(RNS) To hear Rod Dreher tell it, Christians are a moment away from being systematically eliminated from American society.
He alleges that the secularizing forces of modernity, especially the sexual revolution, have forced true believers to the margins of social life.
Dreher, a thoughtful conservative writer, believes the church must turn inward to form communities, teach their children, and resist a culture co-opted by radical LGBT activists.
Dreher has promoted this idea for years and his new book,”The Benedict Option,” debuted this week at #7 on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Named for the sixth-century monastic (not the pope emeritus), the Benedict Option calls for Christians to strategically withdraw from a hopelessly corrupted and hostile society.
Dreher supposes secular elites and nominal religious folk will bid the real Christians good riddance, waving a final farewell to the last opponents of our modern-day Gomorrah.
But I, for one, would miss them.
After wandering in the wilderness for decades, traditionalist religious people are making meaningful contributions to public discourse. This is not only true of Dreher himself, but also of conservative Christian critics of the Benedict Option who are disinclined to pull back.
Compared with the cartoonish fundamentalists and out-of-touch bishops that characterized religious conservatism a couple of generations ago, today’s evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox leaders are adept in engaging the wider world.
In terms of intellectual and cultural achievement, we are living through something of a golden age for religious conservatives contributing meaningfully to politics and even arts and letters.
Conservative religionists bolster our social fabric with relatively larger families, strong communities, civic engagement, charitable giving and volunteerism. It would be better for everyone if they became less insular — not more so.
I’m so committed to keeping conservative believers in our schools, neighborhoods, governments and institutions that I propose making Dreher’s Benedict Option unnecessary.
For starters, I’m willing to grant traditionalists liberty to live in accordance with their beliefs about sexuality. We have laws to protect and promote social equality. There is no need to punish decent people who disagree with sexual equality and libertarianism in good faith.
I also don’t think their colleges necessarily deserve to have their accreditation revoked. Traditionalists should not fear job loss and social ostracism for holding the same beliefs that most Americans held until 15 minutes ago.
In short, I’m willing to grant them their religious views — which are really not novel or radical — in the name of old-fashioned liberal tolerance.
Dreher thinks liberals who accommodate conservative believers for a season will ultimately be forced to turn the Christians over to government officials to be arrested or worse.
But it hasn’t happened yet, and I’m less afraid of that outcome than I was in 2015 when, a month after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Dreher said I was going to get “steamrollered” by the victorious left for my moderation.
Dreher’s thesis is wrong. It depends on a delusional persecution complex. But elite culture has become more hostile to his views. And Dreher gets a lot right, namely, that the Benedict Option offers a good model for what faith communities should be doing anyway.
Like everyone, myself included, Dreher is probably wrong about plenty. But I think he has important things to say. I want him and his ilk to access all the benefits of robust civic pluralism that Christianity at its best has enlivened and nurtured in free societies. I would hate for so fine a thinker and citizen to seek a “safe space.”
Perhaps Dreher could become a lay oblate of a Benedictine monastery, periodically retreating to live among the monks and commune with God.
But he doesn’t need to take the rest of upper-middle-class white Christianity with him.