The best news in ages came this afternoon, thanks to reader Bonifatius, who sent news of a new, Munich-based lay Catholic organization: the Bund Sankt-Michael (Confederation of St. Michael). It’s a Catholic organization — but one that reaches out to all Christians — dedicated to shoring up the Christian faith in post-Christian Germany. Its strategy page says that The Benedict Option is a “major inspiration,” but not the only one. If your browser is Google Chrome, you can have everything on the site translated easily, on the page. Otherwise, use translate.google.com.
I’m going to post some of the Bund’s strategy page in English below. The English translation is via Google’s bot. If it sounds inelegant, that’s because it wasn’t done by a human being. I welcome any corrections from German speakers:
2.2 Strategic assumptions
The Bund’s strategic draft is based on the following strategic assumptions about the future development of the environment in which Christianity moves in Europe, as well as the associated requirements for its own actions.
- Christians will become a minority in Europe. Due to demographic trends, migration and diminishing strength of religious ties among Christians, they will become a minority in the coming decades which will initially shrink steadily.
- The environment for Christianity will become more difficult in Europe: as a religious minority, Christians will live alongside other religious and philosophical groups who are not always friendly to Christians and the heritage of Christianity. In the perception of a growing number of Christianity, Christianity will appear alien, incomprehensible or backward. This perception will be marked by misrepresentations about Christianity as well as aberrant developments within Christianity.
- The general crisis potential in Europe is increasing : Increasing decay and dissolution phenomena in all areas of social life will lead to a steady increase in the general instability and the crisis potential in Europe. The remaining cultural substance in Europe has become too weak to avert such developments. Even political actors and political action can no longer avert this development, which has cultural causes at its core, but at best delay it. In the medium term, this will be linked to a series of converging crises that will further worsen the environment for Christians in Europe, and possibly over a very long period of time.
- Above all, it will depend on the creation of freedom for Christian life: under future conditions, a major political task will be the creation and maintenance of open spaces that enable Christians to lead a Christian life. Moreover, in largely Christianized societies, Christian elements in the state order will become increasingly difficult to sustain, and such attempts will increasingly be negatively answered by non-Christians and will be fruitless.
- Non-binding forms of Christianity will not be able to survive in the future environment: in an environment that is increasingly difficult for Christianity, non-binding forms of Christianity will be unable to resist social pressure and dissolve, assimilate, or, at most, seemingly Christian-looking extensions of secular ideologies transform. The remaining Christians will increasingly be those who can withstand the pressure of the increasingly difficult environment, because they can practice more binding forms, have strong religious ties and can rely on robust solidarity structures.
- Europe needs the ministry of Christianity: Under the conditions of imminent upheaval, more and more people in Europe will be ready to acknowledge that the cause of Europe’s crisis is the separation from its Christian roots, and that overcoming this crisis requires reconnecting to those roots. Under these conditions, the Church will need to be able to provide the necessary service to Europe, offering more convincing explanations of what’s going on, as well as better solutions and approaches to tackle the challenges that its decay-and-dissolution environment may be.
- Long-term thinking is needed: both the assurance of the continuity of Christianity in Europe and the renewal of Europe in the spirit of Christianity are long-term oriented tasks that must be carried out over many generations. To fulfill them presupposes to think in long periods of time and to be prepared to no longer see the effects of one’s own actions.
- Elites are the bearers of cultural development: cultural change always starts with elites. Because addressing the challenges to Christianity’s continuity in Europe in the long term requires above all a change in the cultural environment, Christians must be part of the cultural and other elites to work and win over these elites. In this context, positive change can also be achieved by small, but highly capable and service-ready groups.
Exclusive thinking: projects based on strong religious ties tend to be exclusive, unnecessarily excluding potential supporters and allies. In communication, for example, such projects tend to use a language that is only understood by their own members. In addition, there is a tendency in such projects to isolate themselves from the environment rather than following the Christian mission and acting in it.
Internal divisions: In such projects, there is an increased risk of internal divisions, for example, when different currents accuse each other of lack of faithfulness.
External Conspiracy Theories: Strategically oriented religious intentions are reported to be met with great distrust by parts of their environment that often form the basis for irrational conspiracy theories. A transparent presentation of one’s own goals and one’s own actions can counteract this.
Intolerance and hostility: Actors who fundamentally reject Christianity will also reject attempts to facilitate Christian life in a post-Christian Europe. As in the past, in the past, for example, in the realm of totalitarian ideologies, they are generally practiced and will react with attempts at reputational damage, social isolation and attacks on professional existence.
5.1 Creating spaces of Christian life
The physical and cultural spaces of Christian life enable Christians in Europe’s culturally increasingly heterogeneous societies to cultivate their culture and pass it on to future generations. The creation and consolidation of such spaces is the prerequisite for Christians to act as creative minorities in these societies and thus to serve them.
The greater the balance between Christian life and the surrounding society, the greater will be the pressure on Christians to assimilate into non-Christian culture. Spaces of Christian life can reduce this pressure and thereby support Christians in their Christian way of life and strengthen their ministry. These spaces should be designed so that they could perform this task even under the most difficult conditions.
These spaces should not be places of retreat, but nuclei of renewal radiating to their environment.
Creating physical spaces of Christian life
In spaces of Christian life, this life can grow in such a way that it can affect the world. This requires certain conditions, such as an intact environment in which uncertainty or other signs of disintegration and deterioration are minimized.
Such spaces require physical infrastructure, such as churches and schools. Around this infrastructure Christian families can settle, who support each other in their lives as Christians.
Creation of Christian solidarity structures
Solidarity structures help Christian families lead a Christian life in the midst of the surrounding society and raise their children in the spirit of Christianity. Such structures are based on reciprocity and trust. Because of their independence from government infrastructure, they are also reliably available if it is temporary or permanent or people are excluded from their claim for political reasons.
Creating cultural spaces of Christian life
It is in the nature of Christianity not to consider a difficult environment as an adversary, but to work for its well-being and renewal. However, in order to do this, Christians need to be kept away from the corrupt cultural trends that shape this environment, that is, they must live in the world but not be molded by their minds (Jn 17, 11-19).
This requires the creation of cultural spaces that are delimited from the world around them, and within whose protective borders Christian life can grow.
Cultural spaces of Christian life include their own educational system as well as media and communication platforms as well as arts and cultural studies.
Care and mediation of the Christian heritage
Many present-day Christians are poorly acquainted with their heritage, or feel it out of ignorance as a burden. Christians, however, must be convinced that their inheritance is of the highest value before they can convince other people credibly.
This heritage also includes practical solutions for a successful life.
The care of the inheritance involves its development, its mediation and its further development in the sense of the demand to examine everything and to keep the good (1 Thess 5:21).
For this purpose, compendia should be created and maintained, which open up this legacy in all its aspects in such a way that people can reapply individually and in community. This practice has been successfully used in building nations, such as the US, where the “McGuffey Readers” helped to assimilate the country’s cultural identity.
5.2 Strengthening interdenominational and interreligious cooperation
Conservative actors in the various Christian denominations, but also in Judaism, who are committed to the preservation of the respective teaching and tradition, face the same challenges in Western societies and usually have similar positions in the field of social teaching. In the face of increasing challenges, this leads to increased cooperation between these denominations and religions.
Pope Francis spoke of an “ecumenism of the blood” and the convergence of denominations in the face of increasing persecution of Christians in many regions of the world.
The Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon is, among other things, head of the Council for Cultural Affairs of the Patriarch of Moscow and is considered a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said in 2018 that there was close contact with the Vatican Cultural Council . The common main task is to preserve the Christian identity of Europe. The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, who is currently head of the Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate, advocates a strategic alliance between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy and calls the Catholic Church an “ally”. The increasing challenges facing Christianity in Western Europe would require such cooperation .
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the most important association of evangelical Christians, has been holding talks with the Catholic Church for some time , during which the participants confirmed that there is more in common than separation between them.
In 2017, several organizations of Jewish Orthodox rabbis in a letter addressed to Pope Francis called for a strategic partnership between Judaism and the Catholic Church in countering the threat of political Islam and radical secular ideologies. The Jewish Orthodox rabbi Jonathan Sacks had described corresponding common challenges and interests .
In the case of rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Judaism, it is crucial that the common interests clearly outweigh the effects of the existing contradictions. In contrast to most Islamic actors, however, the conflicts predominate, which is why there is no relevant cooperation and will probably not exist in the long term. The recent ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Islamic World League is not a collaboration to achieve common goals, but an attempt to use diplomatic means to deal with the conflicts that are coming from Islamic actors.
In principle, however, it would be possible to cooperate with liberal minority currents in Islam, which, unlike the majority currents, forego confrontational positions in relation to Christianity. There are common interests here, such as the defense against radical currents in Islam, which pose a threat to both Christians and non-Muslim Muslims.
Y’all, this thing is happening. And European Christians are leading the way. Americans, pay attention!
I would like to propose a big conference sometime in 2019 of Christians eager to talk seriously about this initiative, and to pioneer concrete ways to collaborate across international borders. We should hold it in Europe — perhaps at a large Benedictine monastery — because that’s where the Benedict Option is taking root now. We should include clergy and laity from Catholic, Protestant (Evangelical and otherwise), and Orthodox traditions. It should include North Americans and Russians, and perhaps even Middle Eastern Christians.
We do not need to include Christians who don’t see a need for a Benedict Option strategy. We will only waste time trying to convince those who don’t want to see what’s right in front of them. We need instead to be working hard on building these structures and networks, and getting to know each other.
I’ve not been in touch with anybody from the Bund, incidentally. I am no kind of organizer. But if any one reading this blog is in a position to organize this kind of international conference, and is eager to meet others interested in planning and funding it, please know that you can count on me to help in any way possible.
It seems like almost every day I see evidence that European Christians get the Benedict Option concept much better than we American believers do. This is surely because they have been living in a post-Christian civilization for generations now. They know what’s at stake. And they know what’s coming to us Americans. Meanwhile, we are wasting the headstart we have been given by history. How much are we traditional American Christians prepared to lose before we wake up one day and realize that the traditional European Christians were right all along?