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.


5 thoughts on “Homophobia

  1. I don’t know about this. I suspect it would be rather easier to show the love of Christ to homosexuals if they really were poor, downtrodden outcasts. But in our day and age, they’re not. They have political power and social coolness, and a lot of the time they’re outright bullies. Preachers in Canada get hauled before human rights tribunals for preaching against sodomy. When the gay pride parades come to town, if the mayor or chief officials don’t attend, all the newspapers and TV stations throw back their heads and howl.

    C. S. Lewis has an interesting article about this somewhere. When you’re dealing with sins despised by society, you should draw near to the sinners in love; but when you’re dealing with sins accepted in society, the best thing to do is avoid the people or scenarios in which you’ll be exposed to those sins. The reason he gives (from what I remember) is that those scenarios are lose-lose situations. By keeping silent about the sins and pretending to get along, you betray your principles; but by trying to point out the sins and convert others, you do nothing but set yourself up as a laughingstock or a lightening rod (or you just come across as a self-righteous prig), and it does no good. So avoidance is the best policy.

    I’m not really the kind to run out and hug a sinner. But for the folks that are, it would probably be better to find someone sitting in prison for dealing crack cocaine, or a despised bureaucrat from the IRS or TSA, rather than try to draw near to homosexuals right now. Those people (the bureaucrats and drug addicts) are genuinely suffering for their sins. They’re not sitting back and self-righteously whining about how badly they’re being treated. And I think that those folks are therefore the ones that make up our society’s version of the real “publicans and sinners,” not the homosexuals.

  2. I wish you wouldn’t make me out to say that we should run around hugging sinners. I’m no proselytizer. I do have friends who are homosexual, and I don’t think I should avoid them as if they’re going to make me be one. It sounds like up in Canada people are intimidated by homosexuals. I don’t think it’s the same way here–though probably in some places it is. I’m here in the backwood Columbus OH. I don’t think they even have cool people here–though many want to be.

    There is a lot of stuff-white-people-like about it, and I sensed that in Butterfield’s book. Recycled toilet paper, direct trade coffee, organic soap, and no gluten at all–all the fastidiousness of spoiled people. But that’s her diagnosis of it: it is something effete, born out of undisciplined and unrestricted entertainment and of course, ironically, of pride. She’s good on Ezekiel 16:49 “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

    Do you really try to avoid homosexuals? That’s interesting because one would think it would be harder there. Maybe that’s why it’s worse? I don’t know. That’s why I read stuff by Butterfield. I’m trying to figure out how to talk to them. Not that I think they won’t persecute us–theirs is the irrational position, not the reasonable. But that’s part of what they do not have. It sounded from Butterfield that many of them have given up on having tried to change. I think that explains some of the urgency of their agenda, the frantic activism, the obligation to participate in the religious duty of the pride parade.

  3. Angie enjoyed this book and found some insight on more basic things (the RPG, evangelical pandering to consumerism, etc). She didn’t mention the homophobe business, and I haven’t read it yet.

    Always good to consult the Unk Notes.

  4. Dear Unk: no one who knew you could imagine you hugging a publican. And that’s a compliment.

    You are (or Butterfield is) right on with Ezekiel 16:49. There are lots of LGBT students in the Centre up here, but they’re only a small contingent of the vegetarian gluten-free toilet paper folks. I do hang out with some of the latter, but not the LGBTs unless I have to. Part of it is that they do queer theory, and it’s hard to find anything in common with folks who don’t like the same literature you do, or who insist on queering it. The other part is that everybody assumes that good, upstanding people up here (especially academics) are thoroughly behind the gay rights movement. So you get caught in incredibly awkward social situations where, for example, you’re at someone else’s party and the bisexual guy talking to you suddenly announces (loudly) that Steve just got engaged to Dave and isn’t that wonderful, and you have to choke on your cupcake for a moment as you try to discern whether this is the right time to disagree about sexual ethics. And as you’re figuring that out, the guy gushes on excitedly and then changes the topic, and by then the moment has passed and you feel as if you betrayed your principles because you held your tongue. After that happens two or three times, you just avoid the parties and the people.

    (Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. It’s a form of polite social bullying, to put someone else into a position where he either has to assent to what you say or else cause a genuine disruption in the conviviality of the moment. And given principles of hospitality and academic professionalism and civility, the person almost always has to appear to assent.)

  5. Since we can’t see into other people’s hearts, we don’t know whether they’re “poor, down-trodden outcasts.” I think it more likely that a lot of gays and lesbians and others who are struggling with their sexual identity have been deeply, indelibly hurt through rejection and lack of love. They crave a community in which they can be safe. We who have found forgiveness and a refuge in the grace of Jesus Christ ought to be the first to offer it to the LGBT community.

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