Join Michael Easley in the studio for episode two with author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”, Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, as she shares her story: coming out of a homosexual feminist worldview, meeting a believer in Christ, and her journey as she confronts her true identity.
Rosaria is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University. After her conversion to Christianity in 1999, she developed a ministry to college students. She has taught and ministered at Geneva College and is a full-time mother and pastor’s wife, part-time author, and occasional speaker.
BUTTERFIELD: We want to guard against ghettoizing sexual minority. The gospel is a universal call. Original sin is a universal distortion. We’re not different from each other.
EASLEY: The culture has given us a whole new set of vocabulary that we as believers in Christ have to integrate. We have to figure out how to talk about these things. Can we comfortable talking about these issues? As believers in Christ, how do we navigate this conversation with friends, neighbors, perhaps people in our family who are calling themselves gay, or transgendered, or lesbians, or some new label, questioning their sexuality. It becomes a perplexing challenge and it’s very important I think in context how we think Biblically and theologically understanding this issue that’s so front and center in the media and local churches, and Christian publications. We continue our interview with Dr. Butterfield and as you listen to her responses pay special attention to some of the phrases she uses so well about unwanted sexual desires, or the shame and guilt of a person who has a sexual desire, or craving, or longing. So let’s pick up our broadcast where we left off last time with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield.
Introduction: Did the idea of pride? Was that part of a funnel for you? Did you get there quickly?
B: It was. This whole business..that whole John 7:17 that first you obey and then you understand; that was such a paradigm shift for me because my job was to read and think and then write books that tell you how to read and think. That was really new information to me and because of original sin this was not a thinking project. You see, I love thinking projects but because I am distorted by original sin, this is not a thinking project. One of the things that this lead me to believe later was that really daily we need to be thinking about how original sin distorts us and how indwelling sin manipulates us because that’s also true. That’s one of those universal truths. I don’t mean it to be glib when I say we’re all born that way. That’s what original sin tells me, that it is the one democratizing reality. So after I started repenting of pride because starting with my sexuality was just too scary. It was just too scary. Pride is a good place to start especially because for me lesbianism was not a root sin. You know you’ve got root sins and then you’ve got roots and then you’ve got branches, right? Actually for me, the root sin really was pride. I really genuinely did not want any man having any authority over me or my body at all. I found it deeply threatening and like a number of women of my generation, we consider ourselves informed lesbians, because you know tried that, done that, not working. So, I realized that pride, and self defense, and self protection were all kind of working around for me. So when I started to repent of pride, I would share that with Floy, especially Floy Smith, and this was a special church but you know why it was special? It was special because it was ordinary. People spent ordinary time with each other. One of the things that I realized after I started repenting of my sin, was that my feelings did not change. My feelings really did not change, not at first. They did. They did eventually, but not at first. Nobody in my church said, “Oh boy, we better farm her out to Exodus. The magic potion isn’t working. Repentance is supposed to zap her.” Nobody said that at all. What my church said is, “We repent unto life and then meet the Lord as our risen Savior.” If that’s true for me, that’s true for you. That’s what it is. I was not distracted by some of this over actualized sanctification that you see promulgated from,well what used to be Exodus International and is now Restored Hope Network. I wasn’t burdened by heresy, but the reality is a number of people who experience unwanted homosexual desire come to into the church are repenting in all the right ways, are not zapped. Alright, just like you weren’t zapped and I wasn’t zapped, but somehow because this is sin is so special, and so scary, and so foreign, and so dangerous and so whatever, they’re farmed out. That’s the last thing that people need. One of the worst things about unwanted homosexual desire, I think, is probably not the sex you can’t have now that you’re a Christian, I think it’s the loneliness that you experience because the churches’ model of community is based on family. Even though we’re told that the nuclear family does not survive to the new heaven and the new earth; what survives is our brotherhood and our sisterhood in Christ. So you know even though it was a very ordinary, very small, conservative, reformed church, these were ordinary Christians who just were willing to spend ordinary time with me, and a lot of it.
E: Let’s talk a little bit about same sex attraction. We’ve euphemized a lot of these phrases. We have a whole economy of language. It talks about same sex attraction. We were joking a little bit about the Q, now that we have to add on the equation. Talk a little bit about that and how you maybe differentiate, or don’t, from the way we look at other sin.
B: You know it’s always so uncanny the way that the Lord uses all the parts of your life to become a whole creature in Christ. I just marvel at that. That could just bring me to tears right here. I’m not a very talented woman. I can knit socks; I guess that’s kind of talented. My intellectual specialization, I do one thing. I can size up a book and I’m what’s called a whole book scholar. So my job is not to size up little pieces of the book, but to see if the book has integrity; to see if the parts make a whole. I’m also a nineteenth century scholar and sexual orientation was a nineteenth century invention. It came right out of Freud and Freud came right out of German romanticism and in the history of ideas, German romanticism is the first time in the history of the world that anyone believed that epistemology could be discerned by personal feeling. I will tell you that epistemology truth claims based on personal feelings is still considered the lowest common denominator. But even secularists would have rejected that prior to the eighteenth century. So when Freud came, Freud’s theory was that what made humans human, was sexual desire apart from procreation. “What made you human,” says Freud, “is not your soul, but your sexual orientation.” Sexual orientation from a Christian perspective is a category mistake, and it’s not just a category mistake. It’s a category mistake that offers an anthropology of the soul that is unbiblical because it declares that instead of being a soul oriented person, you are a sexual oriented person. For people who study the history of ideas, these things are important. This is important. This is not squishy; this doesn’t have fuzzy edges like a stuffed bear. This is a binarism. So as a Christian, well at that point is identified as a lesbian who now met the risen Lord, I really had to wonder, “Is this a case of mistaken identity?” Oh, I still feel like a lesbian; it’s not about feelings. I had a pastor ask me once, when the “yuck” factor about homosexual sex hit me upside the head. I had to say, “Brother, you know what? If that’s going to be the grounds of whether you consider me a sister in the Lord, you just keep praying.” Because what hit me upside the head was my union with Christ; what hit me upside the head was that the Bible was a unified Biblical revelation; what hit me upside the head was that I wanted, not only did I want to know what God had to say to me, but I wanted God to hear my prayers. That’s what hit me upside the head! Now slowly overtime God did a work in my life in other ways, but that’s not proof of the gospel. So both is true. I am not going to go belly up on the grounds of sexual orientation because it’s a category mistake and in the same way that we have any number of other category mistakes we don’t ….
E: But it gives a license to a culture economy. We’ve got this language; we’ve got those tools, and we can sharpen those words.
B: That’s right. That’s right. When somebody comes to me and says, “Well I’m gay and I’m a Christian.” What I need to do is find out what that person means. Now gay, or Christian. Which do you think is the most important thing I should find out about? What that person means about what it means to be a Christian? Or what that person means about what it means to be gay? Christian! No question. No question! Often what you find is people have had a kind of manipulating experience in a church where they have said the sinners prayer, they have felt shame and anger at their own sexual desires, did not know what to do with it. This whole business of praying the gay away, what that is, that’s praying that God would fix you so you don’t need to rely upon grace. That’s not repentance. Repentance is different. Repentance points out the fact that it is only through Christ that we can make sense of the next two minutes, least of all the rest of our lives. So this desire to be zapped once and for all, changed, that’s maybe what’s glory is about, but that’s not what sanctification is about. So often you find that people have been handed, peddled if you will, a false gospel. Part of how usually I hear the peddling of this gospel happened, is energetic large church wants to add to its numbers any way it can. Whoa to us! Now two things have happened, not only do we have people who think they’re saved but might not be, but we have whole cultures of people like this in our church now demanding that we change what the historic Christian church has maintained over the course of thousands of years. Now it would be one thing to change your mind because of an error, but another to change your mind because of the rallying call of personal experience. Those are two different things.
E: Let’s talk about community.
E: We talk a lot about community, and cliche and what community experiences and what you have shared previously. This is a big, big point for you.
B: Community is a big point for me. When I was in the gay and lesbian community, somebodies house was open every night. Every night you would know where to go for fellowship, food, and conversation, and just so you wouldn’t want to kill yourself. You know what I mean? Whatever. When I became a Christian, I still marvel at it. Why we live on a starvation diet is sort of our problem. Why we expect other people to do that, is just ridiculous. You know. This idea that once a month your church has a fellowship meal and if you’re A-M you bring a covered dish, with a can of cream of mushroom soup in it so you get to glory faster, right? It’s kind of ridiculous. You know that’s just not right. There’s no reason why the church needs to be afraid of being a community. The ideal place for that is your home. Your home is the ideal place for that. I say these things and people get really fussy. I’m not trying to be mean spirited, or proscriptive, but hospitality is not entertainment. If your house needs vacuuming, ask somebody to vacuum it for you. Hospitality means that people gather together because we instinctively know who we are one to another. Hospitality is an opportunity not necessarily for counseling or deep conversations, but doing life together and doing it in the rhythm of life, and not by appointment only. It’s where folks know your house is open that night and the doors open. If there’s cathair in your food, pick it out. Okay? you know. Okay?
E: You were doing really well, until then. (laughter)
B: But I will say, we want to guard against ghettoizing sexual minorities. We want to guard against saying, “What do I need to do to help my gay neighbor?” It’s not that that’s not a good question, but the gospel is a universal call. Original sin is a universal distortion. We’re not different from each other.
E: A question from an individual who struggles with same sex attraction. On the one hand they can’t feel true to their heart and to God; there’s a sense they must choose between God and the church or follow their heart to leave the church and the Bible. They got this dichotomy, how do I..
B: I would love to…you know how questions are. You want to challenge some language here. That is the battle of original sin. That is the battle of an original sin that is just hitting you so hard, that you’re saying exactly what Paul said in Romans 7:17. “Why do I do what I don’t want to do. It is not I, but sin in me.” So it’s so helpful to know that you, child of God, daughter of the King, son of the King, are not ontologically the distortion that you feel. Alright! Original sin is like going to the State Fair and looking in one of those mirrors. You can recognize yourself, but that is not who you are. Daily someone who is struggling with any sexual sin, I think; let’s say sexual sin pattern, or sexual sin temptation, because having temptation is not a sin. It’s a brokenness. It’s a vestige of original sin. We do need firmer language, that’s why I do not like the term: same sex attraction. There is no sin in attraction. I find no sin in attraction. Lust, oh yes! Is it a slippery slope? I don’t know. I think you have to be careful about jumping to those conclusions because I think what happens is then people who are battling unwanted homosexual desires are made to feel like they’re dangerous. Without meaning to, you might be making them feel that way. So you need to examine too, what’s going on in your heart? Let me just make the assumption, that in this room there are people who are struggling with homosexual desires. It is never just us chickens, whatever the us is. Ever. And not just because I’m here. I mean I understand that I am the big killjoy but not just me. In any group of Christians, you will meet people who will always struggle with a gamut of temptation patterns. Those are distortions of who we ontologically are and who we will be when Jesus returns, or when we die. But here on earth, let us battle together. Christ tells us that some people will get one cross to bear, and others will get ten crosses to bear. We know that sanctification for some might be overwhelmingly dramatic, and others slow and painful. That’s normal. That’s what I John prepares us for. We ought not be shocked, but we ought not make people feel like they’re dangerous because they’re just telling you where they are. So watch what you have said. If you have allowed gay jokes to just run rampant in your world, apologize to people. Don’t be afraid to apologize to people. That would go far. It would go far not just with believers within the church, but unbelievers. If we believe that repentance is unto life and that it is a gift from God, it ought not be such a secret. What is this posture of the Christian life? Why is it such a secret?
E: You mentioned the placards of Scripture that were highly offensive to you on one side. As you look at Scripture now how do you integrate that and how do you respond?
B: In general, and again I’m a whole text scholar. So in my world, you would not take a verse from Wordsworth and make that the verse. I mean I would never say to my students, “Don’t read all of the Othello. Let’s just read these three verses.” Yet sometimes Christians do that with the Bible. They read the Bible a little bit like my unsaved neighbors read their horoscope. They have their verse a day and it’s supposed to do some kind of magic to you. I don’t know what it is because one verse does no magic for me. The Bible is a systematic conversation. The Bible contains every genre and genre in the Greek means law. You intuitively know that. I’m getting a text message from somebody as you can hear the beeping and when I have time to open this and check this text message, if I scan it for iambic pentameter, ok? That’s not going to help me discern what that person is trying to say to me especially if this person is saying, “Pick up your keys in delta Rm 37.” This will not help me and yet we act as though every verse of the Bible is to be read the same way. So in some ways I still have a problem with placard mentality. We are to be students of the whole Word, not just literacy, but fluency. We are not to use the Bible to shame people, so we have to be careful how we use the Bible.
E: When you speak and you’re interviewed and have an opportunity to share, what do you wish you were asked? What aren’t you asked, that you like to talk about?
B: In general, what I would always want to remind people is that original sin is democratizing; that we are not to demonize people because of our democratized distortion by original sin but that it is our job to not be careless with it. It is our job to really know how original sin distorts each of us and how indwelling sin manipulates us because if we don’t know, we are dangerous. What makes us safe one to another is not that we have a shared temptation pattern and it’s you and me against the world. What makes us safe is repentance unto life that allows us to truly live in the blood of Christ, having been baptized into His death, and having been raised and promised to be raised with Him on the last great day.
E: As I listen again to Dr. Butterfield, I’m struck by her emphasis on original sin. We might call it the fall; that in Adam’s fall we did all. We are born into a sin nature; we are all depraved; we are all fallen creatures; there’s none righteous; no not one. It’s hard for us as Christians perhaps, if we’ve been a believer for a long time we look at sins in different ways. A murderer is worse than someone who steals; a person who is a rapist is worse than someone who cheats on his or her taxes. At the end of the day sin is sin and while it’s hard for us to understand there is no incremental value that God places on it, we are sinners all; the ground at Calvary is level. I appreciate where she ends our interview because it is where we need to begin; we are all sinners; we all deserve hell; there is none righteous. So what about you and me? First of all: do you know Christ? and if you listen to these podcasts and broadcasts at all you know we come back again and again to explaining the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is the way to be forgiven. That is the way of Salvation. It begins our life of sanctification. But the added complexity of living in our present world with gay, lesbian, homosexuality, transgendered questioning issues, all surrounding us and being pushed into the church,how do we respond? We don’t want to be placard, carrying, hateful, people yelling and screaming at sin, nor do we want to absolve and absorb these lifestyles and say, “It’s no big deal. It’s how you were made.” Navigating the Christian life, being sanctified to be the man, the woman God wants you to be is the journey for each one of us whether it’s lust of the flesh, lust of the eye,or the boastful pride of life, money, sex, and power. We’re all pulled in certain directions so we begin first of all with a long look in the mirror calling our own sin what it is. We then move to loving the unlovely; that there are people that maybe we don’t like their sin choices, their sin desires, their sin inclinations, but let’s have empathy for one another. Lets have mutual love and respect. I don’t know what your one takeaway is, but one of my big takeaways is Dr. Rosaria’s reminder that the gay community provides a loving environment for one another and the church could learn well from that to say, “Are we loving of co strugglers? Are we loving of sinners? It doesn’t mean we love and embrace the lifestyle of sin. We look to them as creatures just like ourselves, broken, and in need of a Savour, the unlovely whom He loved. He loved you. He loved me. Can we express that love to people who have very different opinions, very strong opinions, about things we may disagree with. This is Michael Easley inContext.