Michael Metzger

Christians are understandably upset about the Supreme Court’s ruling giving gay and lesbian couples a fundamental right to marry. President Obama called the ruling a thunderbolt. If it was, it’s a great opportunity for believers to recognize reality.

The blogosphere lit up last Friday in the wake of the Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. Rob Dreher’s piece in Time recognizes the times we live in: “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country.” He writes how “we have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation.” Dreher is right about exile. But his solution is based on the wrong exile.

“In his 1982 book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre likened our current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us.” Dreher believes “orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts,” withdrawing into resilient communities within exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions. He admits he doesn’t know how to do this, however.

Dreher would know what to do if he picked a better precedent for our times. The Babylonian exile is the more reliable guide, not the fall of Rome. For hundreds of years, the Jews had been idolaters, insular and largely indifferent to their neighbors. Idolatry makes people indifferent, so God sent a thunderbolt to jolt the Jews—exile in Babylon.

In Jeremiah’s account, the Jews being deported to Babylon was a thunderbolt for the younger ones, the sons of Judah. They recognized exile. Older religious leaders didn’t. Exile would mean they were idolaters. They couldn’t come to terms with this.

In his book To Change the World, James Davison Hunter writes, “Ours is now, emphatically, a post-Christian culture and the community of Christian believers are now, more than ever—spiritually speaking—exiles in a land of exile. Christians, as with the Israelites in Jeremiah’s account, must come to terms with this exile.” Only the sons of Judah did this. A thunderbolt jolted them into recognizing reality.

The sons of Judah came to terms with exile by reinvigorating industriousness as well as the institution of marriage (Jer. 29:4-7). Coming to terms with our exile means Christians shouldn’t withdraw from society. The kingdom will benefit from having better businesspeople than Benedicts. It would also benefit from better marriages.

Let’s face the facts. Orthodox Christians, by and large, have not excelled in having exemplary marriages. Our rates of divorce and porn viewing are roughly equivalent with the wider world. The culprit is a focus on the brain over the body. Orthodox Christians have idolized the Enlightenment, framing marriage as a series of academic biblical “concepts” and “principles”—Enlightenment terms. They’ve turned the wondrously sensual into “the worldview of sex” (as one evangelical ministry puts it). That’s idolatry.

Marriage is a picture of the gospel, starting with God’s love. Love is the enjoyment of the circle and the desire to expand it. Enjoy and expand. In the Godhead, Father and Spirit deemed to expand the circle by having the Son marry a bride. The bride is humanity, similar but different—other—than God. Hetero is Greek for other. Heterosexual, monogamous, permanent marriage is the quintessential metaphor for the gospel.

That’s why the gospel is best told in the human body, especially in nuptial union. Male and female, properly aroused, experience enjoyment and witness the expansion of their genitalia. This is holy, not bawdy. However, few orthodox Christians are comfortable talking this way. Coming to terms with exile means overcoming our squeamishness about sexuality.

Dreher is right about exile but wrong about withdrawal. The sons of Judah had to engage the world of commerce and government. They spent their first three years learning the language and literature of Babylon (Daniel 10). The Jews spoke Hebrew. The Babylonians probably spoke Akkadian. The Jews couldn’t translate their faith if they didn’t know Akkadian. It was many years before Nebuchadnezzar took them seriously.

President Obama called the ruling a thunderbolt. It was, but so was God’s thunderbolt of 2,500 years ago. I find that most orthodox Christians today cannot translate their faith. They don’t see the seamless overlap between the language and literature of the boardroom and the Bible. So I close with an offer: I’m looking to serve modern-day sons of Judah. They alone are most likely to come to terms with reality. If you think you’re a daughter or son of Judah, contact me. Let’s explore what we can do together.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike


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  1. Accepting idolatry as a root brings into focus the the dynamics of singleness and promiscuity. Marriage itself is not the only calling.

  2. Well stated – We who are married have not done a great job of reflecting the gospel. As a church, we have failed to care for marriage and singleness in a full-orbed way. We have been given a new opportunity.

  3. I too don’t see the seamless overlap between the language and literature of the boardroom and the Bible – but I’m willing to learn.

    You’ve said before that Orthodox Christians have idolized the Enlightenment but I dunno…we can under-appreciate it too and be intellectual Luddites. How would you say we can take the best approach to how you define the Enlightenment?

    If we have been framing marriage as a series of academic biblical “concepts” and “principles”—Enlightenment terms – could you contrast some of this with what you prefer? It would help me know what you mean and where you want to go. I do appreciate your physiological emphasis…

  4. Dave:

    I like that… a physiological emphasis!

    The Western Enlightenment wrongly assumed that if we enlighten the people generally, tyranny will disappear (Jefferson). Think right, act right. It assumes we are fundamentally rational. We’re not. It focuses on the brain, overlooking the body. Ken Robinson says the Enlightenment sees people as “brains on a stick.”

    The Enlightenment yields hubris. Claiming to know things merely by thinking about them and discussing them (I think, therefore I am – Descartes) invariably yields a presumption of knowledge.

    Genuine knowledge involves more of feeling our way through life (Adam knew Eve – Gen. 4:1). That was hands-on knowledge – not a lecture or a seminar on the “worldview of sex.” It was exploring, experimenting, messing up, learning. Neuroscience is discovering this is the best way people learn. There’s one instance of overlap with scripture.

    Dave, the contrast is not between the Enlightenment and being a Luddite. It is between knowing by doing (hands-on learning) versus academics giving lectures (knowing by taking notes). I’m looking to serve sons of Judah who want to learn by doing. This is best done in innovation labs or skunk works, where daughters and sons of Judah strive to solve problems in the wider world rather than huddling in “Christian” cul-de-sacs where we talk endlessly about changing the world. I’m not into that anymore. As Marx said, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world (I’d add, often rather poorly). The point is to change it.”

  5. Dave:

    You also asked what I’d do re: marriage. In light of Jeremiah 29:7, I’d pull together a marriage lab, not a Bible study on marriage. The measure of success would be the degree to which our center institutions (Google, Apple, etc) take the traditional view of marriage seriously and act on it. That’s where Jeremiah 29:7 sets the bar – “as the Babylonians flourish, so shall you.” The degree to which the wider world aligns with scripture is the degree to which our faith grows (c.f., Luke 17: 5-10). This is loving our neighbors – what the Judeans had forgotten and why God deported them to exile in Babylon.

  6. How did Jesus respond to the “orthodox”? And they to him? What questions did he ask or parables did he offer that all led to the two most important commandments? The irony of this post is its self selecting conceit in deciding just who is an “orthodox Christian” and what that means. The result, just as ironic, is that the self proclaimed “orthodox Christian” step into shoes of those that Jesus himself challenged. Exiles indeeed.

  7. Solomon learned hands on and came up with His report in Ecclesiastes. Not so good. Boundaries shaped by obedience to informed faith must accompany our conversation with Enlightenment.

  8. Hi Scotty:

    I wasn’t using orthodox with air quotes (as you do). I was using the term in its traditional sense, how Chesterton, for example, used it – conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true. Jesus was orthodox. The Pharisees were not. For 2,000 years, heterosexual, monogamous, permanent marriage has been viewed as conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true. That’s not self-proclaimed. That’s a fact, which as John Adams noted, are stubborn things. This orthodox view of marriage (again, no air quotes) is becoming the outsider view in the U.S. Outsiders are exiles.

  9. Marc:

    Tell me how you have “a conversation with the Enlightenment.” My point is not that thinking is bad. Rather, it is insufficient. The Enlightenment sees it as sufficient. As Augustine said, faith and reason go together. But as Lesslie Newbigin reminded Westerners, faith precedes reason. It is taking a step, an action.

  10. Scotty, orthodox meaning big no-brainer biblical constructs, not a conceited claim of superiority.

  11. A couple responses: Secularists rightly criticize us Christians who “cite [Bible] text” and who then say we Christians merely think and don’t act from empirical encounters with the real world.

    Mike, YOU have a good defense in that you apply text to the empirical in looking at business and commerce problems.

    Science (either in air quotes or not) is where the academy rests in claiming to be empirical (whether it’s an honest claim or not) while accusing religion of being non-empirical.

    Per your thoughts on Google & Apple taking traditional marriage seriously, how or why would you expect that? What would be a marriage lab?

    Ultimately I think you’re tapping the right root: live amidst our captors and bless them by the fruit of our faith & action.

  12. Surely we are more than just physical and intellectual.We each have a PERSONA


    Whose Language we Interpret, as we Socialise, reflecting our Empowerment(spirit) and Discernment(truth). Summarised as PERSONALISED.
    Only when respect this of each other do we start to develop genuine compassionate communities.Clearly without valuing Spirituality it all becomes academic.

  13. Mike,

    It is doubtful I would wear a shirt that said “Son of Judah,” but I have spent decades learning to speak the languages of academia, social service and red tape to be taken seriously in “helping sector.” Currently, I’m creating a mobile application for youth that I hope will connect young people to both helping and worship services. I am also striving to build a homeless system that partners the federal and faith-based dollars while respecting the expectations that come with both. I’m not quite sure what you are offering, but you’ve helped my wife start a business and I’ve read enough to believe you have a vision for an active faith that in the world, but not of it and would love to connect. -jason

  14. The context within Jer 26 ? Who are the false prophets ? What time scale is involved ? Do curses apply ? How do we distinguish between ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Babylon’ ? Is this USA centric or global ?

  15. Mike,

    I’ve been following and reading Rod Dreher for quite and while and find your response very compelling. (As compelling as I find Rod’s…)

    One item you did bring up was your claim that… “Let’s face the facts. Orthodox Christians, by and large, have not excelled in having exemplary marriages. Our rates of divorce and porn viewing are roughly equivalent with the wider world.”

    I’m not sure about porn as it is mostly done in secret and Christians would probably survey truthfully on that (irony!) but divorce rates among Christians has been firmly debunked but the myth carries on which is unfortunate.

    Here is the true stats on divorce among Christians:

  16. Mike: If you prefer the Benedict Option, go for it. I’m tired of believers simply sitting around and yakking about these things. To paraphrase Marx, Christians have merely interpreted the world. The point is to change it. If you believe the church is in exile (do you?) and want to change that situation, choose an option and do something about it. I’m opting for the Sons of Judah approach.

  17. I just came across someone else talking about the intersection of MacIntyre and Dreher:

    “Like MacIntyre, Dreher has rightly recognized the compartmentalizing effect that a diminished theism has on everyday life but has yet to adequately acknowledge how the instrumentalization of work is an inextricable part of this phenomenon. . . .

    “The question facing Dreher and other proponents of the Benedict Option is how it is possible to recover not only the Benedictine vision of prayer but also the Benedictine vision of work as prayer, under the conditions of advanced modernity. Work shapes one’s character; it will either be a school of virtue or, all too often, of vice. Modernity largely understands work as instrumental. To become anti-modern in a constructive manner, we must challenge the way that modernity diminishes the importance of work as a means of character development.

    “St. Benedict’s solution was revolutionary for its time because it recognized that neither the life of work nor the life of prayer can be pursued independently of the other.”

    Caleb Bernacchio and Philip de Mahy, “The Benedict Option at the Crossroads of Ethics and Economics”(June 19, 2015, Ethika Politika)

  18. Hey Mike,

    I’m in! Great article.

    I wonder if the benedictine option and the sons of Judah option (I like the t-shirt idea)are mutually exclusive (either/or) or might serve one another (both/and)?

    At any rate, I am in. Will just need your help!

    Grace and Peace,

  19. Oops 29. Same questions apply

    Who are the false prophets ? What time scale is involved ? Do curses apply ? How do we distinguish between ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Babylon’ ? Is this USA centric or global ?

    In addition, Is the Clapham sect model redundant ?

  20. Barnabas:

    Your last question is a darned good one. If the Clapham Sect fits the Randall Collins’ model describing world-changing movements, then it is redundant. If not, it is likely not redundant.

  21. I’m intrigued by the lab approach and am curious how you see this playing out. I’ll look forward to hearing more about what you’re thinking

  22. Mike,

    I’ve been following your blog for awhile and, while this is a bit of an old post now, I wanted to reach out in response to your final few lines. I sense the appeal of Dreher’s approach with the “Benedict Option” but don’t really find it as realistic as that proposed in Jeremiah. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about where you see your ideas with the modern-day daughters and sons of Judah going.

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