Any theology that denies God’s moral law, and then domesticates sin by its absence, does not have Christ’s atoning love, God’s justifying pardon, or the Holy Spirit’s kind company. The Red Letters of the New Testament, unmoored from the moral law of the whole Bible, offer only half the God-man, mangling the gospel by wrenching salvation from sin and belief from repentance.
In 1996, when Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I grieved with my people. I was an atheist then, and lived in a monogamous lesbian relationship, working as a tenure-track professor specializing in English literature and Queer Theory.
Now, some 17 years later, in the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court has delivered its historic DOMA decision. I am now a Christian, married to a man who serves God as a pastor, and I homeschool in the Classical Christian tradition the two youngest of my four children. And again, I grieve with my people.
Standing with the Disempowered
Perhaps you think that I have a knack — call it a spiritual “gift” if you like — of affiliating with the losing team?
One of my enduring life values, which carried me through the Feminist and Gay Rights movements of the 1990s, and continues to motivate me today as one of Christ’s own, is the desire to stand with the disempowered. So here I am. Standing in a familiar place, bearing a new heart supplied by the Holy Spirit, a renewed mind, transformed by Christ’s atoning love, a new mission, created from before the foundation of the world by God’s sovereignty, and a new identity as a daughter of the King. But here I stand, still sporting my comfortable shoes.
An Electric Few Weeks for a Former Lesbian
This has been an electric few weeks for a former atheist, now Christian disciple. First, Exodus International closes down. Truth be told, this is fine by me. Reparative therapy was never part of God’s method, and Jesus Christ did not die to make any para-church his bride. But Exodus detonated with a colossal bang, and took with it gospel integrity, leaving even more theological turbulence in its wake.
Now the Supreme Court, using strong, cosmological, moral language defending the human dignity of same-sex unions, overturns DOMA and Proposition 8, sending a resounding rebuke to the Christian ideal of creation ordinance, and with it, the normative (albeit not always redeemed) heterosexuality that undergirds it.
Gathering the Children in Close
So I did what parents across the country did — believing parents and unbelieving parents, gay parents and heterosexual ones. I gathered my children in close, and I talked with them. You probably did this, too. No big surprises in my talk.
No new news. No identity bombs were dropped. My children have always known that their mother used to be an atheist and a lesbian. They cut their teeth on this vocabulary, and could say the words before they knew what they meant. Saved by grace. Closets are for clothes, after all.
Here is what I know: God is bigger than my sin. And God is sovereign over Supreme Court decisions and shifting worldviews. He has had the first and he will have the last word on all matters of sin and grace.
The Church, Christ’s bride, is a God-made institution and will sustain herself in majesty in times of persecution or revival. Context matters not. Providence will paint the walls of this worldview.
Who Owns Your Heart
But Jesus, the Word made flesh, will not be drawn and quartered. He came to fulfill the whole law, every jot and tittle. And he wants your whole life relinquished to him. Any theology that denies God’s moral law, and then domesticates sin by its absence, does not have Christ’s atoning love, God’s justifying pardon, or the Holy Spirit’s kind company. The Red Letters of the New Testament, unmoored from the moral law of the whole Bible, offer only half the God-man, mangling the gospel by wrenching salvation from sin and belief from repentance. Even the demons believed in Jesus — and it only sent them straight to hell. All dangerous lies pack a dollop of truth. That was true when Jesus walked the earth, and it is true today. That we are saved from our sin simply reveals the obvious: God was right all along. No shame in truth that loves like this.
The Bible is not some pragmatist’s paradigm. It is the double-edged sword that chiseled truth into my stony heart, rendering it new and with it, recreating me as a new creature in Christ, a daughter of the King. I have no personal sexual orientation to call my own after Christ chisels my heart anew — and neither do you. We have Christ orientation, an alien identity to which we claim no rights. Do we struggle with sin? Yes. Is temptation a sin? No. What distinguishes temptation from sin? Temptation clobbers you from the outside and lures you to do its bidding. Sin makes temptation a house pet, gets it a collar and leash, and is deceived to believe that it can be restrained by impositions of civility. What you do with temptation reveals Who owns your heart. How you talk about other people’s sin patterns reveals Who owns your heart.
Lessons in Losing
So, here is what I have learned from being on the losing team of both historic, public, and political renderings of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia. Homophobia is irrational fear of a whole people group, failing to see in that group God’s image diminished but not extinguished by sin, and that God’s elect people linger there, snared by their own design and awaiting gospel grace. Biding time. Think about that. Waiting like the caterpillar that spawned today’s butterfly. God has set apart a people from before the foundation of the world to receive his grace, and they are waiting for you in every nation and people group. It is an act of homophobia to believe that people in the LGBT community are either too sinful to respond to God’s call on their life, or to believe that people in the LGBT community have a fixed nature that will never, by the blustering, unfounded, and uncharitable declarations of secular psychology, change by the power of the gospel.
The only fixed feature of the human constitution or badge of personal identity is the soul; imprint of God to us, it will journey from life to death to life and will last forever, permanently, for eternity in heaven or hell.
Hopes, Dreams, Redemption
The gospel reorders and remakes people, and its metamorphosis manifests in a life that loves God more than itself. God doesn’t zap us. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, promising that as we “proclaim and initiate an irreconcilable war against our choice sins,” as Puritan William Gurnell states, God will be there. The Rock. Never leaving nor forsaking. Never failing the soul who puts trust in Him (Psalm 9:10). No matter what.
God promises that he will make meaning, purpose, and grace out of your redeemed life. God provides the church to be family, from cradle to grave, where single Christians are cherished saints in Christ’s Kingdom, not people waiting to be fixed. And God provides Christ-redeemed heterosexual marriage so that his creation ordinance is fulfilled and so that his Bride, the church, has imaginative authority over hopes and dreams.
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University. After her conversion to Christianity in 1999, she developed a ministry to college students. She has taught and ministered at Geneva College, is a full-time mother and pastor’s wife, and is author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. This article first appeared on Desiring God and is used with permission.