessary right now. Whether we like it or not, the issue of sexuality, especially homosexuality, really is the chief dividing line within all the churches. When a book with such a wide-ranging Christian critique of contemporary culture gets boiled down to its stance on homosexuality, you understand why this issue, as I said earlier, is the tip of the culture war spear.
Read the whole Emma Green piece. I genuinely appreciate her attention to the book. And I think her essay, however mistaken I think she is on major points, really is helpful in that it signals how non-religious conservatives are likely to read the book.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
I just read the Atlantic piece Emma Green wrote about the book, and I was a bit puzzled by some of it. She writes, “it’s not clear that Dreher has a clear vision of how Christians should engage with those they disagree with–especially the LGBT Americans they blame for pushing them out of mainstream culture.” She also writes,”Their lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people like them–including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?”
There’s so, so much going on in just those quotes, but what really puzzled me was that the article says she interviewed you. There are direct quotes and everything. Did she NOT ask you any of these questions directly? If Green wanted to know what your vision was for variations of the BenOp incorporating LGBTQ people, why didn’t she just ask? Or if she did, did she not include your responses in the article?
I’ve been reading you for a while now. You’ve engaged these issues repeatedly and explicitly on your blog at great length. It’s not hard to find your thoughts on the matter, and it’s clear from reading your blog that your thoughts are complicated, and that while your BenOp’s orthodoxy might exclude LGBTQ folks, you’re not declaring that every BenOp should, especially since the thrust of your critique is aimed at the arc of modernity’s atomizing, self-aggrandizing foundations. (Unless I totally misunderstand it, in which case I encourage correction!)
From my lay perspective, the piece reads like journalistic malfeasance, even though Green seems to strive to be fair. It’s just hard to believe that she read your words thoughtfully, given that the above quotes misrepresent your views. For instance, it’s not that “the LGBT Americans” pushed Christians out of mainstream culture. It was a variety of secularizing factors, including but not limited to the Sexual Revolution, which predates the contemporary civil rights battles surrounding non-hetero sexualities by decades. (Not to mention the degree to which the Church undermined itself in the U.S.) Then there’s the bizarre notion that Christians would be “in fellowship” with “those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings.” I suppose that all of us wrestle with the doctrinal, liturgical, and institutional failings of our church bodies. But fellowship is a practice of unity on central teachings. What does that actually mean? Is Green limiting herself to just LGBTQ folks who have been cast out of conservative churches? Is she encompassing all manner of grievance with orthodox teaching? Doesn’t that vary by denomination? My church, for instance, embraces gay clergy and performs gay marriages. But it is resolutely Trinitarian. Am I supposed to be in fellowship with someone who denies the triune God, even if they denounce gay marriage? Not to mention the fact that even if you, in your BenOp, aren’t in fellowship with an openly gay couple, it does not preclude you from being a good neighbor to them. Apart from Southern hospitality, that’s a part of orthodox Christian hospitality, and a part of the BenOp ethos. Right? Am I the one totally misunderstanding this, or did Green just not do her homework?
This seems to be the condensed symbol in practice. Green seems to wrist-slap you for talking primarily to other Christians at this point, but that may be necessary, since so many of them understand the BenOp the same way she does.
Then again, maybe it’s folks like me who misunderstand it, and I just need to slow down and read your blog more carefully. Just to make sure I don’t repeat Green’s mistakes, I’m just writing you directly. Hopefully you’ll post a response to her piece on the blog that that will clear all this up.
Well, I hope that the blog entry above answers a lot of your questions. I don’t see how small-o orthodox Christianity can reconcile itself to any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage, either hetero or homo, nor can marriage be, for Christians, a same-sex thing. I suppose the question is, what does one mean by “exclude”? I make it very clear in my book that we are not to shun LGBT folks, or mistreat them — and to the extent that Christians do or have done that, we should repent. But that’s not the same thing as affirming that homosexuality is a moral good, or even morally neutral. The question is not really, “What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?” but actually “What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?” Because all the pressure to conform to the new orthodoxy is coming from that side, and a lot of it is punitive. It’s Orwellian how they lament our supposed intolerance, but practice the very thing they purport to condemn.