First, if I've not been clear enough, The Benedict Option is a profoundly conservative book. Rod Dreher is affiliated with The American Conservative, among his other right-leaning bonafides. The book, from the outset, lets us all know that Dreher thinks the increased acceptance of LGBTQ persons and the legalization of same-sex marriage is a sign of America losing touch with its Christian heritage and is a herald of the (possible) end of Western culture. This stance, by itself, is going to be challenging (at best) and cause for strong reactions from many of us in our congregation (I know I myself considered deleting the book after reading the first two chapters). This book comes from a perspective that does not represent many of us and, in fact, is a position that many of us will find repressive, ignorant, and even sinful. At the same time, this sort of thinking underscores many of the ideas about Christianity that still permeate our churches and is something that we Episcopalians need to get a handle on. I'll speak more to this in a bit.
Secondly, even though the book is quite conservative, it is quite critical of our current president. This will be another challenge for some other segments of our congregation. One of the blessings of The Chapel of Saint Andrew is our multi-faceted diversity. There's an old joke that goes: "What separates the Republicans from the Democrats in the Episcopal Church? The altar rail!" Yeah, this joke does not apply to us. We have a ton of "cross-pollination" and this is one of the great assets of this community. So, I understand that many of our more "right-leaning" members might take issue with what Dreher has to say about our president.
At this point, you may be wondering: "Father Charles, if this book is set up to make so many people angry, why do you want us to read it? Things have largely settled here at The Chapel, why stir it all up?
Dreher wants The Church to better be The Church, to take seriously the mission and identity given to us by our Risen Lord. The Church is a culture and is meant to be a foundation for our entire being—something that much of our secular society has eroded away. In a lot of ways, our Christian faith has become something that is adjacent to our political and social life, rather than being the thing that subsumes all of who and what we are. Jesus, as I've said in many recent sermons, has redefined humanity for us, showing us what it actually means to be human. The ramifications of this are immense and Dreher does a good job of demonstrating what this might entail. This is the main reason I want us to read this book together.
I also want us to be aware of "the other side." I've been long concerned about the partisanship plaguing our culture. And this recent election cycle revealed to us something many of us have long expected: we're so partisan that we have two groups of people having divergent experiences of this country, alongside each other. We don't engage with one another. And because of this, we don't know what each other is thinking or doing. If we're going to be a place where all God's children come to the altar to share in one bread and one cup, to be one body in Christ Jesus, then we need to do so substantially. We can't let our sharing in the body and blood of Jesus be mere lip-service, a superficial thing done one day a week so we can go about ignoring or demeaning one another the other six days.
Furthermore, the global Anglican Communion is fracturing over some of the very things Dreher discusses, utilizing similar thinking in doing so. We Episcopalians are not immune to this stuff. But the only way to avoid schism while also being faithful to what God has called us to do (in terms of our changing of the marriage canons—something that even The Scottish Episcopal Church just recently did) is to know our traditions and finding ways to talk about why we believe what we believe in a way that is coherent to a world that is either hostile or ignorant to our beliefs. We have to be able to bring people on board, rather than cast them off. That is the work of conversion, which is a lifelong process as Christians.
My purpose in having us read this is the same purpose (I think) that Dreher had in writing it: to call The Church to a radical faithfulness to being The Church founded by Jesus Christ and handed on by apostles, prophets, and sages. Doing so requires being challenged. And The Benedict Option is nothing if not challenging.
So I hope you will come join us with an open mind and a willingness to be challenged and, hopefully, carried into a new place of faithfulness—where we gather all God's children into Christ's Church, locally and abroad.
(If you're interested in joining this book discussion, please contact the Chapel's office or send me an email.)