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The Benedict Option Relies on an 'Off-Kilter Emphasis' on Sexual Sin

WASHINGTON — Christian leaders emphatically rejected Rod Dreher's call for the Christian church to withdraw from culture and politics in his best-selling book The Benedict Option. The leaders argued that Dreher's view of a Christianity in dire peril was unduly influenced by an emphasis on sexual sins.

Dreher's alarmism "plays into a strange emphasis on the part of conservative Christians to overemphasize sins of license and underemphasize sins of oppression," Cherie Harder, president of the Trinity Forum, said at the National Press Club on Wednesday. She suggested that this overemphasis blinded Dreher to historical threats.

"It is that kind of off-kilter emphasis that enables some conservatives to talk about ages of slavery and segregation as being a time when Christian principles still governed, but a time of more sexual licentiousness to be somehow outside that pale," Harder argued. "That's something that is a matter of debate and should not be a matter of assumption."

Harder quoted Dreher's book, which warns that "the light of the Christian faith is flickering out all over the West," and that "a generation alive now may see the end of Christianity before they die." She attacked this apocalyptic rhetoric as "overwrought and unhelpful," as well as painfully ignorant of the church's struggles in history and across the world.

While Harder and the other panelists praised aspects of The Benedict Option, such as Dreher's call for the church to act more like a community and his success at drawing attention to religious issues, they disagreed with the idea that Christians should withdraw from engaging politics and secular culture, and harshly criticized his notion that the church faces unprecedented threats.

Joseph Capizzi, professor of Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America (CUA), told the story of Konrad Adenauer, a Roman Catholic who served as mayor of Cologne before the Nazis took over Germany. Adenauer suffered under Adolf Hitler, but after World War II, he returned to politics, serving as the first Chancellor of West Germany.

"If ever there was a time to quit politics and to disengage, to be pessimistic about the possibilities ... Adenauer faced it at the end of the Second World War," Capizzi declared. Instead, "he chose to serve as a Catholic in a majority Protestant nation."