Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
There seem to be three lenses through which to examine today’s sexual landscape. The first views gender and sexuality as cultural artifices, not ontological, God-ordained categories. Folks with this lens reject the idea that the Bible is an inerrant (without error) and inspired-by-God text, even though some claim a deep love for many parts of the Bible, and a self-identified high view of Scripture. It is not unusual to have a high but also flawed view of something. People can have a high view of something that they don’t understand. I may have a view of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but if I cannot scan for iambic pentameter, I will only be able to appreciate them in a surface or “vulgar” way. Faithful readers of any text may have differing levels of literacy in discerning the meaning of those texts.
The same is true for Scripture. A high view does not guard against low literacy. To unbelievers and to those who hold to a revisionist hermeneutic (a reading practice that questions and reconceives the Bible’s plain meaning and the shared testimony of the church), this is the case. But the Bible unfolds its own hermeneutic, as God himself determines how we should approach him. Of course you can read the Bible through a lens other than that which God asks, but you will never know the God of Scripture through his written Word if you do.
God’s created order includes norms, boundaries, definitions, and limits for sexuality and gender, some of which may be difficult to embrace, especially if your personal experience puts you at odds with people you love and care about. Bible-believing Christians are gender and sexuality essentialists, believing that there is an essence to maleness and femaleness, and that God’s created order mandates sexual union exclusively between one man and one woman in the covenant of biblical marriage. To the rest of the world, such essentialist understandings of sexuality, gender, and selfhood are reactionary, backward, and dangerous. To the rest of the world, the Bible-believing Christian’s rejection of the wisdom of the world in favor of the fear of God and allegiance to the thousands-of-years-old Bible is foolish and hate-mongering. I completely understand how these folks feel and interpret this. And my shift from postmodern intellectual, unbelieving professor, and lesbian activist to repentant Bible-believing Christian has tagged me a dangerous idiot. I love the folks in the former group. This group holds my former family of choice, and the learning community they cherish and inhabit is the one I helped build. Unbelievers tend to be pragmatists about morality. If consenting adults are hurting no one and cherishing what they have together, they are deemed to have a good relationship. I believed this for many years and I understand where they are coming from.
The second lens through which to read sexuality is with an inerrant, inspired, and dependable Bible. But even when we use the right lens, we also use the eyes of flesh, so we won’t get good results. In this group we find Christians who uphold what we call the inerrancy (without error and therefore completely true and trustworthy) and inspiration (God-breathed, supernatural, holy) of Scripture, but have never struggled with homoerotic desires themselves, looked deeply enough into Scripture, or listened well enough to their friends who do struggle. These folks unbiblically believe that the struggle is the sin. They do not know how to approach their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) neighbors because deep down they truly believe that if gay people would just come to Jesus, they would all be straight.
Recently someone in my extended church community asked if the lesbian daughter of a mutual friend of ours was going to commit her life to Jesus and “go straight.” I reminded the churchy lady (I live in the South, so indulge me here) that the young woman she mentioned had made a profession of faith, and I had no more knowledge of whether she would develop heterosexual attractions than I did if she was going to buy a puppy at the state fair this year.
Homoerotic desire, these folks believe, is rooted in willful sin, bad choice-making, full-blown lust, and/or lack of knowledge of or real faith in Jesus. Without intending it, they endorse a prosperity gospel about sexuality, one that falsely believes that Christ died on a cross and rose again to make you happy and prosperous on earth. We all make choices along the path of our life journeys, but if sin is only about bad choice-making, we don’t need a savior. Sin is bigger and deeper and longer than bad choice-making. All sin is a vestige of the fall and a transgression against God, but that doesn’t mean that patterns of temptation are themselves proof that we are actively sinning. While it is true that in conversion we are new creatures in Christ, it is also true that on this side of the resurrection we will struggle with all manner of sin, including, if God permits, homoerotic desire. That is the kicker, and I hear this all of the time: “God would never make someone with a homosexual baseline.” Really? Original sin means that we are born in fallenness—both moral (which requires the sanctifying power of God through saving faith) and natural (which requires medical or supernatural healing, but not necessarily saving or sanctifying faith). Sexuality can straddle this line, as sometimes sexual dysfunction results from natural fallenness (such as intersexuality, being born with reproductive or sexual anatomy of both sexes). So yes, we are all “born this way.” And even after we are born again, we will all struggle with sin until we die and enter Glory or Jesus returns.
Whether the pain you face now is the consequence of your sin or the sin of others, in God’s providence and in saving faith, Romans 8:28 still reigns: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It is not the absence of sin that makes you a believer. It is the presence of Christ in the midst of your struggle that commends the believer and sets you apart in the world. Real conversion gives you Christ’s company as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Indeed, the fall made everything—including my deepest desires—fall. And this happened under God’s providential eye, not behind his back.
The third lens is used by those who believe they have Christ’s saving grace, but do not believe that God calls them to repent of all sin, in part because they use the wrong biblical lens. They believe that there are holes in the biblical story, holes that can only be filled by the “moral logic” of personal experience or the culture in which we live. These people believe in Jesus, but extract him from the Word of God by suggesting that we have new and improved ways of understanding the human condition.
While the Bible is not a science book and will not tell me how to fix my computer or build a telescope, it is spot-on when it comes to the moral condition of humanity. When folks in this group claim Christ’s confidence, but uphold a hermeneutic that unwittingly but wholeheartedly erases Jesus’ brutal sacrifice for sin, they often do so on the grounds of new evidence about morality that changes what the Bible means. Every generation seems to arrive at new evidence to explain away a biblical truth. Part of loving your sister or brother involves holding the mirror of Scripture up to the reflection of personal testimony. If personal testimony does not reflect the Bible’s account of a life of faith and repentance, then for the sake of your friend and for the sake of Christ’s witness, bring the Word of life to bear upon the claim of conversion.
The author, a well-known author and speaker, is the wife of an RPCNA pastor and a homeschooler. She quotes the NASB. This article is an excerpt from Openness Unhindered (Crown & Covenant Publications, 2015), pages 5–9. New Horizons, March 2016.