Book Review: Openness Unhindered
Author: Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Publisher: Crown & Covenant
Reading Level: Leisure
"These words for me on the pages of this book are themselves table settings. They express an invitation to come to the table, pour some coffee for yourself, enjoying me in my kitchen." (183)
At this point, many know the personal history of Rosaria Butterfield. A (sinfully) practicing heterosexual, a sinfully practicing homosexual, a college professor, a questioner, a convert to Christianity, and finally a married pastor's wife. Butterfield covered this portion of her life in more detail in her previously released Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Here in Openness Unhindered, Butterfield presents some additional and more refined thoughts on union with Christ, sexual orientation, and Christian community.
The experienced and articulate pen of Butterfield presents multiple "pause" moments when reading her personal thoughts. For example consider her unique perspective on her conversion, “My new affection was not heterosexuality, but Jesus…I was converted not out of homosexuality, but out of unbelief” (50). Butterfield’s entire emphasis on is to center present discussion on the person of Jesus Christ. Many may read Openness Unhindered with the intention of addressing the recent surge of interest in same sex attraction and same sex marriage. Butterfield's eyes are set on a larger scene and a loftier calling for the Christian — finding one's identity in Jesus Christ.
This begins eagerly as Butterfield discusses the importance of union with Christ (chapter 2) and repentance (chapter 3). Relying heavily on Reformed Puritan theology, Butterfield presents an aggressive view of Christian sanctification through "mortification of sin." These chapters certainly apply to sexual sins since "often sexual sin becomes a sin of identity" (4), but they also apply to all Christians in their struggle with their old Adam. This reorientation to union with Christ as the most important characteristic of Christian self-identification makes Butterfield's application to sexual orientation quite easy.
For some, Butterfield's critique of Freud and sexual orientation (chapter 4) will be eye opening. In rejecting sexual orientation as a social construct, Butterfield’s supplanting paradigm supplies many valuable paths of dialogue. Particularly, same sex friendships in today's over-sexed culture will feel the gasping of fresh air. Even though Butterfield's presentation is not completely convincing, this remains an interesting place for future dialogue on these issues. The application of this follows as Butterfield supports a paradigm of same sex attraction (in her words "unwanted homosexual desire" for converted Christians) being moral fallenness. Butterfield herself admits that this position might stem from her own bi-sexual experience (140).
Thankfully, Butterfield includes an entire chapter about disagreement among conservative Christians on this issue (chapter 6). The chapter is staggering honestly and refreshing as it elucidates disagreement between sisters in Christ. Butterfield engages with defendants of natural fallenness who argue that their sexual orientation is fallen. Though this position is more progressive, conservative Christians on both sides are encouraged by Butterfield to have open dialogue on these issues. Beautifully she says,
"I need dialogue in real time on this. If mile turned of language is unsatisfactory that we need to work together on better language. In Christ, we are part of a body of believers, and therefore self-representation is of body issue. This is a feet-on-the-floor and place-at-the-table problem. I am game." (145)
Building off this push for healthy Christian disagreement, Butterfield presents a lengthy chapter on the church as community (chapter 7). Where healthy disagreement is a representation of Christ within the body, community is a representation of Christ to the rest of the world. There are many practical applications of Butterfield's thought. Many of these applications she draws out herself while some the church must discover and dialogue through.
In conclusion, Rosaria Butterfield's presentation in Openness Unhindered is intimate and personal. There are confessions. There are aired disagreements. Finally, there are direct calls to future dialogue and real life interaction. Church people throughout American Evangelicalism need to read this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.