Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option is now out with lots of reviews and commentary appearing online.
As regular readers know I’ve made the argument on this blog that progressive Christians need their own version of the BenOp. In fact, progressive Christians already have a rich history with the BenOp, witness the Catholic Worker and the New Monastic movements.
That the BenOp is as important for progressive Christians as it is for conservatives, though for different goals and reasons, is highlighted in Ross Douthat’s review of Dreher’s book:
And [the BenOp is for] not only conservative churches. The basic model could be applied just as easily to non-Christian faiths, and it could be embraced by the progressive Christians who find Dreher’s vision — and Chaput’s, and Esolen’s, and Russell Moore’s — too dogmatic and rigid and anti-modern.
Being a bit of a dogmatist myself, I’m skeptical that a robust institutional Christianity can be built on the premises of contemporary liberal theology and the cultural shifts that it accommodates. But that’s all the more reason for liberal Christians to set out to prove the conservatives wrong, to show that monasteries and missionaries can come forth from progressive fields, to effectively out-Benedict Option the reactionaries and force us to concede that we misjudged them.
In doing so they wouldn’t be abandoning political engagement, but they would be laying a foundation for faith’s endurance when political activism fails. As fail it so often does, as both progressive and conservative Christians have learned at different times across the last few decades — and may soon learn again.
That’s exactly the point I’ve been making about progressive Christianity’s need for a BenOp, how our imagination for resistance has been captured by statism.
But as Kaya Oakes points out in her review of Dreher’s book, there will be big differences between conservative and progressive versions of the BenOp.
Specifically, Oakes highlights the point I’ve made, that a progressive BenOp will live into Jesus’ practices of radical hospitality. This, I’ve argued, combats the temptations toward phariseeism in conservative calls for the BenOp, the same temptation that Jesus battled in his debates with the Pharisees concerning their rival visions of the BenOp in the gospels. To highlight this difference I’ve called the progressive vision of the BenOp the Franciscan Option, as the early Franciscans were an intentional monastic community who specialized in living among and caring for lepers.
Basically, a progressive BenOp will look the same way Jesus’ BenOp looked to the Pharisees: A community that embraces the unclean, privileges empathy over piety, isn’t overly pious, and is the friend of sinners.