She was a tenured professor of English at Syracuse University, New York, where she was an outspoken lesbian activist until she received Christ in 1999. She is now a full-time mother and pastor’s wife. What? ♦
“Fervent with the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin, I strove to stand with the disempowered.” she says. “My life was happy, meaningful, and full. My partner and I shared many vital interests: aids activism, children’s health and literacy, Golden Retriever rescue, our Unitarian Universalist Church, to name a few.”
She then met a friendly neighbor and his wife who without judgment or condemnation helped answer her questions and mentored her through her own steady pace of reading and studying the Bible. She studied it like the scholar she is and came to the conclusion of its historical and evidentiary truth. She came to the amazing conclusion that she had been persecuting Jesus; that while she thought she was on the side of the “good guys” she was actually on the wrong side of history and the truth.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview* with her:
You describe your conversion as a “train wreck.” Give us a brief testimony.
In my late twenties, I met my first lesbian partner. By the time I started to read the Bible, I was 36 and a professor of feminist theory and nineteenth-century British literature. About that time, I met a pastor named Ken Smith who became my friend. He shared the gospel with me over and over again. I realized I had been persecuting Jesus. So I committed my life to Christ, and then things got really hard. (RB)
What about the charge that Christians are unloving toward those involved in homosexuality?
Ken never sat me down and said, “You are a terrible sinner because you are a lesbian.” But I had been reading the Bible and had been spending time with his family, and there was a witness against sin. And at the same time there was also a welcoming friend who really loved me right where I was. We need a strong Biblical witness, and we need real friends. (RB)
You’ve read and analyzed many books. How did that impact your reading of the BIble?
I read whole books at a time, and I studied the Bible’s authority. Every book you’ll ever read has an internal purpose. Even unbelievers know that the Bible’s a dangerous text because its internal purpose is to redeem – to change the very nature of humanity. That’s a scary prospect. (RB)
Does Genesis and creation matter when I am speaking to my homosexual neighbor?
Creation is important to every orthodox Christian. If you want to understand the holiness of God, you’ve got to go back to Genesis. I’m asked to explain to my friends who might not understand why Christians are taking this stand [marriage is God defined and only between a man and a woman]. You can’t defend what you can’t define, and you can’t define marriage unless you read Genesis. (RB)
Some Christians call themselves “gay Christians.” What’s the problem with this kind of terminology?
What you see in this new of idea of “gay Christianity” is the idea that the Bible is mostly true, except for those parts that take my life captive. We were all born broken. We were all born to desire things that we ought not. But as soon as we all make an identity out of that, we get into trouble. We need to mortify indwelling sin, not make peace with it. (RB)
What can Christians do in a culture where sin is celebrated?
Spending an hour a day in the Word is not just for privileged sixteenth-century German monks. We are in a serious battle for the gospel. We need to be on our knees. We need to have our Bibles open, and we should be reading them deeply and crying over them. (RB)
* An Interview with Rosaria Butterfield – A Friend of Sinners, Answer Magazine, Oct-Dec, 2015, vol. 10, no.4.
A Changed Life
Rosaria’s conversion cost her everything: her home, job, and friends. (What kind of tolerance is that, by the way?) She says that her neighbor simply challenged her with simple and non-offensive questions that merely asked her to defend her worldview and the presuppositions that undergirded it:
- How did you arrive at your interpretations?
- How do you know you are right?
- Do you believe in God?
As a postmodern intellectual, Rosaria “operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview.” With their living testimony as uncompromising Christians, her neighbor friends punctured her long-held beliefs that Christians were mean-spirited fools.
As Rosaria devoured the Bible in multiple readings, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired, one of her lesbian friends warned her that “This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria.” With tremors, she whispered, “J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?”
“Lesbian or Mistaken Identity?”
Rosaria then began asking herself questions and seeking answers in prayer:
- “Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God’s point of view, or did I just want to argue with him?”
- Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity?”
- “If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail?”
- “Who am I?”
- “Who will God have me to be?”
Like each of us before and even after our conversion redeemed by a Holy God, Rosaria’s life was “a broken mess.” But the transition into a renewed life was and continues to be beautiful.
But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world. I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, where one calls me “wife” and many call me “mother.” (from The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Butterfield, Crown and Covenant)
Have you challenged your own worldview and the presuppositions that undergird it?
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” – John 7:16-17