The Pastor and the Lesbian

pastor and lesbianA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about an article I had read where the president of Chick-fil-A and ardent Christian, Dan Cathy, reached out to and befriended Shane Windmeyer, a national leader in the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender) movement. This past week there was an article written in “Christianity Today” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield about her conversion from being a lesbian to becoming a Christ-follower. The title of the article was My Train Wreck Conversion and it is well worth the read. What interested me was the way Christians reached out to her while her train was wrecking.

As a “leftist lesbian [college] professor” she had a visceral reaction to Christians and launched an attack on “the unholy trinity of Jesus, the Republican party, and patriarchy by writing an article in a local newspaper about the Promise Keepers men’s movement. She received a lot of responses and divided them between fan mail and hate mail, but there was one letter that did not fit in either category. It was from a local Reformed Presbyterian minister who wrote a kind and questioning letter basically asking her how she arrived at her conclusions. He did not argue, he just asked about her basic presuppositions; exactly what she would have done. She did not know what to do with it so she threw the letter away.

But not for long— later that evening, she fished it out of the trash and read it over and over trying to think how she should respond. “Ken’s letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.” His letter also offered an invitation to have dinner with him and his wife. Not only did he not mock her, but he engaged her. She accepted the invitation believing that this would be good for her research.

“Ken and his wife entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversation was polluting them… When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken’s God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy… I started reading the Bible. I read the way a glutton devours… I continued reading the Bible all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside of me than I. It flowed over into my world. I fought against it with all my might. Then, one Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in.” She came to Christ in her brokenness. It wasn’t neat and clean, but she desired God more than her desires.

Once again, I am reminded of the relational love and engagement that God used to bring her to Himself. The same kind showed by Dan Cathy. Are we ready for this? In our post-whatever we call our world today, Christians are demonized by, and in turn demonize, those who need Jesus most. Are we willing to risk loving those who are diametrically opposed to the things we cherish and vice versa? It seems like there exists today a similar cultural divide that existed between Jew and Gentile in the first century. How will we bridge that divide without relationships? Just as the Jewish Peter had to be able to eat and with the Gentile Cornelius before he could share the gospel, so must we.

[Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown and Covenant). She lives with her family in Durham, NC, with her husband who is a pastor.]

Beer and the Bible?

guinnessOK, the Bible and beer do not ordinarily go together, but what I am going to tell you next will be intoxicating. Arthur Guinness (1725-1803) started a beer-brewing business in Dublin in 1760. Arthur was married to Olivia Whitmore and together had 21 children (10 of whom survived into their adult years). He died in 1803 and she in 1814. He was deeply inspired by the revivalist John Wesley to use his wealth and talents to make the world better. Taking scripture as his guide, Arthur served the needy of his time by making beer and worked to use his gifts to honor God. Guinness was also the founder of the first Sunday Schools in Ireland and started an organized effort to outlaw dueling. His son, Arthur, became an ardent defender of Irish Catholic civil rights, which was interesting because he was a Protestant.

I still don’t think that many of you are convinced that brewing beer would ever be a means of social reform and/or Christian witness. However, before you judge too harshly—— keep reading. Many people today do not even like the beer because it is so filling, but that was/is the genius of Guinness. He made his beer so full of minerals, barely, and iron that most people weren’t able to drink more than a couple of pints. In addition to being nutritious, because the alcohol content was considerably lower than whiskey or gin, it meant that fewer people were actually getting drunk. Curt Harding of Christian News Wire writes: “The water in Ireland, indeed throughout Europe, was famously undrinkable, and the gin and whiskey that took its place was devastating civil society. It was a disease ridden, starvation plagued, alcoholic age, and Christians like Arthur Guinness–as well as monks and even evangelical churches–brewed beer to offer a healthier alternative to the poisonous waters and liquors of the times.”

I am also impressed with the legacy of Olivia and Arthur. Their grandson was Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910), a famous evangelical preacher throughout Britain. He once said, “I do now most heartily desire to live but to exalt Jesus; to live preaching and to die preaching; to preach to perishing sinners till I drop down dead.” By the way, Henry was a teetotaler. His daughter, Geraldine (1865-1949) became a missionary to China at the age of 22, and there met and married the son of Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. She became known as Mrs. Howard Taylor and wrote the biography of Hudson Taylor as well as other significant books about the work of God in China. Finally, Os Guinness (1949- ) Christian author, apologist, and social critic, is Arthur and Olivia’s great-great-great-grandson. When he was two, Os was carried out of China in a basket on a pole by his missionary parents escaping the invading Japanese army. He is an excellent writer and speaker whom I have had the privilege of meeting.

Throughout history Christians have used their skills, gifts, and resources to glorify God and change the culture in some very unique ways. You may not have agreed with the way Arthur Guinness addressed an issue of his day, but what are you doing? I wonder if it will be a Christ-follower who will effectively address the issue of gun control?

You can read more about the Guinness family in THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, October 13, 2009), Stephen Mansfield.

The Slavery of Too Many Choices

ChoicesYears ago I went for lunch at a restaurant in Moscow. I sat down; the bread was already on the table (on all the tables), having been put there when the restaurant opened that morning. It was hard as a rock and probably could have been used in self-defense if the KGB ever came after me. I asked the waitress for a menu and she told me that they did not have one. She proceeded to tell me what they were serving and whether I wanted it cold or hot. On the one hand, I was stunned with the fact that I was being told what I was going to eat. On the other hand, it was refreshing that I didn’t have to make a choice— except for the temperature of the food. The Moscow markets were also very limited. People would buy whatever was on the shelves whether they needed it at that time or not. The issue was not one of choice but of supply. When I returned to the US and went into one of our grocery stores, I had a strange feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices with which I was again confronted.

Barry Schwatrz, the author of The Paradox of Choice (2004) says, “Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.”  That’s an understatement.  Instead of increasing our happiness, too many choices have tended to increase our anxiety. “Am I getting the best deal? Maybe I just won’t choose right now.”  “I’ve got so many interests, how am I ever going to choose what I want to be? Maybe I’ll put that decision on hold and travel.” “I’m afraid that if I get involved in a relationship it might not be with the one I’m supposed to end up with. Maybe I’ll be like Al Paccino in Heat who vowed never to get involved in a relationship he couldn’t walk away from in thirty seconds.” Could it be more than just an Orwellian truth that “Freedom is Slavery?”

The realization of this “paralysis of analysis” has actually found its way into advertising. I was reading one email advertising guru who said that if you’re trying to convince readers to take one action, a single offer is better than multiple ones. “With multiple offers, readers have to decide which product they want to focus on; then, they have to decide whether or not they want to act on that offer. This divides attention between choices and requires more decisions…” [As an aside: I know that purchasing a car can be an overwhelming experience because of all the choices. So this fall, when I was looking for a newer used vehicle, I used a different tactic.  I prayed for wisdom and then determined beforehand the make and model, the year, the approximate mileage and the price range of the car I wanted. I didn’t care that much about the color or the interior. I sent this information out on the internet to a few dealerships. I visited three of them and bought the car in two weeks.] 

James 1:6-8 tells us that when we ask God for something we should ask in faith and not with a double mind; such doubt produces instability in all we do. In the most recent issue of Christianity Today is an article written by Barry Cooper, Imprisoned by Choices. He says, “There comes a point when not choosing becomes idolatry. It becomes a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make, gathers up the frayed ends, and works all things for our good and his glory. Be wise, but then rest in God’s total sovereignty and goodness, and choose. Commit. Make a decision. Be wholehearted and single-minded.” Martin Luther once said that in view of God’s grace “sin boldly.” Perhaps if he were talking about God’s sovereignty he would have said, “choose boldly.”



Chick-fil-A Revisited…

eat more chickenDo you remember the controversy last year that began when a Chicago Alderman did not want Chick-fil-A in his neighborhood because of what he perceived as “anti-gay” sentiments of its president Dan Cathy, a committed Christian? Well this week there was a very interesting article in The Huffington Post written by Shane Windmeyer, a national leader in the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender) movement.

Windmeyer wrote, “Like most LGBT people, I was provoked by Dan’s public opposition to marriage equality and his company’s problematic giving history. I had the background and history on him, so I thought, and had my own preconceived notions about who he was. I knew this character. No way did he know me. That was my view. But it was flawed… On Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy, I got a surprise call from Dan Cathy. He had gotten my cell phone number from a mutual business contact serving campus groups. I took the call with great caution… The first call lasted over an hour, and the private conversation led to more calls the next week and the week after…”

“His questions and a series of deeper conversations ultimately led to a number of in-person meetings with Dan and representatives from Chick-fil-A… Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness… Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective… Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being ‘a follower of Christ’ more than a ‘Christian.’ Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.”

“In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me… His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.”

“My relationship with Dan is the same, though he is not my family. Dan, in his heart, is driven by his desire to minister to others and had to choose to continue our relationship throughout this controversy. He had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them…. In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue. Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency. So long as we are all at the same table and talking, does it matter what we call it or what we eat?”

I am so impressed with Dan Cathy’s initiative to build a relationship with Shane Windmeyer. It really reflects the love of the Lord Jesus. How can the gospel spread in a culture where it’s us vs. them? Where would Christianity be today if Peter had refused to sit down and eat with Cornelius (Acts 10)? May God give us the wisdom and boldness to love others in such a way.