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Counting the Costs: Rosaria Butterfield’s Journey from Lesbian Feminist to Christ Follower

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Rosaria Butterfield rocked the Evangelical world when she shared her self-proclaimed “train wreck conversion.” “As a leftist lesbian professor, I despised Christians,” she said. “Then I somehow became one.”

Butterfield recently spoke at Southeastern Seminary about gender identity and sexual orientation. In the first thirteen minutes, she talks with Mark Liederbach about her personal journey from lesbian feminist to Christ follower.

Here are the highlights:

Can you share your personal journey?
“When you look at the world we have today, you have to realize that I’m one of the people who made this world possible. So the blood is absolutely on my hands. It’s all true.

“In 1996 when DOMA was passed, I stood with my people. And my people at that time were LGBTQ community, my lesbian lover — that was my world. And then in 2015, I stood with my people. And my people now are God’s people. I’m saved by the grace of God alone, and by his power alone I stand here. So you might even say that being on the losing team of culture is my spiritual gift…

“So I was a committed, secular feminist. Feminism was my worldview. I did not come out as a lesbian until I was 28, which was late by some standards. I very much thought I’d had a heterosexual adolescence but was constantly surprised that I could be dating men and falling in love with women at the same time. So it was a strange time.

Don’t expect that your personal experience is going to go any better than the Savior you love and follow.

“When I met my first lesbian lover, I felt like life finally came together for me and made sense. I really didn’t grieve anything. When I hear Christians talk about “struggling with homosexuality,” quite frankly I never “struggled” with homosexuality until I became a believer. I’m a really good sinner.

“So I was really perplexed by Christians. Christians confused me. I did not understand why Christians wouldn’t leave consenting adults alone. That seemed like a basis of civil democracy… And Christians always seemed like bad readers to me. I was confused by the ways Christians would use the Bible sort of like a punctuation mark, to end a conversation rather than to deepen it. That’s just not the way we use books in post-modern reality. I found Christians to be bizarre.

“After my tenure book was locked, done, published, and reviewed and my wings were unclipped, I decided to embark on a book on the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. I’m a scholar, so I recognized that there were a lot of things about the Bible I didn’t know. So I immediately started looking for someone who might help me with that, and help came in a very curious way.

“I wrote a very negative op-ed piece on the Promise Keepers coming to Syracuse. I don’t remember what terrible offense they committed; maybe my favorite parking space was taken that day, I don’t know. But it was big, whatever it was. And I received a lot of hate mail and a lot of fan mail. But one letter I received defied all that, and it was from a neighbor and a pastor. His name was Ken Smith. And for two years Ken and his wife brought the church to me, a heathen. I was reading the Bible in order to critique it, trash it. Quite frankly, they were just so delighted to be with anyone who was reading the Bible as rigorously as I was that they were helping me think through it.

“It was a very complex time. It was a very painful time. I started reading the Bible like how I was trained to read a book. I never went to VBS, so I didn’t know you were supposed to read it like a horoscope. (You know, flip around, put your finger somewhere, find a verse.) No one told me that! So I read it like a book. I looked at its canonicity, at its authority, at the different kinds of hermeneutical approaches one takes to the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament.

“And in the course of reading through it about seven times, all of my well worn assumptions didn’t stick. The upshot of the story really is that at some point the Word of God got to be bigger inside me than I. And that’s what happened. And then life started to really get complex.”

On the Bible’s ability to interrogate us, not vice versa.
“I have the opportunity to travel a lot, and talk with people who are really angry with me. I do an open Q&A, and people pretty much take both barrels and let me have it. I’ve probably had thousands of questions, and they all come down to three questions:

  • Questions about God’s authority,
  • Questions about God’s holiness,
  • And questions about the living integrity of the Word of God.

“Its great that people ask me those questions, because those were my questions. And I think those are three things that believers also really need to struggle with. If there is no one higher than God, then we do not have the right to judge God. It’s the other way around.

If there is no one higher than God, then we do not have the right to judge God.

“So the Christian life is consistently a life of dying to self. The Christian life is consistently a life of counting the costs and taking up the cross. Ken Smith really hit that hard in me when he saw that the Holy Spirit was really rooting in my life. Of course, in my church, that was not a rush to move me to the altar call. That was a, ‘Slow down Rosaria. Have you counted the costs? You are going to lose everything. And you need to be ready.’

“And I did lose everything. I actually did not lose my job because I was tenured, but I did get to go before an ethics board and talk about why I was changing my field of study from queer studies to Christian hermeneutics. That was a fun conversation….

“It was hard, and I was in the midst of a body of believers that knew it would be hard, and who knew that they were not more merciful than God. They didn’t try to make it less hard. What they did was that they came in close. They understood that leaving my lover was one thing, but leaving LGBTQ community is another entirely. That is a community that functions very much like a family. Every night of the week, someone’s house is opened for food, fellowship and to stand between you and depression. This little church knew that if I was going to make it, they were going to have to be my family. They were going to have to live out Mark 10:28-31. It had to be real, not just words.

“They did that. That has become a calling as well in my life. When you stand alongside someone who needs to lose everything for Jesus, you’re not helping that person if you try to jolly them out of that loss. But you are helping that person if you stand alongside and you’re available — and not just by invitation only.

“Please don’t think that community is a fellowship meal the third Lord’s day of the month [in which you] bring a covered dish. That’s not how real people function. It just isn’t. So in some ways, they knew that I was going to be moving from a vital community… Christian communities, to me, often look like we are on a starvation diet of community.

Christians often look like they are on a starvation diet of community.

“So die to self, take up a cross, and don’t expect that your personal experience is going to go any better than the Savior you love and follow. And communicate that to a watching world, [while] at the same time communicating that in Christ you are never alone. In Christ, you have union, you have imminent union, you have redemptive union, you have applicatory union. You have union with Christ that started from before the foundations of the world and will carry you through to the new Jerusalem. And that is something that only Christ can give, and only the church can embody.

“So both of those at once: You carry the cross for the purpose of finishing the race with your Lord and Savior.”

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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