Christian Options for Engaging Politics
Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming article, "Embracing the Daniel Option:
Forming Martyrs and Seeking Peace in the Post-Christian Babylon," by Zachary McCartney and Ben Peterson, set for publication in JCS II/2. This is the last opportunity to subscribe and receive this issue as a part of your subscription!
"Embracing the Daniel Option:
Forming Martyrs and Seeking Peace in the Post-Christian Babylon"
Thoughtful Christians watching church membership plummet and our culture abandon important anthropological and ethical assumptions of our faith have offered a number of options, proposed orientations, to guide Christians’ posture in a secularizing age increasingly hostile to orthodox Christian belief and practice. Perhaps most widely discussed is Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” prioritizing the preservation of genuine faith and its social implications among a remnant of faithful few. In The Benedict Option (2017) and Live Not by Lies (2020), Dreher counsels orthodox Christians to draw inspiration from the monastic practices of the Benedictines, encouraging Christians to prepare for a period of diminished economic and social opportunity, if not outright persecution.
Alternatives such as the “Dominican Option” recognize the need for preserving the faith but place more emphasis on evangelistic witness in the public square in the name of the common good, and indeed the goal of “converting the public square,” as Chad Pecknold puts it. Yet others have turned to St. Augustine of Hippo, a bishop and founder of a monastery who nevertheless counseled Boniface, a Christian general and governor in Roman North Africa, to maintain his post in these positions of civil authority and influence. Writers have also pointed to Ignatius and Gregory of Nazianzus as figures offering examples relevant to our time, and there are no doubt others. While framed as “options” or competing alternatives, the proponents of each option seek to bolster Christians’ commitment to the faith, while maintaining “faithful presence,” with varying degrees of emphasis on preserving genuine faith in Christian community and bold witness in the public square.
Still another proposed orientation to public life is the Daniel Option. The prophet Daniel spent his life and work in the Babylonian exile. Like Daniel, Christians must navigate an occasionally hostile but potentially cooperative political community, the Babylon of our age. Like Daniel, Christians in all times and places live in exile, awaiting the full realization and coming of the kingdom of God. Daniel’s commitment to faithful and bold witness, along with his service at high levels of influence in his exilic home, serve as a valuable model for members of the church today, a model illustrating the fundamental and enduring orientation for Christian political witness.
While we argue that the Daniel Option offers an especially instructive model for Christian political engagement, we stress that faithful presence and engagement in the post-Christian polis require healthy and strong Christian communities. Modern-day Daniels do not come from nowhere. They are the fruit of Christian communities whose patterns of life instill devotion and deep roots in their members, preparing them to be witnesses to the truth and to effectively serve the peace of our exilic homes. Daniels only grow on branches connected to the vine (John 15:4). The community building priority of the Benedict Option is thus a prerequisite of faithful presence. To reiterate, the various “options” often promoted are not all mutually exclusive, and they may be more or less appropriate depending on circumstances. We construe the Daniel Option not primarily as a specific strategy, but as a general orientation or posture that should enduringly shape the church’s social and political witness, a posture that is focused on forming martyrdom-ready Christians who are also able to serve the good of the temporal polis.
The Daniel Option recognizes the integral connection between Christian community and faithful witness in the public square. Informed by the experiences of God’s people in the exilic period and the church in pre-Constantinian Rome, along with legal theory, this essay offers a vision for a socio-legally thick and distinctive church, a church forming and equipping her members to boldly proclaim the gospel and its redemptive social and political implications. Such a church and such witnesses will not only seek the peace of the post-Christian polis; rather, they embody it....
To read the rest of this article, subscribe to receive JCS II/2!