It’s a sad day when practice is held hostage to theory, when goodness is crippled by perfection. In our ivory towers, presbyteries, and libraries, we parse truth and dream of the good life. We paint pictures of a world as it was intended to be, driven by faith and true love, and subject to a higher Order within which we flourish according to the fullness of our nature.
But life is not lived in an ivory tower. What happens when our ability to act is jeopardized?
This past year, a renewed discussion of Christian church history and community practice has sparked debate over the role of the Christian in public life. Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has renewed Western imagination of monks practicing their faith in cloistered shelter away from the temptations of the world. Looking around at the state of our schools, politics, vagrant churches, technological distractions, and general chaos of modernity, many 21st-century Christians have found solace in the promise of calm in the storm, eagerly grasping for the sense that there is something deeper and more meaningful to be had here on Earth. Too many have found that solace in retreat.
According to research done by the American Principles Project Foundation, “In 2016 just three socially liberal organizations…out-spent the entire PAC and super PAC spending by social conservatives by 7 to 1.” Donors are stepping into the shadows, and principled conservatives are backing away from the political fight, leaving liberal Republicans and radical progressives to craft our nation’s policy. Meanwhile, the Left is becoming emboldened and has accomplished in the past few years what Americans a decade ago couldn’t have imagined in a lifetime. And while conservatives and Christians alike flee for shelter, the liberal elites shape their message and issue their marching orders, and their movement grows.
Leftist dogma and its step-brother, gender ideology, are slashing at the very roots of Western thought, Christian principles, and conservative practice. It seeks to redefine what it means to be human, make truth subject to personal preference, and tyrannize the consciences of dissenters by wielding the sword of state. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) legislation hides under the shroud of “anti-discrimination” policy while forcing itself upon the practices of religious institutions across the country. Curriculum changes and educational reforms, crafted by elites and placing children in charge of their own destinies absent parental guidance, seek to shape a future so altered from history and so “liberated” from biological and moral moorings as to be dystopian.
Most recently, the City of Philadelphia cut off its relations with Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services because these agencies refused to place foster children with same-sex couples. This came only days after an SOS from the city calling for 300 families to step up and care for the juvenile victims of the opioid crisis. The truth is that our most vulnerable have become the collateral damage in the far Left’s fight for social justice and gender deconstruction. And now, fueled by support from Tim Gill (the same mega donor who wants to “punish the wicked” who oppose the LGBT agenda), the Republican frontrunner for the gubernatorial primary wants to take these SOGI laws statewide in Pennsylvania.
Where are the dark corners that Christians see to retreat to? What fortress remains impermeable to the radical Left? Moreover, where is the Christian sense of duty, of commission, of compassion? The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists:
Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.
Is today’s society in such shambles that we can throw aside 2,000 years of fighting for truth? Do we have such a right? Out of love for God and love for our fellow humans created in the image of God, the Christian church has always carried a responsibility for societal preservation and protection of principles. To back away now and retreat into ourselves would be a betrayal of a legacy as old as our Faith itself.
More broadly, now is not the time for social conservatives to back down. Ideas are not good enough: religious freedom is under attack. The scholarly search for utopia lies crumbling in the shadow of reality, and we cannot adequately cultivate our own institutions without shepherding and renewing the larger structure within which we operate. For the “Benedict Option” to be an option at all, it must be legal; and we need conservatives working inside the system in defense of those outside.
It’s time to be vulnerable. It’s time to be generous. It’s time to act. And it’s time to get out and vote, for consciences’ sake.
May we act worthy of ourselves and our place in history.