Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
Greg Koukl: One of the things that we seek to be effective at Stand to Reason is taking the message that has been entrusted to us, and speaking it in a way that makes sense to the fallen world that we are sharing that message with. Lately, that’s become much more difficult than it has in the past because of the changing culture and the ideas that are aggressively pushing back at our convictions in one way or another. That’s why I’ve been looking forward to this conversation this hour with Rosaria Butterfield. She is the author of two books. The first one is The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. The second one is, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ.
She is a former tenured professor of English. I hear a chuckling in the background, remembering her past. I can tell you’re going to be a good-natured conversationalist right from the beginning Dr. Butterfield.
Rosaria Butterfield: Oh, good. I hope to be that and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have this conversation with you tonight.
Greg: Thanks so much. Let me get your bio out of the way, because it’s not just your bonafides that are important, but other details of your life that I think are going to make this conversation so valuable to our audience. You’re a former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University. You are now married to Kent Butterfield, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor. You’re a homeschool mom, an author, and a speaker.
You describe your own conversion to Christ as a train wreck. Maybe we can start out by having you explain the particular life circumstances that made your conversion to Christ so dramatic in a certain sense.
Rosaria B.: Right. I was a “true believer” before I was a true believer. That’s certainly part of it. When I started exploring the Bible, I was doing so because I wanted to tear it down. I was soon to be tenured professor, and my tenure book and all of my credentials were pretty much in the bag. I wanted my next book to be something that really mattered to me. I was starting a book on the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. Because quite frankly, people who run radio shows like yours just terrified me. I really didn’t understand why you wouldn’t leave consenting adults alone. I was reading the Bible in order to dismantle it.
I had written an op-ed in a New York newspaper that was entitled, “The Promise Keeper’s Message Is a Threat to Democracy.” That op-ed got a lot of feedback, it generated a lot of heat. One of the responses came from Ken Smith, the pastor then of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It really was, and even is to this day is, the kindest letter of opposition I had ever received.
Greg: Was it unusual at that time for you to received any kind letters from Christians in opposition?
Rosaria B.: I would say I certainly would have lots of people say they were praying for me, and I thought I knew what that meant but I really didn’t. I didn’t really have anybody who was willing to engage me personally.
Greg: Did the announcement of prayers for you sound patronizing?
Rosaria B.: Patronizing and just foolish. I would just think, “Don’t waste your time. Do something else. Knit socks. Do anything.” Really, I just didn’t believe that any of this was true. I found it threatening the way that Christians would use what I thought was an ancient book to condemn me and my girlfriend, and everything else.
Greg: Just to be clear here, you mentioned condemn you and a girlfriend. You were living as a lesbian with a lesbian partner, right?
Rosaria B.: Right, that is correct. It was just really hard to argue that she and I were anything but good citizens, good caregivers, and good neighbors.
Greg: Loving people.
Rosaria B.: Yeah, yeah. I was working on this book. When Ken wrote me that letter, I thought, “Great. This is like an unpaid research assistant.” This guy wants to talk to me and I certainly know that I don’t know what I need to know so this is a match made in heaven.
Greg: Yeah, so to speak.
Rosaria B.: So to speak, right, yeah. That began a two-year friendship really of Ken bringing the church to me. We would meet weekly, and he and his dear wife Floy, and I became very good friends. Something powerful changed. I’ll tell you, it didn’t change overnight. I read through the Bible about seven times. I wrestled with everything from its internal hermeneutics, to its canonicity, to its questions of authority. I was really wrestling with the idea, that very audacious idea really, that this book has a birthright and a progeny totally different from every other book on the planet. In the process of that, a very simple thing happened and that’s that the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I was. That’s when everything changed.
Greg: When I think about this, I get goosebumps just hearing what you have to say, and of course you express it so well in both of your books, this transformation. What I like about your saga, this journey that you describe so well, is that it’s the journey of a very real person from a very, very dark place, that when you were there, didn’t seem dark to you. Would that be a fair way of putting it?
Rosaria B.: I loved my life. I think for many years after, even after my conversion, it was hard not to be sentimental about some of the qualities, some of those things that went into my life. I think that’s helpful for people to remember. One of the reasons Christians are struggling with how to steward the Gospel in a world that has falsely declared sexual orientation to be a true moniker of personhood is because sometimes we look out and we say, “Wow, my neighbors who identify as lesbian are the nicest neighbors I have.” I think we need to remember that there is a distinction between lives that are blessed by God’s common grace and therefore good, and that they do good things in the world. They’re good doctors, they’re good neighbors, they’re good friends.
I think that it helps for Christians to really understand those terms a little better. Because if Ken Smith had just come up to me and said, “You’re a sinner. You’ve got big problems and Jesus has a perfect plan for your life,” I would have laughed, I think.
Greg: This issue is for many people is just a big yuck factor that’s involved. When we actually engage with gays and lesbians, many times we discover they’re not as yucky as we thought once we get to know them as people. This has a powerful, in a certain unfortunate sense, impact on us to think more favorably of the lifestyle because we are thinking more favorably of the individual.
Rosaria B.: Right. If I can back you up a little bit, I try to avoid some of the language that you just used in that question. I really don’t like using the language that would suggest that there is such a thing as a gay person, or a lesbian person, or a bisexual person. Personhood is defined in Genesis 1:26–27, “We are image bearers of the holy God.” There are certainly people who struggle daily with unchosen homosexual desire, but they’re really not a separate category of personhood. Although that very much is what the LGBT rights movement wants you to believe.
Greg: Right. I’m very sensitive. I thank you for that reflection and at Stand to Reason, we are very sensitive about the language issues characteristically. Sometimes you end up using language that communicates even though it’s not really the best chosen word. Help me out here, Rosaria. How do you characterize this group of people that you were so closely associated with for so long as a group?
Rosaria B.: That I identified with, but I what say is, my neighbor who identifies as a lesbian, because I’m respecting that I am accepting that person right where she is. As a Christian, my job is to steward well the ideas of the world and the people who inhabit those ideas. My job is to steward well even if that means giving people a little bit of a gentle pushback. The category of sexual orientation was really invented in the 19th century. It’s not a biblical category. The Bible talks about homosexuality as a verb, what people do, not a noun, who people are. That’s really important.
We are image bearers of a holy God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We have a soul that will last forever. We have a gendered body. We are male or female, and that will last for eternity, whether that eternity takes us to the new Jerusalem or suffering in Hell. Those are non-negotiable ideas from the Bible. In the 19th century, Freud developed a theory that what he thought distinguished human beings from other higher mammals, sexual desires that were separate from the desire to procreate, and that those separate desires had different objects of desire, and that’s what made people different. People were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and that’s what mattered most. Then very quickly after that, the sexual orientation moved from a category mistake in the 19th century to an idol. That’s part of why people sometimes don’t understand why there’s that relationship between the abortion rights movement and the LGBT rights movement. It’s because sexual autonomy is a designing moniker of personhood.
Then in the 21st century, we have a situation where sexual orientation is considered a civil right. If the idols are not destroyed, they will become absolutely at the center of everything that that culture stands for.
Greg: You also mention in one of your books about what you call, “The prosperity gospel about sexuality,” the idea that sexuality is a human right for human pleasure, and whatever makes you happy sexually. If I’m getting your sense of it right, whatever makes you happy sexually, you have a divine right to pursue.
Rosaria B.: Right. Again, back to being good stewards of ideas, here Christians need to be able to explain why knowing that sexuality is teleological is important and not psychological. That’s crucial. I’ve had people say, “Wow, Rosaria you are really arrogant. How dare you say that sexual orientation is a category mistake?” What I like to say to that point, I’m happy to be rebuked and I’m happy to, it’s a reflection what’s in the mirror. I struggle with all kinds of things, but it’s a category mistake. Some of us were alive with Pluto was a planet. Nobody’s arguing that there isn’t a celestial mass out there called Pluto. We’re just saying that we put it in the wrong category.
Greg: That’s right. That’s a good way of putting it.
Rosaria B.: The same is true for this. Nobody is denying that people, real people, people we love, our sons, our daughters, our neighbors, our coworkers—we’re not saying that there aren’t people who have a deep and abiding attraction and affinity, and even a desire that moves into lust and everything else for members of the same-sex. The Bible is saying that doesn’t mean that that’s a separate category of personhood. That’s part of why this whole category of gay Christianity is so dangerous for the church, when the church embraces it. This is true whether it’s the gay Christianity that asserts celibacy, or the gay Christianity that advocates for gay marriage. Some people will say those are two different things. Theologically speaking, they’re not very different at all.
Greg: On this point, I think about Jesus’ comment in a Matthew 19 about marriage. You can just take His statement not as the inspired reflections of the Son of God, the incarnate Son of God, but just as a reasonably intelligent human being, who’s making an observation about the way reality is structured. Human beings are made male and female from the beginning. This is the way we’ve been. It turns out that human beings are gendered and that’s just a fact about the way the world is. I think it’s what you called, “Gender and sexuality essentialism.”
Rosaria B.: That’s right.
Greg: This is the fact of the matter and the foundation we start from. Of course, that’s not the direction the world is going right now and this is something that we’re up against. Before we go to break here very quickly, I want to ask you, go back quickly to Ken and Floy when they took you under their wing for a couple of years. I think this is instructive to our listeners because I think the rank and file people who listen to a show like this want to be useful for Christ, we want to be faithful to the truth, and we want to be generous and gracious to those who disagree. But we don’t know always exactly what it looks like to be generous and gracious on one hand, because others may have a different definition of what that looks like, and to be faithful to the truth on the other. I think that the behavior of Ken and Floy towards you for those first two years was an example of a way of building bridges and being able to communicate. Can you say just a little bit about that?
Rosaria B.: Right, absolutely. One of the things that we had was regular set time together. Ken and Floy gave me not spare time, but pricey time. We met for dinner once a week for two years. They made that commitment to me. We would meet at my house, we would meet at their house. We would talk about everything and the-
Greg: At your house, would that include your partner too?
Rosaria B.: That’s funny. It never did include my partner at the time. It did include some other members of the LGBT community who were friends of mine. My partner at that time had no interest in my research project, but some of my friends were gracious. A friend of mine who identified as transgendered, and this person is biologically male, but dressed as a female and took female hormones to be chemically castrated. I call her, “Jill” in the book. Actually, I call her “J” in the book. She even came to church with me on more than one occasion. Ken was extremely helpful in some issues in that situation. Ken and Floy were very conservative Christians in their 70s, their late 70s, who befriended me and modeled for me what it means to be a Christian family. They were willing to talk honestly and openly with me about matters of life, politics, and faith. They always made it clear to me that they accepted me right where I was. They just didn’t approve.
Greg: Did the issue of your sexual behavior come up very often or was that a sidelined issue when they focused more on you as an individual?
Rosaria B.: Yeah, that was definitely a sideline issue. In fact, it only would come up if I would was really being feisty about something and was pushing the envelope. No, Ken always said that he never thought that my calling myself a lesbian, living as a lesbian was my biggest sin. He always knew that my unbelief was my biggest sin. He was just not going to be taken off course by me.
Greg: That’s great. I have to go to break right now, but when we come back I want to pick it up right there. Because this manner of approach to those who identify as gay or lesbian is a great model. I want to explore that just a little bit more when we come back.
Greg: My guest is Rosaria Butterfield, a former professor of English in women’s studies at Syracuse University and has, in many ways, an unlikely journey from that role. She was a pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ activist and is now a committed follower of Christ. I did mention you were married to Kent Butterfield, a Reformed Presbyterian Pastor. I do not want to make it sound like yours is a success story because you went from a lesbian to a heterosexual, rather than because you went from a non-Christian to a follower of Christ. You see the distinction.
Rosaria B.: Right, absolutely. Yeah, because we are called as followers of Christ to fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness. That’s true whether we struggle with same-sex attraction or not. I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian when I became a Christian. What I realized was that Jesus is alive and He is who He says He is. My feelings did not change immediately. The mortification of sin is a very deep and painful, and rigorous, and daily, messy business. We’re not talking about behavior modification, not even close.
Greg: As I was reading through Openness Unhindered, you actually spent a lot of time talking about that. I’ll be honest, as a straight married male, as a Christian follower struggling with sin, I actually was encouraged as a disciple of Christ by your application of John Owen about the struggle with the flesh. There’s much in your book that really has to do with being a follower of Christ. You may want to say more about that in a moment, but I wanted to return to this. Just a reflection that I had, based on the conversations that you had with Ken and Floy those first two years that they did not focus in on your homosexuality, but focused in on your rebellion to God in general.
I’m curious what you think of this advice, but I know that sometimes in conversations when Christians engage with others, one of the first questions that’s asked is, “What do you think of homosexuality?”
Rosaria B.: Yeah, that’s crazy.
Greg: It’s meant to, I think, polarize the conversation and pigeonhole the Christian as a certain kind of person. Here’s what occurred to me as a good response and I’d like to get your thoughts. “You know what? It doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality because homosexuality is not even the issue.” If you are a prodigal, far from home, running from your Father, it does not matter what city you go to. What matters is that you return to your Father.
Rosaria B.: Right, absolutely. I would say we didn’t spend, really, Ken and Floy, and I did not spend two years talking about my rebellion. We talked about the Bible because I was writing this book and I wanted to dismantle the Bible. I wanted them to tell me why they didn’t think I was dismantling it. We talked about Scripture and then we talked about life. One of the things that Ken and Floy modeled to me is that Christians need to be earthly good to their unbelieving neighbors, and they need to be available to be earthly good to their unbelieving neighbors. I live in North Carolina now. It gets to be 40-degrees and people act as though they’re freezing, but where I lived in Syracuse, New York, a blizzard is a serious thing. Certainly, I wasn’t a member of this church, but there wasn’t a major snowstorm that happened in those two years that one or the other of them didn’t call and see how I was, see if I still had power, see if I needed anything. They really modeled being a Christian for me. We talked about Scripture, we worked through the Scriptures. In the process, they modeled for me how a Christian family lives.
Greg: The one thing that I caught from your description of your prior life is that hospitality and community are a huge part of the experience that you had in the LGBTQ community.
Rosaria B.: Absolutely. I tell people that I honed the hospitality gift that I use today as a pastor’s wife in my queer community. This was in the 90s when the AIDS virus had just taken hold, when various Latin nouns became household words from the medical profession. It was a community given to seeing hospitality as something that moves out into the community, that welcomes people into their homes. I was really intrigued that these Christians had a similar household. In my house, the LGBT community, somebody’s home is open every night of the week just for fellowship, or food, or just to come between you and suicide, or you and depression. That’s just normal. I was amazed when I was at Ken and Floy’s house that their house was a lot like mine. People just walked in, sat down, and poured a cup of coffee.
Greg: If they had not been like that, do you think they would have had the impact on your life, humanly speaking at least, that they had?
Rosaria B.: No, I don’t believe that if I hadn’t really felt loved and valued, known and listened to, and if they didn’t live in a way that was sacrificial, open, and caring, that I would have given them the time of day.
Greg: Loved, and valued, and listened to. I hope our listeners are catching those words because they’re key to relationships like you had with Ken and Floy. I want to go back to this, another thing I think a lot of people are wondering about and it’s not news to you, that in the transition, you became a follower of Christ at some point. You committed your life to the Lord, and yet you wrote, “I still felt like a lesbian in my body and heart.” I’m reading, “That was I felt, I felt my real identity, but what is true identity.” Here, I think you began to touch on the distinction between what, at least for me, was a confusing way of putting it, maybe you can flesh it out for us, the difference between a real identity and a true identity.
Rosaria B.: Yeah, those are words fairly common in continental philosophy. They were terms that were in my vocabulary, but they’re a bit specialized and I can see how they would be confusing. The biblical terms would be, “I felt my identity in the flesh. I felt my identity in the flesh because I had practiced it.” That’s the reality of sin. Sin practiced sears your conscience, it harms your soul, and it makes you long for the very thing that will kill you. The Bible talks about that in terms of the flesh.
Greg: That would be analogous to real identity, is that right?
Rosaria B.: That’s real identity.
Greg: Subjective, if you want to put it that way. The one subjective identity. They’re constructed identity.
Rosaria B.: I think in Scriptural terms, we see that all believers are in a war between their real identity or what Galatians talks about as the flesh. What’s important to remember is that unbelievers don’t have that struggle. Unbelievers just have the flesh. They don’t have the Holy Spirit.
Greg: I had a friend once who said before he was a Christian, he’d never struggled with temptation. No struggle, you just give in.
Rosaria B.: You just enjoy it, yeah. You just do what seems right.
Greg: I wonder if we can linger at this point just a little bit, because I thought this was among the best parts in your book in Openness Unhindered where you talk about this struggle. Here, you’re developing ideas from the great puritan John Owen. You’re contrasting two kinds of understandings about the sanctification process. We are in a struggle, and it’s a battle, to mortify the flesh, and this goes on the rest of our lives. It’s true for us as heterosexuals with our sin, but somehow we seem to think, if somebody with same-sex attractions who identifies as a lesbian or gay become a Christian, that struggle should end if it was a genuine conversion. Talk to us a little bit about that process.
Rosaria B.: Right. It’s so unfair, and it’s so unkind, and it’s so uncharitable, and it’s so unbiblical, but it really comes from a theology that misunderstands Romans 7. I think that if in your theology, you don’t see in Romans 7, a converted Paul struggling with indwelling sin, then you have no category for indwelling sin. What we need to remember is that we have to deal with sin on at least three levels. We have the original sin that distorts us. For years, I said I was a lesbian because that was a true reflection of my feelings of same-sex attraction. Only after becoming a Christian did I realize that what I called being a lesbian was really a distortion of who I am, not a reflection of it. Original sin distorts us, it distorts all of us.
Greg: That’s the category you’re talking about earlier.
Rosaria B.: It’s an important category, yes. Sin distracts us. It takes us off course. We weren’t looking for it. It was looking for us, Genesis says. We weren’t intending, but it found us. Then indwelling sin manipulates us and it took a while for me to realize that my lesbianism was indwelling sin, and it was indwelling sin because I had practiced it for so long. Indwelling sin manipulates you. For me, it was a very painful reality that there was a war inside, that between the indwelling sin of my lesbian desire and my union with Christ that was new, small, and nascent, but growing.
Greg: We see in Romans 7 and Galatians 5 that battle. For me to realize that, it was both comforting and challenging, because on the one hand, there’s this battle. That’s par for the course as a follower of Christ in a fallen world, living in a fallen self with indwelling sin. At the same time, it means that I have to be committed to an active battle with that fallenness and that indwelling sin that is meaning to captivate me and capture me.
Rosaria B.: That’s right. It also means a very decisive turning away from the idols that protect that indwelling sin. That’s very practical. When I say that, I’m not being theological and being very practical. It means that there are TV shows you can never watch, and CDs you could never listen to. It’s a decisive turning, a decisive submission, and a decisive reorientation to Christ-shaped living. And even to some Christians that makes you look like a fanatic, but you must do these things if you’re struggling with an indwelling sin like I was.
Greg: You wrote about repentance being a daily thing, an ongoing thing, and not just an act that you did back when you turned to Christ. Repentance is a constant act of turning away and having the grace to do it. This is where the nuts and bolts that sometimes gets hard to figure out, doesn’t it Rosaria?
Rosaria B.: It does. That’s why we need a community of believers. That’s why the best thing for somebody struggling with same-sex attraction is not some program in your church, but it’s the Body of Christ where everybody is repenting. They’re doing so in a pretty transparent way. They’re not coming to church pretending that they’re all cleaned up. The other thing that people like me need is fellowship that is organic, and spontaneous, and regular. Not a fellowship meal the third Lord’s Day of the month. That doesn’t cut it. That’s a starvation diet of community.
Greg: Again, this is the kind of fellowship that was with genuine community that you experienced with the LGBTQ community. Spontaneous and organic.
Rosaria B.: Right. When people tell me that their children are lost to the LGBTQ community, I’ll tell you, that’s a hard community to leave. Because it’s a well-honed community. It’s a community of people who have spent decades working together to bear one another’s burden. It’s a community without boundaries and walls, which already probably to some of the listeners are thinking, “That sounds like hippies. I can’t live like that.” I think that I’m not in any way recommending that we just take a model that is unbiblical and apply it to our lives, but rather that we reinvest in what the Bible means to be good neighbors.
Greg: The irony is that what they have done in a certain sense is taken what is true in human beings [a desire for community, to belong], that is biblical, and they have leveraged that for strengthening their communities. If we were doing regular, organic, spontaneous communities, interacting, holding each other, providing a safe place to be, and in a sense reaffirming our own convictions with each other, our communities would be as strong for Christ as those.
Rosaria B.: I think you’re right, because if we really live as the family of God, the watching world would see that. It would be irresistible. People are dying of loneliness. People in our churches, people in our neighborhood. It’s an agony to see so many lonely people. If the church really had an understanding of itself as a family and a deep committed calling to draw others into that, that would change everything.
Greg: My guest, Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. We’ll be back with our final segment together in just a moment.
Greg: Rosaria, I’ve got so many more questions I want to ask. Let me just fire a couple of things out and get your feedback on these. There were two statements I want to offer to you to respond to that are on opposite sides of the spectrum. The first one is what a counselor once told you, a Christian counselor, “Change your message.”
Rosaria B.: Yes, she did.
Greg: We’ll get your response. Then on the other side, there is this concept of “pray away the gay,” which I think reflects a misunderstanding about some things that we’ve just been talking about. Why don’t you respond to each of those, if you could.
Rosaria B.: Yeah, that was a very intense moment. I was about to speak at a large conservative church. There was a person on staff at that church who wanted to meet with me. She came in and closed the door, and said, “I want you to change your message.” I said, “I come in the Gospel of peace.” She said, “I want you to change your message.” I said, “I stand in Christ alone.” She said, “I want you to change your message.” I said, “I stand on 2,000 years of Christian tradition.” She said, “I want you to change your message.” I said, “What exactly would you like me to say?” She said, “I would like you to say that it is your opinion that homosexuality is a sin.”
Greg: She wants you to relativize it in other words.
Rosaria B.: Right. I said, “Sweetheart, I am not smart enough to have that opinion. That is 2,000 years of not just church teaching, but of the biblical witness.” Then she went on to say, “Oh come on, Rosaria. We’re talking about six pesky little verses.” That’s when I said, “The problem is that it’s not that you and I are standing in the forest looking at trees differently. The problem is that you and I are not standing in the same forest. I don’t know what else to say. You’re not even in the same forest.” The Bible is a unified revelation. You could no more take six verses out then you could go to an art museum, take a famous Persian tapestry, clip out six threads and say, Nothing’s changed. Jesus came to fulfill this Scripture so that it could remain a unified biblical revelation.
Greg: Another concern about that is that it’s not just stray sayings. These things are tied through with the nature of human sexuality. Back to Matthew 19, human beings are gendered creatures and they’re that way because God made them that way, and all of these verses follow from that fact. This is tied into the way reality is structured.
On the other side of the spectrum then, you have those who think that if you’re just a good enough Christian, then all of these other temptations are going to be gone. The “pray the gay away” approach.
Rosaria B.: Yeah that’s right. I was recently speaking at a large Christian college and spoke with many students afterwards, and had many students come and say, Please pray for me. I’m struggling with homosexuality. What I always say to people is, “Let’s use language that’s going to help us. Are you struggling with lust? Let’s deal with that. Are you struggling with lack of contentment about singleness? Let’s talk about that.” It’s a very defeatist approach. It’s a very overwhelming thing. I don’t support those ministries that psychologize homosexuality. There are two reasons in the same way that I don’t support ministries that endorse gay Christianity. I would say they both have a low view of sin.
Both gay Christianity and psychological therapy that move towards what they call “Orientation change” have a low view of sin. Often they look at homosexuality as a behavior to be modified rather than a sin to be mortified. That’s a big deal to a Christian. To have a low view of sin means you have a low view of grace. It’s not a small thing.
Greg: If somebody’s struggling with anger though, sometimes anger has a foundation in a relationship where you’re interpreting something one way, and by working through that misunderstanding, then the anger begins to dissipate so you don’t struggle with it at all or as much.
Rosaria B.: I’m not as anti-therapy as I sound. I do believe that people should have the right to seek therapy for various struggles as they see it and as their pastors and counselors see it.
Greg: You just don’t want to reduce it to a therapy issue when it’s really a moral issue. Is that what you’re saying?
Rosaria B.: Right. I think too often then it tends to look at homosexuality diagnostically, constitutionally, and developmentally. It sets up parents to be the evil causation of all of this. You had an overbearing mother or an absent father. I think those are assumptions that have really been harmful to parents, who are grieving and not understanding how their child raised in their Christian home now identifies as a gay man or a lesbian woman. That’s why I think it’s very helpful to go back to Romans 1 and to realize that homosexuality is part of the Fall.
Some would say, “We’re born this way.” Now sometimes people meant that ontologically. Sometimes there’s a way to understand that biblically. Biblically, we’re all born this way [with sin], one way or the other. We are all born with a propensity, and a very predatory propensity I might add, to make idols out of our sexual desires that are unholy, unhealthy, and unwarranted. We all do that.
Greg: Romans 1 is speaking to that very thing.
Rosaria B.: It speaks very powerfully. In fact, I think it defines homosexuality as an ethical outworking of original sin. That means we’re all born that way in one way or the other.
Greg: We just have a minute to go here about. Again, so much more on my plate I’d love to chat with you about. I think people are wondering how have you been received now by your former community? Folks can go on YouTube and you’re all over YouTube giving lectures and answering questions, and God bless you for that. How are you being received in general?
Rosaria B.: At the time, you can imagine how painful this was for my students, for my colleagues, for my ex-partner. I had co-authored the first domestic partnership policy at Syracuse, which was the policy forerunner for gay marriage. People really lost an advocate, and a friend, and a professor, and a colleague. Can you image how terrible it would be to be a graduate student who had traveled internationally to work with me in queer theory and now I’m not teaching in that field anymore? Your whole career is destroyed. One of the realities, and I want to be very frank about that, is that to be a Christian, I had to betray all the people I loved. I hurt them and that was painful, and hurt people act like hurt people. When you’re grieving without Christ, that is a very painful thing.
Greg: Hurt people act like hurt people. That’s great. I’m writing it down right now because it’s a great aphorism. Because it explains things, it explains in many ways the pushback that we get. You also said, “There’s no good answer to a bad question.”
Rosaria, thank you so much for bearing your life before us in your books, the wonderful books, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, which is your first book about your journey. The second one, which is a discipleship-oriented book for any Christian, but especially for those struggling with sexual sin. That book is titled, Openness Unhindered. Both by Rosaria Butterfield.
Thank you so much for your kindness, for your hard work, and for your durability out there in a challenging world.
Rosaria B.: Thank you for your 26 years of a radio ministry, of this quality and candour. You clearly have God’s blessing and a good amount of chutzpah, which is a good combination.
Greg: I appreciate that. All the best to you Rosaria and God keep you and your continued work.
Listen to the podcast interview HERE.