Work in the Benedict Option

OK, now I can write about work. And just to mix things up, let me start with what I see as the positive elements of Dreher’s treatment of work.

Maybe this is just a matter of my own place in the world evolving and my filter bubble becoming tighter, or maybe it’s a by-product of the near-total collapse of the concept of work-life balance in exchange for work-life integration, but I don’t hear so much about the idea of faith as something you compartmentalize, worshipping God on Sundays and then putting Him back in His box while you go to work in a godless setting. If that’s still a thing, Dreher is out to dissuade you of it. And rightly so – if faith claims are meant to address the most central questions of our reality – who we are and what we’re here for – it’s unintelligible to imply that the answers to those questions have no bearing on how we make a living, which for many encompasses the majority of how they spend their lives. So go Rod!

And I like the way he does it – by circling back to the Benedictines that inspired him to recapture that work, for monks as for us, is every bit as central to how we grow in holiness as prayer and study. Through work as through love we have the ability to serve others and most fully develop who we are. We recognize the gifts we’re given and cultivate them fully in God’s service and to the benefit of the larger community, and we also do the dishes, learning that humility, a central Christian virtue, means not only working at the roles that most excite our souls, but also handling the thankless chores that serve the community we are called into.

OK, so that’s all good. But most of the chapter focuses on the expectation that Christians will be pressured by society to leave the mainstream workplace as that workplace makes a non-negotiable norm of “not simply to tolerate LGBT co-workers but to affirm their sexuality and gender identity.” He believes it inevitable that Christians will either need to pay idolatrous homage to a god of inclusiveness or resort to a ghetto of Christian-only economy in which believers support each other through Christian employment networks, Christian business directories, and doing trade work like plumbing and HVAC for which there is short supply and in which tradespeople can establish their own businesses and set their own rules.

(Can I point out that this is coming from a guy who makes his living by blogging? OK, just needed to get that out there.)

A couple points on this.

1) Work has always involved moral choices. Dreher is laser-focused on workers having to accept LGBT co-workers or clients, and I’ll come back to that. But abortion has been legal in some form since 1973, and while the tensions continue, it appears that there is space for health care providers who are morally opposed to abortion to continue to pursue their vocation without violating their beliefs. But let’s widen the lens a little. Many of us have worked in jobs that raised moral questions. Have you ever been asked to “upsell” someone something they didn’t need? Or help someone dig themselves further into a debt that they couldn’t afford? Or encourage them to choose themselves over their families? Or contribute to the destruction of our environment, our common home? Or preyed on the fears and insecurities of a customer, colleague or supervisor in order to get ahead? The list can go on, but suffice to say that there are as many ways to lose your soul at work as there are ways to strengthen your vocation. This isn’t really anything new.

2) Talk to Paul. St. Paul spent his days in the marketplace as a tentmaker. Did he make tents for non-Christians? Given how small the Christian community was, and given that he was often the first believer to enter a community as an apostle, he could not have helped but to do so. He didn’t see this as an affirmation of the idoloatries of those around him but as another forum to evangelize while providing material support to his ministry.

3) So let’s talk about florists and cake-bakers, because that’s what this seems to be about. If you, a sinner, can’t see clear to sell your wares to somebody else who is a sinner, then you really shouldn’t have any customers. But if your concern is more narrow, that you would be happy to sell flowers or cakes to people who may not fully ascribe to your understanding of what God wants from us, so long as you aren’t being forced to support a ceremony that focuses on glorifying the very sin they are committing, then I can respect that, if. I can respect that if you are only selling flowers or cakes for sacramental marriages in which the betrothed have fully followed the laws of your faith and are wedding in your faith. If you only do flowers or cakes for wedding’s your church approves of, I can fully defend your right to say no to gay weddings.

But if you’re also willing to do that wedding on the beach by the couple that lived together for a couple years, has never been to church, features their dogs in prominent roles and is being officiated by someone who got their ordination out of an ad in the back of Rolling Stone, I think we need to talk. Because that’s not about adhering to a sacramental understanding of marriage. That’s just an excuse for being a bigot.

And, to push just a little further, if you’re willing to do flowers for a prom where you know a lot of couples will be doing things your church says they should save for marriage, because sex within marriage is too awesome to be wasted on drunk adolescents? I’m thinking maybe you drew the line on what in your business is immoral a little too tightly.


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