Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, is getting a lot of attention these days. We plan to have a full review of the book soon. In the meantime, our readers may appreciate the following excerpt, where Dreher talks about how the Church should respond to singles in general, and LGBT Christians in particular:
“Everyone is searching for love. It’s the most basic human desire. Whether one seeks that love in carnal pleasures, in material possessions, or God, everyone is seeking,” says Brother Evagrius of Norcia. “The monastic life, in a nutshell, is giving up every other pleasure for the love of God. Everything in the monastic life is built around helping you to achieve that.”
A congregation cannot be a monastery, but there is no reason why it should not reach out to hold its single members closer, as members of the church family. As Brother Augustine told me, there are days when he feels exhausted by the rigors of the monastic life—and on those days, he relies on the charity of his brother monks to carry him. Why can’t we serve our unmarried community members in a similar way?
Moreover, if a parish community has the resources, it should consider establishing single-sex group houses for its unmarried members to live in prayerful fellowship as what you might call lay monastics. It is hard to live chastely in a culture as eroticized as ours, especially when there is so little respect for chastity. One expects this from the world, but the church must be different.
All unmarried Christians are called to live celibately, but at least heterosexuals have the possibility of marriage. Gay Christians do not, which makes their struggle even more intense.
Worse, too many gay Christians face rejection from the very people they should be able to count on: the church. The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in large part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church. Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.
But that does not mean—and it cannot mean—that we should abandon clear, binding biblical teaching on homosexuality. Gay Christians, like all unmarried Christians, are called to a life of chastity. This is a heavy cross to bear, but one that cannot in obedience be refused.
Our gay brothers and sisters in Christ should not have to carry it alone. In recent years, several same-sex-attracted Christians living in fidelity to orthodox teaching have found their voice in the Spiritual Friendship movement. It is based on the writings of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, a twelfth-century abbot.
“Aelred helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance,” writes Ron Belgau, one of the movement’s founders. “Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.”
That’s an important point, for gay and single Christians alike. Too often chastity is presented only as saying no to sex. Though we can’t deny the real and painful sacrifice the Christian ethic requires of unmarried believers, we should not neglect to teach and explore the good that may come from surrendering one’s sexuality. Though monasticism had not yet developed when the New Testament was written, Jesus said that some are called by God to be chaste singles (“eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”). This is a steep path to holiness, an especially treacherous one in our thoroughly eroticized culture, but a path to holiness it is for some. We have that on Christ’s authority.
It is hard for single Christians to stay on that path, but again at least straight Christians have the prospect of marriage to comfort them. If we expect gay Christians to embrace celibacy, then in our churches, families, and individual lives we must give them love, respect, and friendship.
Moreover, gay Christians who reject traditional teaching must still be treated with love, because they too are image-bearers of Christ. Love wins, though not in the way the LGBT movement says. But it still wins. Christians don’t dare forget it.