So the first order of business is perhaps a bit of background. Rosaria Butterfield recently gave an interview here, and in the course of that talk she gave us all an insight, and as is the case with many such insights, there was a pointy end to it. Someone then took that insight from the interview and tweeted it out to what was supposed to be a welcoming and friendly cyber-world. My friend Toby Sumpter retweeted that, and got what can only be described as A Reaction.
Here is what Rosaria said:
“Gay Christianity is a different religion. I’m not standing in the same forest with Greg Johnson and Wes Hill and Nate Collins looking at different angles of the trees, I’m in a different forest altogether.”
This caused no small amount of official consternation, with all kinds of people calling upon Rosaria to repent of her slanderous evaluation of Johnson, Hill, and Collins. There has been, in short, a hubbub, a set-to, a fracas, an imbroglio, a brawl, a complication, an embroilment, a soap opera. And, as Toby observed, the reactions ranged from a measured tutt-tutting to full-on meltdowns. The meaning behind that range of reactions I will leave to his insightful observations.
So as I was reflecting on this statement from Rosaria, and I was jotting down some notes for this post, one of the things that occurred to me was how faithfully Rosaria was following in the footsteps of J. Gresham Machen. This is basically what he was arguing in his magisterial Christianity and Liberalism. Then I listened to the interview, and one of the first things that astute interviewer said was that this reminded him of J. Gresham Machen. On point and amen.
The point of Machen’s book was to show that the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of liberalism were not the same spirit. They came from different places entirely, and they were going to different places entirely.
In a train station, it is possible for two trains to be lined up right alongside one another, looking for all the world like they are in perfect fellowship, one with another. But one train came from City A and is going to City B, while the other train came from City C and is going to City D. The superficial observer might look at the trains and the parallel tracks, sitting in alignment right there, and proclaim behold how good and how pleasant it is when the locomotives of harmony rest upon the true steel tracks of ecumenicity. But other observers—like Rosaria for instance—know how to read train schedules.
Meanwhile, the kind-hearted fellow who likes to reason that “we are all saying the same thing here, really” is going to wind up spending a rainy weekend in Pittsburg instead of that sunny getaway to Ft. Lauderdale that his wife was so looking forward to.
In her remarks in the remainder of that interview, it became apparent that Rosaria’s echoing of Machen was no accident. She was making a deliberate, sensible, measured, thoughtful case, just as Machen had, but these days deliberate, sensible, measured, and thoughtful engagement doesn’t get you very far in the upper echelons of Presbyterian influence. Not that it ever did.
“A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith.”
Christianity and Liberalism, emphasis mine
The Authority of Indelible Gayness
So it would be best to state the principle involved right at the outset, before we get into the particulars.
We are talking about the authority of Scripture over against the pretended authority of our feelings. We are talking about the authority of God to define sin (whether original, indwelling, or remaining), and whether our feelings should have any kind of veto power over such definitions. And we are talking about the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse any sin whatever, whether or not the authority of our feelings has granted prior permission for any such cleansing.
And so here we are, many decades later, talking about the same basic thing that Machen was addressing.
“It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”
Christianity and Liberalism
There you have it—founding everything on the shifting emotions of sinful men. Which is like playing Jenga with an overwrought and squirrely toddler on a water bed.
The folly of this approach is not altered when the content of those feelings change. That is precisely what the shifting emotions do—they act like a weather vane in a stiff and fluctuating breeze. A lunatic king on a throne might give many inconsistent orders, not all of them equally insane, but the basic problem remains—to wit, a lunatic king on the throne, coupled with the fact that everybody lets him stay there.
The central problem is the authority we have ceded to our feelings, regardless of what those feelings feel. Those feelings may be of indelible gayness, or a bad temper, or craving for strong drink, or a smug feeling of racial vainglory, or the deep need to molest little boys.
It matters not. In classical Reformed theology, all such feelings are nothing more than cross fodder. Any feelings we have that are contrary to the holiness of God are to be loathed and despised by us, and not to be worn as badges of distinction.
And thus, to be a gay Christian is to be, by definition, a hypocrite. The fact that you have a theology that carves out room for that particular hypocrisy does not fix anything. It wrecks everything.
The apostle Paul once taught us all that we were not supposed to spiral down into debates about dumb stuff, about food and wine and all that (Rom. 14:1). But then, in a monstrous inconsistency, one other time he initiated a brawl with a fellow apostle over something as ridiculous as the seating arrangements at the potluck at Antioch Memorial. Not only did he do this, but then he had the effrontery to actually taunt the assembled brethren, his fathers and brothers in Israel, by saying that he didn’t care what the Missouri Presbytery had determined, or an angel from heaven for that matter, or the horse they both rode in on (Gal. 1:8).
There are times when the little things don’t matter at all, and there are times when the little things carry everything with them. This is elementary.
The late Francis Schaeffer illustrated this by talking about snow six inches apart. What is six inches, except for no big deal? Right over there, to our right, that length is a trivial difference. But if that same six inches is moved over here, in order to straddle the Continental Divide, then snow from one end of the six inches is going to wind up in the Pacific Ocean and snow from the other end is going to wind up in the Gulf of Mexico.
And so the point I am making here is that Rosaria Butterfield knows where the Continental Divide is. The Arbiters of Amiable who lament the regrettable intrusion of “divisive language” do not.
Rosaria used to live right near this train station, being that she used to commute in and out of it every day, and she really does know how to read the train schedules. These Ninjas of Nice do not.
Lest anyone mistake my meaning here, Rosaria knows what she is talking about, and her critics most manifestly do not.
Anyone who tries to pretend that “insignificant” issues like this cannot represent momentous and church-corrupting realities is giving you what Francis Turretin used to call—with that wry smile of his—the sunshine runaround.
I think it was Gibbon who once tried to represent the debate over homoousia and homoiousia as a world-shaking debate over that little biddy letter, iota—as though, were we to pursue his insightful approach for determining what matters, we would discover the debate between atheism and theism somehow just became a debate over the letter a. Sometimes the wisdom of this world just falls over, twitching violently, and does not need to be answered.
So of course this is no tomayto/tomahto thing. This is not a discussion on whether to baptize with heads upstream or heads downstream, or even in the river at all. Rosaria is exactly right. This is a different forest, the trees are all unfamiliar, and it is getting darker by the minute. And it won’t be the kind of night that you can dance away.
So allow me to explain how public opinion is shifted on things like this, including public opinion as it functions within ecclesiastical bodies. Here is the basic structure of the thing, with ratios and percentage points varying, as the particular case may be.
On either end of the spectrum, you have a committed five to ten percent, made up of people who know what is going on. In our case, in these instances, we have the epistemologically self-conscious progressives on one end, and we have the epistemologically self-conscious conservatives on the other end. Each side knows what they are doing, and what the other side is likely to do in return. We understand each other pretty well. The remaining 80 to 90 percent is made up of—on the central issue in question—accommodating mediocrities.
These accommodating mediocrities could be conservative or liberal, and it doesn’t really much matter. Either kind can be steered, one with blandishments and the other with threats. Depending on the situation and the caliber of leadership, that middle can be driven by the committed on either end. So when Machen lost his battle with the mainline Presbyterian Church, a good eighty percent of the ministers would have called themselves conservative and evangelical. What matters is that this big middle be both accommodating and mediocre.
“What is all the fuss?” they inquire. “All this about the letter a? We are going to tear apart the seamless garment of Christ over the letter a?”
Champions on one end, churls on the other, and chumps in the middle.
In the eyes of the PCA, a conservative is considered temperate when he thinks it a requirement of principle to put up with it whenever he is accused of intemperance, which is routinely.
All effective conservatives, no matter how temperate their demeanor, are regularly accused of intemperance, and the “good” conservatives are the ones who go along with this charade quietly.
You doubt what I say? Consider this measured, even, judicious, calm, and loving presentation at the last PCA General Assembly by Steve Warhurst. It was delivered late in the evening, going on midnight, and yet some guys with parliamentary nunchucks tried to shut him down even then. And since that fifteen minutes of infamy, hundreds of PCA ministers have signed a petition, apparently without any sense of embarrassment, protesting the Inflammatory Outburst of One Steven Warhurst. Go ahead. Watch the whole video. I dare you. He had the effrontery to read some passages from the epistle to the Romans on the floor of General Assembly, a thing not to be borne.
Discipline is inescapable. No social organization can exist without it. So the only question is which group will be disciplined, not whether there will be discipline. Because the PCA has in effect declined to discipline the Revoice agitators, this necessarily means that—whether they intended this outcome or not—they have committed themselves to the policy of disciplining people who oppose Revoice. They are obligated now to deal with people who actually believe what the Bible says about carnality carnivals like Revoice. As Dylan put it in a moment of profound lucidity, channeling his Rushdoony, you gotta serve somebody.
Inescapable. A refusal to discipline the wolves is in effect a decision to discipline shepherds who insist on identifying and fighting the wolves.
Now if we hunted around for a feminine voice that was fully as temperate and as calm and as kind as Warhurst’s voice was, we would almost certainly settle on Rosaria. And because discipline is inescapable, and because discipline is always applied in terms of the actual issue, and because the issue of temperate language or its apparent absence is not the issue AT ALL, the machinery of discipline is already warming up and starting to hum. Rosaria is not in the PCA, but if she were, there would no doubt be formal complaints already wending their way to the presbyterial filing cabinets of intersectional justice.
So think about this. Ponder it a bit. I will give you a minute if you like. Stare at the ceiling if it helps.
In the Revoice materials, their use of that LGBTQ+ plus sign declared, in the most thinly-veiled way possible, that pedophiles are sexual minorities too. If they are not to be considered a sexual minority, why aren’t they, given the logic of the last few years? And if they are a sexual minority, then why do we not dispense with this coy + business? They were born this way, and cannot deny the sheer fact their desires. They can decline to act on those desires—for now, since that is the current line we are taking—meaning that their internal cesspool of yearning for the under-aged can be harnessed by the celibate but pedophilic Jesus follower, committed as he is to no actual touching. Nothing of any significance happened to the folks who are prepping us for gunk like that. Steven Warhurst read some Bible verses at General Assembly, and everybody loses their minds. A Petition of Stern Rebuke is called for, and even now is circulating.
I already knew that discipline was an inescapable concept, but it really is kind of a thrill to see it come to pass before your very eyes. “Look!” I cry. “Discipline is inescapable. Either the heterodox will be disciplined or the orthodox will be! See that?” And I admit that the reply thus far has been somewhat dispiriting. “Wut?”
Now the stated reason the squishy middle puts up with intemperate and inflammatory expressions from the Revoice gang—e.g. “queer treasure in the New Jerusalem” and “sexual minorities” and other such crap—is because they want to be missional. And thanks to Screwtape, what a fine word that’s turned out to be! Missional must mean something like beaming winsomely at travesties. But nobody wants to be missional toward hardline conservatives.
Being missional means not saying anything off-putting that might put a kink in anyone’s kink. The only thing that they feel constrained in the conscience to not tolerate is the rising Hydra-head of Legalism, that nefarious kind of works-righteousness that seeks to be obedient to what God says to do, the way He says to do it.
Already Gay in the PCA
So Warhurst is supposed to be intemperate in his language, and why? My guess would be that he quoted some Scripture that contained the word vile with reference to homosexual passions.
Rosaria is supposed to have transgressed a great boundary line of decorum by her recognition that to place certain sins outside the reach of the Lord’s saving power is in effect a different gospel.
Now allow me to point something out. Somebody apparently needs to indicate that the sky is still blue, and so permit me.
Nobody could have been more judicious than Steven Warhurst in that presentation of his. And nobody in the country has a more established and compelling ethos when it comes to compassion and kindness extended to those trapped in homosexual confusions than Rosaria Butterfield has.
But that doesn’t matter to the tone police. However, they are not really tone police, but rather tone trolls—as a brief glance at the twitter feed of any effective conservative will quickly demonstrate. They are the ones whose job it is to prevent and head off any articulate and effective opposition to the encroachments of the sexual revolution. Their task is simply to intimidate, which they try to do with exhortations about the tone that run along the lines of ‘you-worthless-effin’-excuse-for-a-Christian-this-is-why-I-left-the-effin’-church!” If you can’t answer the arguments, then you can still make it stink. Speaking of tone . . .
Now when it comes to actual tone, some observers have said, for example, that I can be somewhat exuberant. I have occasionally used the gaudy metaphor. When November rolls around betimes, I have periodically said things that have furrowed the brows of some. At this great banquet of Reformed thought leaders that I managed to sneak into, I have from time to time thrown a dinner roll at the waiter carrying the champagne tray. This is acknowledged, although there is more to that story than one might suspect (Prov. 18:17), with one point of my defense being that it was a metaphorical dinner roll and a hypothetical waiter.
But all this is also beside the point. My voice is opposed the way it is because it is effective. Rosaria’s is opposed because she is effective. That is our central offense, the central sin, and in the new order, it is the unforgivable sin. Voices of opposition are different because people are different, but the goals of the sexual revolution are constant and focused. And one of the goals of the sexual revolution is that of reserving the right to be triggered by absolutely anything or anybody. In David Cassidy’s open letter of concern to Rosaria, for example, he mentioned a problem with her “shaming” use of humor.
Yeah, right. Rosaria Butterfield, jokester firebrand.
The Dhimmitude of Mammon
One of the reasons all this is working against us is because we are Americans who figured out ways to monetize everything. We have advertisers on our blogs, we have vendors at our conferences, and we have sponsors for our podcasts. Look at us go. But we have not yet figured out how to respond strategically when those supply lines are threatened, which they routinely are.
This is because there are plenty of merchants who are more than willing to cater to your conference, just so long as there is no controversy or trouble, but who are quickly spooked as soon as there is a sign of opposition. They are not against your cause, and were more than willing to serve it, just so long as the good old cash flow were not threatened.
So Mammon is not just a problem when people give way to the greasier forms of greed, sitting like Scrooge McDuck on a pile of gold coins. Mammon is a subtle god, and has more tricks than that. There are many individual Christians who are not individually greedy, but who are nevertheless vulnerable when Mammon puts the screws to their suppliers.
Let us say that somebody says a sensible something that goes viral, or publishes a book that explodes on the scene, or has a moment of courage like the one that put Jordan Peterson on the map. Depend upon it, the Wokestapo will swing immediately into action, and target all the relevant vendors, suppliers, and sponsors. We are now living in a cancel culture, and the woke within our ranks have no qualms whatever about “deplatforming” the opposition.
More than a few conservatives would be stalwart in a straight up debate, and would defend their own position ably. But they have no idea what to do when the enemy bombs their supply lines.
We have plenty of foot soldiers, and courageous ones too. We have many able colonels. What we need are some generals. Not parade ground generals, generals.
What It Purports to Be, and What It Actually Smells Like
The enlightened progressives say they are giving us a Yankee Candle with traces of aromatic rosemary, but what we wound up with was a small Mason jar filled with rancid pig grease, and a smoky trail of black smudge crawling slowly around the living room. I am not picking up on any rosemary at all.
Progressives think they are inviting us to an opportunity to share our deepest feelings and concerns, but then it somehow always turns into a North Vietnamese Self-Criticism Session.
Regardless, a number of us see exactly what is going on, and some of that number are willing to say so. Preeminent among those who see and understand the play that is being run on us is Rosaria Butterfield. She is a woman of kindness and courage, and she has something important to say. Let us agree together—shall we?—to hear the lady out. To accuse her of slander when she simply points out what should have been obvious to us is what observers in another time would have called the Limit. To accuse her of slander is, frankly speaking, an audacious move. Let’s make sure it is a move that doesn’t work.
“What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires”
Christianity and Liberalism
Today’s Giveaway Deal
And so here is today’s deal — my book Same Sex Mirage.
And in a total experiment mode, here is my attempt to give away something else. This is Letters on Homosexual Desire, which is an ebook in my Mablog shop. I have taken the price down from $1 to $0, but there is no telling what this might do to the checkout system. But, no complaining — I tried to give it away.
Letters on Homosexual Desire
In this series of (fictional) letters, a pastor is writing a young Christian with a homosexual background about how best to understand and resist his impulses and temptations.