There’s nothing new about a pastor resigning due to controversy over sex, but now a pastor has resigned because he wrote a controversial book about sex.
Josh Butler, co-lead pastor at Redemption Church in Tempe, Ariz., is author of the much-debated new book Beautiful Union. After The Gospel Coalition published an excerpt of the book online March 1, the criticism was so rapid and so intense that the article was taken down less than 24 hours later.
It was replaced with a full chapter from the book to give “context” to what Butler had written. That only sparked more criticism.
“We have found ourselves in an impossible situation,” Butler wrote to his congregation in an undated resignation letter circulating online May 3.
“We have found ourselves in an impossible situation.”
Butler begins the letter by acknowledging the excerpt from his book “generated some controversy.”
After time to pray and process, he and the church’s elders have determined he should resign, he says.
Redemption Tempe is part of a network of conservative evangelical congregations under the umbrella name Redemption Church Arizona. The Tempe location is one of 10 churches in the network.
Butler said he feels “called to step more into these public conversations” like those generated by his book. “I desire to be humble, charitable, winsome and wise. There are some mistakes I’ve made I wish to own but also deep convictions I hold that I wish to contribute to the broader conversation.”
At the same time, he wrote, “I don’t want to drag Redemption into that public conversation with me. The toll of this controversy on many of our staff and leaders this month has been intense, at both Redemption Tempe and other Redemption Arizona congregations. While they have borne that burden well, I am concerned that my continuing to step into this public conversation would generate distraction from the primary ministry God has called us to as a local church.”
The official release date of the book was April 11, an event Butler references as concurrent with his resignation. However, news of his resignation from the church was not widely known until May 3.
“As the book officially launches, … I desire to be present to that broader conversation and to create some healthy distance from Redemption congregations being so closely identified with my voice and perspective.”
Butler said the process of “repair” with people in the church he has offended is ongoing.
“For some of you, my lack of greater pastoral nuance in areas of the excerpt evoked pain, particularly for some women with histories of sexual abuse,” he said. “I want to apologize for not showing greater consideration for how my words in this section could be heard from within your shoes. I’m truly sorry.”
Baptist News Global has published four articles about Butler’s book and the reaction to it. Other media outlets around the nation have covered it extensively.
Criticism has come over several ideas Butler espouses in the book — some ideas perhaps more understandable in Catholic and Orthodox traditions than in Protestantism. In the most notable example, Butler compares a husband entering his wife sexually to Christ inseminating the church. He also makes the man the dominant partner and the wife the submissive partner in the sex act as an “icon of salvation.”
As of May 4, the book had not registered as a bestseller in any category on Amazon. It ranked No. 51 in Ethics in Christian Theology, No. 172 in Christian Social Issues and No. 1,590 in Christian Spiritual Growth.
The 288-page book is published by Waterbrook Multnomah.
Evangelicals critical of that TGC article on Jesus and sex just don’t understand Catholic and Orthodox theology, Dreher contends
We don’t need more ‘context’ to understand Josh Butler’s article on sex and the church | Analysis by Rick Pidcock
How viewing sex as an icon leads to the pornification of Christian women and the church as Christ’s bride | Analysis by Mallory Challis
Josh Butler isn’t done talking about God and sex yet | Analysis by Rick Pidcock