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People Of Praise: A Benedict Option

If confirmed, she will be America's first Benedict Option Supreme Court Justice (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Back when I was researching The Benedict Option, someone I met at a conference told me that I should look into People Of Praise, an ecumenical (but mostly Catholic) charismatic community to which he belonged. I heard about it too late in the writing process to do as he said, but I’ve kept them in mind over the years. Now that a member of that community, Amy Coney Barrett, has been nominated to the US Supreme Court, we are all finding out a lot more about People Of Praise.

I can certainly see why the young man advised me to look into People Of Praise as a Benedict Option community — because it is! Excerpts from National Catholic Register:

In the heady days that marked the birth of the Charismatic Renewal movement in the 1960s and 1970s, many Catholics and other Christians sought to deepen their faith by forming and joining covenant communities — including the People of Praise community that is reportedly associated with Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Modeling their lives on those of the early Christians in the New Testament Book of Acts, some sold their houses, relocated and pooled resources to become part of communities that they hoped would offer them a greater degree of fellowship and support than might be found at a typical prayer meeting or Sunday Mass.

More:

Founded in South Bend in 1971, the ecumenical People of Praise has 1,700 members in 22 cities in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Members are Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal and nondenominational Christians, with each attending his or her own church in addition to community worship gatherings.

Although members do not take vows, after several years of prayer and discernment they can make a covenant, or permanent commitment, to the group indicating their support of the community. Each member also has a spiritual director or guide known as a head who provides practical and spiritual advice based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Aaaaaaaaaah, I wish I had discovered these people earlier! Here’s some material from a Politico story that sees People Of Faith in a somewhat sinister light: 

What’s difficult to understand outside South Bend, however, is just how deeply integrated this group is into the local community. Though the group has only a few thousand local members, and keeps a low profile as an organization, its influence and footprint in the city are significant. That influence, and its resistance to liberal changes in the wider culture, are likely to arise as issues in her Supreme Court nomination hearings, expected to begin Oct. 12.

People of Praise includes several prominent local families, including realtors and local financial advisers, who act as a sort of professional network for families in the group and provide considerable social capital to its members. In South Bend mayoral elections, campaigns have been known to strategize about winning over People of Praise as a constituency, given the fact that they live close together in several neighborhoods. The group runs Trinity School at Greenlawn, a private intermediate and high school that is considered by some to be the best—and most conservative—school in South Bend.

No “head for the hills” there, you see! But what’s wrong with them, from Politico‘s point of view? This, about Trinity School:

The school publishes a “cultural statement” laying out its views on social issues. It articulates a clear, conservative Christian set of values, including discouraging sex before marriage and cautioning students who experience same-sex attraction from “prematurely interpret[ing] any particular emotional experience as identity-defining.” It also appears to have been at odds with American law while Barrett served on the board: A version of the statement from the 2018-19 school year, provided to POLITICO by the parent of an alum, says: “the only proper place for human sexual activity is marriage, where marriage is a legal and committed relationship between one man and one woman.” “Homosexual acts” are said to be “at odds with Scripture.” A spokesman for the school said the language changed around the 2018-2019 school year, meaning it would have been in place during Barrett’s tenure as a board member from 2015 to 2017—and well after the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The current version still disapproves of same-sex marriage:“We understand marriage to be a legal and committed relationship between a man and a woman and believe that the only proper place for sexual activity is within these bounds of conjugal love.” The spokesman also added that there is a new passage rejecting “any form of harassment, bullying, verbal abuse or intimidation by any member of the Trinity School community towards any other member for any reason,” including a “student’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or perceived sexuality.”

“At odds with American law”?! Perhaps the piece’s author needs to be reminded that while same-sex marriage is constitutionally mandated, according to the Supreme Court, religious organizations retain the right to run themselves according to their beliefs. There was and is nothing at all illegal about the sexual code of conduct at Trinity School. It is unpopular with journalists and now outside the mainstream, but it is completely consonant with what the Catholic Church teaches, and with what traditional Christians of all confessions believe.

And liberals wonder why so many of us religious traditionalists worry about the decline in respect for First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty. By the way, one more bit from that Politico story:

A White House spokeswoman said Barrett had no involvement in crafting the statement, but it aligns with her public views on the subject:sheco-signed a letter to Catholic bishops, dated 3 months after the Obergefell decision, affirming that marriage is the “indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.” In a 1998 article “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” she referred to abortion as “always immoral.”Barrett has also said these views would not impact her jurisprudence. “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions—whether they derive from faith or anywhere else—on the law,” she said during her 2017 confirmation.

Since I began this blog entry, I see that the piece’s author, Adam Wren, has indicated on Twitter that he is not saying that what People Of Praise do with the school is illegal. A more charitable reading would be that it is at odds with changing standards, including legal standards. If so, I hope he will rewrite that line to be clearer. Conservative Christians are jumpy about this stuff for a reason. We know that the existence of our institutions depends on the willingness of a post-Christian majority (or at least a majority that includes non-believers and Christians who have assimilated the Sexual Revolution) to tolerate our fidelity to Biblical and Church teachings.

Anyway, though as I have said before, the charismatic style of Christianity is not my jam, I am very pleased to learn about People Of Praise. Looks like we are about to get our first Benedict Option Supreme Court justice! When the rights of schools like Trinity and religious groups like People Of Praise to exist come before the High Court, I will be so very, very glad if Amy Coney Barrett is there to hear the cases and argue about it among her colleagues.

By the way, my friend Warren Farha, the Eighth Day Books owner who is exclusively handling signed pre-ordered copies of Live Not By Lies (pre-order here), tells me that he is also selling more copies of The Benedict Option these days, as people’s interest in Live Not By Lies is making them curious about what came before. Good — it should. They are companion books. You don’t have to have read The Benedict Option to understand anything about Live Not By Lies, but if you liked TBO, then LNBL is a variation on and intensification of the theme of Christian cultural resistance.

UPDATE: Oh brother:

For the uninitiated, the “Boromir Option” refers to the character from Lord Of The Rings who wants to seize the Ring and use its power for Good. The idea here is that ACB represents the opposite of the Ben Op — that she stands for advancing Christianity through controlling institutions.

This is really dumb. For one thing, ACB received her formation as a Catholic in large part through a thick Christian community. This is very quickly becoming necessary for all Christians in this post-Christian society. More importantly, though, faith comes neither through legislation nor judicial rulings. The best Christians can hope for is that judges and lawmakers will make it possible for us to live our lives fully as Christians, even in the public square. If we expect politicians or magistrates to Christianize our families and communities, we are fools.

It will be great to have ACB on the High Court in part because she can presumably be counted on as a vote to defend religious liberty. The justices will not catechize your children, nor lead your family or church in lives of spiritual discipline. That’s not their role. I’m thrilled by her nomination, and I think that conservative federal judges are going to be the last line of defense that traditional religious believers have in the decades to come. It really matters who runs our institutions. But come on, people, don’t sit there and feel smug and secure that one of us is nominated to the Supreme Court, while your kids are having their faith taken from them by this post-Christian culture. We could have nine Amy Coney Barretts on the Supreme Court, and it would not move the needle on conversion or retention of the Christian faith. What we must hope and pray for is that SCOTUS makes it possible for groups like People Of Praise, Trinity School, and other religious institutions to be true to themselves, even in a hostile social and political climate.

UPDATE.2: A couple of readers say that I’ve misread the meme, that it was meant to show the tension between the Boromir Option and the Benedict Option, as manifest in ACB’s life — not the superiority of one to the other. That makes sense, and if I have erred, as I seem to have done, then I apologize to the meme maker.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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