Unhindered Gospel

Sexual Orientation Is No Exception

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Confronted by the gospel, including God’s plans for Adam and Eve, a national LGBT activist saw Christ transform everything about her life—including her identity

After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015 (Obergefell), Christians began living in a Psalm 46 world.

We experience raging nations and tottering kingdoms (Psalm 46:6) and wait with longing for the healing voice of God to melt this chaos. As evangelical Christians, we are called to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus. But what can we say? What dare we say?

This is a personal reality for me. We live now in the world I helped create. Jesus Christ drew me to Himself in 1999. I broke up with my partner because I was convicted that living as a lesbian was a sin and so put me outside of the kingdom of God, but my heart was a mess. I never called my partner my “wife” because I and others of my queer generation rejected all things “heteronormative,” including the binary distinctions between male and female. We believed that lesbianism was a cleaner and more moral path than heterosexuality because it could never result in unplanned pregnancy and rarely ran the risk of an STD. It may surprise some readers, but conversion to Christ did not initially change my attraction for other women.

“The Lord’s light illumined my sin through the law and illumined my hope through Jesus and the gospel.”

What conversion did change immediately was my mind. Indeed, I was not converted out of homosexuality; I was converted out of unbelief. Suddenly, my mind was on fire for the Bible and I could not read enough of it or enough about it. During this time, I experienced a small taste of what it means when David declares in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” The Light that the gospel gave me was ruinous; it ruined me for the life I loved. The Lord’s light illumined my sin through the law and illumined my hope through Jesus and the gospel. The gospel destroyed me before the Lord built me back up.

During this time, I joined the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, met weekly with my pastor’s wife for discipleship, and developed real friendships with other believers in my church. Through these friends and the discipling of my pastor’s wife, I learned how to repent of sin in a holistic way. I began to see that my desires for women were not a reflection of my true identity in Christ, but rather a distortion of my true identity resulting from Adam’s fall.

But if I was a true believer, why did my flesh crave what God abhorred? One quotation from John Owen really helped. The Puritan Owen said, “You cannot mortify a specific lust that is troubling you unless you are seeking to obey the Lord from the heart in all areas.” I realized that focusing exclusively on my sin of identity—the kind of sin that denies my vital role as God’s image bearer and collapses how I feel with who I am—was not what God was calling me to do.

I realized that Christ bled as much for my sins of pride and lying as for my lust. Over time, my union with Christ started to grow. Union with Christ is that Holy Spirit–driven, eternal, unbreakable, and irreplaceable bond that God plants in our hearts at the moment of our conversion (1 Corinthians 6:17 and Romans 6:3–11). It thrives as we seek God’s grace to supply all of our needs. And then I noticed it: union with Christ challenged my identity as a lesbian. Bear with me as I explain something that should be helpful to anyone you know struggling with these issues.

Psalm 73:22 expressed what it was like for me to wake up to my sin in this area of my life. When the veil of deception lifts, suddenly you behold what you could not see before: “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.” I was a beast in the language of Psalm 73:22.

At that time, I was surrounded by other female couples who had decade-long monogamous relationships. These were dear old friends with whom I had shared vacations and holidays and traditions. We were family, as I understood it then. I knew them and their households and children well. I loved them and couldn’t imagine life without them. The thought that they would have to break up their families to come to Christ seemed so unfair. The safety and stability of their households seemed to prove that some people are just better off if left to what the Bible calls sin.

I cried out to God to help me understand how this could be—how could I see my own appetites and identity as something that degraded me and made me a beast, and at the same time, see others in the lesbian community in a favorable light, beautiful in their family-like love? I asked God to let me come face-to-face with His Word on this.

This prayer brought me to the gospels and the disciples and the holy love that they displayed for the Lord Jesus Christ and for each other. This was real love. This love didn’t cause others to sin. This love so cherishes God and the person you love that you sacrifice all unholy desires that could separate your loved one from the God who made her.

Sacrifice is a bloody word, and all of this felt like a real death to the “me” I once was. Could my friends who identified as lesbian experience this kind of love, too? It hit me hard: my dearest friends would actually love each other more if they were sisters in Christ instead of—what they currently were—girlfriend-lovers.

This made me call out to God to make me a godly woman, because I realized that I was taking for granted the privilege of this new blood-bought life. My new desire to be a godly woman bled into a new desire to be a godly wife, to become a helper in all aspects of life to a godly man. And a few years later, I met my husband, Kent Butterfield, a pastor. We have been joyfully married for 15 years. My role as Kent’s helper and the mother of our four children is my daily witness that we serve a God who loves and transforms His people.

But this is a different world than the one I found myself in back in 1999. Today, the worldview of sexual orientation has moved from a nineteenth-century pseudo-scientific invention to an idol, a civil right. And the gospel is on a collision course with it.

According to the worldview of LGBT rights, sexual orientation determines what it means to be human. We see this worldview embedded in the Obergefell decision, where sexual orientation was appended to the Fourteenth Amendment, made analogous to race, and declared by five unelected supreme court justices to be immutable.

“The United States in Obergefell found at last a name for the gay soul—that name is neither monster, nor eunuch, nor homosexual. That name is husband,” declared gay-identifying journalist and social commentator Jonathan Rauch after the court decision. This worldview began with Sigmund Freud in the 1800s. It took hold because it appealed to the idea that all people are entitled to sexual autonomy. In the words of Michel Foucault, French historian of ideas who died of AIDS in 1984, after Freud “the homosexual was a new species.”

This idea—that a gay soul or a person who experiences unchosen same-sex attraction is a separate species—directly conflicts with the Bible’s definition of personhood, found in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Here we see that personhood has three dimensions: it is God-created, gender-differentiated for the purpose of the covenant of marriage, and created for eternity. But in the late 1800s, human sexuality moved from a practice (what a person does) to an identity (who a person is).

And with this move, a new worldview replaced what the Bible says it means to be human. Indeed, sexual orientation went from a pseudo-scientific creation to immortal truth in just one hundred years, wiping away the biblical doctrines of sin, grace, creation, and redemption.

Because I am married to a man now, I have been told by advocates of LGBT rights that I was never really a lesbian. That I am—and was—simply a confused bisexual. These criticisms are important because they show that differences in this area, like all the other big questions in life, always come down to worldview and our view of God’s Word.

I have shed tears over what I will write next. If I was lesbian enough to go to hell for my unrepentant sin, or if I had been fornicator enough to be cast into hell for heterosexual sin, then I am still lesbian and fornicator enough to share with you what it means for me to submit my desires to Christ each day so that, by his grace alone, I can be obedient to Him. Each day I cry out to Him for the further redemption of both my body and soul, and by His grace I grow in Christlikeness, as God conforms me in the image of His Son, doing a work that no human can do. It’s the same for all of us.

You see, God never asked me about my identity as a lesbian. God called me into obedience, repentance, and new life in Christ. His Word asked me whether I am reflecting God’s created order: either by fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness. Both are vital reflections of God’s created order.

Each generation must defend the gospel of Jesus Christ anew, as the truth of God’s Word is attacked at different pressure points at different times. The church has faced great battles in theology over the centuries when people introduce unbiblical categories and imprecise language emerges. Today’s attack on God’s Word begins by attacking and rewriting what the Bible says about sexuality.

The new threat is against the truth of Genesis 1:27. Being born male and female has ethical responsibilities attached to it. The origin (or ontology) of our essential humanity is found in the biological sexes that God has given us. Our image-bearing and eternal soul has a body with one of two sexes.

The sexual revolution of our day has made a strange distinction. It defines sexual orientation as who you want to go to bed with, and it defines gender identity as who you want to go to bed as. It exalts these desires as proof of personhood. As far as we know, some people in every generation have struggled with unchosen homosexual desires. And the Bible graciously explains that this is an impact of Adam’s original sin on some of us. How original sin distorts us does not create separate categories of humanity.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ both forgives sins and bestows upon us the power to obey and follow Him.

Christians know that it takes grace to love what God loves. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ both forgives sins and bestows upon us the power to obey and follow Him. The Christian doctrine of sin indicates that this transformation is very hard, especially with intractable, indwelling, sexual sin.

Christians today must live in the Jesus paradox—loving unbelievers well enough that we take the risk of speaking the truth. We must love the sinner and hate our own sin. And we need to be good listeners to people who oppose us, ready to share at all times, imparting grace with biblical fluency to our neighbors and family members. As believers in Jesus Christ and followers of His Word, we always need to remember that His truth is eternal and unchanging, it can be measured and known, and it must be reckoned with.

That combination of love, humility, and awareness of our need for God’s grace enables us to share God’s message in a way He can use to draw others—even people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered—into His kingdom.

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of English at Syracuse University, New York, and an outspoken lesbian activist until she received Christ in 1999. She is now a full-time mother and pastor’s wife, and author of Openness Unhindered and Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

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