Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rosaria Butterfield and Dorothy Patterson

A few weeks ago on a Sunday night I led my congregation to watch this YouTube video. In it Dr. Rosaria Butterfield tells her own story of conversion in which she left irreligion and lesbianism in favor of Christianity. Every aspect of Butterfield’s story is spellbinding, but the part that caught me by surprise more than any other was the role she attributed to hospitality in her conversion. Butterfield glowingly described the strong community she enjoyed in her former lesbianism. She opened her own house every Thursday to whomever among her lesbian friends wanted to stop by. Someone in her cohort opened her home in this way every night of the week. Among the factors that made her willing to consider Christianity (alongside six-to-eight hours of Bible study every day!) was that she found in her pastor-friend and his wife someone as committed to hospitality as she was. Her most stinging critique of contemporary American Evangelicalism: That we are living “on a starvation diet of community.”

How ironic that at this very moment there are some quarters of American Evangelicalism (and semi-Evangelicalism/pseudo-Evangelicalism) who lampoon and mock the sort of work that Dr. Dorothy Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have done through the Women’s Studies Program, the Homemaking degree, and the Horner Homemaking House to emphasize and teach hospitality and community-building as important means of ministry in the twenty-first century! Such antiquated values, we are told, will make of us obscurantists who will never be able to reach a modern generation of women, yet the ├╝ber-modern Butterfield—erstwhile Northern, lesbian, tenured Professor of English Literature and Women’s Studies, with emphases on feminist ideology and queer theory—has identified precisely the foci of these SWBTS programs as a sine qua non of her conversion and has listed them among the key needs of the hour for our propagation of the gospel.

I ask Southern Baptists to consider this: If Butterfield is right, and if hospitality and increased community are pressing needs for the success of the gospel among contemporary Americans, what serious strategy exists outside the Southwestern model for achieving them? I can assure you, for the Barber household to serve as this sort of a welcoming atmosphere is not something I could ever accomplish but through the efforts of my wife. A strategy expecting Southern Baptist men to assemble a winning combination of theology and hospitality on their own is a fool’s errand. The time has come to heed Butterfield’s words—and Patterson’s—by expanding training to interested women to empower them through homemaking skills and theological education to use their homes as Kingdom outposts welcoming in refugees from the culture who are looking for a home.

Yesterday I was in the audience as Dr. Candi Finch occupied the Dorothy K Patterson Chair of Women's Studies at SWBTS. Dr. Finch is an exemplary scholar and theologian in her own right, as well as an ardent follower of Jesus Christ and a champion for students. I think Butterfield is right. I think we are starving for hospitality and community. Of every solution on the table, I'm most optimistic about the one being offered through the mobilization and empowerment of biblical women at SWBTS.