The Gospel and Sexual Orientation: A Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, edited by Michael LeFebvre. Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant and the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 2012, 67 pages, $6.00, paper.

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant, 2015, 206 pages, $7.00, paper. (Also available in Kindle.)

We use the word “sex” in two ways. The first, and usual, meaning refers to sexual activity. We also use the word to refer to gender, “the male sex,” “the female sex.” Many Christians are still bewildered over the recent decision of the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage and in response are trying to defend the fundamental principles of marriage in terms of one man and one woman. Meanwhile, social discourse has moved further along the LGBT alphabet, seeking to abolish any male/female distinction, and arguing for gender fluidity. The fundamental distinction of male and female has come under attack; the debate has shifted to sex in terms of gender and the abolition of the dimorphic order. While Christians are still thinking about how to respond to the question of homosexual marriage, society is struggling to understand issues of transgender, or gender fluidity.

Sex as Sexual Activity

A few years ago I had the privilege of being involved in campus outreach to Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. The College is proud of many things, one of which is the Bowdoin Orient, “The Nation’s Oldest Continuously Published College Weekly.” On February 19, 2010, an article appeared chronicling the work of Bowdoin Christian Fellowship, stating not only that the fellowship has been “exceptionally active on campus this semester,” but also that the group is “experiencing a marked growth in membership.” However, a few pages into the newspaper, one is greeted with the following headline: Let’s talk sex, baby: Top 10 reasons to do the deed by Natalia Richey, Columnist.

Richey’s view is that since we are all different, we therefore approach sex in different ways. She then says, “I often receive strange, and surprised stares when I make this claim, especially from those who have decided that sex comes with a rule book about when, why, where, with who and for what reasons we should have it.”[1]

And there you have it, sex these days—there are no rules. There are no rules about when you have sex, why you have sex, where you have sex, or with whom you have sex. There are not even any rules about reasons you have sex. Anything goes. It is my body, and I’ll do what I want—I’ll do what I like. Life is all about me, what I want, what pleases me. This view of sex treats other people as objects. Ironically sex without rules may appear to be about freedom, but it can very quickly descend to abuse. The word “abuse” is a powerful word in our culture. The power of that word reflects the fact that for many people sex is contaminated; they have been violated. Their sexuality has been misshapen, misdirected, and harmed by others. Sex has become a complex darkness. Here is what David Powlison says:

Sex can become very distasteful. Pawing, seduction, bullying, predation, attack, betrayal, and abandonment are among the many ways that sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hands of others. When you’ve been treated like an object, the mere thought of the act can produce tense torment. Sexual darkness is not always lust; sometimes it is fear, pain, haunting memories. If immoral fantasies bring one poison into sex, then nightmarish memories infiltrate a different poison. The arena for trusting friendship can become a prison of mistrust. The experience of violation can leave the victim self-labeled as “damaged goods.” Sex becomes intrinsically dirty, shameful, dangerous. Even in marriage, it can become an unpleasant duty, a necessary evil, not the delightful convergence of duty and desire.[2]

Sex as Gender and Identity

What about the other idea of sex and of sexuality, that of identity? Princeton Theological Seminary recently hosted a conference entitled “Gender Benders: Theology and Gender Fluidity” to explore so called “gender fluidity” and how people are “forging new gender identities” outside the norms of male and female. One of the organizers, Jacqueline Lapsley, said, “[G]ender identity is a topic of great interest today, especially for young people. They are questioning the gender binaries—male and female—and some are forging new gender identities in accordance with their self-understanding.[3]

And there you have it, sex these days—gender identity is my own choice. In a recent blog post entitled Your Soul for—A Pronoun? Dr. Peter Jones said, “The new Western progressive view of sexuality claims that there are no given sexual identities.” Individuals create their own sexual self-definition. He then gave several examples of recent sexual self-determination:

A 60-something Bruce Jenner, one of the world’s greatest male athletes, has fashioned himself as a 30-something female pin-up who recently won the ESPN Arthur Ashe athletic award for courage; In Toronto, a 6’ 2”, 46-year-old father has convinced himself that he is a 6-year-old girl, with the blessing of the Metropolitan Christian Church; At a 2016 United Methodist forum for their VBS programs, the Reconciling Ministries Network demanded workers to “drop the gender binary” by avoiding such offensive language as “boys and girls”; In the UK the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England for school-children between 13 and 18 asked students to complete a questionnaire choosing from 22 “gender types,” included (sic) “gender non-conforming,” “tri-gender” and “gender fluid.[4]

Crown and Covenant Publications has produced two very helpful books that speak to this issue of sexuality. While they cover the same ground, often making the same points, they do so in very different ways. The Gospel and Sexual Orientation: A Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, edited by Michael LeFebvre, is a small book based on a report to the synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and it retains some of its church-report shape. Yet this in no way detracts from the helpfulness of the book. It contains helpful insights and guidance to the pastoral care of those struggling with questions of sexual identity. It is not merely a clerical report, it is a pastoral report.

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, is more of a personal confessional-reflecting kind of book, continuing on from her previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In many ways, reading the two reviewed books together was just as important to my thinking as reading them separately. On the one hand is a report of a church court, not dry as dust and weighed down in church-speak, but scriptural and full of pastoral wisdom. On the other hand is the personal report of one who is a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and that personal account not only oozes humanity, but the gospel comes welling up into that messy kitchen-table, backyard, yearning-for-community humanity. Both books are a must-read for officers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Gospel and Sexual Orientation

The Gospel and Sexual Orientation begins with an excellent introduction to the issues facing the church from the proponents of the new perspective on same-sex issues. These proponents argue that “same-sex desires are … not a matter of moral choices, but are a natural disposition—a legitimate sexual identity” (6). In a careful discussion of issues of biology (are there physiological causes for same-sex desires?), the report notes that “even if it were to be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that some people possess a same- sex orientation through biological or sociological factors outside their own control, this would not indicate that homosexuality is part of God’s intended order” (20). Sexual identity is included in the “all parts and faculties of soul and body,” WCF 6.2–3, disordered by original sin.

The next section summarizes questions of personality traits and the multiplication of gender categories. While many Christians are bewildered by the discussion on who may use which restrooms or locker rooms in public schools, we must be on our guard that we do not over-react. The report states:

The Church needs to be aware of these trends in our society … and then adds,

… it becomes increasingly important that the church be careful not to fall into the trap of treating “sensitive men” as less masculine or “strong women” as not feminine and thereby contributing to a sense of gender confusion and the resulting burden of individuals being given one of society’s new gender identities. (27)

From these introductory points, helping to explain the confusion evident in our culture, the report moves to scriptural and confessional statements, leaning heavily on the work of Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical Perspective, and Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.[5]

The final section helpfully states that “homosexuality is not just an issue to understand, it is a struggle experienced by real people” (57). There is a very helpful balance between recognizing the need to evangelize unbelievers and the need to disciple Christ’s flock. The desire in giving some pastoral guidelines is for the sake of “improving our ministry as Christ’s church to men and women with same-sex tendencies” (58). The guidelines are general, yet applied to issues of same-sex temptations.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America has done us a great service and greatly helped the church in the work of mutual edification and gospel witness.

Openness Unhindered

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book is a most beautiful book. Not only is it well researched, and timely, it is well written: the author uses words artfully. This is clear even from the choice of title. Openness Unhindered comes from Acts 28:31 where Paul, in Rome, was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (NASB). Such gospel openness is usually met with hostility, and surely Rosaria Butterfield has faced her share of that. Yet there is a glorious truth here: God’s gospel should be stated openly, and, if it pleases God, it shall be unhindered. Concerning the title, Butterfield says:

I have come to understand ‘openness, unhindered’ as tidings that, in their biblical context, outline Christ’s posture for the forgiveness of sexual sin and the renewal that he gives to the body and the mind. My prayer is that this book will serve as a bridge to Christ for those of us whose sin (sexual and otherwise) has clobbered us more times than we can count, and for our churches and Christian friends who want to help but don’t know where to begin or what to say. (2)

Butterfield begins by suggesting three lenses through which people view sexuality, 1. rejecting Scripture; 2. accepting Scripture but misapplying it by believing the struggle is the sin; or 3. accepting Scripture, but supplementing it with the “moral logic” of experience or the culture in which we live. This part of her book was reprinted in the March 2016 edition of New Horizons. It is a helpful way of focusing discussion. The second lens exposes how Christians are often insensitive to the struggles of same-sex temptation. The third lens exposes the dangers of abandoning sola Scriptura for sola experiencia. Many believers now frame their life not by the Word of God alone, but by the principle that one’s own life experience may validate and explain the human condition.

After summarizing her conversion to Christ, Butterfield goes straight to the issue of identity. Here she skillfully shows that seeking identity in anything other than Christ leads to a blurred view of self, of the world, and of God. In a later chapter she discusses the origin and power of the idea of “sexual orientation” and draws this conclusion, “The category of sexual orientation carries with it a cosmology of personhood that undervalues image bearers of a holy God” (95). Or again, “Sexuality moved from verb (practice) to noun (people), and with this grammatical move, a new concept of humanity was born— the idea that we are oriented or framed by our sexual desires” (97). Or again, “Prior to the nineteenth-century category invention of sexual orientation, no one’s sexual practice or sexual desire prescribed personhood or defined their personal identity” (97). That is why it is vitally important to understand the principles of identity in terms of union with Christ.

What Butterfield does is to take the good and glorious doctrines of the old story and bring them into sharp focus on the landscape of sexuality. Here is a clear statement of sexuality as it relates to the doctrines of original sin, of union with Christ, of sanctification, and of repentance. While her statement of original sin does not discuss the idea of the imputation of Adam’s sin, she is very clear on the reason the doctrine is vital:

My fear is that the use of the term sexual orientation when used as a morally neutral starting point for a conversation about biblical sexuality muddies the water about what Original Sin really means. It forgets that Original Sin is everyone’s preexisting condition. (126)

In the middle of a section on sanctification and repentance, Butterfield writes, “One reason I am writing this book is that I believe we need a more stalwart understanding of sin, repentance, and sanctification to provide pastoral care to all people struggling with unwanted sexual temptations” (56). Her careful statements of sin, repentance, and sanctification go a long way in helping the church to speak the gospel with wisdom and gentleness. Speaking of the benefits of union with Christ, she says, “One more crucial gift that identity in Christ bequeaths is it gives me a way to defend myself against Satan’s accusations. Union with Christ is part of the saints’ armor” (40). Here, in the midst of the struggle with sin, this identity in Christ is the true story, the true experience of every believer. Many well-meaning Christians often forget that sanctification is not an act of God’s free grace, but a work of God’s free grace. The result of forgetting this distinction is that we foolishly expect people to no longer face temptation. Butterfield observes:

Sometimes when I speak to church and college audiences, I am asked if I am healed. Sometimes the person asking the question will say: “God does not make people gay. So if your homosexual desire does not disappear in this lifetime, then you are either not a believer or not praying hard enough.” Both the use of the term “healing” and the “pray the gay away” philosophy strike an unbiblical chord to me, and I said that to my questioner. (55)

She is right, these are unbiblical chords.

There are also well-meaning Christians who love the doctrine of grace, but somehow bypass repentance to get to grace. Repentance, I suppose, sounds too much like law, and not grace. They argue that we should certainly admit sin, and then cry for more grace. Butterfield shows that admitting sin and confessing sin is not the same thing. “Confession of sin is meant to drive us to Christ. But Christians who indulge the habit of admitting rather than confessing sin over time tend not to see their sin as sin at all. It just seems like life” (70).


The last chapter of Butterfield’s book expresses the human yearning for community. The church, of course, fulfills that, but, as on my grade school reports, there is a could- do-better note. One of the best things about this book is the foundational place given to the ordinary means of grace. One finishes with a sense that the church of the Lord Jesus is well equipped to speak into the world the glorious gospel of Jesus. This is not a hunker-down and circle-the-wagons time. This is an age of opportunity, for preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness. Shall it be unhindered? That is in God’s hands.


[1] Natalia Richey, “Let’s Talk Sex, Baby: Top 10 Reasons to Do the Deed,” The Bowdoin Orient 139, no. 16 (February 19, 2010): 7.

[2] David Powlison, “Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken,” Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 71.

[3] Michael Gryboski, “Princeton Theological Seminary’s ‘Gender Bender’ Conference Goes against God’s Design Says Former Graduate,” Christian Post 22 (March 2016), http://www.christianpost.com/news/princeton-theological-seminarys-gender-bender-fluidity-conference-against-gods-design-bible-159679/

[4] Peter Jones, “Your Soul For—A Pronoun?” truthXchange, posted on Feb 23, 2016, https://truthxchange.com/articles/2016/02/23/your-soul-for-a-pronoun/ (accessed April 4, 2016).

[5] Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978); Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001).

[6] Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, “Three Lenses Through Which People View Sexuality,” New Horizons 37, no. 3 (March 2016): 5.

Stephen J. Tracey is serving as the pastor of Lakeview Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Rockport, Maine. Ordained Servant Online, August 2016.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

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Ordained Servant: August–September 2016

Marriage, Sexuality and Faithful Witness

Also in this issue

The Path to—and from—Here: Reflections on Sexual Identity Past and Present

Living under Foreign Law

Ministry to Those with Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Confusion

What Is Marriage? by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George

On His Blindness

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