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|5/22/2013||Editorial: My lot and the Lord’s decision|
|5/8/2013||Editorial: So that children are ‘[NOT] ALONE’|
|4/12/2013||Editorial: Meanness is not a Christian virtue|
|4/4/2013||Editorial: ‘After-birth abortion’: A moment of clarity in the abortion debate|
|3/12/2013||Editorial: The Gospel and cultural engagement|
|3/4/2013||Editorial: Identifying teams in the Tebow debate|
|2/20/2013||Editorial: Missing: Brokenness|
|2/6/2013||Editorial: Immigration reform and the Gospel|
|1/22/2013||Editorial: Will legislators ask the right gambling questions?|
|1/8/2013||Editorial: Religious freedom—at the cost of $1.3 million per day|
|View All Articles by JAMES A. SMITH SR.|
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It would be easy to assume a posture of resignation to the seemingly unstoppable cultural slide against biblical standards of morality. Especially on the issue of homosexuality, those who contend for biblical morality in our society are increasingly in a defensive position. More public policy losses than wins pile up, while the near universal affirmation of homosexuality from virtually all segments of societal opinion makers is clearly moving public opinion.
Whether or not evangelicals ever have been in the moral majority (or even retain strong influences in some places), it has always been true that ultimate success will not be won or lost at the ballot box, through legislative bodies and in the courts of our land – and no serious evangelical cultural warrior should think otherwise. Spiritual transformation of individuals is necessary ultimately, and such transformation in critical mass may result in cultural reformation.
Still, it remains true that seeking spiritual transformation of individuals is not unrelated to cultural engagement of society – and the two need not be seen as mutually exclusive, even contradictory endeavors. If you think otherwise, consider Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a one-time leading lesbian political activist and atheist scholar at a major university who, although an “unlikely convert” to Christianity, nevertheless became just that – after a pastor reached out to her.
Butterfield published last year an autobiographical account of her conversion, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Eloquently – and at times provocatively – written, the book is an incredible story of God’s grace. “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11, ESV) is the testimony of all who experience God’s grace, but some testimonies are strikingly so. This is one.
More than just a story of her own spiritual journey, Butterfield offers an important critique of the Christian bubble that too often shields evangelicals from engaging with those with whom we disagree – and, therefore, limiting our opportunities to see Christ’s transformative work as demonstrated in her life.
Butterfield’s path to Christian conversion started with a simple letter from a Presbyterian pastor who responded to an op-ed she wrote critiquing Promise Keepers. Pastor Ken Smith challenged Butterfield to consider her presuppositions and offered to discuss the issues with her.
As a radical feminist and vocal lesbian who could be readily assumed to be intractably opposed to a Christian viewpoint, especially from a pastor, it would have been easy for Smith to shake his head at Butterfield’s liberal opinion piece, resigned that engaging her would be fruitless, and move on to more seemingly promising ministry opportunities of that day. Because he chose the opposite path, Butterfield is a trophy of God’s grace advancing the Gospel in ways few can.
Smith’s letter was so disarming Butterfield didn’t know what to do with the correspondence. It certainly wasn’t fan mail, but neither was it hate mail, both of which she collected in two boxes on her desk.
After throwing away the letter several times only to retrieve it again and again from the recycling bin, Butterfield responded to Smith’s offer to dialogue, resulting in at first a telephone conversation and then an accepted dinner invitation to the pastor’s home.
After about two years of ongoing conversation and growing friendship with the Smiths, Butterfield confessed faith in Christ, completely overturning her life, personally, and especially professionally as the most popular teacher in gay and lesbian studies at her university.
“My journey out of lesbianism was messy and difficult. I spent a lot of time in prayer – and still do,” she writes.
Butterfield has strong words for Christians who counsel acceptance of homosexuality, like a Methodist pastor and dean of the Chapel at Syracuse University who advised her she “didn’t have to give up everything to honor God.”
Butterfield experienced great trauma in leaving lesbianism, feeling like a traitor to the homosexuality community. But she has also experienced rejection by God’s family. Butterfield recounts a story of how her lesbian past was so upsetting to some fellow Christians she was advised it would be better if she kept it to herself.
We have no hope of greater cultural engagement if some of us can’t even countenance open acceptance of those who have actually turned from immorality to follow Jesus.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases related to gay marriage whose outcomes could very well change dramatically the legal status of this matter. The cases may also encourage even greater societal approval of that which the Bible unalterably condemns as immoral.
Whatever the outcome of these cases and whatever the results of innumerable other public policy and cultural contests about homosexuality, the Christian mission remains the same (even if religious liberty may suffer as a result of the Supreme Court’s rulings). The Gospel still must be preached in a winsome, engaging way, even to those who are seemingly unlikely converts to the message.
Only God knows how many other Rosaria Champagne Butterfields are awaiting such a Gospel engagement.
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