I’ve been a follower of Rod Dreher’s blog for a long time. Rod’s a journalist who writes extensively about religion in the public square. He has written and served as an editor for the New York Post, the National Review, the Dallas Morning News, and other publications. I’ve found him to be an astute observer of cultural trends, especially the rapidly evolving threats to religious freedom and increasing hostility toward Christians who maintain traditional views regarding sexuality and gender. Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option is the featured story in this month’s Christianity Today.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rod last month when he was in Northeast Ohio to lecture at Malone College. I came away from his talk with the impression that disability ministry is likely to become a defining feature of churches and communities of Christians who choose to pursue his recommendations for growing in faith while faithfully witnessing to an increasingly hostile culture.
I’m not surprised that Rod has received lots of blowback about his book. He’s been very pointed in his criticism of churches and church leaders who have failed to communicate the essentials of the faith to a “lost generation” who fail to think and act differently than non-Christians in the surrounding culture, claiming that the church “no longer forms souls but caters to selves.” He’s been skewered by progressive Christians including Rachel Held Evans, and criticized by evangelicals (unfairly, in my opinion) who claim he is advocating a withdrawal from culture.
Here’s an excerpt from Rod’s feature in this month’s Christianity Today that introduces the overarching themes addressed in his book…
I brought up the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who said that Western civilization had lost its moorings. MacIntyre said that the time is coming when men and women of virtue will understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who want to live a life of traditional virtue. These people would find new ways to live in community, he said, just as St. Benedict, the sixth-century father of Western monasticism, responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order.
I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre “the Benedict Option.” The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.
Today, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture and, increasingly, in law, as racists. The culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream—has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.
I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.
There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about his writing. His message is a difficult one for us to hear. He’s not calling for Christians to isolate themselves from society. He is calling us to become far more intentional and serious about cultivating spiritual maturity in the context of Christian community. He is encouraging Christians to embrace our “exile in place” and to form a vibrant counterculture.
Rod does encourage and promote…
- Pursuit of a spiritually disciplined life.
- Intentionality in building Christian community.
- Abandoning hopes of changing the culture through political power while focusing on the preservation of religious liberty.
- Making the church the center of your life.
- Special efforts for racial reconciliation.
- The creation of a Christian academic counterculture.
- The centrality of sexual integrity to Christian life.
- The importance of protecting ourselves (and especially, our children) from the dangers of technology.
Why do I see disability ministry as central to the Benedict Option? Quoting Rod…
The state will not be able to care for all human needs in the future, especially if the current projections of growing economic inequality prove accurate. The sheer humanity of Christian compassion, and the image of human dignity it honors, will be an extraordinarily attractive alternative-not unlike the evangelical witness of the early church amid the declining paganism of an exhausted Roman Empire.
Ministry to persons with disabilities fits perfectly within the Benedict Option. We put our faith into action by doing. Doing ministry forces us to train ourselves to face the inevitable adversity associated with efforts to restore Jesus’ Kingdom on Earth and compels us to seek one another out for encouragement and support.
With every passing day, we’re likely to encounter more and more victims of a spiritually impoverished culture…
- The children who need someone to care for them because of drug-addicted (or dead) parents.
- Victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse
- Children with disabilities from families lacking the means to escape underperforming schools
- Kids and adults who struggle with gender discordance who continue to experience hopelessness and suicidal ideation after hormonal treatment or surgery.
There’s something remarkably countercultural about the willingness of a couple to volunteer their time offering respite care to parents in crisis when everyone else around you expects someone else to help. It’s just the church being the church.
Key Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!