An East Texas Example of the Benedict Option?

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An East Texas Example of the Benedict Option?

In Path of a Modern South: Northeast Texas between Reconstruction and the Great Depression (2001), Texas A&M Professor Walter Buenger writes:

Yet the Churches of Christ, unlike the closely related Disciples of Christ, never aligned with the Klan or with prohibition movements….

Changes in church size reflected the pressures and opportunities of the 1920s. During the early part of the decade, the number of black and white Baptists declined slightly. Pentecostal groups such as the Church of the Nazarene, another organization with small rural churches, also declined. Black Methodists, white Methodists, and Presbyterians increased slightly, especially in Bowie and Lamar counties. (The Presbyterians were more traditionally urban than Baptists. Methodists fell somewhere in between.) The highest rate of increase, however, came in the membership of the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ (Christian Church). Again, they did best in Bowie and Lamar, the counties with the two largest urban centers in the region. By 1926 the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ both roughly matched the Presbyterians, with each claiming about 5 percent of the region’s church members. Baptists, despite their slight decline, still attracted almost 50 percent of all church members, while Methodists made up just over 30 percent….

Subtle social differences existed between the Disciples and the Churches of Christ. The Disciples, as their greater willingness to cooperate with other denominations demonstrated, integrated more easily into the middle-class life of the towns and villages where they built their churches. The Churches of Christ remained more rural, did not depend upon an educated ministry, and drew from those who wanted to follow their own moral code instead of being bound by prohibition law or other measures that regulated society. While generally regarded as conservative, members of the Churches of Christ as well as some Pentecostal groups were among the most ardent backers of socialism in pre-World War I Texas and Oklahoma. They belonged to the old-time insurgents who resented external efforts that forced conformity to the middle-class rules of town-dwelling Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. [1]

There is a lot to chew on in this quotation (and from a lot of different angles). But it does seem that the Churches of Christ, in the particular time and place described, offer an example akin to the Benedict Option, as Rod Dreher has defined it:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Temperance/Prohibition was a moral goal of the Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, but the former chose not to make it a political goal, unlike the latter. And neither church “ran to the hills.”

NOTES
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[1] Buenger, Walter L. Path of a Modern South: Northeast Texas between Reconstruction and the Great Depression. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 2001. pp. 207, 234–35.

For more on the Benedict Option click here.

 


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