In his New York Times review written on the day the book came out three weeks ago, David Brooks called Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation “already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” He was not exaggerating. The book is an instant bestseller.
Says Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, “A terrific book: provocative in its content, shrewd in its insights, vivid and engaging in its style. The strength of The Benedict Option is not just its analysis of our culture’s developing problems but its outline of practical ways Christians can survive and thrive in a dramatically different America.”
Dreher’s thesis is that the culture war is pretty much lost and that orthodox Christians of all stripes should find renewal by building from within much as the sixth-century monk St. Benedict did in the face of a collapsing Roman Empire.
Prominently featured in that book is former Kansas state representative Lance Kinzer. Dreher introduces Kinzer as a man “living at the edge of the political transition Christian conservatives must make.”
A five-term state rep, Kinzer stepped down in 2014 and now works as advocate for religious liberty legislation in the nation’s statehouses. What disillusioned Kinzer about our current politics was the failure of Kansas to pass religious liberty protection in 2014. He expected the legislation to become law without much opposition. He was wrong.
Although the bill passed in the House, the Republican-controlled Senate killed it. Said Kinzer, “It became clear to me that the social conservative-Big Business coalition politics was frayed to the breaking point and indicated such a fundamental difference in priorities, in what was important.”
Given “the reality of the cultural moment,” Kinzer reoriented his priorities from passing legislation to shoring up his local church community. “There’s a real work of cultural reclamation and renewal, not outside the church but inside the church, that really needs to happen first, before we can think about much longer-term goals,” said Kinzer. A Presbyterian, Kinzer is now teaching a class on St. Augustine’s City of God and organizing a prayer meeting for men and women.
Like Dreher, Kinzer does not believe that Christians can afford to disengage from state and national politics completely. Dreher, in fact, offers the reader a series of Kinzer’s suggestions on how Christians can be effective at a local level.
One overriding concern that Dreher and Kinzer share is the need to preserve religious liberty. Says Kinzer, “Nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in the faith.”
Not surprisingly, David Brooks, who once fancied himself a conservative, rejects the argument of his “friend” Rod Dreher. Brooks prefers an “Orthodox Pluralism,” as he is certain, for instance, that it is “possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty.”
As Lance Kinzer can tell him, however, if you cannot find that kind of accommodation in Kansas, you are not going to find it anywhere.