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Cultural Engagement & The Benedict Option

I’ve had a few e-mails and exchanges in the last day that I want to address.

An Evangelical I was talking to this morning said that one of the Christians he follows on Twitter criticized the Benedict Option for not being “culturally engaged.” My interlocutor said he didn’t think that was the case, but wanted my opinion.

Of course it’s not the case, I said. (And this will be very clear when my book comes out in February.) The point is that in this new and rapidly changing social environment, if Christians expect to engage the culture effectively, we will have to withdraw into the depths of our traditions, and embrace new (or rather, very old) practices to strengthen our discipleship.

“If you were a Marine fighting a war, would you think it would be sufficient to go into battle without having had any training or discipline, relying only on your patriotism?” I said. “You’d get slaughtered, and the cause would suffer. It’s like that with the Benedict Option. We Christians can’t engage the culture if we don’t have much to engage them with.”

I might be wrong, but I sometimes think that Christians believe they are “engaging the culture” when they show off their tattoo at the coffee shop, and practice random acts of winsomeness.

In this same conversation, my new Evangelical friend and I got to talking about youth ministry. He told me that his sister is in college at a pretty conservative university, and is involved in Christian circles there. She reports that many of her Christian friends supports same-sex marriage (she does not), and doesn’t understand why Christians wouldn’t.

We talked briefly about how the Sexual Revolution has colonized the American Christian imagination, and how so many older Christian conservatives have no real idea the extent to which this is true. We agreed that the church has been catastrophically bad at forming younger generations in this way. I wish I had remembered to tell this man what a professor friend at a major Evangelical university told me recently: that one of the larger Christian student groups on campus jokes around about how most of its members are sleeping with each other, claiming that their love for Jesus covers all, and disdaining legalism. Their sneering slogan? “Rules are for the righteous.”

Over the course of my lifetime, I have no doubt that most Christian colleges and institutions will fully embrace the LGBT agenda. I was shocked last year to visit Notre Dame and see the rainbow flag flying in the student union. I expect this to be widespread in Christian colleges 20 years from now. The next battle is going to be the extent to which Christian colleges mandate celebrating LGBT.

In that regard, a reader whose Christian husband works for a major American corporation. She reports that he has always loved his job, but is glad that retirement is upon him, because the company has gotten very aggressive about promoting the LGBT agenda within. It is fast moving beyond tolerance and respect, and approaching the point where you must openly affirm your support for it, or risk losing your job.

The reader forwarded me company documents demonstrating this, on condition that I not identify the company. I don’t want to risk posting excerpts from these documents on this blog, because it wouldn’t be hard for employees of the company to figure out its identity, and for all I know, they would launch a witch hunt against people known to be Christian there. Trust me, though: what the reader says is correct. If I were a traditional Christian, Jew, or Muslim working there, I would head for the exits — if I didn’t have the stomach to make them fire me, thus making me un-hireable in the industry (because who wants to take a bigot onto their workforce, thus risking the creation of a Hostile Work Environment, which is legally actionable?).

This is one reason why we need the Benedict Option: to prepare Christians to be able to resign their jobs rather than burn that pinch of incense to Caesar, and to prepare the wider Christian community to support them — financially, spiritually, and morally — when they lose their livelihoods for the sake of bearing witness to God’s truth.

This too is cultural engagement — engagement with American culture as it is and as it is becoming in these darkening times. And listen to me, Christian: if you don’t think this could happen to you in your workplace, you are lying to yourself.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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