Conservative Christians are vehemently pushing back against our changing society in the form of Donald Trump. Modern Christians must come to grips with the possibility of living as exiles within the broader social context, and, instead of turning to politics for their hope, look to Christ and the local community.
The obsession with how things used to be, rather than looking forward to a better world where Christ will reign, has become the rallying cry of the Christian conservative. Spiritual introspection and reflection are not seen as important parts of faith, but are instead replaced by political outrage at the state of affairs in our society. They have fallen out of practice in thinking about what their faith means, and are working to keep things as they are: comfortable and familiar.
Historically, the United States has been a majority white, Christian nation-state. However, over the past 70 years, this has shifted, with other identity groups slowly coming into the political and social realm and asserting their presence. In the last 20 years, the white Christian majority has disappeared, a fact that many conservative Christians have yet to realize.
A group that has previously been filled with a sense of fulfillment aims to preserve the world in the way that has enabled its success. When that fulfillment is threatened and their societal position starts to wither away and power diminishes, this creates a defensive reaction. Fearful of the future, they lash out and take whatever measures are necessary to retain their authority and preserve their status quo.
Instead of turning to a political candidate for our future hope, there is a better recourse in the form of what Rod Dreher calls the “Benedict Option”. This is referring to Saint Benedict of Nursia, who, after becoming disgusted with the decadence of Ancient Rome, retreated to a monastery to live apart from the distractions of popular society at that time. Monasteries did not offer mere isolation, but the close-knit ties of a community of believers living under the guidance of biblical creeds.
What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.
(quoted in Alastair McIntyre, After Virtue)
Given the interconnectedness of today’s world it is hardly feasible, and would likely be detrimental, to advocate for physical separation from the rest of society. However, the spirit of Benedict’s pursuit is extremely practical, and arguably necessary. Rod Druher elucidates on several Benedictine principles in order to facilitate Gospel communities. The most crucial component is community, learning to lay aside our culturally imposed individuality and instead embrace living as a hospitable community in order to make and multiply disciples of Jesus. Practically, this would mean gathering together on a local level with fellow believers with the intent focus of edifying each other, as well as reaching out to unbelievers to tell them of the promises of Jesus Christ, and rejecting the political games the rest of society plays.
This is fundamentally different than what is advocated by many prominent Christian conservatives today. Whereas their political activism, such as that of Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Albert Mohler serves to exacerbate tension, the Benedict Option seeks to show, rather than shout, the Gospel.
Therefore, instead of voting for the “lesser of two evils”, or for a candidate who has allegedly accepted Christ, but still spews bigotry, sexist vitriol, and hatred, turn towards the Gospel and work towards firmly establishing your faith community. Work to strengthen communal ties, reconcile with non-believers, and look forward with hope to the coming of Christ.
Hannah has worked for Representative Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune. She is in her senior year at Augustana University studying Government and International Affairs. She is interested in serving the local community and currently do so by volunteering with recently resettled refugees in Sioux Falls.