(Guest post from a correspondent, based on an email exchange that began before the Benedict Option post)

Has there been a discussion of how Mormons might meet the Benedict option? Is it possible to be Benedictines and missionaries? It’s a discussion the Mormons on the internet should be having if they have not yet.

This interview conducted by Rod Dreher with an anonymous law professor is a good place to start. It takes things out of the realm of abstraction into the world of practical measure. Here are a few selections I found particularly apt:

“The professor brought up the book The Nurture Assumption, a book that explains how culture is transmitted to kids.

“Basically, it says that culture comes through your peer group,” he said. “The most important thing is to make sure your kids are part of a peer group where their peers believe the same things. Forming a peer group is hard when it’s difficult to network and find other parents who believe what you do.” While each family must be a “little church” — some Catholics call it a “domestic monastery,” which fits well with the idea of the Benedict Option — Kingsfield says the importance of community in forming moral consciences should lead Christians to think of their parishes and congregations as the basic unit of Christian life.

Hearing Kingsfield say this, I thought about how there is a de facto schism within churches now. It will no longer be sufficient to be part of a congregation where people are at odds on fundamental Christian beliefs, especially when there is so much pressure from the outside world. I thought of Neuhaus’s Law: where orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed. It is vital to find a strong church where people know what they believe and why, and are willing to help others in the church teach those truths and live them out joyfully.

This is a time, said Kingsfield, for Christians to read about church history, including the lives of saints, and to acquaint themselves with the fact that the Christian church has actual roots, and teachings. It is not about what you “feel” is Christian. That’s the way of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is the death of Christianity….

Some people taking the Benedict Option will head for the hills, Kingsfield said, but that will be a trivial number, and that won’t be an answer for most of us.

“We need to study more the experience of Orthodox Jews and Amish,” he said. “None of us are going to be living within an eruv or practicing shunning. What we should focus on is endogamy.”

Endogamy means marriage only within a certain clan or in-group.

“Intermarriage is death,” Kingsfield said. “Not something like Catholic-Orthodox, but Christian-Jew, or high church-low church. I just don’t think Christians are focused on that, but the

Orthodox Jews get it. They know how much this matters in creating a culture in which transmitting the faith happens. For us Christians, this is going to mean matchmaking and youth camps and other things like that. It probably means embracing a higher fertility rate, and celebrating bigger families.”

The professor said we also have to band together behind religious liberty legal organizations like The Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. And we have to make connections not only across denominational lines, but religious ones too — that is, with Jews, Muslims, and Mormons.

“It can’t be said loudly enough that yes, we have big theological disagreements, but the more we can stand together, the more likely we are to succeed,” he said. “The more our struggle is framed as a specifically Christian thing, the more likely we are to lose in the courts.”

…More broadly, he said all Christians must take a lesson from many Evangelicals and raise their children to know from the beginning that we are different from everybody else in this culture. We now live in a clearly post-Christian society, and Christian conservatives had better get that straight.

“There are a lot of conservatives who are very chest-thumping pro-America, but there’s an argument that the seeds of this are built into American individualism,” Kingsfield said. “We Christians have to understand where our allegiances really must to lie. The public schools were meant to make good citizens of us and now are being used to make good Moralistic Therapeutic Deists of us.”

Christians should put their families on a “media fast,” he says. “Throw out the TV. Limit Netflix. You cannot let in contemporary stuff. It’s garbage. It’s a sewage pipe into your home. So many parents think they’re holding the line, but they let their kids have unfettered access to TV, the Internet, and smartphones. You can’t do that.

“And if you can’t trust that the families of the kids that your kids play with are on the same team with all this, then find another peer group among families that are,” he said. “It really is that important.”

The interview also has a fairly in-depth discussion on legal and political maneuvers needed to keep Christian institutions viable. Readers here may find them of interest. Of greater concern to me, however, is what Kingsfield describes as”creating a culture in which transmitting the faith happens.” Political and legal battles mean nothing next to this. The truly high stakes game is whether or not we can create a culture that will keep our children and our converts pointed towards Zion. Whether or not Mormons lose jobs, are fined or taxed, are shunted out of the public sphere or spit upon whenever we enter it simply doesn’t matter if we cannot ensure that our children–and our children’s children–live their lives on a foundation of goodness and truth.

I say this because I have been surprised with how many fellow saints that I personally know have rainbowed their Facebook profile. I recently left a church college, and it is clear to me that a sizeable minority of the student body is 100% in support of same sex marriage.

Now same-sex marriage is just one issue, and the fact that so many supporters attend a BYU at all means the official stance on the issue hasn’t caused us to hemorrhage a massive number of young members. But the implications are not good at all. SWJ culture has seeped into how many millennial Mormons think. So have a many other lackluster ideals of our age, like the broader ‘best-friend/soul-mate’ model of marriage that the same-sex case for marriage is built around. This ideal of marriage has overtaken U.S. culture, and most of [American] millennial Mormondom has gone with it.

Prof. Kingsfeild suggests that the only way to keep the next generation committed to true ideals is to cut them off from media and provide them with a peer group that thinks just as they do. I am divided on this question. On the one hand, he’s right, peer groups make all the difference. I have a younger sister who went off the deep end, and it started with her as a young teenager spending all her time on Tumblr fandoms and hanging out with emo girls. Her path was set as soon as that become the peer group she identified with.

On the other hand, the thing I’ve always despised about Jello-belt culture is the common fear of others who don’t live up to the Orem ideal. Perhaps I was luckier than my sister, it is hard to say. But I spent most of my teen-age years far from Utah and at anyone time only half of my friends were Mormon. Many didn’t truck with Mormon, or even religious, beliefs at all. And here the effect was reversed: more than one took the lessons (though none has yet to be baptized) and almost all came away with a respect for Mormons and the LDS church. My family was a blessing in many of their lives they would not have had otherwise. A more benedictine lifestyle might have kept my sister in safer waters, but it certainly would have deprived those friends and comrades from the invitation to hear the glories of the gospel. Ours was truly a home where anyone from anywhere could come and find a seat at the table. Living in such a home was one of the greatest blessings of my life. Visiting it was a great blessing in the lives of many others.

And that is the rub here. We Mormons have done the extreme version of the Benedict option already, first when we moved to Zion and then even more so when we retreated to barren, sage brush deserts where no beautiful thing might grow in an effort to keep the world out. We have now been called to go out into the world. But how do you it? How do you keep the world from corrupting the next generation while keeping your door open for the lost souls of the world to walk into? Perhaps the answers are just the old Sunday school answers (its revealing how many of the prof’s recommendations are things Mormons are already doing), but perhaps times are changing, and those things will be much more difficult.

Professionally and legally there might be some pressure, even persecution. But these things pale when placed next to culture. And here we won’t receive any quarter. Common attitudes, every movie, book, TV show, and most websites made these days take as their starting point that religions like Mormonism

are foolish. They will soon be taking as their starting point that religions like Mormonism are evil. That will be the attitude of teachers in schools and of the kids who attend them. How do you raise kids in such a world–and be a missionary at the same time?


I wrote the first section of the post shortly after Oberfell, before you wrote your excellent review of the various options before us. I have pondered on the matter a bit more since then, and would like to make an additional point: we must be very careful when using historical examples as our model.

1. Much of the Benedictine literature takes as its model the early Christian saints who survived persecution in the Roman Empire. From the LDS perspective this is a horrible idea. Why? Because we know that the early Christian saints failed–that church fell into apostasy. Orthodox and Catholic Christians will disagree with this, but we know that the Protestant critique of medieval Christianity was essentially correct. The Church that came out of late antiquity was in too many ways a betrayal of the Church Christ founded. The price of ascendance was comprise–both institutionally, transforming the church into a an auxiliary of imperial control, wed both to luxury and power, and culturally, adopting wholesale ideas and doctrines whose origins were found in Greek philosophy. It is this exact kind of corruption by worldly philosophies and values that we want to prevent. The Christians in Rome are in later times an example of what not to do.

2. So far in this discussion there has been little talk of the gift God has given us to weather the latter days–the Book of Mormon. We are looking for historical case studies of saints who have been able to keep to true doctrines and build Christ-centered communities in times when the surrounding culture was intensely hostile to anything Christian. What better example is there than the Christians of Helaman and 3rd Nephi? Over the last few days I have been reading the first few chapters of 3rd Nephi and have prayed for guidance as I have done so. (Though I expect we are rather closer to a Helaman than a 3rd Nephi society–look at the baptisms outside of the United States and the parallel is clear. One wonders if we will have a latter day Samuel the Lamanite.) I cannot say I have yet had anything conclusive revealed to or impressed upon me… but I have noticed that the Christians of that wicked age never shied from being missionaries. It isn’t a question of if we can continue being families driven by missionary purpose, but how we will continue to do so.

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