Rosaria Butterfield has watched the game from both sides. Or played on both teams. Whatever the metaphor, the atheist-lesbian-professor-turned-Reformed-pastor’s-wife has a unique vantage point—one from which we have much to learn.

“Prior to conversion, my experience with Christians was that they were mostly fearful people,” Butterfield recalls in a new interview with Mark Mellinger. “They used the Bible as a punctuation mark to end a conversation rather than deepen it.”

The author of the popular book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant 2012) [review | “Homosexuality and Christian Faith” TGCW14 workshop] insists that relationships—raw, honest, empathetic relationships—are vital:

How can you possibly have strong words without strong relationships? And how can you possibly have strong relationships without taking the risk of being rejected? If you want to put the hand of the lost into the hand of the Savior, you have to get close enough to get hurt. That may be a new idea for many Christians, but it’s the ground rules of the new game.

And by the way, she adds, “Don’t presume that the worst sin in your gay and lesbian neighbor’s life is sexuality. It’s not. The worst sin is unbelief.”

Homosexual activity is symptomatic, not foundational, Butterfield observes—a “fruit sin” rather than a “root sin.” As she explains, “The fruit of homosexuality is the ethical outworking of a heart and mind and identity that rejects the idea that God is Author and, by implication, that his Word has the right to interrogate my life, not the other way around.”

Is Butterfield fretting about cultural decline and hostility? Not exactly. “When Christians are ‘losing’ socially and politically, we tend to do better,” she notes. “We pray more, and we’re humble. And we don’t make moral proclamations in place of gospel invitations.”

Not only is Butterfield unwilling to rail against gays and lesbians, she believes they have much to teach Christians. “The gay and lesbian community is a real community,” she says, “from which the church has a lot to learn about standing with the disempowered and being good company for the suffering.” In fact, she often tells believing parents with gay children, “You will have to work very hard to love your son and daughter as much as the gay community is.”

Watch the full 19-minute video to see Butterfield discuss gay pride marches, gospel bridges, “heretical” reparative therapy, and more.

Understanding and Loving Our Gay and Lesbian Friends from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.