A Facebook friend and former parishioner shared, at my request, some of what he’s been reading about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision regarding same-sex marriage.
One of those was Rod Dreher’s June 26 article “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” in TIME magazine.
Here are my thoughts in response to Dreher’s five main points.
A culturally post-Christian nation
We have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist.
I could not agree more with Dreher on this point.
However, I see this as a good thing. Our dependence is to be on God alone, not on “the fundamental norms [we] have long been able to depend on.”
Orthodox Christians and other social conservatives
It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives … LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives.
Dreher suggests an equivalency between orthodox Christians and social conservatives that I believe is false.
Certainly, the Episcopal Church to which I belong has long understood that people of various political persuasions belong together as practicing Christians.
We’ve also seen in recent news regarding the environment encyclicals and statements by both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew — bastions of orthodox Christianity — that could by no means be called “socially conservative” in the sense Dreher uses.
In the second part of this paragraph, Dreher also suggests that “the next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions.”
Here again, as a Christian (and a non-stipendiary ordained deacon) I must say that I read this as a positive development.
It may be good for Christians no longer to belong to institutions that enjoy the benefits of a special status beyond what others receive — that’s what tax exemption is.
Instead of depending on our institutions or on “fundamental norms” that others in American society don’t enjoy, perhaps we should focus on practicing our faith in the middle of lives that are just like everyone else’s.
The institution of marriage
Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages.
Here Dreher makes a non sequitur between those who want to be married and those who “desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy.”
The Obergefell ruling is about those who want to be married.
Those who don’t want to be married (or don’t want to be monogamous) still don’t have to be married (or respect their spouses). The decision doesn’t change that.
The individualism at the heart of American culture
In his final argument, Dreher gets tangled up again.
[T]he Obergefell decision did not come from nowhere. It is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution, which valorized erotic liberty. It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue. The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.
Dreher correctly draws a line between the Sexual Revolution and the time when “heterosexuals began to devalue marriage.”
But to suggest that Obergefell is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution just doesn’t make any sense, and it’s another non sequitur.
Obergefell is about those who value marriage, those who have waited for years to have their faithfulness legally recognized, not those who “valorize erotic liberty.”
If Christians, for our part, want to combat “the individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture” we ought to encourage everyone to be married or to participate in intentional community.
The Benedict Option
Dreher concludes his article by describing what he calls “the Benedict Option,” a shorthand reference to Christians retreating from the Roman Empire into monasteries following the example of Benedict of Nursia (d. 547).
He asks the question:
How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions?
And here at the end, you won’t be surprised that we answer the question differently.
In The Episcopal Church we already have a Benedict Option, and it’s called the Book of Common Prayer (or BCP).
The Book of Common Prayer, historically influenced by Benedictine worship, outlines a pattern of daily, weekly, seasonal, and occasional prayer that “builds resilient communities.”
It’s portable and can be carried out of our communities and into our lives in exile. The daily prayers are even available on an iPhone app. Everyone can participate in the Benedict Option.
See my other blog about the Daily Office for reflections about using the prayer book in just this way as I go about my work and ministry.
But here’s my biggest concern with Dreher’s version of the Benedict Option: When conditions are “increasingly hostile,” as he suggests, we ought all the more to open the doors of our resilient communities to all guests.
Benedict himself wrote in his Rule that “all guests are to be welcomed as Christ” (Ch. 53).
The vows we make
I have often taught that the vows a couple makes in the marriage ceremony are very much like the vows made by someone entering a monastic community.
Even though monastics traditionally make vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life, the essential vow is the first one: to stay put in one community until death.
Benedict has harsh words for monks who continually go from place to place, looking for novelty.
Similarly, a couple being married promises to stay together “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death” (BCP 427). The essential vow is to stay put “until we are parted by death.”
For most heterosexual Christians, the way we experience the spiritual benefit of making and keeping vows is through marriage.
The more of us who can practice this spirituality, making room in our lives for another person and making our homes into “havens of blessing and peace” (BCP 431), the better.
Isn’t it great that, at least in the Obergefell decision, the Supreme Court has expanded the number of people in America who can now make those promises in the context of marriage?
We can’t always count on American society to mirror the best practices of Christianity (and I agree with Dreher that we shouldn’t expect it), but in this case I’m glad to see it.