Unless you have been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, you probably know that American public opinion has been shifting dramatically within the past few years to support same-sex marriage.
Given the current cultural trajectory, many observers remark that it is inevitable that gay and lesbian marriages will become widely accepted, at least legally, across large sections of America. Many critics of a traditional reading of Scripture regarding homosexuality argue that finally “the train has left the station” regarding same-sex marriage. Many would say that Evangelical Christians should join in and affirm the trend as a matter of promoting civil rights, as was the case with racial issues in the 1950’s and 1960’s. How does someone who holds to a high view of the authority of Scripture respond to these challenges in a Christ-like way?
Enter in Rosario Butterfield. She was a lesbian professor at Syracuse University, who was for years convinced that Christians publicly supporting an exclusive approach to traditional marriage were a threat to democracy and human rights. She was an activist who was horrified by what she saw as “homophobia” and worked aggressively to try to stamp it out. But something unlikely happened along the way.
She was befriended by a pastor who asked her what she thought of the Bible. What did she think of the Bible’s message? The embarrassed Dr. Butterfield responded that she had never really read the Bible. For a period of two years, this lesbian activist met with this pastor and his wife, sharing meals together, sharing recipes, extending hospitality to one another, hanging out with one another, as she decided to read the Bible for herself over that period of time. Never once did this pastor invite Dr. Butterfield to church or try to tell her that homosexuality was sinful. They never discussed politics. All he did was keep asking her, “So what do you think about what you are reading in the Bible?”
Towards the end of this period, this lesbian English professor did the most unexpected thing: she went to this pastor’s church to attend a worship service. She eventually left her lesbian partner, deeply immersing herself in the reading of Scripture and the life of the church. Some fifteen years later, Rosaria is married to a Presbyterian (male) pastor and she is a homeschool mom. She has written a book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.
Rosaria Butterfield has a challenging and frankly controversial message for the church today. In her story, becoming a lesbian was consciously a matter of choice, as was her decision to leave lesbianism. But what about those that draw the conclusion that their same-sex attraction is an orientation that can not change? Just recently, Exodus International, one of the most prominent, global evangelical ministries committed to reparative therapy; that is, the idea that sexual orientation can be changed through counseling methods, has backed off on that commitment and closed its doors. In light of the pressing question of whether or not sexual orientation is something permanently fixed in at least some individuals is an issue that I wish Dr. Butterfield would more clearly address.
Others in the evangelical church might be puzzled at how much she has embraced a particularly Reformed; that is, essentially Puritan, approach to Christian faith, complete with psalm singing exclusively in worship. There are no contemporary worship songs or altar calls in Rosaria’s Reformed Presbyterian church!
But what really grabs me is her challenging contrast: Many Christians today wrestle with how they should stand up against the LGBT movement: Should Christians boycott businesses that support gay and lesbian rights? Should Christian florists refuse to provide flowers to gay couples that want to celebrate their new civil union or marriage? Should Christians remove their children from public schools on those days when gay and lesbian rights are being discussed in open forums?
Dr. Butterfield refuses to go there. Instead, she says that Christians need to be actively engaged in extending hospitality towards those in the gay and lesbian community. Share meals. Be good neighbors. Offer to help with childcare. Extend the hand of friendship. It was the gift and expression of hospitality (see Hebrews 13:2, and others) that opened her up to reading the Bible and eventually coming to meet Jesus.
How unlikely is that?
Here is Rosaria Butterfield being interviewed at Patrick Henry College by WORLD Magazine:
June 29th, 2013 at 9:12 am
Great post on a subject that brings out the worst in many people. I have struggled with this topic because to even mention it is like striking a match over a gas grill. At one extreme there are homosexual advocates with an agenda to promote that lifestyle. Some of them are strongly anti-Christian. At the other extreme are Christians who cannot present the biblical position, because they don’t really know what the Bible actually says, and does not say, about homosexuality. Both sides have a propensity to attack each other. Rosaria Butterfield’s experience is incredibly encouraging–not because of the outcome, but because of the approach. It’s about how to share our faith. Rather than attack those who hold other views, befriend them? What a concept. I read that somewhere.
Two of the best treatments of the topic are William Lane Craig’s essay, and an open letter to the church from a lesbian on Justin Taylor’s blog.
Thanks again for such a great, thought-provoking post.