Is The Benedict Option Good For Gays?
Emma Green’s review piece on The Benedict Option is up today at The Atlantic site. Here’s a link to it. She didn’t really like the book. That disappoints me, because she’s one of the best religion reporters out there, and I admire her work. But she seems to understand that the book isn’t really for readers like her. Anyway, I appreciate the attention she gave to my book. I do want to respond to some of her points, though.
We talked for over an hour a few weeks back. I enjoyed the interview, but I told my wife afterward that I was struck by how much time Emma spent asking me about LGBT issues and the Ben Op, as if that were the main part of the book and the project. I got the impression that the main question she has about the Benedict Option project is whether or not it’s good for the gays. This didn’t surprise me too much, given that she writes for The Atlantic, which has a particular affinity for writing favorably about LGBT culture (e.g., “Meet the Latino Drag Queens Defying North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law”). Still, it struck me as off-kilter — in fact, as an example of progressives and journalists deciding that social and religious conservatives are obsessed with homosexuality, when in fact it is they who are preoccupied with it, and focus disproportionately on it when they see churches not on board with full LGBT acceptance.
And so it turns out that Emma Green didn’t really like The Benedict Optionbecause … it’s not good for the gays. Excerpts:
Donald Trump was elected president with the help of 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court. And Republicans hold both chambers of Congress and statehouses across the country. Right now, conservative Christians enjoy more influence on American politics than they have in decades.
And yet, Rod Dreher is terrified.
“Don’t be fooled,” he tells fellow Christians in his new book, The Benedict Option. “The upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”
She finds this alarmist. But I argue in the book that the de-Christianization of Western culture is a process that has been going on for centuries, and that it is something that has been masked in recent decades by the political influence conservative US Christians have enjoyed. I make the argument that political success is misleading, because it conceals the abject failure of traditional Christians on the cultural front. As I explain in the book, being a faithful Christian is not the same thing as being a Republican. The fact that so many of my fellow conservative Christians have made that mistake over the past 30 years are so helps account for the dilemma we find ourselves in today.
There was a time when Christian thinkers like Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, might have prepared to fight for cultural and political control. Dreher, however, sees this as futile. “Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to … stop fighting the flood?” he asks. “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” This strategic withdrawal from public life is what he calls the Benedict option.
Dreher’s proposal is as remarkable as his fear. It is a radical rejection of the ties between Christianity and typical forms of power, from Republican politics to market-driven wealth. Instead, Dreher says, Christians should embrace pluralism, choosing to fortify their own communities and faith as one sub-culture among many in the United States.
But it is a vision that will not be easily achieved. Conservative Christianity no longer sets the norms in American culture, and transitioning away from a position of dominance to a position of co-existence will require significant adjustment, especially for a people who believe so strongly in evangelism. Even if that happens, there are always challenges at the boundaries of sub-cultures. 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.
Well, let me clarify the judgment in that last line. Quite often secular or progressive people want to know why conservative Christians are so concerned about LGBT issues. They ask it as if there is something wrong with us for our concerns. There are several reasons, but the most pertinent one is this: LGBT activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war. The struggle over gay rights is what is threatening our religious liberty, putting Christian merchants out of business, threatening the tax-exempt status and accreditation of Christian schools and colleges, inspiring the federal government to order public schools to allow transgenders into locker rooms (thankfully, the Trump administration is going to reverse that Obama order), and so forth. We pay so much attention to LGBT issues because we are made to care. Our religious liberty and the doctrinal integrity of our churches, especially our understanding of human nature and the meaning of sex and the family, depends on it.
This is not the fight that most conservative Christians I know (including me!) want to have. But it’s the fight that has been brought to us, and is brought to us every day.
“We Christians have a lot to learn from Modern Orthodox Jews,” he told me in an interview. Many of Dreher’s suggestions appear to echo Orthodox Jewish life, including daily prayers, restrictions on diet and work, and extensive educational networks. “They have had to live in a way that’s powerfully counter-cultural in American life and rooted in thick community and ancient traditions,” he said. “And yet, they manage to do it.”
This comparison is telling about how Dreher perceives the status of Christians in American society. Jews make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and Modern Orthodox Jews are a tiny minority within that group—Pew estimates that they account for 3 percent of all American Jews, or roughly .06 percent of Americans. While it’s impossible to estimate the exact number of Americans who would identify with the ecumenical, theologically conservative Christianity Dreher describes, it is far bigger than the number of Modern Orthodox Jews.
It seems as though Dreher is saying that Christians need to be ready to live as religious minorities. But he fails to acknowledge an important distinction between the two groups, beyond mere size. Jews act like a counter-cultural, marginalized group because they’ve been that way for two millennia—powerless, small in number, at odds with the broader cultures of the places where they’ve lived. The American conservatives Dreher is addressing, on the other hand, are coming from a place of power. For many years, they dictated the legal and cultural terms of non-Christians’ lives. The Benedict option is relevant precisely because America is becoming more religiously fractured, and Christianity is no longer the cultural default.
I think I see where the disconnect is between Emma and me. She can’t shake the idea that political power is the best measure of religious influence. Over the course of The Benedict Option, I marshal evidence to show that Christianity in America, even conservative Christianity, is a Potemkin village, one that’s going to be pushed over in the decades to come, because there’s nothing behind it holding it up.
By far the more important measure is the one sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his colleagues have made of the actual religious beliefs of young Americans, regarding Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Here is an excerpt from The Benedict Option:
This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”
MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.
As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.4 Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.
An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”
These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.
MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
If you want to see the future power of conservative Christianity in America, look to Europe today. If I write with an alarmist tone — and I do — it’s because I’m trying to wake up the churches, my own people, and tell them that we are in much worse trouble than we think. I spoke to a campus minister who came to hear my talk last night in Canton, and he said everything I said about how unprepared Christians are for the world we’re in now, and the world we’re going into, is true, based on his experience.
In the Q&A portion of the event, an undergraduate stood and said, “I don’t understand. You say we have to do this Benedict Option, but what’s wrong with just loving Jesus with all your heart, like I was taught to do growing up?” She was sincere and genuinely confused by what I was saying. My heart went out to her, because her winsomeness and innocence was so palpable, but this world is going to eat her alive.
The pastor who approached me said that young woman is so typical of the young people he works with at the institution he serves. They’re sincere and good-hearted, but they think that’s going to be enough to carry them through. It’s not. The pastor said, “We have to do a much better job of discipleship. That is our challenge today.”
I had a wonderful conversation with a small group that included reader Chad Green, who drove all the way in from Columbus for the lecture. He told a story about a significant sacrifice he and his wife are making to ensure that their kids are receiving real formation in church, as opposed to youth group shallowness. On this blog this morning, Chad reflected:
I woke up this morning thinking about the young lady in the back who asked the question at the conclusion of your talk “Isn’t loving Jesus enough?” Your answer was very patient and kind but I think she was shaken by it. In my experience, there is very little emphasis on orthopraxy in most evangelical churches. There is very little in the way of instruction or discipleship taking place either. Her question re-enforced the awareness of the responsibility I have as a father to impart the faith to my four boys. Those of us who profess Christ as Lord must seize the initiative in our families to instill in our children the faith that has been entrusted to us. I am not sure of all the details of how the Benedict Option fits into this exactly, but a community of Christians reinforcing the teachings in the home is vital to our spiritual survival.
It’s like this: we could have Republican Party-led government from now till kingdom come, led by politicians endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and the lot — and it would avail the church nothing. That is the message of the Benedict Option. American Christians who want to hold on to Christian orthodoxy in a post-Christian society would do well to emulate Orthodox Jews. It’s like this: a young Evangelical high school student told me that her current (public) school is one in which she is only one of a handful of confessing Christians. She said her old public school, the one she attended before moving, had a lot more Christians in it. Yet she says she prefers the school she’s in now, because “at least here I know what it really means to be a Christian.” I asked her to explain. She said that all her youth group friends in the old school are now smoking, drinking, sleeping with each other, and living no different than the non-Christians in that school. The fact that they are members of the youth group allows them to think that they’re really walking the walk, when in fact it’s just cultural Christianity. My young correspondent told me she appreciates the clarity in her new “post-Christian” environment.
Emma Green focuses heavily on the chapter of the book in which I talk about the Sexual Revolution as having been catastrophic for orthodox Christianity. She writes:
Most importantly, he writes with resentment, largely directed at those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and their supporters—the people, he believes, who have pushed Christians out of the public sphere.
“We are on the far side of a Sexual Revolution that has been nothing short of catastrophic for Christianity,” he writes:
It struck near the core of biblical teaching on sex and the human person and has demolished the fundamental Christian conception of society, of families, and of the nature of human beings. There can be no peace between Christianity and the Sexual Revolution, because they are radically opposed. As the Sexual Revolution advances, Christianity must retreat—and it has, faster than most people would have thought possible.This has had far-reaching consequences in all spheres of life. In the professional world, “sexual diversity dogma” is pervasive, he writes—an attempt by companies to “demonstrate progress to gay-rights campaigners.” In the future, “everyone working for a major corporation will be frog-marched through ‘diversity and inclusion’ training,” he says, “and will face pressure not simply to tolerate LGBT co-workers but to affirm their sexuality and gender identity.”
In politics and culture, “we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it,” he writes. “Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes—they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human.”
That chapter — one of ten in the book — is based in large part on this TAC essay, “Sex After Christianity,” which I published in 2013. If you want to know the philosophical roots of my position, please read it. And yes, I write in a prophetic, alarmist tone, because that is the actual reality facing the church. In the book, I am clear that this is not the fault of gays, that the heterosexuals who made the Sexual Revolution’s first wave demolished the Christian model of sex and sexuality. I quote Philip Rieff, no Christian he, on how the Sexual Revolution dissolves orthodox Christianity. I certainly don’t expect progressives, Christian or otherwise, who favor affirming homosexuality to agree with me and others who uphold the orthodox Christian view. But I do expect them to recognize how radical what they’re asking of us is, and how accepting their position requires us to surrender far more than we can.
More Emma Green:
Nothing in this language suggests that Dreher is ready to live tolerantly alongside people with different views. If progressives wrote about the Bible as “a lot of babble about Jesus and God,” using language similar to that of the parent Dreher cites, he would be quick to cry foul against the ignorance and intolerance of the left; his language is dismissive and mocking, and he peppers in conspiratorial terms like the “LGBT agenda.” At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity. The book seems to suggest that mere proximity to people with alternative beliefs about sexuality, and specifically LGBT people, is a threat to Christian children and families.
That’s just weird. I have been living and working tolerantly alongside people with different views — including gays and lesbians — for almost my entire life. So what? It’s a big world out there. The threat I perceive is not from LGBT people per se; it’s from affirming the Sexual Revolution, which is something one has to do in order to affirm — not just tolerate, but affirm — homosexuality.
[LGBT] lives implicitly pose the hard question Dreher has failed to engage: How should Christians be in fellowship with people unlike them—including those who feel aggrieved by the church and its teachings?
To his credit, Dreher nods to this, ever so briefly. “The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church,” he writes. “Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.” He does little to specify these past errors, though, and he never tries to answer the broader question: how Christians can live as one people among many in America without learning how to respect and relate to those who challenge their beliefs.
I really don’t get this criticism. For one, I didn’t “specify these past errors” because the whole question of homosexuality is such a small part of this book. Here is the fuller passage from which Green draws these quotes:
All unmarried Christians are called to live celibately, but at least heterosexuals have the possibility of marriage. Gay Christians do not, which makes their struggle even more intense.
Worse, too many gay Christians face rejection from the very people they should be able to count on: the church. The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in large part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church. Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.
But that does not mean—and it cannot mean—that we should abandon clear, binding biblical teaching on homosexuality. Gay Christians, like all unmarried Christians, are called to a life of chastity. This is a heavy cross to bear, but one that cannot in obedience be refused.
Our gay brothers and sisters in Christ should not have to carry it alone. In recent years, several same-sex- attracted Christians living in fidelity to orthodox teaching have found their voice in the Spiritual Friendship movement. It is based on the writings of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, a twelfth-century abbot.
“Aelred helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance,” writes Ron Belgau, one of the movement’s founders. “Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.”12
That’s an important point, for gay and single Christians alike. Too often chastity is presented only as saying no to sex. Though we can’t deny the real and painful sacrifice the Christian ethic requires of unmarried believers, we should not neglect to teach and explore the good that may come from surrendering one’s sexuality. Though monasticism had not yet developed when the New Testament was written, Jesus said that some are called by God to be chaste singles (“eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”). This is a steep path to holiness, an especially treacherous one in our thoroughly eroticized culture, but a path to holiness it is for some. We have that on Christ’s authority.
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.