A Divine Derailment: A Conversation with Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Rosaria Butterfield was raised Catholic but walked away when her best friend told her she’d had sex with their parish priest. She came out as a lesbian while in grad school, and by age thirty-six was a tenured professor of English at Syracuse University specializing in Queer Theory. She and her lesbian partner were active in their Unitarian Universalist Church, and in several gay, lesbian, and philanthropic causes. She was quite content with her life.
As part of her ongoing “War against Stupid,” she set out to refute the Religious Right from a lesbian, feminist perspective and began reading the Bible and meeting with a local pastor and his wife as part of her research. During this time, she would occasionally park her red truck, complete with GLBT and NARAL stickers, near his church and watch families go in, wondering. What did they do there? Then one morning, “I emerged from the bed of my lesbian lover and an hour later was sitting in a pew. … I felt like a freak.”
But she kept going back. In the end, the Bible, which “got to be bigger inside me than I,” refuted her entire world. Conversion was like “a train wreck,” she wrote in her brutally honest book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. “I lost everything but the dog.” She left Syracuse in 2000, and later married Kent Butterfield, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor. Today, they are the parents of four adopted children and live in Durham, NC.
Here, she shares her thoughts on sexual sin and healing.
You struggled in the beginning with even the concept of sin. It wasn’t even a category of thought for you, Is that right?
And the suggestions of sexual sin particularly must have been anathema to a lesbian postmodern thinker.
Yet at some point in reading the Bible, the question emerged in your mind, What if it’s true? Where did that question come from?
That’s the ultimate questions, isn’t it? I was a serious student of Freud. I was steeped very much in the worldviews of Freud and Marx. Those were the predominating thinkers of my generation. And so I had already had a presupposition that sexuality was a powerful, inherent, diverse, human need, and it was individual and there were really no moral prohibitions against it. There might be some social prohibitions, but really, “Anything Goes” is the Freudian dynamic and that was very much my thinking.
And so as I was reading and rereading the Bible, I was also of course a professor of English, and one of the paradigms of knowledge that you have to confront when you profess in English literature is the question of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is a word that simply means ‘how you know that your interpretation is accurate.’ And of course a postmodernist would believe that there’s more than one truth, right? There are truth claims, [but] there is no such thing as an overarching, organic or unified or totalizing concept of truth.
And so it was in that context that I started reading the Bible. The first time through I just thought it was a bunch of hogwash, right? Because you’re confronted with moral prohibitions and totalizing truth of an originary incentive. “God declared.” And so, none of this made any sense to me. And so one of the things I needed to start doing as I was reading the Bible was also reading and thinking about how and why Christians thought this was accurate. Because what I was trying to do was write a book on the Religious Right from a lesbian, feminist perspective. Even when you’re writing from a lesbian, feminist perspective, it’s important that you capture adequately your adversary’s point of view. And so I started reading and thinking about some of the different hermeneutical categories that organized Bible reading – inerrancy and inspiration.
So I was reading the Bible, and I was reading it the way a glutton eats cookies, not leaving any crumbs. That’s kind of normal for an English professor. But I was also trying to understand some of the arguments that suggested that the Bible wasn’t just a mythological tale or a story, but an organic whole whose concept of revelation depended on every jot and tittle somehow fitting together.
There are many questions in the Bible that are very personal, and I think it’s important, as an outsider reading it, to take those personal questions to heart. And it was in that context that I started to question my own sense that I had it all right.
There were two issues that were key for me. One is the nature of God and the nature of a triune God. Because it did seem to me that if this book was an organized whole, the cross was its organic center. And so the question of Jesus as the Word made flesh – as someone who did not emerge from history but rather entered into history for the purpose of redeeming a people who were at war with him – was a very powerful idea, especially to someone who considered herself to be an activist and a compassionate person, someone who always wanted to stand with the disempowered and leave the world a better place than I found it. I found the person and work of Jesus to be a very compelling narrative, something I was hungry to learn more about.
But ultimately, I suppose the crux for me was the question of God’s authority. Because it did strike me that I had been wanting to interrogate the Bible. I was a literary critic by training, and what literary critics do is they interrogate things, and so it struck me that I was in the posture of the interrogator. And it did make me wonder though. The whole premise of an inerrant and inspired Bible is that the Bible then interrogates you. You don’t interrogate it. And the justification for that is that the Bible is written by a holy God. I had to stop and think for a moment because, if God did create the heavens and the earth and everything, and if God did set apart a people for himself before he made the stars and the sand [and] every little leaf on a tree, then nothing is higher than God. And therefore, God does have the authority to interrogate me.
It was that juncture that made me stop and pause. God speaks to us through his word. And one of the things that I marvel at in God’s providence was that he had me so deeply in the word, even as an unbeliever. And so, here I was, an unbeliever, but given the gold. Really, given the gold.
I marvel at God’s grace in that. Reading the Bible in order to know God’s will for your life is crucial. Because if I’m standing there in front of my dog and I’m waiting for my dog to meow before I do anything, I’m going to be standing there a long time! I’m going to be wondering what’s wrong with my dog; he’s not meowing! God’s language is the language of the Bible in the same way that the language of a dog is not to meow. I need to know the language in some ways in order to have the ears to hear and the eyes to see. And that’s the way God intended it. So without really appreciating any of this, the Lord had designed for me to be given all of the things I needed to be able to discern the still, small voice of the Lord in the midst of the cacophony of my life.
A Methodist pastor, the Dean of the Chapel at Syracuse, told you that since God made you a lesbian, you could have Jesus and your lesbian lover. “It was an appealing prospect,” you wrote. But you didn’t take it, why not?
[laughing] I don’t know why I didn’t take it. In general, I’m not a very strong person, and I don’t like to hurt people. Probably the hardest thing about my conversion was just the body count. But I’m also a deep thinker. I try to picture a problem and understand it in its logical sequence. I had read the Bible at that point, more than once through. I was really wrestling with it, And it just seemed to me that the only way that his statement could be true, or his hermeneutic could be true is if Jesus didn’t say that he came to fulfill every jot and tittle. It seemed to me that in order for my liberal Christian friends’ hermeneutic to be solid, then I’d have to take the scissors and cut out big chunks of the Bible, including big chunks of the testimony of Jesus. You cannot, it seemed to me, have a Bible with a bunch of holes cut in it and have Jesus of the Bible. Because Jesus is the word made flesh. And if he came to fulfill every jot and tittle, then obviously this question – that Jesus came to set the captives free of the sin that besets us – was also true.
And so the two things couldn’t go together. It did make me go back and read and think about it though. One of the things it made me think about is what it means to be a new creature in Christ. It did strike me that many, many people could make an intellectual consent about general Bible teachings and the general utility of some of the philosophical statements of Jesus. But it didn’t seem to me that you could have the blood of Jesus or the covenant and have the add-and-stir approach. And what I mean by add-and-stir approach is, You know, I’m a lesbian, I’m now reading the Bible; I kinda like this Jesus guy. I’d like to just add him to my worldview and stir, like I might do the Nesquick thing for a quick breakfast for my kids in the morning.
And yet the Bible in no way has room for add-and-stir. It’s death and blood, right? The blood is necessary for the covenant. So it’s a bloody death. It’s the death of the old man; and then being transformed into a new creature in Christ. That’s what the Bible has said. And yet this add-and-stir approach is a different hermeneutic. I did go back and ask him to give me some of his hermeneutical approaches and thoughts on this. [But] it only worked if the Bible was not an organic whole. And the sad thing about this to me is what was at stake. There’s a lot at stake in taking a scissors to your Bible and making big holes. And what’s at stake is that you lose the ability to hear the voice of God, and you deny yourself the ability to communicate the desires of your heart to a holy God.
So, I read. I thought about it. I listened to his arguments. But they didn’t hold up. And then what you got at the end? Forget it! If all you get at the end is another adequate thinker who cared to do good things but ended up maligned by the power structure, I’d rather have a New York Times and a cup of Starbucks..
The entire power of the gospel is taken out of that, isn’t it?
Yeah, totally! It is a completely powerless gospel and it completely works then on the capacity for you to buoy it up through your agendas and interests. I didn’t need that Jesus.
You wrote this: “Sexual sin is not recreational sin gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory.” What do you mean by ‘predatory’?
Well a predator can’t stop until it kills. A predator is driven to fulfill its lust or its agenda. And one of the things that we Christians have been really squeamish on is talking about how to appropriately deal with sexual sin. And I think too often people think that sexual sin is just a matter of getting the genders wrong, or maybe not having a marriage license, which is getting the timing wrong. Or misusing your computer with internet pornography. And I think that what people need to understand is that whatever is the lust, let’s take pornography – whatever is the driving predatory lust that motivates a person to engage in pornography – that will not be sated by sexual conduct within a Christian marriage. It’s a totally different thing.
It’s a totally different drive, is what’s you’re saying…
It is, and it’s predatory. And so I think we need to be more rigorous in our thinking about what the motivation of sexual sin is and what the solution is. I think that there are a lot of totally wrecked marriages because a pastor said, “Just get married, and it’ll work itself out,” [as if] once you have a legitimate object for your sexual desires, this other problem will go away. Well, guess what! Predators don’t go away. So I think we have to be careful to not presume that marriage redeems sexual sin.
Which goes right to my next question. You continued on about the healing of sexual sin. And you said, “It won’t be healed by redeeming the context or the genders. Most people understand the concept of being forgiven from sin. But what is it about sexual sin that makes it require healing?
I don’t think it’s only sexual sin, but I think sexual sin does have a particular searing effect on a person. It tends to run very deep. One of the holds that it has over a person is the hold over our consciousness, the various ways that pornographic images sear themselves into our imagination. And it has a lot to do with your imagination. And so you repent of a sin, but it’s a sin that feels like it is so deep inside you that once you are done with it you can’t even imagine that there’s going to be any you left. Because it can’t be undone. God doesn’t lobotomize you. He didn’t lobotomize me. So what do you do with those feelings? What do you do with those memories?
And I think that’s where we need to go back for a minute. One of the ways that the Bible is a powerful book is that God intended it to be free and clear of some of the worldviews that snare us today around sexuality. You know, we 21st century thinkers are Freudian thinkers. Even if we’ve never read one sentence of Freud. We have been raised in a culture that sees sexuality as a core human drive. And that is exactly how sexuality is talked about today, and perhaps why we have more programs in sexuality studies throughout the US and Canada and the Western world that good Christians can really imagine.
Freud’s notion of sexuality has erased any need for a soul. [But] where Freud talks about sexuality, the Bible talks about a soul, something that both precedes you and extends beyond you.
The book of Romans teaches us that we are to die completely to our sin. And we have some amazing statements there in the book of Romans about the power of sin to hold us fast and at the same time the competing, and in some ways superior, power of grace to release us from that. One of the challenges, I think, is that we don’t approach the book of Romans from a hermeneutic of obedience. We tend to be pragmatists about this. We tend to say, That’s great for somebody who doesn’t have, let’s say for example, homoerotic fantasies. That can totally work for you. But that’s not going to work for me. And yet, God asks us to extend a hermeneutic of obedience to every part of the Bible, to every passage. And often that means that you feel like in obeying you are jumping off a cliff. You don’t see where you are going to land or how you’re going to manage.
And so I think that one of the things that’s really helpful there, you know when we’re talking about how do you heal from sexual sin.
Let’s talk about first of all how you don’t heal from sexual sin: Number one rule for how never to heal from sexual sin, the big deep dark secret of your life: Go to prayer meeting and talk about Aunt Tilly’s big toe until you’re ready to take the toe off yourself. But never mention your lust; you know. Keep yourself looking good. That’s a great way to never heal from sexual sin. Another good way to never really heal from sexual sin is to secretly feed on doubt.
Psalm 37, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on faithfulness.” Often when we who struggle with sexual sin approach the Bible, we don’t even realize it, but we are feeding on doubt. All we’re doing is running our narrative about how we could never be changed, we could never be healed, we have been like this forever, without realizing that that’s the large Christian story. Were we born this way? You bet! All of us were. It’s called total depravity. And it’s powerful. You can’t deal with a powerful enemy with a squirt gun, you know?
Sometimes sin is something that we court. But other times, sin, you know, grabs us by the throat and we didn’t even see it coming. But if we in our pride refuse to tell our church family how we’re really struggling, [asking] how can we get the counsel we need? How can we get the prayer support we need? Who’s holding on to our ankles as we’re dangling off the cliff?
You’re really just talking about being authentic, aren’t you?
I really am.
You wrote that as you got to know “church people” you found out that they struggled with sexual sin too. That was something of a surprise for you, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was very helpful to know that I was not the only person in this community who struggles with sexual sin. Now having said that, it was also extremely important to me that I was not farmed out into some 12-Step program for sexual sinners. I think it’s very important to not create a situation in your church where the personal narrative of struggle overshadows the power of the gospel to banish the old man and flourish the new.
And I would say too, those older Christian thinkers who were pre-Freudian are very helpful, much more helpful, in dealing with sexual sin than some of the more contemporary thinkers. Here, I’m thinking about John Owen. There’s an extremely excellent revision of John Owen by Kris Lundgaard called The Enemy Within. It’s about besetting sin. And it’s about how discouraging on the one hand besetting sin can be because we repent of it, and we think it’s done, and there it is again the next day. That’s very, very frustrating.
Now, in a Freudian context what we say, and so many people who identify as gay Christians say, “Well, God made me this way; he must want me to be this way.” But can you imagine if we said that about our lying or our cheating or our yelling at our kids or any of the other things that might not merit a 12-Step title? We wouldn’t stop with that. So I think it’s important that we not lose heart in doing good and that we not tacitly or secretly encourage our loved ones in the church to lose heart in their struggle against sin. And one of the ways we do that is when we pretend that we’re all cleaned up, or we give people a sign that says, Don’t pollute me with what’s really going on in your life.
There’s a real shallowness about that.
Yes, there is. And, you know, there’s nothing shallow about the blood of Christ.
You wrote, “Sexuality is of more of a symptom of our life’s condition than a cause, more a consequence than an origin.” What did you mean by that?
Freud would say that sexuality is an originary drive – primal, born with you and won’t leave you. Yours for life. And what we as Christians would say is, of course, original sin – you are born with it. You inherit it. It is a deep, and in some ways, abiding enemy. But the redemption of Christ is not some weak, paltry shellac that we just put over the original sin of our lives. The blood of Christ makes us new. The word of God is a sword, and it cuts so deep it can separate the soul and the spirit. It defines us in a new and different way. And so when we tend to think of our sexuality, we tend to see it as somehow a rite of passage. It defines us, and we tend to think of it as something that puts our life into 5th gear, as it were.
Kind of a “salvation by sex” way of looking at things?
I think that’s absolutely right. And it leads to salvation by some sort of a purported honest disclosure of who I am and where I stand. But that’s not what the Bible says it is. If you’re reading the Bible to understand yourself, you have to put yourself on the altar right there. Because the Bible does not say that you originate with your feelings or that you originate with your total depravity. The Bible says that God made you in his image. That image has been marred, but Jesus, our second Adam, redeems us from our sin and truly gives us new life and new birth. But, as anybody who’s maybe suffered from a broken leg, and there you are recovering from it, it takes a little physical therapy before you can run again. And that physical therapy is meant to be provided through the local church and through the means of grace.
Why do you think sexuality is such an explosive subject?
That’s a good question. I think because we tend to feel it in a very personal way [and] it spills over into our life. I think because for some time now the church has failed to teach how and why the Bible is our true guide to who we are, Christians have relied too much on Christian tradition. We live in a feeling-based society, and without the wisdom and the checks and the balances and the direction and the redemption of the blood of Christ, I think sexuality simply becomes a flourishing, enormous, self-defining, culture-defining paradigm. I also think because we tend to want to see personal authority as the highest of all end goals, autonomy, sexual autonomy, becomes the next obvious step. That I can invent myself in any way I want.
That was the sexual revolution too, wasn’t it?
You said sexual sin must simply be killed. How does one do that?
Yeah, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? First of all, one doesn’t do that once and for all. So we need to give up these vapid approaches to the Christian faith that makes the appeal to the gospel a prosperity contest where you say, Commit your life to Jesus, and it’s all good! So the first thing we need to do is know what our gospel is.
How often is the Christian called to take up his or her cross daily? Daily? Jesus was made to carry his own cross when he made the wood that made the cross. That’s a powerful idea. So, as we pick up our own cross, Did we make the problems that create the burden, the heaviness of that cross? Absolutely. But we’re to take it up daily. And, Can we do that by ourselves? Not necessarily. And the church must provide life-on-life, soul-on-soul, mind-on-mind, and heart-on-heart ministry. That happens in the small intimacy of a confessional church with a careful administration of the sacraments, [and] a committed display of the means of grace.
But, we die to our sin daily; we die to our sexual sin daily. And we should not be so very self-absorbed that we presume that our feelings determine whether or not we’re healed or not. How often have we healed from a broken bone, and it just feels worse before it feels better? The healing of things can be a very rigorous experience. But we’re called ultimately to assume the posture that the psalmist often assumes, not so much of talking, but of listening. And then when we do talk to ourselves, we don’t talk to ourselves using words of doubt but rather words of faith. Words of grace. I’m thinking here of Psalm 62 where the psalmist starts out by saying, My soul, waits in silence for God only. And the Psalm goes on: he’s tormented, and he’s feeling oppressed, and he’s feeling the treachery of the people around him. And then he speaks to himself and he says, My soul, Wait in silence for God only. He gives himself a command, not based on his feelings, but based on who God is.
And so I think that’s, ultimately, how you die to your sexual sin is. First of all, you’re not squeamish about it. You don’t think that the sinner’s prayer’s gonna cover it. You take up your cross daily, and in your life, your relinquished life, the person and the integrity of Jesus Christ is more valuable and viable to you than your own personal feelings. And you kick those feeling out the door as many times a day as you need to.
That’s that idea of being a soldier, too, isn’t it?
Absolutely. And don’t go into war with a squirt gun, cause it’s not going to help.
What did your church, the one you began attending when you were in a lesbian relationship, do right in terms of identifying sin as sin and calling it what God calls it.
They surrounded me, [as] the Psalm says, with songs of deliverance. Very much, my church surrounded me with songs of deliverance. I was immediately integrated and welcomed into the homes of many, many people, including all these really nice, cleaned-up homeschool families.
That was so foreign to you, wasn’t it?
It was! But you know, the honest conversation was not foreign to me. These were also people who read and studied the Bible, so when I would have at it with a question like, Why do you people think abortion is wrong but you support the death penalty? Nobody said, Oh, I don’t know, let me go ask the pastor. Folks really opened up the word for me, showed me some passages, and then talked deeply about some of the struggles that they had in reconciling some [Bible difficulties]. Women’s submission, that was not an easy pill for me to swallow. And some of Paul’s assertions about slavery? I remember saying, Well, okay, you’re gonna tell me that you support slavery? You know, certainly the Bible had been used to do that. What do you believe? That’s when I also learned. People said, Well, do you know what a slave in the Roman context was? [I had to] think about that, I sort of do. A slave in the Roman context was – a little bit like a graduate student, come to think of it. You know, they own you for seven years, at the end you have your citizenship but no money.
So those things were very helpful to me, that this is not a church that glossed over the hard things in Scripture, nor was it a congregation that was afraid to integrate. It also was a congregation that wasn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and step in and help me. And so when one of my students – now we’re getting back to the bloodbath, right? Because when one sinner comes to faith, that puts everybody in her life in crisis, not because of anything necessarily that they have done, but because the gospel has a way of squeezing and pressing people. And when I came to faith, my graduate students, and my undergraduate students, who were working with me in part because of my leadership in Queer Theory and in Gay and Lesbian Studies – [when] one of my graduate students attempted suicide, it was a very scary time. And it was clear to me that I needed my church family to be there at the hospital. But she needed also our lesbian community to be there. And you know what? There we all were in the waiting room. And that was really uncomfortable. And yet, it was also very powerful. Because, if we believe that God hears our prayers, where better to pray those prayers than in the waiting room? Why wait for later, right? There is no later sometimes.
And I think that’s also very powerful that people did not witness to me and enfold me into their families and churches so that I could always remain a Rahab the harlot. For me that was an extension of real Christian hospitality. They witnessed to me with an eye to the true image of God in which I was made. Not to condemn me as an example of what not to do. And they prayed for me and with me in that context.
And for me that’s a very instructive reminder. When we are witnessing to a watching world, are we approaching our really hard core sinner that’s across from us, our homeless, drug-addicted neighbor, and sharing the gospel with an eye that this person might be our pastor someday? What do we see in that person? What does Jesus see in us? Jesus was willing to die for us while we were at war with him. And God is willing to see, even in the smallest of our obediences, great good. So how dare we witness to people and condemn them in our imagination as examples of what not to be? How arrogant! And how lacking in God’s imagination.
All the teenagers I know struggle with sexual sin every nanosecond. And that’s on a good day. So what kind of example, if the best we can do is put forward a works-righteousness Christianity? How is that an example of God’s saving faith? It’s not. And if we give our children in the church the tacit or explicit understanding that you should not sin because you should know better, that completely denies the power of sin and the power of grace. If it were simply a matter of knowing better, then we could go back to my Methodist friend who said I could have Jesus and my girlfriend, right?
In your former life, you drove a truck and sported a butch haircut. How would you describe the transformation of your own identity as a woman?
Yes, that was in some ways the hardest part for me. Everyone’s journey out of sexual sin is a little bit different. For some people the issue is the lust factor, or a particular commitment to a particular kind of sex. For me it had to do with my understanding of myself as a woman. And probably for me the prayer that really tipped me over the edge was, Lord, how could you make someone like me a godly woman? My struggle had to do more with my identity before a holy God and before the mirror of, in some ways, myself.
It was not an easy transformation. I suppose in a little bit, my conversion made me feel like Eve in the garden and I suddenly noticed I was naked. In some ways the first sensibilities I had of myself as a godly woman was a sense that I somehow had been misusing my own dignity and modesty. And I suddenly felt naked and exposed. It was a powerful feeling.
It sounds to me like dressing masculinely was almost a way of rebelling against God and saying, I can’t be a good woman.
It was. I was by no means a butch lesbian, but I did try to go for a non-gendered, non-femininized appearance. And part of that was to indicate to the meat market and to men in an ungodly context that I was not available. Part of the crisis that we have in sexuality is that it can feel, and it can be, unsafe to be even a heterosexual woman in an unChristian context. What are the FBI rape statistics? By no means am I suggesting that only heterosexual women get raped, but that feminized articulations of womanhood are attacked, assaulted, demeaned, abused, and dangerous. And so, as a woman on my own, I was choosing to step out of that particular visual paradigm.
You wrote, “My former life still lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.” What did you mean by that?
That line got slammed. I had so many people say, That it proof that you’re not really saved. Or that you’re not really healed. To me, it’s just proof that I wasn’t lobotomized.
You know [conversion] is a hurricane, right? And I got to the eye of the hurricane, and what did I meet? I realized that it was Jesus I had been persecuting the whole time. This wasn’t about a career, although it was that. It wasn’t about a worldview, although it was that. It wasn’t about tenure or a book or a girlfriend, although those were all very real things also. It was fundamentally about persecuting the living God. And I have never forgotten and will never forget the price that Jesus paid for my redemption. And I don’t minimize it. I don’t think it’s a small thing. I don’t look at my sins and say, Oh, I was mostly cleaned up. Not at all. And so that edge, and that knife, and the shininess of that, it’s right there. Not right there in a way that suggests I’m going to return to it, or not right there in a way that would suggest that it’s seductive to me. But that it is a caution to me. It is a real part of the journey that God gave me.
And the fact that you were living in a lesbian relationship, or were living the gay lifestyle, really is not particularly relevant to that. You’re just describing yourself as someone who has rebelled against God.
That’s really the big issue. I was not converted out of “homosexuality.” There’s no such thing! That’s not even a category. I went from unbelief to belief. And I do not want to cheapen the blood of Christ to suggest that the biggest testimony of Christ’s work in my life is that I’m a delightful, heterosexual wife and mother. That is not the point!
It’s sort of a side issue.
It really is. It’s God’s choice what he will do with us. He is the potter, and we are the clay. And the clay is not in any way better than the potter. And the clay is never to upstage the potter. In fact that’s a sin, right? That’s our biggie, as we would say. The point is that God has the power to save. And that God has the power to redeem. And that God takes you from darkness to light, that you will lose everything, and gain even more. But there’s grief, and there’s loss, and there’s fear, and there’s agony. And somehow, and for some reason, God decided that we who endure and experience that, we are the ones now beholden to share the gospel with the lost and the suffering and the dying and the hardened. Not the holy angels, who did not go through this. But we, who know the price that Christ paid for our redemption.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
One of the things I wasn’t anticipating when the book came out [is] I was not prepared for some of the deep-seated hurt and anger that this book would spark in the community called the gay Christian community, including the community that calls itself the celibate, gay Christian community. That’s a term used by people who would acknowledge with me that we are born in total depravity, that we are born in original sin, that homosexuality is not God’s design for people, but that it is the mark of a fallen world. But unlike those of us who are part of confessional churches, the celibate, gay Christians would say that God will not change you. That if you are struggling with same-sex attraction, God can redeem you, he can wash you clean, he calls you to obedience and to celibacy, but that your sexuality will not be changed, transformed, healed, or redeemed.
I think it’s helpful to go back to both the book of Romans and to realize that God intends to liberate you from your besetting sin. Yes, Paul has a thorn in his flesh, and yes God doesn’t take that away. But no, we are not to determine what is our portion and our cup. Our inheritance comes from the Lord. You do not go into your Christian life saying, Wow, I struggle with same-sex attraction, I’m just going to have to be celibate and grit my way through this.
Two things come to mind when I think about my friends in the celibate, gay Christian community. One is, churches do need to be more loving and accepting and available to the singles of all stripes and colors in our churches. We have to stop acting as though marriage is somehow a higher calling. Weddings and baby showers still make me lose my mind. I would much rather have a weekend of prayer and fasting for our prodigal teenagers. On the one hand, my celibate, gay Christian friends are right in wanting to say this to us, and I want to echo this with them. But here’s where we differ: There’s nothing in Scriptures that says you should use a descriptive adjective to modify the noun Christian. We are Christians. We do not use our struggles as adjectival modifiers, which, in English grammar, limits the noun.
It sure is, and I think Satan loves this. If we’re Christians, we’re Christians. And the answer is to go back to 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you.” And if you diagram that, which I like to do, the subject-pronoun is ‘you,’ the verb linking is ‘were,’ and the predicate-adjective is ‘such.’ You were such. And what’s powerful about that is that linking verb ‘were’ looks like in linguistics an ‘=’ sign with a slash through it. And that’s a very powerful image. You can’t go back. “You can’t cross an ‘=’ sign with a ‘/’ through it. That bridge is broken: Such were you, and you are now, no longer.
And so I feel strongly that we need to be a more unified front on this point, [and] reject all adjectival modifiers. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian. And if you’re a Christian, the old man’s dead. We have to be unafraid to say that God calls a people to himself, and we respond to the gospel message. We don’t create our salvation. We couldn’t. Dead is dead.
Nor do we really even identify ourselves. He identifies us.
That’s right. And I think we have to just be suspicious of the doctrine of personal experience. My feelings are as fallen as anything else in me. And God is powerful even over those. My salvation is not dependent on my feelings. God forbid that [that] would ever be that case.
A condensed version of this conversation first appeared in Salvo 25, Summer 2013.