“The Benedict Option” and LGBT People, Part II

As yesterday’s post explained, Rod Dreher’s new book,  The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, has prompted a lively debate about his central claim that traditional Christians should withdraw from Western cultures to escape liberalizing attitudes, especially on LGBT rights.


Kaya Oakes

In yesterday’s post, we presented theologian Katie Grimes’ initial response to Dreher. Grounding her response in the present realities of LGBT people, Grimes also committed herself to be in solidarity with LGBT-negative Christians “should they become an endangered minority.”

Today, we feature writer Kaya Oakes’ response to Dreher in Religion Dispatches. She envisions a future in which divisions have not intensified, but are diminished by a growing movement towards authentic community.

Identifying herself as a feminist Catholic who appreciates both Benedictine life and who supports marriage equality, Oakes said she is not likely Dreher’s audience, as he “is not particularly interested in liberal Christian voices; he rarely mentions them without some sort of disdain.” Nonetheless, she asked:

“[I] s there finally room for a dialogue between people on different ends of the Christian spectrum?…  Could the Benedict Option be an opportunity for us [Christians] to do this [reflecting on Christian tradition] together?

Oakes answered her own question with a “likely not” because Dreher depicts a religious landscape in the United States where traditional Christians, defined largely by their opposition to LGBT rights, are at war with mainstream society. She noted his comment in  Christianity Today that society “has no intention of living in postwar peace.” And she points out that in The American Conservative Dreher predicts that the election of President Donald Trump may postpone the coming persecution, which he said looks like “the police looking for dissident orthodox Christians hiding out from state persecution.”

This alleged persecution is closely tied to the legalization of marriage equality and expansion of LGBT non-discrimination protections, which are increasingly acceptable to Americans. Dreher’s main concern, said Oakes, is to strengthen Christian opponents’ resistance, not to reach out and find a way forward that is different than the persecution he envisions. Importantly, Oakes acknowledged that in progressive Christian circles there have been self-analyses and inward movements as well since the U.S. election last fall. About the dangers of both vacuums, she wrote:

“Choirs that only listen to themselves eventually dissolve into dissonance, not harmony. That goes both ways for Christians right now. Neither side knows what’s next. Nobody knows what’s next. We can only grope our way from one moment to another, but neither an idealized past Christian nor a narrative that envisions a persecuted Christian future are going to create real and lasting communities.”

Oakes pointed out alternatives to the Benedict Option which are premised on inclusion rather than exclusion. K.A. Ellis of International Christian Response, an organization which aids persecuted Christians around the globe, argued directly against the idea that Christianity is under attack, saying, “many historically marginalized communities wounded by false Christianity would even say that Christianity is discovering its place for the first time.” This also includes a model of hospitality faithful to the Benedictine tradition, but in a way which builds up unity. Oakes wrote:

“As a female religious leader, [Sr. Joan] Chittister’s interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict offers some interesting contrast to Dreher’s. On the Benedictine charism of hospitality, Chittister writes that ‘Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn around a prejudiced world, one heart at a time.’

“In fact, the Rule of Benedict itself says in Chapter 53, ‘On the Reception of Guests,’ that monastic communities should ‘let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.’ Dreher’s idealistic notion of Christian community life is indeed appealing, but it neglects to understand that the guests arriving right now most in need of welcome are mostly not Christians. Nor does Dreher seem to write about progressive Christian communities that are, in fact, living out their own version of the Benedict Option, although their ideas about community are perhaps more open to female leadership of [sic] LGBTQ members.”  [Ed. note:  Perhaps “of” was meant to be “and”?]

Oakes’ contribution to The Benedict Option conversation is her clear articulation that the path forward is not by way of sharpened divisions premised on the false idea that there are orthodox Christians and everyone else. The future belongs to communities that can hold differences in balance. Or, in her words, “Only those who are really willing and able to welcome the stranger are going to be able to do that. If Dreher is among them, that remains to be seen.”

At the very least, Dreher’s contention about LGBT rights in The Benedict Option seems overblown, even by those who are tepid about equality. Reviewing the book for CommonwealPaul Baumann admitted he does not clearly support marriage equality or trans equality, but that even he wishes Dreher “would turn down the sky-is-falling rhetoric. If the sky is indeed falling, it won’t help to keep shouting about it.”

And Baumann recognizes that Dreher’s concerns about sexual morality seem out of proportion in comparison to other forces in the world:

“No one should doubt the sincerity of Dreher or those Christians who think the new sexual dispensation is a terrible mistake and a dire threat to human dignity. But Dreher surely knows there are worse threats to human dignity and Christian integrity. . . It seems to me that these are all plausible, even compelling, reasons to separate oneself from American society, and try to carve out a place to live faithful Gospel lives. Does same-sex marriage pose a comparable risk? The LGBTQ phenomenon presents difficult moral and even thorny theological questions, but it hardly constitutes an existential threat to humanity, the nation, or the church. It is not the atom bomb. It’s not the Dark Ages.”

With Dreher’s book only being released this week, the debate over how LGBT rights, U.S. society, and Christians relate to one another will only grow. But for now, what do you think of “The Benedict Option”? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 22, 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.



0 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    An initial search for “Rod Dreher” links yields these useful links:




    Some observations:

    1. He’s a former Methodist who converted to Catholicism in mid-life. I believe one of our folks commented recently that “intellectuals” who convert to Catholicism in mid-life — as he did — tend to gravitate on the extreme fringe of conservative Catholic ideology. They are in no way mainstream Catholics — and they absolutely do not represent the theological positions and tenets of Pope Francis himself.

    2. If you search under “images” which are contained in his online postings, you’ll find a horrific depiction of Mary self-inducing a bloody abortion of the yet-unborn Infant Jesus. This is nothing but gratuitous and sickening pornography.

    3. In the end, I’m reminded of the image on one of American rock singer Todd Rundgren’s albums. Feeling that the public was not taking his work seriously, he’s depicted holding in his hand a bomb with a lit fuse, under the banner album title: “Go Ahead — Just Ignore Me!”

    4. Reading Dreher recalls my attempt to view Mel Gibson’s infamous movie — “The Passion Of The Christ” — when it was screened at our Cardinal Newman Catholic Center during Passion Week last year. The depicted savage violence is so completely extreme and “over the top” that I fail to see any pastoral purpose in making a pornographic display of such utter cruelty.

    I’ll be very interested to see other readers’ reactions to Dreher’s hateful antics “In The Name Of Jesus”.

    • Wilhelm Wonka
      Wilhelm Wonka says:

      I clicked on two of the links you provided. Among the many images on one of these sites were those of iconic liberals, Charles Chaput and Dr Michael Brown, two of modern America’s most pro-active advocates of LGBT equality. So Dreher’s progressive pedigree is beyond question. (Harrumph)

      I also watched a video on the other site, a presentation by Dreher on ‘The Benedict Option’. (‘Plugging’ his book, in other words.) As I watched, my jaw dropped ever wider, my eyes popped ever bigger. One word dominated my mind as I listened to this self-serving, paranoid nonsense: ‘cult’.

      Dreher tried, and failed, to deny that he was being ‘alarmist’, denied that he was encouraging people to ‘head for the hills!’. But this, metaphorically, is precisely what he is doing. It is pointless telling a seemingly uncritical audience that they must separate from ‘the American mainstream’, while attempting to assure it that this was not a ‘running away from something’. The man is a mass of embarrassing self-contradiction.

      Cult leaders thrive on instilling fear; this is how they gain, and maintain, control of others. (Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church has a very dark history of such.) Denying that one is being alarmist while warning people to prepare themselves to lose their jobs (in the forthcoming ‘persecution’, presumably) is scaremongering to the point of absurdity. It is also deeply hypocritical, since this exactly how ‘Christians’ treated LGBT people for generations.

      When Jesus took himself off alone to pray, it wasn’t a panicked flight from the world (such as Dreher proposes), but a preparation to engage with it, to dialogue with it, to love it, ‘warts ‘n’ all’.

      Dreher has a lot to learn, but not until he surrenders the paranoia that is driving him.

  2. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    The book’s harshest, and most damning, critic is actually its own thesis: the forthcoming persecution of Christians set on foot by advancing LGBT rights, particularly marriage equality. In this respect, Drehr’s work reads more like fiction on the dark theme of Armageddon. At this coffee-table level of writing, the book might actually have some literary merit. Otherwise it suggests an author’s imagination that needs to be kept on a far-tighter leash.

    I’m surprised that this paranoid pulp is attracting such intellectually heavy-weight attention and comment.

  3. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “in The American Conservative Dreher predicts that the election of President Donald Trump may postpone the coming persecution, which he said looks like ‘the police looking for dissident orthodox Christians hiding out from state persecution.'”

    This reminds me of a book by a Canadian author that I started reading several years ago. I can’t find it on my book shelves, so I may have thrown it in the trash. It was a novel about a time in the future in which marriage equality is accepted, and people who don’t go along with it have to hide from the ruling society. I forget all the other things that upset the protagonist – a good upstanding Christian family man who was disturbed by the direction society was going. It seemed like some skewed dystopian view of the world based on fears, and the demonization of “the other,” rather than reality.

    If Dreher thinks that the election of an unstable narcissistic, liar (who has chosen a white nationalist as his key advisor, and filled his administration with rich men with ties to Russia, who have as their goals bleeding the sick and the needy so they can further fill the pockets of themselves and their friends) will protect “Christians” from state persecution, then Dreher’s “orthodoxy” doesn’t include Jesus.

  4. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    I am reading Dreher’s 2/17/2017 article in Christianity Today. He paints a picture of “traditional Christian values” under seige.
    Something else is going on here. Maintaining cognitive coherence is something we all do, and need. I am a Christian, too. But Christ calls for metanoia, not drawing lines in the sand. What Dreher is doing is understandable: in order to maintain cognitive coherence for the “traditionalist Christian” he recommends circling the wagons.
    To get right to Dreher’s point about preserving and supporting the family, family is critically important. But so is the Second Coming, and circling the wagons means marking time rather than journeying toward union with a loving God. God is doing everything that can be done — short of hitting graced but benighted humanity over the head with a two by four — to make a very simple point: God’s reality is richer and more complicated than human conceptions of creation.
    We are finally getting that point in physics. Newton’s conception of how the world works is still useful, but Einstein’s radically different conception is necessary to make our GPS devices work. When general relativity made its debut in 1915 the social world responded with hairbrained concerns about “relativism” in moral conduct. Einstein was so perturbed that he tried — unsuccessfully — to give his theory a more accurate name: the theory of invariants, to signify that his field equations had the same form in all frames of reference.
    As Pogo said, the problem is us. God’s creation is at it is. Human consciousness has remarkable capabilities, but is limited. As the history of physics demonstrates, our conceptions of reality move from one idealization to another. Granted, each step in this journey is a little better but still an idealization. Our mental equipment can’t do any better. We can build on the past, but there is always more to learn about God’s magnificent creation.
    It should not come as a surprise that God’s creation is of a piece. Our limited conceptual capacity applies to all of creation, not just physics. “God made them male and female.” No, that’s not what God did. That was the conception of our forefathers, at a time when they knew no better. And, like Newtonian mechanics, it’s mostly correct. But ascribing that conception to God is idolatry, yet another indication that Pogo is right. As Augustine understood, God’s book of nature is as close as we are going to come to a two by four. God’s book of nature continues to unfold. Its pages continue to turn. Proof of a dynamic cosmos — the Big Bang — is only fifty years old.
    Roughly one in twenty thousand genetic males is biologically female. The fertilization process is complicated. Every so often a piece of the Y chromosome goes missing, and the female default takes over. This knowledge has come from God’s book of nature only in the last fifteen or twenty years. Things are moving along rather briskly, enough to challenge the coherent world view of those who rely upon gender clarity.
    But that will pass. It took several generations for Newton’s conception of the world to percolate into the rest of society. Thank God for young people, who are not as set in their ways and are generally more open to conceiving of the world in ways that come closer to God’s book of nature. The LGBT community is perhaps as close as “traditionalist Christians” are going to get to God’s two by four.
    If we are to have hope for the parousia our humanity must up its game. Two additions to our cache of universal principles come to mind. First, each of us needs to presume that the ‘other’ is on the same journey toward union with a loving God that we are. We all have to deal with our more primitive inclinations. Succumbing to these inclinations is commonly called sin. That’s just part of life. What we are coming to understand is that we need to be open to God’s book of nature. It shouldn’t take a two by four to make us see that idealized conceptions of economics and sociology can be made better. That’s what Catholic Social Teaching is about.
    Second, the community — not only the local community but the larger social institutions of church and state — should limit enforcement of mores and laws to those which are necessary for good order in the community. Good progress is being made, but more progress is to come. Again, the LGBT community is a good example of progress. And, with any luck, Dreher’s concerns — the ones that drive him to suggest circling the wagons — will prove moot. Those “traditionalist Christians” that remain unconvinced by God’s book of nature should nonetheless have the benefit of a society which sees no challenge to good order in letting them be. This would be a fitting further step in the human journey toward a civilization of love.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *