A controversial new book comes out this week, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which claims so-called orthodox Christians (including those defined, in large part, by a commitment to heteronormativity) should be prepared to withdraw from Western culture.
That proposed withdrawal, in the style of St. Benedict’s 6th-century withdrawal from a collapsing Roman Empire, is due largely to Western societies’ liberalizing views on gender and sexuality. The book’s description calls the social context today “a new, post-Christian barbarism.”
Theologian Katie Grimes, who teaches at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, anticipates the book with an analysis of the very communities Dreher’s Benedict Option would leave behind, namely LGBT people.
Writing at the blog Women in Theology, Grimes said she neither wants to neither weigh-in on Dreher’s specific vocation nor review the yet unpublished book. Instead, she wants to “alleviate the fears that Dreher has expressed in blog posts and interviews,” where he has suggested LGBT rights threaten the religious liberty of orthodox Christians. Grimes described the author’s fears:
“Dreher fears that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will encounter ‘hostile work conditions, including dismissal from your job.’ . . . that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will incur ‘all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.’ . . . that orthodox Christians will not be allowed to own businesses unless they submit to serving LGBT customers. . . that someday progressive Christians ‘far in the future [will turn in orthodox Christians who have had to go into hiding].'”
Grimes points out that those very fears expose “the reality that LGBT people have already lived. . . proves much worse than the future Dreher fears.” Grimes continues:
“In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. . .If LGBT people in this country experience less mistreatment today than in years past, it is in large part because they both need less protection from the culture and receive more protection from the state.”
Grimes is clear she does not want Dreher’s Christians, “should they become an endangered minority,” to face such discrimination and violence. They should be, in her words, treated as any other human being “in all its messy and beautiful complexity.”
Thus, she makes a series of solidarity commitments that include protesting if “an employer fires you upon discovering that you are married to one woman and intend to remain so until death parts you” and defending them if “members of your same sex unleash a campaign of corrective rape aimed at changing your sexual orientation.” But, Grimes continued:
“Of course, Dreher does not fear that orthodox Christians will be in any way harmed for selecting a spouse in accordance with their sexual orientation or participating in a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage. He fears only that orthodox Christians will somehow be punished for expressing their opposition to gay marriage in public. Put another way, Dreher resists a future in which orthodox Christians will have to selectively hide their true identity from certain employers, family members, and neighbors like LGBT people do.”
Using divorce and remarriage as an example, Grimes said liberalizing laws on these issues did not threaten Christians because divorced persons were assumed to be safe. Lack of discrimination and violence against them has meant they are not a protected class, unlike LGBT people, and meant further there has not been sharp pushback from divorced persons against Christians with differing views.
But for LGBT people, Grimes said Dreher “implies that orthodox Christian liberty necessarily would come at the expense of LGBT people’s lives. . .that the gay rights movement will inflict a mortal wound upon orthodox Christianity.” This is, however, not the case because “most people have turned towards LGBT people” rather than first rejecting heteronormative claims.
Finally, Grimes affirmed a way forward in which LGBT equality is ensured while right-wing Christians are respected:
“If orthodox Christians begin to treat LGBT people the way they currently treat divorced people, then it seems likely that progressives would treat orthodox Christians the way they currently treat people who condemn divorce.
“Dreher can do even more to secure the liberty of orthodox Christians living in parts of the world in which they no longer comprise the political or cultural majority by working to awaken the consciences of those who still do. Orthodox Christianity ought to “own up” not just to its anti-gay past, but to its anti-gay present as well. The historical injustices Dreher laments continue to occur still today. Dreher encourages other orthodox Christians to disengage/pull away from a society that will not let them speak freely, but what about those LGBT people who cannot hide from the orthodox Christians who remain in control?”
Grimes asked in conclusion, “Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?”
Rod Dreher’s drastic proposal that Christians withdraw from Western society primarily over LGBT rights is understandably disputed. It will be interesting to see how reactions and responses evolve. But Katie Grimes’ anticipatory article does a good job of grounding the conversation in history and in the realities of LGBT people’s lives.
Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will continue this conversation. In the meantime, whether you have read Dreher’s book or not, let us know what you think about the “Benedict Option” idea or Grimes’ response in the “Comments” section below.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.