Since last week’s blog on homosexuality in the church, a natural question that has followed is, “How should the church respond and reach out to the gay and lesbian community?” John Stott remarked that the church should be a place they can find love and support and people that care about them. He then asks, “If we are not willing to do that, then what is the church?”
I believe the response of the church can be seen in a story I shared in a blog I wrote back in July of 2014.
Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of English at Syracuse University. She described herself as a left-wing, radical lesbian. She lived with her partner. Dr. Butterfield taught critical thinking at Syracuse, but her specialty was a course called Queer Theory, a form of gay and lesbian studies. And she said that life was going fine for her and her partner. She was teaching and working with a lot of lesbian women. She says, “Life was going fine until I was asked by a publication to write an article on the Religious Right, Promise Keepers, and why they hated queers like me.” She said, “After the article was published, it generated many rejoinders. So many, in fact, that I kept a box on each side of my desk; one was for the hate mail, and the other was for the fan mail.” But in this article she wrote, Rosaria says:
…One letter I received defied my filing system. It was from a pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a very kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith, who wrote me the letter, encouraged me to explore the kind of questions that I admire. How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God? Ken didn’t argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it. I didn’t know how to respond to it, and so I threw it away. Later that night, I fished it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk where it stared at me for a week, confronting me with the worldview divide that demanded response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical, materialistic worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken’s letter punctuated the integrity of my research
project without him knowing it.
With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: surely this will be good for my research.
Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, became my friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book
exchanges. They talked openly about sexuality and politics… And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.
I started reading the Bible. I read the way that a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations.
At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. “This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria,” she warned. With tremors, I whispered, “J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? And is a risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?”…
I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then one Sunday morning I arose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in… I fought with everything I had. I did not want this. I did not ask for this. I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign.
But God’s promises rolled in, like sets of waves into my world. One Lord’s Day Ken preached on John 7:17 – “If anyone wills to do [God’s] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine.” This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feed were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and to write about them. I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience…
But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God’s point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood… When I looked into my heart through the lens of the Bible, I wondered, Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity? If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail? Who am I? Who will God have me to be?
Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, open handed and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song into the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world.
I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, a home, where one calls me “wife” and many call me “mother.” I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for this life.
I am of the opinion that the pastor in this story, Ken Smith, truly loved and treated Dr. Butterfield as Jesus would. He and his wife treated her with dignity and respect. They demonstrated the love of Christ in a very real way, and it was that love that touched her life.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.