Protestants are “going bonkers” over a controversial article on Jesus and sex by Josh Butler because they don’t understand Catholic and Orthodox theology, according to conservative commentator Rod Dreher.
Also, the widespread critique of Butler’s article for The Gospel Coalition has been driven by “the sex abuse survivor community among evangelicals,” according to Dreher’s voluminous online post about the matter via The American Conservative.
The original article in question, which was published by TGC and taken down less than 24 hours later, was an excerpt from Butler’s forthcoming book, Beautiful Union. In the book and in the column, 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.”
Reaction to the article published on TGC’s website was so swift and so brutal that TGC took down the article, Butler resigned from the new Keller Center sponsored by TGC and several prominent people who had endorsed Butler’s book (without fully reading it) withdrew their endorsements immediately.
And Christian Twitter has been aflame with debate over the whole thing.
Now Dreher has weighed in, offering a defense for Butler and castigating his critics as ignorant of 2,000 years of patriarchal church history.
There are “massive freakouts among evangelicals” because Butler “compares sexual intercourse to Christ’s relationship to the church,” Dreher explains. “I’m seeing where some evangelicals who defend him are being denounced and told to ‘read the room’ — a craven, sniveling phrase meant to bully people into conformity.”
Butler may have been inelegant in his writing, but his point perfectly aligns with the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, he continues. “I guess there would have been no place at the Keller Center for St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), an archbishop of Constantinople and one of the most important Fathers of the Church.”
Dreher and St. John Chrysostom agree with Butler, he says: “This is what Catholics and Orthodox mean when we call godly marriage an ‘icon’ of the church — that is, of God’s relationship with the church. In a spiritual sense — as St. John understood — Christ is the bridegroom who fertilizes the bride (the church — that is, us), whose receptiveness to the bridegroom’s initiative generates new life — a life of faith.”
“This is a big reason why Catholics and Orthodox cannot accept same-sex marriage: because it violates the iconicity of marriage.”
He muses: “I guess it had not occurred to me that evangelicals didn’t see it that way. This is a big reason why Catholics and Orthodox cannot accept same-sex marriage: because it violates the iconicity of marriage, which has been understood as a symbol of God’s creative, organic spiritual relationship with his people.”
What Butler wrote is “pretty basic for Orthodox and Catholics,” Dreher contends. “In fact, if you read the introduction and the first chapter of Josh Butler’s book Beautiful Union, from which the controversial essay was excerpted, you’ll see that Butler is pushing back towards reclaiming a sacramental view of sexuality within marriage.”
Dreher then publishes tweet after tweet critical of Butler’s writing and chastises each of these critics as uninformed and “theologically illiterate.”
He wonders: “Do we have to bowdlerize the Bible now, and patristic writing, to suit the sensitivities of 21st century Americans?”
Dreher particularly ridicules Rich Villodas, one of those who withdrew his endorsement for Butler’s book.
“Villodas is a hypocrite who was frightened by the mob, so he threw Josh Butler to the braying hyenas to get them off his trail,” Dreher says.
“Villodas is a hypocrite who was frightened by the mob, so he threw Josh Butler to the braying hyenas to get them off his trail.”
Later, he calls out BNG columnist Sheila Wray Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue. Of her online critique of Butler’s writing Dreher replies: “Good grief, this is overheated and even persecutorial. If she thinks that sex is all about power, no wonder she was offended by the analogy of married sex to the relationship of Christ to his church. Maybe, though, sex isn’t all about power.”
Speaking from his perspective as a former Catholic who is now Orthodox, Dreher sees the evangelical Keller Center at TGC as a lost cause. “Maybe it had to take down Butler’s piece and apologize in order to keep its funders, but boy, what a terrible sign for them. Who can take them seriously now? How on earth is it going to reach this post-Christian world if Kellerist Christians are not allowed to speak analogically about sex in ways that are biblically sound, and that have a deep history in Christian thought and theology, because it offends certain people?”
He ends with an invitation: “To evangelicals who are scandalized by what Josh Butler writes about God, sex, and the body: it gets pretty spicy over here with us Orthodox and the Catholics, so put on your theological prophylactics when you come slumming with us.”
Those in the sex abuse survivor community — and many others — also appealed to history in their continued critique of Butler and his defenders.
“In light of the recent outcry over the TGC article, perhaps it is time to look with open eyes at what has been taught for a very long time,” tweeted Rachel Denhollander, a prominent evangelical ally for abuse survivors. “What is new is not what Butler wrote. Only that people cared this time.”
How viewing sex as an icon leads to the pornification of Christian women and the church as Christ’s bride | Analysis by Mallory Challis
We don’t need more ‘context’ to understand Josh Butler’s article on sex and the church | Analysis by Rick Pidcock