Can the pandemic be an answered prayer? This is the question Rosaria Butterfield posits in a guest column on Desiring God, far-right theologian John Piper’s blog. Her answer, of course is yes. The reasons behind her answer raise some very serious questions, such as: should we laud far-right groups for posing as decent human beings by providing food during a pandemic in order to lure progressives to their anti-gay theology?
No. No, we should not, at all.
Rosaria Butterfield was a lesbian English professor at Syracuse University before she converted to conservative evangelicalism, married a man, and became a housewife two decades ago. (I do not use this term disparagingly; Butterfield has made being a housewife—as a contrast to her previous work as an academic—a prominent part of her identity. Women are to be in the home, you see.) Butterfield’s husband is a pastor; to Butterfield, Christianity appears to be synonymous with being anti-gay. Have a look at how she describes the challenges her husband’s church has faced in the progressive neighborhood in which they have attempted to plant it:
My husband, Kent, was installed as pastor of the First Reformed Church of Durham (North Carolina) in April of 2012. From the moment that Kent received the call, we started praying for opportunities to love our church neighbors. Located five blocks from a progressive, well-heeled (for now) research university and down the block from the LGBTQ community center, we met roadblocks every step of the way. We tried barbecues and block parties. Nobody came.
Note how Butterfield situations her story—the placed their church next to an LGBTQ community center and a progressive (and thus presumably LGBTQ affirming) university, but no one was interested. Gee, I wonder why. Maybe—just maybe—if your belief that gay people are living in sin is so deep and so central to your beliefs that you intentionally plant your church next to an LGBTQ community center, you’re going to turn people off.
After eight years in this neighborhood, only two neighborhood contacts remain: National Neighbor Night Out (first Tuesday in August), where Kent and other men from our church serve as grill masters, and Reformation Day (October 31), when our church distributes treats and tracts and opens the church for respite to hundreds of weary goblins, princesses, and their parents. Even at these all-neighbor events, however, we were feeling the cool breeze.
You plant a church on being anti-gay, and intentionally put it next to an LGBTQ community center, and I’m not going to feel bad when your church does badly.
In August, neighbors would ask if our church was LGBTQ affirming, and if not, why we were here. In October, parents would clutch the hands of their costumed-children and cross the street, directing them not to take anything from our hand or even receive our smiles. Finally, a small case of vandalism last year discouraged many of us when someone took permanent marker to a yard sign. The original sign — “Please Curb your Dog” — was defaced to “Please Curb your God.”
With sadness, as the culture lurched aggressively toward identity politics, we realized that instead of representing good news for all, our little church had become a symbol of suspicious intent.
The word is hate. Her little church had become a symbol of hate, because that’s what it was. Look, I live in a progressive area myself, and do you know who also lives in progressive areas? LGBTQ people. There’s a reason people in my area, as in Butterfield’s, shun anti-gay churches: because we like our gay neighbors.
Sure, that’s a bit of a simplistic way of saying it, but damn—this is not that complicated.
So. What does all of this have to do with COVID-19?
Surprising Answer to Prayer
How could COVID-19 be an answer to our prayer for opportunities to love our neighbors?
I know that this might ring wrong in our ears. After all, God is not the author or cause of sin. How could a global pandemic, a novel-virus killing machine plaguing six out of seven continents, be considered an answer to prayer? And why would anyone thank God for months of shelter-in orders, an aggressive government intervention whose deleterious economic and social harm will be felt for generations?
Let me explain.
Deliberately planting your anti-gay church next to an LGBTQ community center does not speak to a desire to do your neighbors good.
So. Conservative evangelicals genuinely believe that being LGBTQ is in opposition to God’s will and that people who live those “lifestyles” will find themselves miserable and will go to hell. This is why people like Butterfield can insist that when they preach that people who are gay and proud will go to hell, they are showing love to them. Even when this is well-meaning—and in many cases it is not—it does very real harm to LGBTQ people. Further, we are at a point where individuals have no excuse for not seeing the harm anti-gay beliefs cause to gay people.
Butterfield may claim she is acting out of love, but that does not excuse the harm she causes with her teachings, and it does not absolve herself of her responsibility for seeing the harm she is causing others.Butterfield is thankful for COVID-19 because it has given her and her family the opportunity to put on a thin veneer of being loving and neighborly. She is hoping that veneer of kindness will help her convince people to join her anti-gay church and becoming as anti-gay as she is. This is disturbing, not only because of the harm she is hoping to cause but also because she is intentionally and with open eyes capitalizing on tragedy.
Some people do good just to do good, with no ulterior motives. No, really! But not Rosaria Butterfield. No, Rosaria Butterfield is thinking about herself.
Butterfield and her family joined a network delivering food. Here’s how Butterfield describes the results:
Churches in New Light
Providentially, the route that the company assigned to us is the neighborhood in which our church resides. On our first day on the job, Kent and our teenage son helped as well. It was all hands on deck for the Butterfields. That first day, it took us twelve hours to complete our deliveries.
Our neighbors received us with joy and thanks. And many of them knew us as the pastor and pastor’s wife from the church down the block. People were (and are) in a state of panic about COVID-19. And the people willing to bring them their food mean something to them. Our role as food deliverers has allowed us to be seen in a new light.
There is nothing here about the good the Butterfield’s are doing for others—only about how their charitable work is benefiting them. People are seeing them in a new light, she says. People who were previously uninterested due to how virulently anti-gay their church and theology are. Does Butterfield know that there are people involved in their communities’ food distribution networks right now who aren’t trying to sell people something?
Butterfield writes that her family soon learned that they could let the food distribution company use their building to serve as a distribution center, and that their church is now a hub of activity.
After our deliveries are done, we often meet with concerned neighbors and try to connect people in need of food with the programs that serve food. Everyone we meet is in an existential crisis. And God so loves us that he appointed us to serve and share and proclaim the gospel in the thick of the crisis.
We come home with lists of people to pray for and serve in additional ways. In a global pandemic, where people are literally afraid to breathe, the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed gains new ground. One practical way that COVID-19 answered our prayers was that its devastation has provided a clear reason for our conservative and biblical church to be located in this progressive community. God never gets the address wrong.
Just in case it wasn’t completely clear that this is about using food distribution as a Trojan Horse to convert people to their anti-gay theology, Butterfield adds this jubilant note:
Have you considered the ramifications that this June will be the first in decades without a public gay pride march? Why is this big news? First, sexual identity depends on an affirming audience who can sway others to its side, using an ideology of personal freedom and victimhood. A virtual platform draws only the faithful, denying them the oxygen that this particular fire needs.
Second, without an audience, sexual identity cannot be normalized. Here is the heart question for us. Are you praising God for this disruption? Or is it your preference to complain about gay pride (and other sins) from the air-conditioned comfort of your home, in the midst of an economy that benefits from all kinds of sin?
Butterfield is utterly jubilant that the COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt regular Pride events, typically held in June. This is disgusting. I don’t remember anyone rejoicing that COVID-19 closed churches during Easter.
And you know what else? This pandemic didn’t somehow make my LGBTQ friends disappear. They’re sheltering in place just like everyone else. Some of them are doing so alone; some with a partner; others with a partner and kids. Gay people exist whether Pride happens or not—and the last I heard it was churches, and not LGBTQ groups, that were suing to end states’ stay at home orders. This moment isn’t about ideology. It’s about saving lives.
Unless you’re Rosaria Butterfield, that is. If you’re Rosaria Butterfield, this moment is all about using kindness to make people think you’re a decent human being so that you can ultimately reel them into your anti-gay theology and make them turn on their LGBTQ neighbors. Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I’ll finish this post by noting that there are many, many LGBTQ teens stuck at home with unaffirming parents due to COVID-19 today, cut off from school, supportive adults, and even their friend networks. If you happen to know any teens in this situation, drop them a line. These teens are victims of the hateful theology Butterfield is pushing.
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