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🚨 URGENT: Mere Orthodoxy Needs YOUR Help

An Update on Our Emergency Appeal

May 13th, 2024 | 12 min read

By Jake Meador

I will be sharing an update on our financial situation at the end of this note. But I wanted to start with a more general reflection on the moment we find ourselves in and what I see as being the way forward through this time of difficulty. That analysis will help explain the role Mere O plays in our moment and to highlight why we do what we do in the way that we do it. So, to begin:

We will not rage our way out of crisis. This is the thing you must know.

Obviously that doesn't mean we ignore problems. We are witnessing now in America a kind of unmaking of the human person—marriage and birth rates in decline, loneliness, anxiety, and depression growing, with the distinct possibility of tools like AI-generated video, AI girlfriends and boyfriends, and immersive tech like Apple's VisionPro moving us even further away from our fellow embodied human persons. And this doesn't even exhaust the list of the problems we're now facing.

But how do you address these issues in a way that is actually helpful and has a prayer of being able to work? There are two parts to that answer, both of which are inextricably bound up in our mission at Mere Orthodoxy.

Who We Are

The dominant answers on offer at the moment seem to be more therapy, more professionalized care, more programs, more education. Given the sheer amount of resources already dedicated to these strategies, it's hard to see a case for them working—and hard to see how this approach could be discredited in the eyes of its strongest advocates.

The answers from left and right both seem to be variations of violent revolution in which good people gain power, have very few restraints on what they get to do with power, and then use their unrestrained power to do good things instead of bad things. I think a brief survey of political revolutions of the past 100 years should persuade one that this is not the solution some seem to think it is. Viewed Christianly, it looks even sillier if only because of how wildly it undervalues our propensity toward evil and cruelty in its assessment of how humans will use extensive and limitless political power.

So what can be done? Here's the bad news: It won't fit on a bumper sticker. More bad news: It's not the sort of thing that easily goes viral.

What we need are communities of people—and for our purposes I'm thinking especially of Christian people—whose lives and habits of thought are marked by three core qualities: faithfulness, reflectiveness, and patience.

Christian communities that hope to be of some use in this moment will, first and foremost, have to be Christian and so that means being faithful to the deposit handed down to us by our fathers and mothers in the church. We must be a people given to Scripture, to the historic thought of the church, and willing to follow that teaching wherever it may lead. Spoiler: It often leads to difficulty, suffering, and danger. But it promises a reward at the end that makes all that worthwhile and the rather ubiquitous testimony of our fathers and mothers is that all that is promised to us is real and good and worth all the pain.

There is a further layer to what it means to be faithful, however, or perhaps we might say a deeper layer. We need to be faithful to the truth. That means, first and foremost, fidelity to God, the maker of all things and speaker of truth. But it also means that in our thought and our response to the world, we must have a concern with what is true. This requires taking the time to gather facts, to seek understanding, and to ask questions. It means that in the many questions we will face where there is not a clear answer from scripture or the church that we will need to take the time to weigh the facts and form prudential judgments guided by wisdom. Faithfulness to truth means more than this, but not less.

Indeed, it is precisely because of this component of the need that we also need two further qualities. Fruitful, life-giving communities of Christian belief will be communities of reflection. We live in a technological moment in which it is very ease to embrace a false simplicity and rush to judgment. We are formed in such a way by many of our tools and online networks to view argument and debate not as a shared exploration of the world in which we seek the truth with our fellow men and women, but rather as a kind of public performance one attempts in order to lift up oneself, to acquire power and influence, to triumph over one's enemies. To be reflective in our current moment is difficult and will likely require many of us to change our habits of technological use and media consumption.

But that is also precisely why we do what we do at Mere O. When it comes to media, you are what you eat, or rather what you consume. Media at its best helps us to be aware of what is going on in our world, to shape our habits of thought, and to guide us toward what is true. Yet when media channels are themselves defined by the vituperative, tech-addled digital-world brain many of us now possess, those media channels do not actually help their readers, but harm them. Often they make them twice the sons of hell that the media producers themselves are, to paraphrase the words of Christ. Media must be reflective and it must call its audience to habits of reflection, otherwise both the media producers and themselves will simply be pressed into the shape of the world around them. We must instead "push against the age as hard as it pushes on us."

Finally, none of this will be possible if we are not patient. One of the greatest spiritual dangers of our day is hurry—we lack the patience to attend to God's voice in Scripture (or, for that matter, through the natural revelation we encounter everywhere we go), we lack the patience to pray, the patience to sit with another person and slowly get to know them and see how God is at work in their life, the patience to learn to ask good questions and seek good answers. It is not for nothing that the first virtue the church fathers wrote about was patience.

In their own reflections on that great virtue, the fathers remind us that when we are patient we are like God, for he is often described in the Scriptures as patient and longsuffering. So the virtue is worthy of our pursuit for that reason alone. Yet there are many further benefits to it as well, some of which we have already listed. Cyprian argues that we cannot love if we are impatient, for virtually all the qualities of love listed by St Paul presuppose patience as the necessary condition for love's practice:

Charity is the bond of brotherhood, the foundation of peace, the holdfast and security of unity, which is greater than both hope and faith, which excels both good works and martyrdoms, which will abide with us always, eternal with God in the kingdom of heaven. Take from it patience; and deprived of it, it does not endure. Take from it the substance of bearing and of enduring, and it continues with no roots nor strength. The apostle, finally, when he would speak of charity, joined to it endurance and patience. Charity, he says, is large-souled; charity is kind; charity envies not, is not puffed up, is not provoked, thinks not evil; loves all things, believes all things, hopes all things, bears all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Thence he shows that it can tenaciously persevere, because it knows how to endure all things. And in another place: Forbearing one another, he says, in love, using every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3 He proved that neither unity nor peace could be kept unless brethren should cherish one another with mutual toleration, and should keep the bond of concord by the intervention of patience.

If we lack patience, we fail to imitate God and we will fail in love.

These, then, are the measures with which we judge our work—faithfulness, reflection, and patience. Where do we hope to go with those things?

What We Do

Because so much of our crisis is social in nature, one of the obvious questions facing us today is whether or not there is a political solution to the challenges before us, such as the breakdown of trust, breakdown of the family, and the fraying of America's common life.

Both common answers to the question from conservative evangelicals are not acceptable.

First, there is one common school of thought amongst evangelicals which is basically that the only things we can do are preach the Gospel, live virtuously, and hope for the best. Certainly, we should preach the Gospel and we should live virtuously. But the problems facing us now are in many cases relatively specific and require specific, targeted responses. We should live quiet and devout lives because Scripture commands it. But "quiet and devout" needn't mean that we don't seek to be strategic and effective in the ways we seek to love our neighbors.

This approach simply fails to appreciate how institutions actually work in shaping culture and, in particular, how key institutions and industries shape the common life of us all. In terms of culture-shaping influence, the relationship between individual believers and positive cultural renewal is not linear, but functions more like the Pareto principle in which a relatively small number of strategically placed institutions and people have a wildly disproportionate affect on the whole. This analysis, incidentally, is central to much of Tim Keller's approach to ministry in New York and in major global cities and Keller himself took much of it from James Davison Hunter's work.

There is another common approach that rejects the quietist approach. It actually has a slightly more mature understanding of how cultures change. You'll find it amongst a group of reactionary evangelicals who have read Keller and Hunter but feel the specific missiological emphasis Keller derived from Hunter is mistaken. That said, they still recognize the role institutions play in shaping culture and, particularly, the role that political institutions play. So their answer is that our problems do have political solutions and, therefore, we should do whatever we can to gain power and then use it to solve the problems facing us. This isn't really any better as an approach, however, for two reasons.

In the first place, chasing power at any cost is itself a sub-Christian way of thinking about our political lives. We are constrained by the moral law and so there are things we simply cannot do in our quest for power, no matter how lofty our goals once we have power might be. Second, power alone is actually not as effective or fruitful as some think. It is difficult to use power well and power wielded on its own is actually surprisingly brittle. What is achieved through power alone can be reversed or countered through power alone. We need deeper forms of culture shaping and influence, in other words.

Power by itself is simply a function of office and offices change hands all the time. When you stake your hope for addressing social crisis on holding political power, you're basically banking on being able to win most the major elections most of the time or you're planning a revolution of some kind that will transform American government such that you don't have to win so many races. Moral considerations aside, neither of these approaches is realistic, given the behavior of American voters, the designed slowness of the American system, and so on.

What is the alternative, then, to the quietism of the first group and the political obsessions of the second? To borrow from Brad Littlejohn, what we need in our moment is not power per se but "authority." To have authority is not the same thing as possessing power. Littlejohn defines the difference by likening it to a parent whose word holds in their household even when they are bodily absent versus a parent who is only able to shape the life of the home when they are bodily present in it. Authority persists without your presence, in other words, whereas power does not.

But acquiring authority is far more complicated than acquiring power. Authority is derived from trust, from mutual knowledge, from excellence, and a host of other factors. To obtain authority will require excellence in our work, trustworthiness in all our doings, wisdom in our judgments, and much else besides. And the people who judge us to be so in each of those areas will need to be more than the (optimistically) 3-5% of Americans that share our theological views as relatively conservative Christians.

If love presupposes patience, then love also in some sense demands authority in order to be formative: if you will the good of another person but you are not known to them or are not trusted by them, your love will accomplish little. But if you will the good of another person and that person knows you, trusts you, and listens to you, then your good will toward them can do much.

So a great deal of what we are trying to do and build here is to think about how we cultivate the core virtues listed above and then radiate them into the world in order to be more effective in loving our neighbors as well as our society and culture and ultimately our world. When we pair this analysis with Keller and Hunter, however, a picture starts to emerge of a Christian community marked by virtue and sound judgment who cultivate authority in their vocations and, often, rise to positions of influence in strategic places, from which they can do much good, provided they remain faithful to their primary calling.

The good news is that cultivating virtue and developing authority is good work which brings rich rewards. The bad news is such work cannot be rushed, but must be accomplished incrementally over time.

Where We Are Going

This brings us back to the current situation here at Mere O. As you are aware by now, if you have read Mark Kremer's two emails, we were thrown into something of a crisis nearly four weeks ago. Due to a series of clerical errors, we received two large gifts over the past nine months which were not actually intended for Mere Orthodoxy. We returned the money once we had established the errors because it was not ours. But it put us into severe straits as the two gifts accounted for 87% of our financial reserves at the time we received the news. It really did put our survival as an institution in question.

It was also especially disheartening to receive the news when we did, for we have been taking major strides as an institution in the past year to try and become a more stable, mature organization. Editorially we have been where we'd like to be for some time, but because we effectively grew out of being a small group blog in the 2000s to a small to midsized blog in the 2010s to an actual magazine and online journal in the 2020s our institutional structures and systems lagged behind our editorial vision and reach.

This is what we have spent a great deal of time seeking to address in the past year. Only a month or so before we received the news about those two gifts, we had brought my friend Mark Kremer on board as publisher. Mark is a long time organizational architect and developer. He has a 40-year track record of building thriving organizations, ranging from a science museum to a ministry reaching at-risk youth and families in poor neighbors to serving as an executive pastor for 20 years in a large church. We first met last year and over the course of the past 15 months we built a strong friendship and high level of trust. Significantly, Mark is strong in basically all the areas where I'm not, which makes us a good team as we continue to build this project. So this meant that in the days leading up to our donation news I was actually feeling the most confident I ever have about the long-term future of this venture. For the first time in my time as editor we had someone else besides myself working daily on building this project.

So what has happened in the nearly four weeks since I received that email about the misallocated donations?

First, we had many good conversations internally. Mark reminded me almost immediately that if we claim to value calm, patient trust in God then we had better calmly, patiently trust God to guide us through this difficulty. I had a similar conversation with our founding editor, Matthew Lee Anderson, who reminded me that through all of this the most important thing God was doing was sanctifying us, drawing us closer to him. If we managed to raise the funds we need to survive but we didn't grow in our love for him through this test, then we would fail, even if we got enough money to keep the organization alive.

Second, God has been providing for us through all of you. So far, around 130 of you have shown up and given some amount of financial support to help see us through this test and, we hope, to even set us on better footing at the end of it than we were at the start. We have raised $54,015 so far, which means more than half of what was lost has been recouped. The most common gift has been $100, which has been especially gratifying and touching. We are so grateful for the generosity and care you have shown to us over this past month.

So what's next? Well, we hope to raise the full amount that had to be returned, so if you value our work, are able to give and haven't yet, we'd ask you to prayerfully consider doing that. The longterm stability of the organization genuinely does depend on regaining those funds, so while much has been accomplished so far, there is still a lot to do. But in the meantime we plan to press on in our work.

Prior to this news, we had made plans to roll out some new benefits for our subscribers and make some changes to our website and marketing strategy that will hopefully help us continue to grow going forward. We are going to press on with those. We also will continue work on the print journal, trusting God to provide the funds needed to carry on with that, and we will continue to publish here on this website so that our readers can continue to be helped by writing that is faithful, reflective, and patient and that calls them to the fruitful love begotten by wisdom and excellence, radiated out into one's community over a long time.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).