This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The ‘Anabaptist Option’?

A recent must-read book for Christians concerned about the decline of traditional values is The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Author Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, finds a persuasive back-to-the-future way forward in the monastic movement begun by St. Benedict to counter the rapid decline of the “Christian” Roman Empire.

Dreher prescribes a radical restructuring of how Christians think and relate to one another and the world: First, accept minority status and cease trying to control American culture politically. Next, form small, self-sustaining communities that nurture close personal relationships and maintain distinct Christian values. In other words, be people who are functional in the world but not of it.

Dre­her could be talking about the people from whom I descend: the Amish.

He envisions disciplined, autonomous groups, cautious about interactions with technology and media as well as public education and church schools co-opted by the prevailing culture. He advocates simple living, nonconformity and even the possibility of exile and martyrdom.

He recommends that communities become more self-supporting by founding small family industries and doing business as much as feasible within the community or with other like-minded groups.

Dreher’s vision reminds me of the numerous conservative Mennonite churches and fellowships scattered across the United States and Canada. These exist more or less independently, perhaps relating to similar groups via conferences. They are part of their local economies but otherwise run mostly under the radar, without significant impact on society.

As with most visionaries, Dreher comes across as an idealist, far more hopeful that this revolutionary rearrangement can prosper practically than is likely to prove out. Christians of all stripes are imperfect at best. History tells us the type of community Dreher foresees is difficult to develop and sustain for succeeding generations.

The Amish and other conservative Anabaptist fellowships have problems of every sort common to human nature. Keeping from falling apart often consumes large amounts of time, energy and leadership abilities. Still, Dreher may be on to something that could put North American Christianity on a more stable course.

D.R. Yoder
Decatur, Ga.

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