America’s most frequently quoted theologian talks with Plough editor Peter Mommsen about the Benedict Option, evangelism, marriage, Christian communism, and why voting is overrated.

Peter Mommsen: Stanley, if I could sum up your influential career as a writer, you aim to help people live out the gospel more fully. Is that a fair description?

Stanley Hauerwas: I certainly hope so. I try to call attention to people who are living out the gospel in a way that makes my own life but a very pale reflection. So in my writing about how to live according to the gospel, how to live to become the gospel, I try to direct attention to real people, not just to beliefs or concepts.

You’ve written extensively about how the church should respond to the “end of Christendom” – the fact that we no longer live in a culture whose ground rules stem from Christianity. What about the “Benedict Option” proposed by the writer Rod Dreher? He argues that Christians should respond to secularization by following the example of the early monastics, withdrawing from a heathen civilization to build alternative communities where Christian virtues can be nourished and passed on. Is he right?

This Benedict Option idea comes from the last line of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, in which he observes that the barbarians have been ruling us for some time and that our future is “no doubt to have a Benedict, no doubt a very different Benedict.” Here’s the problem: Alasdair once told me that this is the line he most regrets ever having written! He wasn’t advocating some kind of withdrawal strategy – he was only pointing out that we can’t be compromised by the world in which we find ourselves. I don’t think your community, the Bruderhof, takes a withdrawal strategy, for instance.

I sometimes say that I wouldn’t mind withdrawing, but we’re surrounded – there’s no place to withdraw to! Maybe the Benedict Option should be rethought in terms of the vow of stability and what it might look like in congregations. We would tell prospective members: “When you join our church, you don’t get to decide by yourself when and where you will move. If your company wants to send you to a new town, you first need to ask the church whether it’s a good idea.”