The Ben Op And The Christian Bubble
A Protestant reader writes, concerning Christian resistance to the idea of the Benedict Option:
I think there’s something to the idea that maybe American church leaders don’t want to face the fact that what they have been doing is in vain. I would say they’ve had it backward: a top down, rather than bottom up notion of Church, spiritual formation, and ministry. Of course Christians transform the culture, ideally you create it (Rembrandt, Bach?). Modern Protestants either don’t want to or genuinely don’t see they’re the minority now, and the faith is incompatible with mainstream US culture. That would require a lot of work and change.
I grew up in a very healthy Evangelical, non-denominational church in [Southern state]. We WERE the dominant culture, and the practice of faith was personal and real, but I’ve since lived in DC, New York, and now the liberal enclave of Austin. I think the idea that the country and culture has raced past them and is coming for them is a little hard to fathom, while it’s blindly obvious to me. I sometimes have to step back and acknowledge that I’ve just seen a lot they haven’t. Most of my friends have stayed there in [my home state], in what’s been a really economically vibrant area, done really well financially, and are repeating the prosperity and culture their parents enjoyed, and are continuing to have influence on school boards, city council, PTA, etc., but that’s not been the case in most parts of the country, and it would be very hard to repeat.
I’m many ways they think they’re still the dominant culture, but even here in conservative Texas, the administrators are against you, in Fort Worth of all places. I don’t know what it will take to wake them, we’ve seen the activists go after the cake-bakers and flower-arrangers. I don’t think we’re far from people going after conservative pastors and Catholic priests; it’s not enough to be able to get married, “YOU have to marry me, or there’s not equality.”
This is true, I think. So many of us Christians haven’t really come to grips with what has happened. PRRI is a research organization that studies religion, culture, and politics. They are officially non-partisan, but pretty clearly lean left. They just released a poll on where Americans stand on a number of controversial issues related to the Sexual Revolution, including religious liberty — and the numbers are catastrophic for orthodox Christians. Even if you allow for the possibility that PRRI’s numbers are skewed toward conclusions that favor progressives, there’s no way to make this look good.
Notice this one:
There is considerable partisan disagreement over when sex can be considered morally acceptable. Seven in ten (70%) Republicans say sex can only be considered morally acceptable when it takes place between a married heterosexual couple, but only four in ten independents (42%) and Democrats (39%) say the same. A majority of Democrats (58%) and independents (55%) disagree.
By a wide margin, white evangelical Protestants are most likely to say sex is only morally permissible when it occurs within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman. More than eight in ten (83%) white evangelical Protestants agree sex is only moral when it is between a married heterosexual couple, as do more than six in ten (63%) nonwhite Protestants. Just under half of Catholics (46%), four in ten (40%) white mainline Protestants and fewer than one in four (23%) religiously unaffiliated Americans agree.
Unsurprisingly, young adults express a much less restrictive view about the morality of sex. While nearly two-thirds (64%) of seniors agree sex is only moral when it is between a married man and woman, only three in ten (30%) young adults say the same. Nearly seven in ten (69%) young adults disagree that sex is only morally acceptable when it takes place within a heterosexual marriage.
These particular data don’t have anything directly to do with the political conclusions regarding the other issues, but they do explain where those positions come from: the Sexual Revolution has overthrown the Christian view of sex and marriage. Strictly speaking, there is no reason why this can be true but American society also support broad religious liberty protections. But in reality, it’s not going to happen, because discrimination based on sexual desire and sexual categories doesn’t make intuitive sense to people who don’t perceive a meaningful conflict.
Beyond the law, this is going to have a massive effect on church life over the next few decades. Churches are going to be pressured from within to abandon Christian orthodoxy on sexual matters. Those that do are going to alienate the orthodox within their congregations. Those that do not are going to alienate the growing majority.
A church should always take a stand on the truth, not on what’s popular, but good luck finding today a church that has cast aside orthodoxy on sexual teaching and continued to grow. There is something about the pelvic issues that, once compromised on, make church seem less vital. Did the de facto liberalization on sexuality of European churches keep anyone in the pews? No.
On the other hand, the trends among younger Americans make it clear that churches that do stand by orthodoxy are going to see declining numbers as well. Twenty years from now, a small-town church whose pastor declines to perform a same-sex wedding may well find himself with a congregational mutiny on his hands.
Why does sex matter so much in Christianity? Why can’t we just modify our views to suit the times? How should Christians prepare for this present and growing reality? Answering that question is why I wrote The Benedict Option, which will be in bookstores tomorrow. I hope it finds an audience among Christians in the more conservative parts of the country, like the Southern state from which the reader comes. There is no place to escape the Sexual Revolution, and no way for churches to avoid having to deal with its theological, moral, and political consequences.