Last year a professor friend of mine let me know that Rod Dreher was looking for some Mormon sources for his Benedict Option book and would I mind talking to him.  I said sure, he passed on my info and told me Dreher was going to be out in my neck of the woods soon and would meet me there.  I begged leaved to doubt it–no one is ever in my neck of the woods, I live in the back of beyond–but just in case I scribbled some notes.  In the event, we never met.

But the book is being published soon and Dreher has just posted about a Mormon response to it.  Check it out.  So I’m going to post my notes.  Comments fleshing them out will be in italics.

Some of this will be unique to Mormonism, some not.

The role of the homeland (Deseret).  Me at BYU; taking my YM to Utah; cultural productions like Studio C, Piano Guys, Lindsay Sterling, Davie Archuleta, BYU football.

I grew up outside Utah.  Going to BYU was a revelation.  It made me excited about my faith;.  Years later, as a Young Men’s President (a male youth pastor, sorta) I decided to recreate the experience for my teenagers.  We took a trip to Utah, toured the Mormon sites.  They were amazed by all the Mormons around and all the churches.  They still talk about it.  it made them feel like part of something exciting, and not just a tiny minority.  Most folk’s Benedict Option will be small.  But having some feeling of a larger group out there is incredibly important for people, even if its only occasionally.  This is doubly true of the young.  If there is no “homeland” to go to, organize something like a right-wing and/or Traddy Christian Burning Man that you go every now and again.

The other advantage of the concentration somewhere is the cultural production it enables.  Nothing I’ve listed above is high art.  But people need some form of narrative and entertainment in their lives.  We can no longer outsource this function to American society.  That way lies death.  So where does it come from?  My impression from talking to Mormon youth in particular is that this cultural stuff is a lifeline for them.  They drink it in.

General Conference.

A worldwide broadcast every 6 months where the church leaders speak.  Regular services are cancelled so everyone can watch.  Mormons from outside Utah get preferential access to attend live.  See above: some kind of feeling of unity and a larger, vibrant community out there is very important, even if its only virtual.

Hometeaching, weekly church, church socials, active local church facebook pages.

In addition to the big get together stuff, you absolutely need to have formal mechanisms that get you having social interactions with your small, local group.  This can’t be left to chance.

Decline in some things: ward gardens, canning, firewood supply.

We used to be thicker and more cohesive than we are now.  Modernity erodes.  Wards (congregations) having their garden and stakes (dioceses) having a member-run farm were all very common.  In rural areas, cutting firewood for the widows was just part of the calendar.  We rely on the economy more now and less on each other.

The fact is, we have much to offer other Christians and others looking to retrench, but we also have much to learn from them.

Recent initiatives: Sabbath-day observances, family meal times, indexing, temples.  My daughter says scripture study.

The Church is re-emphasizing Sabbath-day observance.  If you can’t physically remove yourself from the world–some people may, power to them, but it is neither possible nor desirable for everyone–then you need alternate forms of removal.  Getting out of the world on Sunday is a great way to do that.  The recent encouragement from the prophets to make sure we have family dinners together as a rule has also been very helpful for Mormon families who have allowed themselves to get away from eating together.  The Benedict Option has to begin at home, and there are profound reasons why eating together creates strong bonds.  Indexing is a form of church work related to our interest in genealogy.  The Church has recently made it available on smart phones and recruited Mormon youth to index a little each week. The custom of the world is that kids are pretty much useless until they have completed their second post-grad.  This is silly, and there is no reason for people trying to create better communities to leave the young out of contributing.  Temples–over the last couple of decades, we have radically expanded the number of temples to make them more accessible to the average member.  They are much needed sacred space.

When I was jotting these notes, my 12-year old was looking over my shoulder and suggested scripture study.  We try to study the scriptures as families and individuals.

We Mormons have more experience being on the outs.  But even for us, the new situation we face is alarming, and we are all still feeling our way.

Alarming is understating it.  I am really puzzled by all the push back Dreher has gotten.  What exactly do these folks think is going to rescue us?  Do they think, yeah, we are sliding towards the precipice, but no biggy, He shall give his angels charge concerning us: and in their hands they shall bear us up, lest at any time we dash our feet against a stone?  Impressively fat-headed.  If this is the level of wisdom that obtains among us believers, we deserve what is coming to us.

Sexual morality

To the extent we Mormons have a secret sauce, this is probably it.  We preach about it, we kick people out over it.  Which matters because the sexual revolution is key enemy terrain. If you aren’t countercultural and serious about sex, you aren’t serious.

Kids need to know they have prospects, especially for marriage.

Along with entertainment, this is a key cultural function that we cannot outsource to the culture anymore.  Mormons have a Mormon-specific matchmaking site,  In areas with enough members we run special congregations just for single under-30s, which not only give valuable experience in running a congregation, but help in dating and in marriage.  In areas where Mormons are thin on the ground–back East, Europe, for example–we have annual get togethers for young single adults.  Even with all that, it can be a struggle.  For a small group, I don’t what to say–but ultimately not having a way for people to meet and marry is an expiration date.

Obedience to authority.

Another key countercultural element for Mormons.

Homeschooling is the best thing to happen to the Benedict Option.  The Benedict Option will succeed if it trods a similar path.  If it becomes a movement with many religious people but has some secular components: the neighborhood movement, or the Life Plan  movement, something like that.  Groups of people, small or large, who recognize the need for a thicker way of life, with more solidarity, and are doing something about it.

Nothing to add.




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