Openness Unhindered: When Sisters Disagree
Today, I would like to continue working through Rosaria Butterfield's excellent Openness Unhindered. Even before I started reading, I knew I would have to take some time to focus on a particular chapter or two before a more succinct review. I am not sure I realized just how much I would want to blog about Butterfield's approach. Because I want you to go out and buy this awesome book, I am going to write this one last blog post and then I'll craft my review.
The early portions of Openness Unhindered were much to my liking. Being of the Reformed Tradition much of what Butterfield said had me nodding in agreement and appreciating her commitment to the Reformed confessions as well as the historical language of original sin, temptation, and sanctification. In the middle chapters, Butterfield began to apply these definitions to sexual sin. The emphasis on Union with Christ as the defining element of personal identification brought a wealth of great sections to comment upon. But I'd like to focus particularly on the chapter simply subtitled "When Sister Disagree.”
At this point in Openness Unhindered, Butterfield has spent the last two chapters laying out her perspective on sexual identity, sexual orientation, and union with Christ. For Butterfield, Union with Christ acts as a superior concept to sexual orientation. In particular, Butterfield's time as a lesbian was explained by the fluidity of gender and sexuality. She attributes the recent infatuation with sexual orientation as an identity to the work of Sigmund Freud. The explanatory power of Butterfield's paradigm is powerful. But it is what she does in the following chapter that is more stunning.
After finishing her meatiest chapters on Union with Christ, Butterfield introduces a fellow sister in Christ who disagrees with her. To some, this might feel like a drop in momentum. At first, I was rather shocked that the chapter existed. Yet there it is. Butterfield proceeds to spend a significant time letting her friend's position be heard, explained, and engaged. It is one thing to say Christians should listen to one another. Butterfield could have simply said that the church should spend time listening to people like she does here,
"One thing to do when we are at an impasse with another Christian is to shut our mouths and give our Christian sister our full attention."
Butterfield goes one step further when she dedicates a chapter to a pertinent disagreement. Not just disagreement about vocabulary but deep disagreements about homosexuality being a moral-fallenness or nature-fallenness. There is a genuine interaction between the two views. There are some confessions made. Disagreements and rejections are pointedly stated. And in the midst of this, Butterfield provides a living example of what she calls "real-time" interaction.
This is a refreshing chapter for a number of reasons. The first is that this issue continues to act as a dividing line between conservatives. Even among those who all agree that homosexuality is a sin, there remain parties within the evangelical world who like to draw the lines as tightly as possible and plug their ears to all discussions. They require their definitions, understandings, and interpretations are used in every discussion, and they proceed to justify themselves in their orthodoxy. On the other side, there are progressives who feel justified because they are the most accepting of the bunch. Neither of these are particularly helpful when self-justification is the cause.
But in "real-time" the church has people that it needs to minister to right now. This ministry is done through listening and not merely "speaking the truth." Butterfield does a great job of presenting that love demonstrates itself in silence. By sitting across from people on matters, we disagree and just listening. There is absolute truth, but this side of heaven, not everything will be resolved. Listening to different stories and perspectives helps us check our own thoughts for hidden paradigms and presuppositions. It allows us to find the roots of our differences and acknowledge that ideas are not what define people.
One of the best quotes in the chapters does not even come from Butterfield. It comes from Jonathan Edwards after he got fired by his church. The poignant words echo loudly in this context and I'd like to close with this quote from his final sermon to those church members who fired him,
"And never think you behave yourself as becomes Christians, except when you sincerely, sensibly, and fervently love all men, of whatever party or opinion, and whether friendly or unkind, just or injurious, to you or your friends, or to the cause and kingdom of Christ."