Rosario Butterfield was Professor of Women and Queer Studies at Syracuse University. She’d made her homosexual orientation public years before, had had several gay relationships, and was an integral member of gay circles in Syracuse. But then she found herself in the sanctuary of a church feeling feelings she didn’t anticipate. The pastor reached out to her for conversation, and soon invited her over to dinner – not just once but many times. The hospitality she experienced through both him and others in his church gradually drew her past her reluctance, and she began to explore a new way of thinking about God. Eventually she became a Christian and began a life that led eventually away from homosexuality and into a heterosexual marriage. This story she tells in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
That story can lead conversative Christians to think “Yay! We got one!” – as if Rosario is merely a statistic in a wider culture war. And while it is wonderful to see what Christ did in her life, being faithful amidst the new sexuality means more than greedily counting converts. I’ll unpack this thought over the next three blogs.
This topic is important because it’s not going away. What I’m calling the New Sexuality is now firmly imbedded in pop culture, and it will be with us awhile. That’s one reason why we need to discuss how the Lord wants us to deal with it. But another reason is that love and sex are messy things in every age; we humans are love-seeking creatures, and we’ll always need to talk about how to deal with our powerful sexual and romantic impulses.
One way I’ve seen churches deal with the New Sexuality is to “circle the wagons”. We can withdraw into a religious sub-culture and talk about the good old days when America was Christian. And there’s something to be said for this, especially for young families. Children need to be insulated from immorality and only slowly released to grapple with it as thinking teenagers. If children age five are exposed to male characters kissing on the Disney Channel, their worldly education has begun at too young an age. However, unless one intends to employ the Amish solution, circling the wagons will not work.
Another way churches deal with the New Sexuality is to gradually accommodate it. I’ve watched congregations go silent when young unmarried heterosexuals moved in together or homosexual couples asked to have their relationship blessed. It’s especially challenging when new people who have been raised in the new morality are attracted to your church. They often have no awareness about biblical teaching and can be offended no matter how gently they are challenged. Losing members feels bad for everyone, so an easier path is often taken: drifting into the new morality.
In my previous church we publicized our beliefs about sexual morals on our website and in our brochure rack. Interestingly, we had homosexual people come into the congregation anyway. They were attracted to Jesus, or at least to the love in the fellowship. Usually they didn’t stay longer than a few years. But because we gently made our views clear we didn’t have much conflict about the issue.
But I think Jesus wants more from us than gentle clarity and healthy toleration.
Something Rosario Butterfield wrote in one of her books has always stuck with me. She wrote that the gay community is far more hospitable than the Christian community. The gay community, despite its frequently massive dysfunctionality, supports its members in ways that Sunday-only churches don’t even approximate. If we’re serious about welcoming and discipling people who are deeply enmeshed in sin and sinful lifestyles, we’ve got to be as hospitable as the gay community.
Step one is to acknowledge that sin has a deep hold on us all. And I want to thank Maree Klingensmith for reminding me of this today. See, we tend to be appalled at certain sins and forget that MY sin is as appalling to the Lord as “those people’s” sin. That’s not a prelude to excusing their sins; but it’s a key step in becoming truly hospitable to other sinners. It’s not hard to recognize a truly humble and penitent person. They radiate a gentleness that other sinners usually find disarming.
I realize it can be difficult to form authentic relationship with someone whose sexuality seems so broken. But Jesus is the model. He’s able to see the person inside the “earth suit”. When he spoke beside the well with the woman of Samaria, he encountered a deeply bitter, broken, and hostile person.
And he found the beauty in her.