Rod named the Benedict Option after St. Benedict, the father of Christian monasticism. As Western culture descended into moral darkness and decadence in the waning years of the Roman Empire Benedict withdrew to create a monastic community devoted to the cultivation and protection of a rich, thick and vibrant spiritual community.
Advocates of the Benedict Option suggest that Christians today must do something similar. Christians no longer control our increasingly secular and post-Christian culture so we should give up trying. The battle has been lost. So Christians should give up fretting and raging about the loss of our "Christian nation," as so many evangelicals are doing now. In our stages of grief Christians should get past the anger and depression and move on to acceptance. Christians should now withdraw from the culture wars and turn inward to cultivate and foster Christian counter-cultures that are vibrant and rich.
Now, there's been lots of debate about the nature and shape of what, exactly, we mean by "withdrawal" in speaking of a Benedict Option. I don't want to wade into those waters. What I'd like to point out is the hypocritical nature of much of the very recent discussion about the Benedict Option within evangelical circles.
Almost all of the recent conversation about the Benedict Option among evangelicals has been in response to the gains same-sex couples have made in marriage equality. Talk among evangelicals about the Benedict Option spiked after Obergefell v. Hodges. Now that gay persons could marry it was time for evangelicals to think about the Benedict Option, time to withdraw from the depraved and secular culture.
What I'd like to point out is the hypocrisy that is haunting and contaminating this recent interest in the Benedict Option among evangelicals.
Specifically, for decades the evangelical witness regarding marriage has been abysmal. Divorce rates among evangelicals have been no different from non-Christians, and some studies show divorce rates as higher among evangelicals when compared to unbelievers. Consequently, if evangelicals cared so much about the sanctity of marriage why were there no calls for the Benedict Option decades ago? Why wait until Obergefell?
Because a Benedict Option among evangelicals, and this conclusion seems inescapable, isn't really about protecting the sanctity of marriage. It's about the denunciation and rejection of gay persons. That's the only reason I can see for why calls for a Benedict Option have been all the rage recently. Straight Christians, it seems, are allowed to desecrate marriage with impunity. But if gay people do it? Well, that's not allowed. Time for the Benedict Option.
To be clear, I'm not talking about my evangelical brothers and sisters changing their minds about gay marriage. I'm talking about the hypocrisy in their recent calls for a Benedict Option.
If the Benedict Option were really about the cultivation of a rich Christian culture, especially in the arena of marriage, we would have been having this conversation decades ago. And it would have been a healthy conversation because the Benedict Option would have been, at that time, directed where it should have been all along: at the church.
Let me be clear about that. The Benedict Option is healthy and good when it is aimed at the church.
But now? Now the Benedict Option isn't being aimed at the church. It's being aimed at a particular group of people, gay people in particular. Rather than being a reform movement of the church the Benedict Option, as it is currently being discussed, is simply an exercise in Othering, an exercise in dehumanizing.
And didn't Jesus, by the way, reject the othering Benedict Option devotees in his time and place?
Anyone remember...ahem...the Pharisees?
A Benedict Option that is motivated mainly as a response to the culture wars, and a response mainly aimed at denoucning gay persons, is a Benedict Option rooted in an in-group/out-group mentality that builds the Option upon a dehumanizing foundation.
Listen, as a progressive Christian I love the notion of a Benedict Option. I absolutely love it. I think the cruciform way of Jesus requires a rich, thick and disciplined Christian culture. I think progressive Christians should be calling for their own version of the Benedict Option. Because I think liberalism, nationalism and capitalism are corrosive to the Christian faith. I just disagree with my conservative brothers and sisters about what the corrosion looks like.
I embrace a progressive vision of the Benedict Option, a vision that might be better described as the Francis Option, named after St. Francis of Assisi.
A Francis Option would be, following St. Francis, a monastic reform movement aimed at the church where we cultivate the thick culture, theology and discipline to serve the outcasts of the world, as St. Francis and his followers spent their lives.
The church needs to form and shape cruciform lovers. And that's hard to do in America today. Liberalism, nationalism and capitalism are killing the church. We really do need rich and vibrant counter-cultures where we can detox from American culture and be formed into Christian patterns of living.
But the post-Obergefell Benedict Option being discussed by evangelicals? That sort of Benedict Option is inherently Othering and intrinsically hypocritical.
We need a Benedict Option, but a Christ-shaped version of it.