One of the main reasons I wanted to read Rosaria Butterfield’s memoir is that I heard one of her lectures which invoked the category of homophobia, and I wondered if it is a legitimate category. Does it stand for something that is reprehensible and we need to be alert to, or is it another unscrupulous attempt to avoid debate by hurling derogatory epithets of vaguely scientificial propulsion? It is not an idle question if you consider how the gay agenda has been successfully carried forward in our day. We are given to understand, these days, that there is something wrong with people who are disgusted by homosexuality. Such people have a prejudice, something irrational and unexamined, an inner darkness which will not withstand the scrutiny of reasonable, moral people.
Rosaria Butterfield is a thinking woman, and her pointed observations about the thoughtlessness of evangelical Christianity are well aimed, enjoyably apt and sharp without being charged with malice. She is scandalized at the absence of an evangelical mind and what is more, she can articulate the problem. One might observe besides that Mrs. Butterfield sometimes exhibits a touchiness greater than perhaps she ought, but I don’t think that makes any of her criticisms of evangelicalism objectionable. She is a reader, a literary critic, a teacher of hermeneutics. She looks for meaning and interprets things. If she is in her personal life a bit more sensitive because habituated to look for meaning, that is understandable.
The book is coherent, clear, reasonably well done. I’ve heard dismissive criticisms of her concern for exclusive Psalmody, for adoption and homeschooling. I did think the insertion of the whole sermon preached at her wedding a bit much. But there is a reason, if you think of it, for that moment being important. Rosaria Butterfield went from being in an ingenious community that has found for itself a pretty comfortable home in this world (it is eye-opening to read what the gay community is like), to a pilgrim community the discipline of which is entirely otherwordly in origin. It gives her a certain vantage point of insight. She indicts Christians for whingeing about how feminism has taken over the academy observing that feminism has done it by means of rhetoric and hard work; and Christianity, which had the easier part of defending against the attack, has lost because its rhetoric and work have not been commensurate. She says, in other words, Christians are no longer influential in academic circles because they do not deserve to be. She is decidedly wary of her new community, but she understands more than many how it is life as a disciplined pilgrimage. That’s why the Regulative Principle of Worship and exclusive Psalmody are important to her, why the life of sacrifice adoption implies, why the real meaning of marriage (telling words she has for Christians who think marriage will provide some kind of magical solution for their sexual sins). She is wary, and often uneasy about us Christians, and that is one of the strengths of her book.
Which brings me back to homophobia. Her experience has been that there are Christians who would rather not deal with homosexuals at all: not sit beside them in church, not understand and befriend them, not believe God can deliver them out of their sin (this blew her away), not even ready to talk about it in an age when it is important to talk about it. She has found that we Christians are often unwilling to be associated with publicans and sinners because we somehow think that endorses their sin. We have all heard fatuous people carrying on about how Jesus hung out with cutthroats and whores (I never hear it without a certain exaggeration of terms)–as if Jesus did so out of indifference to sin, as if he talked in friendly terms with harlots about how their work was going or rejoiced with financial extortioners in the tales of their ingenious financial extortions. But on the other hand you have the false scruples of the Pharisees, and it is this–I now see–which Rosaria Butterfield had in mind when she used the term homophobia.
That is something that needs to be brought to our attention, it seems to me, as well as her analysis of what exactly, in terms of Scripture’s teaching, is wrong with homosexuality. For this her book is excellent. I am not sure that I found in it the exact term homophobia (wasn’t paying attention once I realized what she was getting at; also, I wasn’t paying attention because I was engrossed: I like her and I liked her writing). Dare we act as if homosexuality is less to be pitied than our exasperating hypocrisy or our insulated inconsiderateness? Can sinners really afford to be fastidious about other sinners sins? Are we really the ones to decide which sins and which sinners are beyond the pale? We tend to think, don’t we, that our own sins are more respectable than other peoples’.
We must reprove the works of darkness, both by speaking clearly and by repenting our own participations. There is no commending of the Gospel to unbelievers without condemning sin–nor to believers, come to think of it. What Rosaria Butterfield wants us to remember is that it is God who condemns people, and he will do that in good time. It is not for us to condemn homosexuals, but to warn them of that real condemnation reserved by God the judge for all who will not be obedient to Christ. We have to be reminded that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The book is an intelligent expression of her experience. It is aimed at helping us deal with something with which we will have to deal with in the coming days, and which she is not at all sure we deal well with at this point.