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What Is Truth?
Guest: Rosaria Butterfield
From the series: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Day 3 of 3)
Bob: After meeting a number of times with a local Presbyterian pastor, Rosaria Butterfield—a college professor, a committed feminist, a lesbian—remembers the morning that everything changed for her.
Rosaria: One day, I got up; and I got out of bed that I shared with a woman. I brushed my teeth, and I walked the dogs. An hour later, I was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. I came there to meet God. It was very powerful, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. It was very powerful. The prayer that came out—after that—which really surprised me, “Lord, could you make a woman, like me, a godly woman?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We will hear today how God answered Rosaria Butterfield’s prayer. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There is a passage in a book I read years ago called A Severe Mercy. The author is a man named Sheldon Vanauken, and he was a skeptic at Oxford University. He started writing letters to one of his professors, C.S. Lewis, asking him questions all about Christianity. He’d get a letter written, and Lewis would respond back to him with an answer. He’d write a new letter and get an answer back.
He’d finally written a letter to Lewis one time. The answer that came back was: “I’ve decided not to answer your questions anymore.” He said: “It’s—I’m pretty well convinced that The Hound of Heaven is after you, and it’s just a matter of time.” [Laughter] I remember reading that—and I remember Vanauken reading and going—he was a little put off; but then, he got a little worried that, maybe, in fact, it was just a matter of time. [Laughter]
And I have to wonder if our guest, this week, has—didn’t have something of that same experience in her life.
Dennis: Yes. And I’ve been chased down by The Hound of Heaven, as well. It’s good that He’s on our trail.
Rosaria: Amen. Amen.
Dennis: I agree with you. Rosaria Butterfield joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Rosaria: Thank you very much.
Dennis: She has written a book called The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. How do you summarize, Bob, what we’ve talked about—
Bob: This week?
Dennis: —this week. I mean, Professor of English at Syracuse University and was a part of the women’s studies. You were a teacher in the queer studies program. You were a lesbian—had a live-in lover that you were with for a number of years.
In the process, she wrote a letter, criticizing a group that came to the Carrier Dome, there at Syracuse University—a group called Promise Keepers. A pastor wrote you back. Long story made short—instead of condemning you, he just started asking you questions that caused you to ponder and reflect, spiritually. And The Hound of Heaven began to get on your trail.
Bob: And you found yourself wrestling with whether the Bible is true—whether it’s authoritative—
Rosaria: That’s right. That’s right.
Bob: —whether your life had to come under the authority of the Scriptures and of the God of the Scriptures.
Rosaria: That’s right.
Bob: But in your case, if you are going to believe this—
Rosaria: Right. Oh, yes, yes.
Bob: —and if you are going to act like you believe this, it’s revolutionary. It’s going to leave you with a lot of your old friends who don’t want to talk to you anymore and a lot of new friends that you don’t know if you want to hang around with.
Rosaria: Yes, that’s very well-put; right. And so, I did. One day, I got up; and I got out of bed that I shared with a woman. I brushed my teeth, and I walked the dogs. An hour later, I was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. I came there to meet God, and—
Dennis: And when you said you came to meet God, you showed up to surrender.
Rosaria: Well, not at first. I mean, I’d love to say that! You see, you make me look good; but that’s not true. At first, I was just really curious about sort of the: “What’s the next step? Okay, I’ve read the Bible, now, more than once; and I’ve studied it. Now, what? Okay, we you go to church. Let’s find out what’s going on there.”
It was very powerful, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. It was very powerful. Then, the prayer that came out after that—which really surprised me. It had nothing to do with my sexuality. It had everything to do with my pride and my gender, “Lord, could you make a woman, like me, a godly woman?” It was really not much of a prayer. It was more of a question, but God answered that question because God can do anything! Right?— you know, “Can these dry bones rise?”—right? Not by their own will—they cannot.
Bob: Those two questions, as you sat listening to God’s Word being preached—and this is over a period of—
Bob: —of years.
Rosaria: Of years.
Bob: But those two questions kept haunting you to a point where you finally—
Rosaria: Right, I did.
Bob: —had to throw in the flag and say, “Okay.”
Rosaria: “Okay, Lord, I’m yours. I’m yours.”
Bob: Tell us about that day.
Rosaria: In some ways, it was very anticlimactic because of all the things that had preceded it. I was still kicking up a bit of a fit about: “Oh, poor me. I have to give up so much.” Ken said to me once: “Well, you’ve got friends in this church. Why don’t you ask them what they had to give up to be a Christian?”
I thought “Well, okay. Have at it!” I learned the most amazing things. I heard from women who had to bury their children, but not their faith. I heard about people who were struggling with all kinds of other sexual issues—pornography addiction. I mean, it was just everywhere. Everybody was a mess but not really. That was really striking to me. It seemed to me that, maybe, original sin is a comforting idea.
See, I started out believing that everybody was good; but that’s a hard world view to keep pumping up. But I started to think about it: “Well, what if we were all born this way? Maybe, that’s a comforting thing.”
Bob: Born in sin.
Rosaria: Born in sin—that weighed differently. Everybody has something that’s going to take them by the neck. I think that was in the context that I really learned the first rule of repentance. Repentance is not some kind of one-time pledge you do at the moment of conversion. Repentance is a daily posture of the Christian—daily, hourly, minute-by-minute. There is no shame in repentance. It is the kindness of God—it says in the book of Romans—that leads us to repentance. All repentance does—I’ve figured out—it’s really simple! It just proves that God was right all along! That’s not new information!
Dennis: And that we were broken—
Rosaria: And that we were broken.
Dennis: —and needed a Redeemer.
Rosaria: That’s right. And there are a million ways to be broken.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Rosaria: But you know what? That’s not the point.
Bob: When you surrendered, you started on a new path that was very different than the path that you’d been on.
Rosaria: It was. It was.
Dennis: And she said she lost everything except her dog.
Bob: Yes. I mean—
Rosaria: He’s a good dog, too. [Laughter]
Bob: It was the end of your relationship with—
Rosaria: Sure, of course.
Bob: —your lesbian lover, but it was the beginning of the end of your time at Syracuse.
Rosaria: It was. I did not lose my job. I should say that. It’s not that I—I don’t want to make this out to be that I was victim—but one of the things that I realized, in my repentance—and you know what? I realize this every day, in repentance: “Jesus, it was You I was persecuting the whole time.”
So, that puts a certain caution on a person; right? I wasn’t really sure what God would have me do. So, it was the end of my time at Syracuse; but at the time, I didn’t know it was the end of my time at Syracuse. What it was—was it, at the beginning of my research leave—my post-tenured research leave—and I wanted to study Christian education. I thought: “Okay, Lord, I’m a Christian. Where does a Christian profess—at a secular university or at a Christian college?”
So, a very good friend of mine, who is now the President of Geneva College—he was faculty member at Syracuse and Ken Smith’s son. His name is also Ken Smith—just to further confuse everyone who is listening. He was able to get me an adjunct position at Geneva College. Then, I also had a teaching position at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry in Pittsburgh. I pieced together a research program. It was in that context that I met Kent Butterfield, who is now my husband.
So, I really never did go back to Syracuse; but that was totally shocking to me.
Bob: Did everybody at Geneva College know who was coming to town when you showed up?
Rosaria: You know they did, but they were okay with it.
Bob: They knew that—
Rosaria: They were okay with it.
Bob: —the post-feminist, post-lesbian—
Rosaria: They sure—
Bob: —convert was coming to town.
Rosaria: That’s right. That’s right.
Bob: And tell us—because you don’t really go into a whole lot of detail about the romance between you and your husband, in the book.
Rosaria: I will tell you this—that when you are a sexually-broken person, the most terrifying idea is that you would, then, be a married woman because the fear that I had was that I would pollute or break—
Bob: You’d mess everything up.
Rosaria: —I’d mess everything up. So, one of the most amazing gifts, in my life, has been Kent and his daily, biblical ministry that repentance of sin is one thing—it’s really important! We do it all the time. It’s our posture.
Rosaria: Healing—sexual healing is a separate but related experience. It is fully by the stripes of Christ that we are healed—that when you are a sexually-broken person, your sexuality runs a little bit like water in a groove on a path. If you walk a path over and over again, that path becomes pretty deep. So, when the water floods, it has no place to go but make it almost a river, even. I’m amazed that, over the years, as we meditate and appeal to Christ’s balm—because He took those stripes—those grooves in our path get filled up. What they get filled up by is the means of grace. You know, it’s intended—God intends to heal us. He intends for His people to be healed.
Now, I want to be careful about how I say this. I did not say that He intends for all people who struggle with same-sex attraction to become heterosexual. That is not what I said, and that does not happen. What—I mean, it happens sometimes; but what we know is that we relinquish our life to God, and He gives back what He will. But those grooves that are worn down from sexual sin—and that includes sexual sin of the mind and the emotions—although I will say that acting on your sexual sin makes those grooves deep and dirty really fast much more so. But the layers—the layers that God established to fill that hole, through the means of grace, is a powerful thing.
So, by God’s grace, I married a Christian! I married someone who became a Christian at the age of 17. He was and has been a godly man for many, many more years than I certainly have been a godly woman. So, he could always—and does. I always tell people that I married a pastor because I need daily, biblical counsel; right? And that’s true. But he knows that it’s not—Kent is not healing me—and it’s not marriage, per se, that’s healing me. It’s the means of grace. It’s Bible reading and Psalm singing. It’s the sacraments. It’s the fellowship of the saints. And of course, Christ was leading the whole time because sexual sin is predatory. We see that, very early, in the Bible when God says to Cain, “Sin is lurking at your door.” It’s Genesis 4: “Its desire is for you, but you will have mastery over it.”
I think, too often, people think that: “Oh, you are struggling with pornography. Well, hey, let’s just get you married;” right? “Let’s find a ‘sanctified outlet’ for your sexual desire”—not getting the fact that a predatory sexuality is a totally different desire. So, when I started to examine, “Well, what is the root of my homosexuality?” I did not come up with homosexuality. In the same way, when I go to my garden and I want to know the root of my weeds, I don’t come up with the yellow dandelion head. When I really probed what was at the root of my homosexuality, it was pride. It was pride in wanting to invent myself on my own terms.
When I married Kent, I became a submitted wife. There’s not a lot of pride—not in that—nor is there humiliation in that—but there’s a sense of connection and a puzzle piece, now, that suddenly finds its home.
Dennis: And could I say it for you?
Dennis: Because you were a feminist—
Rosaria: Yes, I was.
Dennis: —looking for completion, looking to be all that—
Rosaria: That’s right.
Dennis: —you were made to be in that rightly-related relationship with your husband, both submitting to Jesus Christ—
Rosaria: That’s right. That’s right.
Dennis: —you found—
Rosaria: That’s right; absolutely.
Dennis: —you found the completion you longed for, as a feminist.
Rosaria: I did, and that really gets us to that question that we haven’t really gotten to. And that’s the question about: “What do we do now? What if gay marriage becomes normative?”
Bob: We’re heading in that direction.
Dennis: We are; and my question to you is, “Coach us here and help us think, as followers of Christ.”
Rosaria: We have to—we have to—we have to realize that well, first of all, we are all called to a sanctified sexuality. That includes our celibate, single members of our churches. They are not second-class citizens. It is shameful, on our part; and I would say it is part of the—perhaps, the potential homophobia of the church when we do that to people. So, I think we need to value a sanctified celibate singleness.
But when we talk about marriage, between a man and a woman, we need to talk about it in biblical terms, not moral terms. We can’t just say, “The Bible says, ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’” You know, all that does is take the door and take it off the hinges and then wonder why the door doesn’t stand up. The hinge is the Bible; and there are a couple of things that we, as Christians, need to be able to articulately defend.
One is that marriage is covenantal. It’s a relationship that God establishes with us and guarantees by His Word. God does not make a covenant apart from the separate genders for marriage. So, it is covenantal.
We also have to remember that the picture of marriage is Christ and the Church and that the completion factor—and it’s the complement factor. It’s C-O-M-P-L-E-M-E-N-T. It’s not an “I”. We’re not talking about trophy wives. We’re talking about a man and a woman complementing—fitting together—in order to show the watching world a picture of Christ and the Church. We’ve likely not done that.
Then, the other—and I know this is a controversial topic—not that we haven’t talked about controversy, gentlemen.
Bob: So, what’s new; right?
Rosaria: So, what’s new? But I think if you do not have historical Adam, if you do not have literal six-day creation, if you do not have Adam—made from the dust and then, Eve made from a rib of Adam—you have no biblical basis for a woman’s submission to man. You have mutual submission. So, I think we’ve got to go back to the basics. I think we need to find a biblical defense for these things and I think that we need to stop fearing that people are going to call us stupid because that’s what I did and look where I am; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, and also, being afraid of being called a bigot as though you hate.
Rosaria: Right—and we’re getting there. We’re getting there because I would absolutely say that to fail to defend homosexual marriage—that is the contemporary unforgiveable sin—
Bob: It is.
Rosaria: —in our culture. So, I think we are getting there; but again—
Dennis: But we have to defend marriage with love.
Rosaria: With love. So, that raises the question: “What do I do with my gay or lesbian daughter? And how do I interface with this person I love?” Let’s just give a scenario. She was raised in the church. She made a profession of faith. “Now, she’s lost to me. What do I do?” Those are really good questions. What you do is—you love your child. You love your child.
Now, you do have to be careful, though, about this business about attending gay weddings. I mean, I think you can love someone without giving a false blessing because—think about it—you want to be there on the other side. You want to be able to be there, standing with a unified Christian witness; but you can still love. You can still enjoy your holidays together and be in each other’s lives.
Dennis: And they won’t view it as a rejection that you didn’t come to the wedding?
Rosaria: Well, they may—they may—but we talked earlier about, “Where do you draw the line?” You know, you want to draw it carefully; and I can’t tell you what to do. You know your family, and you know what to do. I’m just saying that because—“How do we defend marriage?” Well, one way that we defend marriage is to make sure that we are speaking in a unified voice about it. That’s a hard one. I know.
Dennis: It is a hard one—especially, if it was your daughter—
Rosaria: Yes, absolutely! Absolutely, and so—
Dennis: —marrying another woman and you drew the line and said, “Sweetheart, I want you to know I will love you to the end, but I will not bless this union because it doesn’t represent what God commanded a man and a woman to merge together in a covenant with God.”
Rosaria: Right. “But I’m not cutting you out.”
Rosaria: “I want you and your partner here for Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and”—
Dennis: You know, there is a lot more we could talk about here; and Rosaria, I want to say, “Thanks for your book,”—how—this kind of sounds funny, coming from somebody who got a spanking in the eighth-grade English class—but how well-written it is and how entertaining—but also just allow us to peek into your life and to hear what transformation sounds like and what was going on in your soul, at the same time. There is a lot in this book that I’d recommend.
I just want to say, “Thanks for being on our broadcast and hope you’ll come back again someday.”
Rosaria: Thank you.
Bob: Well, I hope our listeners will get a copy and will read Rosaria’s book. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for a copy of the book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. You can order, online, if you’d like. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we are going to tackle the question: “Do Christians have it wrong with our view of human sexuality?” Is what the Bible teaches just some antiquated idea for a bygone generation or is it something that ought to govern our behavior today?” We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, and I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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