Conversation with an unlikely convert

Lita Cosner chats with Dr Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria-Butterfield
Dr Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is the author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. She is a public speaker, pastor’s wife and mother. She earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from Ohio State University, is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University, and served in the English Department and Women’s Studies Program there.


In the title of her first book, Rosaria Butterfield describes herself as an ‘unlikely convert’. Her testimony is widely available both in Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and on many YouTube videos.1 While her conversion included rejecting the lesbian lifestyle she previously saw as a “cleaner and more moral path”, Rosaria is adamant that she was converted not out of homosexuality, but out of unbelief.

A key part of her journey was her friendship with Pastor Ken Smith and his wife Floy. Rosaria says they proved to her they were interested in real friendship. They did not immediately invite her to church or share the Gospel. While that’s a Christian’s first instinct in many situations, she thinks it can make the non-Christian feel like they are nothing more than a new evangelism project to us. While we should certainly share the Gospel, she advises that Christians who want to reach unbelievers can start by just listening. “Ken and Floy spent a lot of time just listening to me—and it wasn’t spare time, it was costly time.”

Reading the Bible

I asked Rosaria how her training as an English professor affected her reading of Scripture. “I was not raised in an evangelical church, so I didn’t know about this particular pattern of reading that the evangelical church often seems to encourage, the ‘verse a day’ type of reading. And I’m glad I didn’t know about it, because it would not have made any sense to me; it would have just driven me mad! As an English professor, I specialized in how a book fits together as a whole. So I would say the Lord used all of that training when I came to Scripture.”

Yet Scripture was also challenging her assumptions. “I was writing a book from a lesbian feminist perspective trying to tear down the Bible. I was opposed to all gender/race oppression, and the Bible, I had heard, was filled with both. I had been raised Catholic, and Protestants have a different canon, and I needed to know why. I had heard about authorship problems in John, and authorship is a key question for English professors. Now, I don’t really think everyone has to confront that; I love the thought of a simple faith that receives the Word of God as a balm to your soul, and not feeling the burden of needing to work through these issues.

“But it was really interesting to discover that the Bible was actually answering my questions. Many times in studying a subject, you have to go outside the text to get answers. But that wasn’t the case with the Bible. So the Lord used every bit of my training, and I would even go so far as to say that the reason I have the training I have was for this moment.”

Biblical marriage is a creation ordinance

Rosaria emphasizes the need to approach this issue from the standpoint of a biblical view of creation. “Evangelical Christians only want to talk about the New Testament, and you cannot argue for sanctity of marriage from the New Testament alone. You must understand biblical marriage as a creation ordinance.

“But when you talk about creation, then you step on people’s toes! ‘Oh no! That’s going to offend people. We have scientists in our church!’ But do you not think that any of us who came to Christ out of a life of sin that we loved and enjoyed weren’t offended by the Gospel? The ‘offence’ of the Gospel is one of its signature forms of love.”

Rosaria emphasizes how the idea of male/female marriage is founded in the Genesis account. “You can’t defend the binarism of male and female and the integrity of the male/female binarism in marriage—which is at the centre of the Gospel, not its margins—without understanding it as a creation ordinance, which you can’t do in the New Testament. So if you’re just a ‘New Testament Christian’, you’re part of the problem.”

The ‘yuck’ factor

Rosaria has spoken out against the ‘yuck’ factor used by many evangelicals. “When the LGBT community started to campaign for gay marriage, they attempted to white-wash what counts as gay and lesbian sexuality. ‘We’re just like you, we just want companionship, we want to be able to visit each other in the hospital.’

“However, there were many Christians who said, ‘I smell a rat, because for whatever reason, I know what you’re not telling me, and I want other Christians to understand that this is serious sexual sin that can be damaging and dangerous.’ And so they wrote articles that encouraged Christians to respond with what they would call ‘the yuck factor’. ‘This is disgusting; you have the right to be grossed out about it. If it smells like there’s rotten fish here, there really is.’ And they weren’t wrong. The Bible does say that we are to have a kind of internal ‘resistance to sin’ (1 John 2:3).

“But when Christian pastors portray same-sex attraction as yucky and disgusting and horrible, this encourages gay jokes and it encourages people to speak carelessly. And people in the room who have never told anyone what they’re struggling with will have just perceived that they had better find the exit, because this is a completely unsafe place.

“And then to make matters even worse, you may think the same-sex acts you’re describing are ‘yucky’, but some people don’t. And so faithful Christians may not be tempted until they listen to your sermon or read your blog post. So as Christians talk about sin, and especially sexual sin, we need to do so with decency and modesty (Philippians 4:8). We need to give people the room to confess their sins to their pastors and elders and not unwittingly cause our brothers and sisters to stumble.”

Engaging in hospitality

Hospitality is a passion for Rosaria, and it is also the topic of her upcoming book. “Hospitality is not some quaint art where your teacups match. Hospitality is where you open the doors wide open, because you recognize you have neighbours who are dying of chronic loneliness, and such people will gravitate to anything that fills that void. Our homes can be sanctuaries for people.” In fact, she says, “The LGBT community values hospitality, and the skills I learned there I now use as a pastor’s wife.”

Standing on a biblical foundation in a hostile culture

Many Christians feel intimidated by the opposition they face in our culture when they take a biblical stand on gender issues. Rosaria said, “In some ways Obergefell2 was decided in the worst possible way for Christians, because sexual orientation became a protected category of personhood under the Supreme Court decision. So as Christians, on what grounds can we deny that someone’s sexual orientation gives them particular civil protections? The biblical ground is that there is no such category of personhood as sexual orientation because we believe Genesis 1:27 is true.

“And here the evangelical church is its own worst enemy, because I think many people in the church are embarrassed about Genesis 1–11. They’re embarrassed about literal 6-day creation; they just think intelligent people shouldn’t go there. Nevertheless, Christians are going to have to be articulate in explaining and living out what it means to be an image bearer of a holy God, one that rejects sexual orientation as a category of personhood for something better.”

Rosarias-books
Two books authored by Dr Rosaria Butterfield; The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered.

How to engage your homosexual neighbour: first steps

Many want to engage people in this area, and share the Gospel with friends and family who identify as homosexual, but they don’t know where to start. Rosaria suggests approaching this subject in a gentle and caring manner. “We can all engage in Gospel issues from the posture of good neighbours. A good neighbour can’t support gay marriage, because that actually puts a stumbling block between a fellow image-bearer and the God who made him or her. Part of being a good neighbour is also listening well. Many times people will ask me, ‘How do I talk to my neighbours who identify as LGBT?’ But a better question might be, ‘How can I listen so I know where they’re coming from?’

“When we stop seeing homosexuality as a ‘special sin’ and start viewing the issue through the lens of the Gospel, we can start to engage in a more helpful way with our neighbours who struggle with this issue. And when we see this as a creation issue, we have a firm foundation for defending the biblical view of gender and marriage.”

References and notes

  1. Rosaria Butterfield, Journey from Lesbianism to Christianity, youtube. com, April 2016. Return to text.
  2. Obergefell v. Hodges is the US Supreme Court decision (2015) that legalized same-sex marriage in the US; creation.com/scotus, 2015. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Gay Marriage: right or wrong?
by Gary Bates, Lita Cosner
From
US $3.50

Readers’ comments

Roland B.
This is an encouraging interview on a tough topic. My wife and I compliment both interviewer and Dr. Butterfield for the content. We are believers and teachers of biblical creation, know the value of hospitality, and can recommend Dr. Butterfield's books as well. As Christians we have found doors open when we listen, befriend, and engage -- especially on sensitive topics.
Norman P.
Excellent article. Thank God, Jesus fulfilled every jot and tittle of the law of Moses - writing in the dust, whilst laying down his own life for the condemned (John 8:11), thus fulfilling the two great commandments. The real issue is hypocrisy of unbelief: hence Capernaum was worse than Sodom (Matthew 11:23). The denial of Christ, is a denial of the Creator, leading to lawlessness and hastening destruction. Thank God for those who defend the foundations (Genesis 1-11)!
Joel B.
What a wonderful approach to consider. Rosario presents a Godly way of showing the grace of God through Jesus without capitulation. Standing firm on ALL of God's word.
Her statement "The "offense " of the Gospel is one on it's signature forms of love." is a very powerful truth that we must all commit to without fear or intimidation. A very straightforward answer to just another sinner in love. No slight of hand, no kool aid, just the truth of the gospel. BRAVO
Tommy S.
“When we stop seeing homosexuality as a ‘special sin’ and start viewing the issue through the lens of the Gospel, we can start to engage in a more helpful way with our neighbours who struggle with this issue."

The problem with this is that homosexuality "is" a special case. Not because it is a special sin as compared to other sexually immoral issues. It is "special" because those who are actively engaged in it refuse to acknowledge that it actually "is" a sin. If they acknowledged it was a sin then it could be treated by us as just another sexually immoral act such as fornication, adultery, etc.

Because culture and our courts have deemed that homosexuality is normal and good, we have to break that huge barrier down just to reach these people. I believe most homosexuals professing to be Christian would agree that lying, stealing, and even fornication or adultery are sins, but they won't admit that homosexuality itself is a sin. If you can't admit you are a sinner then how can you repent and be saved?
TOM G.
Enlightening! All believers have a personal testimony about how the Lord called them to Himself. This testimony is as valid as the rest. All sin is evil to God and unrepentant sin denies the necessity of Christ. All true believers have recognized their inability to become righteous on their own and must be born again of the Spirit The concern about this article is it could be taken as prescriptive (likely unintentional). Being compassionate and loving to everyone, including all sinners is clearly Christ's message to all of us. Homosexuality is a grievous sin, but it is no more grievous than the whole list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9,10. The miracle of grace is what follows in verse 11..."Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God". Our God will forgive everything but denial of Christ. "Conversion" without believing all of the Bible can be questioned as we don't get to pick and choose out of it. (2 Peter 1:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:16,17). According to Jesus not only is being born again a necessary condition of salvation (John 3: 1-8), He said it all begins in the Father's will to draw us to Christ (John 6:44,45 & 65) to which we will respond (John 6:37-40 ) because God always accomplishes His purposes (Isaiah 46:9-11 & 43:11-13) From beginning to end, all of salvation is of God's grace as He bestows it. (Ephesians 1 & 2, Romans 8:28-30). When any sinner, any of us, comes to Christ, it is all of God's elective grace and gratitude and fruitfulness to God's glory will consistently be our heart. This article rings true about evangelism always being loving and compassionate. However, we must remember the result of our efforts doesn't depend on us, but God who acts.
Daniel B.
As a biblical counselor myself, I've often referred to Rosaria Butterfield as I've grown to better understand all things pertaining to how our culture views 'sexual identity' and how to respond with biblical wisdom. My wife and I have loved the hospitality book, and we both desire to be better listeners by God's grace. I met Dr. Butterfield when she came to speak at an event in Jackson, MS while I was in graduate school there. Thanks for this post!

Have something to add?

Important: This is not a Q&A forum. If you have unresolved questions, please search our comprehensive Q&A pages or contact us directly.

Remaining characters: 1800/1800
Privacy & Guidelines