This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.
Opening Doors for Gospel Conversation
In this episode of The Crossway Podcast, Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in a Our Post-Christian World, recounts her own encounter with radically ordinary hospitality as an unbelieving lesbian—sharing how God used such hospitality to break down her preconceived ideas about Christians and get her reading the Bible for herself. She highlights the importance of engaging the LGBTQ community with boldness and love, encouraging us to pursue flesh-and-blood friendships with those who don’t yet know Christ.
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Rosaria, thank you for joining us today on The Crossway Podcast.
Matt, it’s my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you.
Many of our listeners are probably at least somewhat familiar with your own story, your own personal journey to faith in Christ; but for those who aren’t, could you briefly share a little bit about how God drew you to himself?
Sure, absolutely! The story starts long ago and far away. Twenty-plus years ago I was living as a lesbian in New York, where I was a newly tenured professor of English, women’s studies, and cultural studies at Syracuse University. My partner and I felt like we just lived a very normal, boring life. We ran a rescue for Golden Retrievers, and she was also a professor and we worked very hard to be good citizens and good caregivers.
In the context of my professional life, some big questions would present themselves and my feminist and Marxist worldviews weren’t always capacious enough to deal with those questions. After my tenure book was written, I decided to really get into the meat of the things that I was concerned about, so I was starting to write a book about the religious right and their politics of hatred against people like me, and in the process, I needed to read the Bible. I’m an English professor by training so I don’t get to just go and interview people. While doing my research, I met a neighbor who was a pastor. Ken Smith was his name, and he and his wife, Floy, became my very good friends. And in the process of our developing friendship and also the hospitality that they extended to me—it’s a long story, which is why I wrote a book about it—the Word of God got to be bigger inside me than I, and Jesus became real to me, whether it fit with my politics or not.
When I came to Jesus, I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian, but I did realize that whether it was comfortable for me to think about this or not, original sin marks us in ways that sometimes mean that our unchosen sin knows our name before we even take our first breath. And so these were some of the deep issues that my conversion forced me to think about. You know, people would ask, “Well, what kind of hospitality did these people do? What was it like?”—because really the LGBTQ community is highly given to hospitality. “Well, what was it like? What was it like in Ken and Floy Smith’s home?” And I try to explain that they had me over weekly, sometimes nightly, and their home was open to people like me. Not just people from the LGBTQ community, but people from every walk of life it seemed. Their home was a waystation for Christian conversation and they weren’t horrified when you asked bold questions. They didn’t feel like their Bible was going to disintegrate when you leaned hard and heavy on it. And often people would look at me in a bit of a confused way and walk away somewhat rich-young-ruler style saying, “Wow! They must be super Christians. Good for them. I could have never done that.”
Radically Ordinary Hospitality
Hearing you talk right now and even certainly in reading through the book, it is amazing how, on the one hand, the radical hospitality that they showed you in opening up their home on a regular basis to you and to others—how that’s extreme on one hand compared to what we’re often used to, but at the same time it’s also so ordinary. They weren’t doing something sophisticated, they didn’t have some master program or plan, they were just saying, “Hey, come to my house and have a meal with me.” And yet, God used that in a powerful way.
Right. And I would say, too, it wasn’t gospel by osmosis. I mean, I knew what I was in for at Ken and Floy Smith’s house and hopefully all of my neighbors know what they’re in for at my house. You know, there will be a meal and people will absolutely linger long over the table. But at a certain point, the kids will take the dishes to the sink, the Bibles will get distributed, and we will open those Bibles. All of us. My unsaved neighbors and me. Me—twenty-some years ago as an unsaved gay-right activist and the Smiths—we all will do that and we all will invite Jesus into this conversation we’re having. Not to end it, but to deepen it. And while that might sound to our listeners as something that’s very uncomfortable, like a lot of things that might seem uncomfortable at first, it’s not uncomfortable after you do it the first hundred times.
An Ongoing Conversation
Elaborate on what you said there. A minute ago you said that the goal of the conversations was not to end them, but to deepen them. What do you mean by that?
Well, sometimes people will use their Christian faith somewhat prophylactically. Well, I just want my neighbors to know where I stand on things. Almost as though your Christian faith is meant to filter out the riffraff. I don’t think that’s the point at all. I think the point is to realize that God’s elect people are everywhere, so he’s not going to get the address wrong, right? God doesn’t get the address wrong. He’s sending people to you for a reason.
But also, what is our responsibility to the unconverted elect? Are we supposed to filter them out? Not at all! Not at all! We are supposed to lay bare in a very transparent way how faith helps us interpret the facts of our life. Not because the one erases the other, but because faith and deeds deepen, fortify, sanctify, deliver, redeem, shine light upon, and the list goes on and on and on. And since God has put eternity in the hearts of all image-bearers, and since we want our neighbors to know what it means to reflect God’s image in knowledge, and righteousness, and holiness—something you can only do in the Lord Jesus Christ—we’re willing to have long conversations with people.
And I don’t mean conversations that don’t end at a certain time when you’ve got to go to bed, but I mean conversations that will go on over the course of our tenure there in that neighborhood. How many hundreds of conversations did Ken and Floy Smith have with me? And how many millions of people have been converted through this forthright, transparent, and consistent hospitality ministry? I think it’s just countless.
But I think when you’re too programmatic, it gets messy. I don’t mean to suggest you’re not being hospitable. You’re absolutely being hospitable when you say to your neighbors, “Listen, we’re having a dinner party the fourth Tuesday of next month. Come. 7pm.” That is hospitable. It really is and I’m so glad you’re doing it. But what I think we need to realize is that so many of our neighbors, so many of their lives, are deeply affected by both abuse and also addiction that for some people, quite frankly, they don’t know if they’re going to be sober or safe on the date that you’ve selected. And so, therefore, having a more open-ended, regular hospitality time—at least for me and my husband—has been very helpful in meeting people where they’re at.
It seems like Christians can fall into one of two camps. On the one hand, we might be too fearful to actually speak the truth, and speak the gospel at some point, or even open our Bibles. The thought of trying to do that with an unbelieving friend is scary to us, so we actually never talk about the gospel. On the other hand, we maybe are too quick to rush to try to get them to make a decision, to get them to fall into one of two camps, and we don’t give them time to just learn and hear and talk with us. What do you think about that? Do you think that’s a dynamic you’ve seen?
Yeah, absolutely. And I would say there are some basic realities that I think need to lean in on both of those points. I like to think of Ephesians 4:29, making sure that your speech is filled with grace, that is the kind of grace that the hearer can hear. So you want to make sure that your words are not stronger than your relationship. Before you have a hard and challenging conversation with someone, make sure your relationship is really strong enough to handle it. You know, are you good neighbors? Do you look after one another’s well being in a genuine sense?
And then we need to remember that conversion happens not just because of what you say, but because how the Holy Spirit will apply what you’ve said. So the ordinary means of grace through which people will come to faith is the proclamation of the gospel. That means that you must share the gospel and you must pray over that. You must pray before that, praying that the Holy Spirit will indeed be opening the hearts of your neighbors to apply the saving faith that is necessary for the words that you speak to have any impact at all.
So both of these things are true and are going to happen in organic, daily ways. What’s challenging is that we’re very busy. We think very highly of our busyness. And we don’t get to control the Holy Spirit’s schedule and we don’t get to control our neighbor’s challenges. And so I think for a lot of people that can be hard. That messiness can be hard. But I think that’s part of the gospel imperative. The world around you is in crisis. It really is. But you, Christian, need never be in crisis. I mean, that doesn’t mean things aren’t hard, but you don’t have to be anxious about it. You don’t have to be losing it. What it means to have Christ in you, what it means to have the liberty of Christ, is that you can be calm in the storm. You can be a Psalm 1 man or woman in a Psalm 46 world. God has equipped you for that.
On that front, I think it’s safe to say that there are few issues in our culture today that are more contentious or even politically charged than those related to sexuality. And it seems like sometimes it’s easy for Christians to feel like we’re on the defensive on this issue, feel like we’ve been unalterably pegged as being on the wrong side of history. Which can make it hard to know how to reach out, or to maybe even want to reach out to the LGBTQ folks around us. And you capture this well in your book where you summarize your own view of Christians before you became one. So I just want to read this quote. You write:
Christians seemed like a small-minded, uncharitable, immoral bunch. They ate meat, believed in corporal punishment, violated human and environmental rights at a fever pitch, denied a woman’s right to choose, and believed that the whole world should fall under the totalitarian obedience to the Bible, an ancient book fraught with racism, sexism, and homophobia.
So I first want to ask you, do you think there’s any truth to that perspective that you had on Christians back then?
Well, I mean that certainly is how I saw the person I am today. Absolutely. And I think part of why is because, when you are living in sin, you’re deceived by sin. In my case, you’re tenured in sin. You really are insulated in a pretty steep way from gospel truth. What really broke that down for me was not a debate. It wasn’t an apologetics seminar. It wasn’t somebody sharing something and me kind of slapping my forehead and saying, “I wish I had a V8! Now I see clearly!” It just wasn’t any of that. It was studying the Bible so that I could really unmask it, and instead having it unmask me. For me, coming to faith was not this head-down, shameful, I’m-the-most-despicable-sinner-in-the-world experience; but just this amazing reality that Jesus died for the likes of me. The people in my life who were close and sharing the gospel with me and living the gospel with me, they weren’t shocked I came to faith. Because they knew that God was so much bigger than my sin. The ratio wasn’t even worthy of a conversation.
This isn’t an image maintenance issue, but Christians ought to be good neighbors to all of their neighbors. The Bible tells us that we are all—especially elders—but we are all called to have a good reputation both within and without the church. Our family of God, but also our unsaved neighbors. We’re to be the neighbors who are known to return lost dogs, and pick up kids at bus stops and help older people get to the doctor. We’re to be so earthly good to the people around us, and that’s not the social gospel. That’s just being a decent citizen. We need to build in time to do that and maybe we’re so busy with church, we’re so programmatic that we don’t have time for our unsaved neighbors. That’s a shame and that’s a sin.
Church’s Role in Hospitality
On that front, as you think about the churches that you are familiar with or churches you’ve been a part of, do you feel like the church—again, I’m asking you to generalize here a little bit—do you feel like the church pays enough attention to the ordinary hospitality that you’re discussing right now, or do we spend too much time on programs and events?
Well, it’s definitely something each church needs to do its own heart check on. If everything you do has a boundary around it that says “church,” how will you be doing life on life with your neighbors? So if your small group is only open to members of your church—and everything else in between—those are the ordinary things you do on a daily basis. The reality is there are just 24 hours in a day.
So I wouldn’t say that I think this is overwhelmingly the truth of all of the Reformed and evangelical churches I know. I think it’s true of some and it’s not true of others. Most of your unsaved neighbors, for most of your post-Christian neighbors, telling them that Jesus has saved them from their sins and inviting them to church isn’t the same thing as it might have been thirty years ago, because your neighbors don’t really think they need saving from their sin. They think they need saving from you and other wackos like you. So be careful where you start with people.
Starting with a meal, starting with living your life transparently, which in our case includes saying—and it’s very organic at this point—“We’re so glad you came for dinner. This is the time when we open our Bibles and we read a chapter and we share our hearts and we share the things we would like to pray about. Would you like to join us and do that?” And you know what? Most of our neighbors say yes. We’ve had a few say, "Well, how long will it take? I need to be home for a Skype call in forty-five minutes," or something like that. But we haven’t really had anybody run kicking and screaming out the door, including our neighbors who identify in the LGBTQ community.
So are you a good neighbor? Do you have the street cred to ask your neighbor, “Hey, can you hang with me on this?” Are you willing to stand close enough to people to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior? Are you willing to lose a little skin in the game? These are all heart questions. I don’t think a program is going to touch the nerve that needs to be touched right now.
Cultural Debate and Influence
When you think about the hesitations that Christians can often feel to do this, particularly with the LGBTQ community, do you think there’s an element in which our perception of that community is so dominated by the news, the media, social media, and the big, caustic debates that are happening out there that might not actually be reflective of the attitude or the simple neighborly kindness of the person living next door?
I would say that’s true, but I would say there are also some big reasons behind that. So it isn’t a misperception; it’s a reality, it’s a perception. And this is where Christians can really play such a powerful and loving role in the lives of their neighbors. One of the things Ken Smith did for me was he made me think about one key question. “Rosaria, is being a lesbian who you are, or is it how you are?” Is it who you are organically—we would say as a Christian, ontologically—or is it how you are because of original sin? Is it the authentic you, or is it Adam’s thumbprint on you?
Now, I’m not saying that’s the first question you’re going to have with people, but that is an important question. And it’s an important question for Christians to think about. See, if you actually think that gay and lesbian is who your neighbors are, then I can see why it would be really difficult for you to share the gospel because you might not want for them to have a trainwreck conversion like I did. You might not want their whole lives to fall apart. You might be worried about how much responsibility you have in that.
But if you look at this biblically, homosexuality is never who someone is. It may very well be how someone feels. And how someone feels in a very persistent and consistent way for a season of their life, maybe a very long season. But it is never the who, it’s always the how. But part of the challenge that we have is the Obergefell decision in 2015 introduced some new language into this conversation that made it even harder for Christians to know how to talk to their neighbors. And I would say the biggest one is this Dignitary Harm Clause. And basically, it added a lot of teeth to this Supreme Court decision in this particular way.
When I co-wrote a policy for domestic partnership at my university, I was looking exclusively at harm in a material way. In other words, I think of myself as a lesbian, I dress like a lesbian, I act like a lesbian, I go into your pizza shop, I want to buy a pizza, you don’t sell me a pizza because you don’t want to sell pizzas to lesbians, I don’t have a pizza, I’m mad about that, I want a pizza. That’s not the issue anymore. The issue now is if you have harmed my dignity, even if you have provided me with the goods and services I needed, then you are committing a crime against me. And that’s where it gets really challenging for Christians. And not so long ago a dear friend, a very dear friend of mine, she called me up and she said, “Rosaria. I’ve now come out as a lesbian and we cannot be friends anymore because you do not approve of me.” I just said, “Ruth, I’m so sorry that you feel that way. I’ve never approved of you. And you know what, you’ve never approved of me but we’ve just loved each other. But we disagreed about really important things long before this one. Very big issues. So why is this different? Why have the rules changed and who’s changed those rules?”
And so that was, you know, I think it’s helpful to realize that you just can’t give a good answer to a bad question. Sometimes you have to be willing with people not to agree to disagree, but to disagree. To disagree and share dinner together. To disagree and open the Bible together. To disagree and be good neighbors together.
Homosexuality and Christianity
So when it comes to Christians, born again Christians, who accept the Bible's teaching on sexuality and yet would still identify as perhaps “gay Christian” or something like that, what’s your opinion on that language that Christians would choose to use to refer to themselves, and how might that be a benefit or a stumbling block for an unbeliever?
Yeah, that’s a really important question and I would say I’m going to apply the meat and milk paradigm again. So, I have a wide range of friends, including friends who call themselves “gay Christians” and some of those gay Christians would say that they’re celibate gay Christians and others of those gay Christians would say that they’re actively pursuing or actively involved in gay relationships. So this is a pretty big question right now.
What I would say—and what people know me to say because of my own rejection of that category—is that it might seem like it’s just perfectly safe right now, but it’s a very simple and very difficult reality. If you are going to fully repent of your sin, you have to hate it. And the big challenge for every Christian, but especially the Christian who struggles against same-sex attraction, is how to hate your sin without hating yourself. The category “gay Christian” will never get you there. It becomes the waiting room for future sin. You start to resent God. You don’t understand why God won’t take away these feelings. You start to blame God. And if ultimately you believe that it is only safe to find yourself in a church of other people who call themselves gay Christians, then what’s going to happen is ultimately you are not going to grow in Christ, but you are going to backslide. And I have seen it again and again and again. And an excellent book on this subject, nothing I’ve written, is by Christopher Yuan, his new book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel. And it takes up this question in a most helpful way.
Language is not a small thing. And especially language of personhood because if you do not start with a biblical anthropology, you will not arrive at a biblical Christian ethic. And so, it is not a small thing. It is not conservative. I’ve often heard Well, these people are conservative. I don’t know what conservative means in that way, but it’s certainly not biblical. It is not biblical to claim as an identity anything that you will not have in the New Jerusalem. And therefore, it is not similar to using a category simply to explain a theological nuance. But in general, I’m opposed to tribalism. I’m opposed to sectarianism. And this is a kind of insider movement that will not arrive at true gospel grace.
Identity and Personhood
It strikes me that this issue of sexuality is so wrapped up now, as you say, in concepts of identity and personhood. Biblical sexuality is often viewed as inherently—just by virtue of what it is—discriminatory and even dehumanizing toward other people. How would you suggest that Christians discuss those issues in a way that, as you say, maybe redirects and suggests that the question itself is wrong?
First, do not take your cue from the gay rights movement. The gay rights movement wants you to think that sexuality is the most inherent, important, central reality of personhood that exists. And so one of the things that you can do is get to know your neighbors who identify on the LGBTQ continuum in other ways. You know, get to know them as parents, and as tennis players, and as dog walkers, and as gardeners. Find out how you can be earthly good to them in other ways. Find out what’s really going on in their lives. And share with them what’s really going on in yours. So de-emphasize this issue, not because it’s not a gospel issue—it is a gospel issue—but because you’re trying really hard to not accept the terms of the LGBTQ rights movement.
Second, realize that the LGBTQ rights movement is trying desperately to award dignity to each and every person in that community. And that’s something that, as a Christian, you should be able to appreciate because that is what the gospel does for all who embrace Jesus Christ. The gospel is an award of dignity. The image-bearing of a believer is an awarded dignity. So we should help our neighbors, we should get to know our neighbors in ways that do in fact respect and value them. Not because of their sexuality, and the way the LGBTQ rights movement would have you do it, but because of what God has already said: This is my image-bearer. This may be someone who does not know how to reflect my image in knowledge, and righteousness, and holiness, but all of the material is there.
Discussing Sin and Hell with Unbelievers
As you think back on your own story and your own experiences in those early days with Ken and Floy, is there anything that we can learn from their example when it came to specifically approaching discussions about sin and about our rebellion against God, and even hell? How did they approach those issues with you?
That’s such a good question. You know, the Bible makes a distinction between meat and milk. But often Christians don’t. And I would say that for two years, Ken and Floy gave me a lot of milk. They really did. And when I would try to pigeon-hole them in a question, they would reframe it in a way that allowed me to handle the answer. So for example, they didn’t really feel like they could answer directly the question, Do you think homosexuality is a sin? There’s an answer to that and you certainly know that Ken and Floy Smith would know the answer to that question. But their concern was that I didn’t understand what sin was. I understood what sins were—in other words, I understood that Christians believed that there were certain moral failures that if you added them all together, equal these things, this category called sins. But what I didn’t understand was that I was born with equipment that condemned me. What I didn’t understand was that original sin condemned me. Actual sin distracted me. And indwelling sin manipulated me. I was only looking at one aspect of that. And so rather than using me as Exhibit A, Ken and Floy opened the Bible so that we could talk about human nature. We could talk about whether human beings are inherently good or not. And then, if they’re not, what do you do with that?
They were masterful at remembering that they were talking to me. They weren’t talking on a podcast to a bunch of other believers who wanted to sound theologically smart at dinner parties. They weren’t sitting down for a seminary exam. They were talking to me, a pretty lost soul. And they also knew that sin is deceptive. And I think sometimes we forget about that. To be deceived means to be taken captive by an evil force to do its bidding. That’s pretty powerful. Satan would love for you to do nothing more than to continue to reject deceived people so that they just solidify their allegiance to Satan. But Ken and Floy were not going to go there. They were very mature Christians and because of that, they could handle someone like me.
Sharing the Gospel with Love
It sounds a little bit like what you’re saying, tell me if this is right, is in some ways there’s a loving way to share the gospel and there can be unloving and insensitive ways to share the gospel. We might be sharing the same true gospel, but how we do it matters as much as that we do it.
I would agree, but I would also say that we need to be conscious of the fact that our infatuation with social media has made it very difficult for us to understand the difference between a private conversation and a public conversation. For the most part, while Ken and Floy Smith’s home was very, very busy and they would have a lot of people over, when it really came to the heart-to-heart talks, they made private time for me. This busy pastor made private time for me. And I think that we don’t value that. We think it’s much more valuable to get on a stage and clip on an ear mic and talk to five thousand people. We think that that’s a much better use of our time than just talking quietly and letting that conversation linger long into the evening with one neighbor. But I would say that just the opposite might be true. Because you can cue off of one person speaking. You can tell if that person, one person, is ready for meat or milk. It’s very hard to gauge five thousand. And I think it’s left us in a place where we often say more than we ought to and less than we ought to all at the same time. So I would say unplug. Don’t think so highly of your social media world. Value the people whose eyes you can look into for real.
Bible Reading with Others
That takes us back even just to the context that you described about Ken and Floy’s dinner table where you’re sitting there, you’re with them face to face, and one of the things you’ve mentioned a number of times now is just reading the Bible with them, and that’s something that you do now in your own gatherings. What did it look like? What was that actually like, practically speaking, when you would sit down and read the Bible together? And what advice would you give to other Christians who want to do that with their unsaved friends as well?
First, spend more time reading your Bible than reading blog posts. You know, to really make sure that you are steeped in the Word of God. Second, make sure that you already have a very in-place rhythm—we call it family devotions and we would just say family is a pretty wide-open term. If you’re part of our church and you’re part of the brotherhood and the sisterhood of Christ, you’re in my family. The blood of Christ is thicker than the blood of biology. I mean, we would just say that pretty outright. But what I’m saying is, after dinner, it’s just the normal rhythm of life to open the Bibles, to linger over a passage, to ask hard questions of it, to ask for prayer requests, and to pray. And we don’t take a litmus test before we do that. We don’t take your temperature. This is what we do and we would love for you to do this with us. And because it’s such a consistent part of the rhythm of our day, nobody is surprised by it.
So the first thing that Christians need to do is make sure that something like that is part of the rhythm of their day. That their day really does start steeped in the Word and it really does end steeped in the Word. And this is not something that we do as some kind of show for our unbelieving neighbors. This is for us. This is for us. I need this. I need the Word of God. I need the Lord Jesus to open my eyes. I need the Holy Spirit to unscale my eyes. I need this. And we don’t pressure people into it, but we also don’t shoo them away. We’re not embarrassed to say, “This is good for everybody. This won’t hurt you. This will help you.” We’re not embarrassed to live below our means and to have a door that’s open, even when the house is messy. We’re not embarrassed to let our neighbors help us with things. And not just our Christian neighbors, but I mean our neighbors. We’re not embarrassed to ask for help when we need it. And we’re not embarrassed to say, “We don’t have the answers. Let’s go to the Lord.”
Advice for Pastors
Speak to pastors a little bit right now who might be listening to us. When it comes to shepherding their congregations and helping them to be intentional about being good neighbors and being witnesses to their LGBTQ friends and family and neighbors, what advice or exhortation would you give to pastors along those lines?
The first is to make sure that people are steeped in the Word such that they are not going to be taken captive by every wind of doctrine. That’s extremely important. To make sure that you know the Word of God deeply and that it really is enriching you. That you’re not going to be overwhelmed by sad personal stories. I mean, you can be saddened by sad personal stories, but that you wouldn’t overturn the Word of God because you understand that the sin of Adam goes that deep. It goes so very deep that everyone is born that way in some way. So to make sure that your people are deep in the Word and understand the comprehensiveness of sin: original sin, actual sin, indwelling sin.
And the other is to make sure that you are not so busy that you don’t have time for your family and you don’t have time then for your neighbors. That you’re not so stretched thin with maybe even church activities that you can’t be any earthly good and spiritual good to those people who are directly in your world. And it starts with your family. Don’t neglect your family to have a hospitality ministry. But do enlist your family in doing that sort of thing.
Another would be to watch your social media behavior. Make sure that you are not behaving in a way that causes people to filter themselves out.
Social Media’s Role
What might that look like? Just elaborate on how that may manifest itself.
Sure. I’m not on any social media. I don’t have time for it and I think it’s a futile discourse. I think that the best that social media can do is expedite times and things. You know, that you could put something out there to let people know what time the church service has been changed to, or where the fellowship meal has been relocated to. But as soon as it becomes a debate, outsiders are looking at that and they are self-selecting because of what you say. And there’s no way to really develop any compassion in terms of anything you say. It’s just a very flat statement. And you know, the Bible itself, while it has much in terms of propositional truth, is not only propositional truth. Where would I, back in the days that I identified as a lesbian, come to an understanding of Jesus the Comforter, of “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” if all I’ve ever seen you do is rally against people like me. I would self-select. I just would. So just be mindful that you’re not talking to one or two people on the internet, you’re talking to everybody. And don’t use that as an excuse to never talk really genuinely to people individually.
Conversational Echo Chambers
That’s so true because while we can talk to so many, it’s also so easy, as you say, to self-select and limit ourselves, limit who we’re seeing, and kind of create these echo chambers. Generally speaking, it’s such a poor avenue for actually changing minds and having real discussions with people who disagree.
It’s a terrible one. And what happens is you’re never then in a place to be historically useful to people. And here is what I mean by that:
I was at a speaking event a while ago and at the end of the speaking event, a person who was very visibly male but dressed in female clothing stood up and really tried to grandstand. You know, tried to just say, Why is it that people like you hate people like me? Why can’t you see I’m happy this way? It was at the end of a long event and I just said, Look, these are such great questions. How about if you and I go and sit down in the pastor’s office and just talk privately about this? And obviously, this is a person who is identifying as a transgender woman. And as this person and I were walking together to the pastor’s office, somebody else started rushing up to us. And it was a person that had known the person who was identifying as a transgender woman from years and years and years ago. And so a man rushed up to this person dressed as a woman and said, David! What happened to you, man? What’s wrong? And now I didn’t know that this person’s name was originally David— which is not actually the name because I always change names when I tell stories—and so David says, Oh no no no! I’m not David. I’m Jill. And I’m happy this way.
And the man who was able to hold this history said, I don’t believe you at all. Because we committed our lives to Jesus together. And then he started to give the litany of things that they had shared together. Family time. Church time. By the time this man stopped speaking, the person who was calling himself/herself Jill is now in complete tears and we get to the pastor’s office and again Jill says, I think I’m happy. And the person who’s confronting in a genuinely loving way, and who has the authority to because that person had been in their lives together, said, I don’t believe it. How could anybody who has a war inside themselves be happy? How could you be happy if you feel one way and present another? This is not happy. This is turmoil and I believe that Jesus can walk you through this turmoil.
And that was such a powerful thing because the person who was doing the gentle confrontation had a legitimacy that I didn’t have. And the legitimacy came from living life together, not just having good ideas. And so I think the challenge for the Christian pastor, the challenge for the Christian neighbor, is how to steer clear from what is false about Christian kindness and what is true about Christian kindness. So what is true about Christian kindness is that it is often confrontational. But it’s lovingly so. And it’s supportively so. It’s a kindness that says, Let’s go to Jesus together, knowing that neither one of us will come out the other end looking the same. But it doesn’t say, God believes that you can flourish as someone who is deceived by personhood. If you believe that LGBTQ is personhood, who you are, and you believe that Jesus is just going to meet you right there and allow that to fester, then you don’t understand what grace is. Grace doesn’t allow you to fester in the sin of Adam. Grace delivers you to have liberty. Now, sanctification is progressive. It doesn’t happen all at once and it comes with a big battle. Because we all know that conversion comes in exchange for the life you once loved, not in addition to it. But we’re going to walk this together.
Having history with people, and I would say every human being does, every person listening to this podcast was at some point in first grade with people who are now claiming to be transgendered or somewhere in the queer continuum. That means that you potentially have a lot of lived experience that you could lean into, but not if your social media profile has already opted you out of that. So be careful.
Christian’s in the Public Sphere
What kind of role could Christians have in the public sphere? We’ve talked a lot about interpersonal, relational dynamics with our neighbors, and with our friends and family; but what kind of role should Christians play when it comes to broader cultural conversations and even legal types of matters where we are trying to maybe stand for something that we think is important when it comes to the laws of the land? What would you say about that?
I would say, yes. Yes, yes yes. We must. It might not be that we can do all at once. It really might not be. It might be that you are better suited right now to be living a quiet Christian life, witnessing to your neighbors and discipling your children. And that is wonderful. And it might be that you find yourself the mayor of a very progressive city who is being faced with sexual orientation and gender identity laws and you know you need help. So I would say, Yes, and yes and amen. I am grateful for Alliance Defending Freedom and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. For your listeners, if you yourself find yourself in public roles needing help, reach out to these people. They are equipped to help you do the work that you are called to do. But it’s both. And it’s not going to be top down. We don’t want to get into that Pharisaical mindset that says that the laws of the land will necessarily determine the hearts of people. No, it’s both. But yes, yes absolutely. I agree entirely. We must take up public roles. But you would do it in a way that does commend you as a Christian who is thoughtful. So deal with your protestors well. If you are a public Christian—and I would say everyone is a public Christian—that means that the world needs to watch you do three things. Number one, the world needs to watch you repent. Oh, public Christian, please repent publicly. The world also needs to watch you forgive. So Christian public intellectual, turn the other cheek. And the third thing that every public Christian must do is wash a lot of feet. So do it. And make sure that people see you do that.
And yes, you’re going to take up a position on sexual orientation and gender identity laws and you’re going to take a position on pro-life and you’re going to do a lot of other things, but if you are also someone who is known to deal respectfully with your protestors, to repent publicly, to forgive capaciously, and to wash a lot of feet without complaining, let me tell you what. You will have a hearing in this world.
Hope and Encouragement
So as you reflect on your own experiences, talking with both Christians and non-Christians, in seeking to do life with them, and to share the gospel with them, and to love them, what’s encouraging to you right now? What just makes you feel so excited about the future and about seeing what God is doing in our moment today?
What I am most excited about are first, gospel contacts. I love those. I think those are phenomenal. And I am so excited about the basic systematic theology that comes in the Reformed tradition. And I’m Presbyterian, so I’m thinking about the Westminster Confession of Faith. My Baptist brothers are thinking about another one, that’s fine. I’m so thankful for the way that this great cloud of witnesses that has come before me has already thought through so many of these hard and good questions.
I believe that we are writing church history as we walk through this landscape of sexuality. I believe that you will never arrive at a Christian ethics without starting with a biblical Christian sense of personhood. And I’m excited about the ways that God’s elect people truly are everywhere and Jesus is leading from the front of the line. These are not terrible days. These are the days that the Lord has made for us: for us to be joyful, and for us to be articulate, for us to be loving, for us to be repenting, for us to be living transparent Christian lives.
I pray for revival. I want nothing less than that. So I would just encourage the listeners today to not lose heart. To not lose hope. We’re not called to be sentimental. We’re called to be faithful. And I’m excited. It’s a Thursday. On a Thursday, Kent and I expect anywhere between twenty and thirty neighbors coming to our home for dinner. And we will open the Word, and we will pray, and we will eat, and we will talk, and we will disagree, and we will agree, and we will hug each other, and then we will find out how to help each other—who needs doctors drives for next week, whose kid needs to be picked up at the bus stop—we’re going to do life together. And I’m going to trust that God is going to continue to build into the lives of my neighbors the gospel grace that I pray for them. You know, for the listeners who are out there, your private time isn’t just private. It’s not just for you. You’re bringing people to the throne of grace who can’t bring themselves there. That’s big. And if you’re frightened by the world that we’re in now, you won’t see that. You won’t see the blessing. So be of good cheer.
Rosaria, thank you so much for joining us today on The Crossway Podcast and for sharing a little bit of your own story and some wisdom and advice for Christians when it comes to demonstrating the hospitality that we’re called to in Scripture toward those around us.
Thank you so much, Matt. I always enjoy talking with you.
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