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Navigating Sexual Sin to Find Your Identity in Christ (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 01/10/2017

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Author Rosaria Butterfield, who found faith in Christ and left homosexuality, offers her unique insights on how Christians can more effectively reach out to the LGBT community with God's love while remaining faithful to His Word. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, we're going to return to one woman's amazing story. She was a college professor and a self-proclaimed feminist and lesbian and she experienced a train-wreck conversion, when she gave her life to Christ and here's how she described that experience.


Dr. Rosaria Butterfield: My walk with the Lord played out like this. The sinfulness of my sin unfolded in the Bible alone and in my growing union with Christ and in my growing separation from the identity of myself as a lesbian, into an identity of myself as a Christian woman saved by grace." And what had happened very early on is, I realized and this was shocking; I had an identity crisis. I mean, there's nothing short of that. What I realized is that I was standing in a long line of godly women, the Mary Magdalene line and that, that was right where God had me and that my sin was wiped away and if He brought to me a godly husband, He would make me a loving godly wife and the Lord did that.

End of Teaser


Jim Daly: John, it is my great privilege and honor to have Dr. Rosaria Butterfield back with us today on "Focus on the Family." And if you missed that program, we aired it again just a couple of weeks back and it was the most popular program from all of 2016 and I would recommend that you contact us. Get a copy of the CD. Go download it, however you can get that, smartphone, download, do it, because it is worth listening to.

And every once in a while, someone comes along and I think the Lord does this with His purpose in mind, you have a voice of clarity on different issues. And Rosaria is one of those voices who is coming at just the right moment to articulate it through her books and through her speeches and her expression. And I think she's coming from a very unique perspective, given her background.

She does have an amazing testimony of God's goodness and His grace in everyone's life. And so often, we may think of people as being unreachable, you know, those people. And often in the Christian community, the homosexual community is that group that we think there's no way God can reach them. Folks, that's wrong and we have got to rethink how we can articulate the Good News of Jesus Christ in such a way that broken people like us can hear it and respond to it. And that's what I'm excited about today. Dr. Butterfield, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."

Rosaria: Oh, it is my pure delight to be here. Thank you so much.

Jim: Rosaria, today we wanted to share kinda the rest of the story.

Rosaria: Yeah, great.

Jim: You've got this wonderful book out and I'm just reaching for it, Openness Unhindered. And it's kind of the next step in your journey.

Rosaria: It is; it is. The subtitle is Further Secret Thoughts (Laughter) of an Unlikely Convert, specifically about sexual identity and union with Christ.

Jim: And you know, again, for those that didn't hear the program, that thumbnail sketch, give it to me, that animosity that you had for the Christian community.

Rosaria: Yeah, I did.

Jim: And somehow, you know, it was deserved in many ways.

Rosaria: Well, at least from what I saw, at least from what I saw, so I was very happily partnered in a lesbian relationship and had been a serially monogamous lesbian for a decade and started to embark on a book on the Religious Right, specifically from a lesbian and feminist point of view. I was a professor of English at Syracuse University. I was a good caregiver and a good neighbor and I really just did not understand why Christians would not leave consenting adults alone.

And in the process of writing this book, I wrote some other things, including a pretty snarky response to the Promise Keepers visit to town. And in the process of all of this, I met a Christian neighbor and pastor and friend, Ken Smith. And Ken Smith and his wife, Floy, they just hung in there with me for years and years, sharing the gospel and living the gospel.

And I was reading the Bible because I wanted to condemn it, of course. So, I was happy to read this Book. I'm an English professor and one of the things that happened as I was reading the Book and meeting with Ken and Floy weekly is, that the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I.

Jim: Can I stop you there, because—

Rosaria: Sure.

Jim: -- a critical aspect here is Ken and Floy--

Rosaria: Oh, huge, yeah.

Jim: --their willingness to be with you and to sit with you and to talk with you.

Rosaria: Right, even though I was an easy, you know, nut to crack, as it were.

Jim: (Laughing) Right, well, and in our community unfortunately and I'm guilty of this, too, so I'm not casting stones, we tend to pull away from those things that make us uncomfortable.

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: It's completely human to do that.

Rosaria: It is.

Jim: But what does the Lord want us to do?

Rosaria: Yeah, and see, Ken always understood that my being a lesbian was not my biggest sin. See, he just wasn't tripped up by that--

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: --because he knew that my being an unbeliever was my biggest sin and he had faith in a very big God that could make all of this right. And he knew that I needed Jesus, as unlikely as that was, as impossible as that was to imagine, because like pretty much everybody who is a convert, in order to come to Jesus I would have to give up everything.



Jim: Your sexual identity.

Rosaria: My friends, the people who had become my family of choice, I did not lose my job because I was tenured. That might be a conversation for another (Laughing) time.

Jim: Yeah, that'd be interesting.

Rosaria: I just tell people I lost everything but the dog.

Jim: (Laughing )Yeah, right!

Rosaria: (Laughing)

Jim: Gee, you know, in the book, you described that haunting past and you you kind of made a[n] analogy to the life of Paul and the way that he suffered and the way that he—

Rosaria: Yeah, right.

Jim: --kind of experienced life in its fullness on both ends, great joy, great sorrow.

Rosaria: That's right.

Jim: Talk about that analogy.

Rosaria: Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the things that I struggle with today, so you know today, I am a happily married pastor's wife. I homeschool my children. You know, in some ways, I've become one of you, you know. (Laughter) I've joined the enemy. (Laughing)

Jim: It's pretty remarkable really.

Rosaria: It's crazy. (Laughter)

Jim: I mean, it is amazing.

Rosaria: It's crazy, but one of the things that the Lord impressed upon me very early on and Ken and Floy, as I said, they were the hands and feet of Jesus, so this is not a "me and Jesus" experience. These were Christians that loved me when I had every prickle around me that you could have.But one of the things that God allowed me to experience was not just His forgiveness, but also His power to defeat and combat the sin in my life. See, I think sometimes we live with half the gospel.

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: And we think that's okay. We say, "Well, Jesus forgave you; you're forgiven." And we don't preach the power of God to change you at your deepest level." Now does that mean I don't struggle with sin? I struggle with sin all the time. Until glory, every single one of us will, but the gospel comes with power. And you know, part of why Paul could do what he did, think about this, this man had blood on his hands.

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: He was probably interacting with the very same people whose mothers he had murdered. He could do that because God took not only the guilt of his sin and the shame of his sin, but the history of his sin. And you know, the only reason I can walk back into the world I helped create and help redeem it, is by God's grace He's done the same thing for me. You don't see me shackling the history of my sin because that's not mine anymore.

Jim: But it still haunts you, a term that you used.

Rosaria: Yes, it does.

Jim: In fact, there's a story in your book that caught my attention, where you were in the kitchen, maybe a church kitchen—

Rosaria: Yes. (Laughing)

Jim: --and you're prepping meals, but you're in there with only another woman.

Rosaria: Right, yeah.

Jim: And she said something to you that shocked you.

Rosaria: Yeah, yeah, you know, it was really shocking and I think part of it, you know, I just had this real conversion. And part of this real conversion meant that my identity as a lesbian was really competing with what it means to have union with Christ. And you know, guess what? At some point, Christ won and He won because He always does.

Jim: (Chuckling) That's right!

Rosaria: So, it's not like I'm lobotomized. I know the sin of my past, but it's not quite at the front line for me in the way that it is for many other people. So, I was a newly married woman and I was in the kitchen of a church and you know, we were doing the Crock-Pot thing, right, before the Lord's Day. And this woman came up to me and she just said, it was sort of startling when she said, "Is this safe?" And I thought, oh, no, there's a fire in the kitchen, right?

Jim: Right, something normal.

Rosaria: See because in Rosaria world, you know, kitchens and libraries are totally safe places. Every other place is (Laughing) fraught with danger (Laughter). Kitchens and libraries, they're great! So, I said, "Well, what?" You know?

Jim: Yeah, you're tryin' to figure it out.

Rosaria: I was tryin' to figure it out and she said, "Well, is this safe, I mean, you and me?" And I said, "Well, what?" And she said, "Is it safe for you to be alone with another woman?" And I'm thinkin', "What?!" (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah.

Rosaria: And she said, "Well, does this bring back feelings to you? I mean, those kinds of feelings?" And you know, it took me a while to figure out that she meant, am I chopping chicken and lusting after you?

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: Am I a walking danger? And we'll talk a little bit about this, because I will not say same-sex attraction is a deep and abiding problem, but you know, but was my past as a lesbian, did it make her unsafe? Am I a dangerous woman?

And I just kinda mumbled something like, "Yeah, you know, everything's cool. Don't worry about it." And you know, meanwhile and this is so sinful. Your listeners just have to forgive me for this. This is not what you should be thinking about what your pastor's wife is thinking, but I thought to myself, "Sweetheart, don't flatter yourself." (Laughter) You know, you have got to be kidding me! (Laughing)

Jim: But it's a deeply rooted thing in her, too.

Rosaria: It was deeply rooted thing in her that if I struggle with same-sex attraction or if I ever have struggled with same-sex attraction, I am just a driving lust machine and you know, everybody else just steer clear. And that is ridiculous. We struggle and especially as Christians. If you're not struggling with sin, you're dead.

Jim: Yeah, exactly.

Rosaria: Okay, so if you don't know what sin you're struggling with, you're much more dangerous than someone who knows their sin pattern, knows their indwelling sin and puts a fresh nail in it every day. That's what we're called to do.

Jim: Right and that honestly that's what Jesus attacked the Pharisees for.

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: That's why that comment.

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, they were unaware of their hearts. That's what Jesus was goin' after.

Rosaria: Right and I think this for this woman and for many people in our churches, we've had this idea that if you have lived as a lesbian or a gay man or if you struggle with same-sex attraction, you're a reprobate.

Jim: Let's dig into that a little bit because I think it's important.

Rosaria: Okay, yes, I do, too.

Jim: Somehow in the Christian community, that sin and I know some of you will be offended by the comment I'm about to make, but we make it a "super sin" because we don't struggle with that, you know, most Christian people.

Rosaria: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: And so, therefore, it's something out there that the other struggles with and it's deplorable and it's distasteful.

Rosaria: Right, yeah.

Jim: And it's all those words. But why do we ascribe such gravity and weight to that particular sin and make it a different category than adultery or fornication or any other sexual deviance that the Scripture talks about?

Rosaria: Yeah, I know this is gonna sound wacky but it's because we have a really low view of sin.

Jim: Ah, well, explain that.

Rosaria: We, Christians, we Evangelical Christians have such a low view of sin that we don't really know how to deal with a sin that we can't identify with. And may I just say this? God forbid we have to identify with every sin on the planet in order to know how to respond to it. Jesus took all of that upon Himself. We do not need to mess with that. But I do think, you know, I think that we need to recognize that natural law tells us this, that homosexuality is a big sin. So, I don't want to minimize that.

At the same time, I think we also forget that every single one of us struggles with original sin which distorts us. Every single one of us struggles with actual sin that distracts us. And every single one of us deals with indwelling sin that manipulates us and those are for believers. So, when somebody who struggles with same-sex attraction says, "I was born this way," immediately Christians get on the defense and say, "No, God would never make you …" blah, blah, blah. Well, true, God doesn't make you sin, but I'm born in Adam. And Romans 1:26 tells me that the thumbprint of original sin in my life is a deep and abiding sexual and "otherly" attraction to people of my same sex.

Was I born that way? Yes. But did God do it? No, actually it's because of my inheritance in Adam. What's my responsibility? That's the question and see, I don't think many Evangelicals have thought about this. What is the responsibility that we have in our own life to the original sin that distorts us? For many, many people, talking about original sin seems unfair. Look, I didn't do it. I didn't vote, you know.

Jim: How can you hold me accountable?

Rosaria: How can you hold me accountable? And I think people forget that being born with a sin nature is a little bit like inheriting a garden. Let's say that you inherited just an enchanting garden. And for 10 years, you just let it thrive. You let it do anything it wanted. You never pruned back the weeds. You never got rid of the pests. You never worked with the roses. You just let it quote-unquote "thrive." You let it, in the words of Supreme Court Justices from 2015 Obergefell decision, you allowed it to simply flourish.

And after 10 years, what is it? It's a disaster. It might even be way past the point of no return. And you go to a master gardener and you say, "Hey, this is not fair. I want my money back. I just did everything I could to let this garden thrive. I let it do exactly what it wanted." You know, the master gardener's gonna laugh at you and say, "Buddy, gardens come with weeds! It's part of its nature and by failing to deal with that, you destroyed it."

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: And so, Christian brother/sister who's listening, our nature comes with weeds. And by failing to deal with that, not only do we destroy ourselves, but if we support laws that think that God's law is discriminatory, then we are putting a millstone around the neck of people like me.

I came to the Lord in 1999. I did not come to the Lord in a time when every other commercial was validating and valorizing what it means to be gay. I came to the Lord when I could peacefully deal with the sin in my nature and where I could allow that new nature in Christ to drive that sin out. But it wasn't zapped. I can't imagine how hard it would be to come to the Lord today where Christians are called bigots, where gay rights is called a vital flourishing form of personhood and where this new and I would say heretical idea of gay Christianity is wreaking havoc on the Evangelical church.

John: Well, this is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. And our guest today is Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. And in our previous conversation with her, Rosaria described her train wreck of a conversion to Jesus Christ and we'll have a link to that at along with information about her book. The title once again is Openness Unhindered.

Jim: Rosaria, let's pick up there where you mentioned this terminology of "gay Christian," because in your book you deal with that very forcefully. Talk about the inherent danger of that and our willingness and acceptance of that kind of new glossary.

Rosaria: Right, right, right and you know, I'm so glad you used the word[s] "new glossary," because anytime you change the language, you're going to change the logic.

Jim: Correct.

Rosaria: So, the gospel is on a collision course with sexual orientation as a civil right, right now. And a good question is, how did we get here? If we don't know how we got here, I don't think we're going to know rightfully how to respond to it.

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: And so one of the things I deal with in my new book, Openness Unhindered, is I deal with this question, first of all of sexual orientation at the category of personhood and then gay Christianity as something that emerges from that. So, gay Christianity, a very, very new idea.

It came in response, I think, to the Evangelical church's fundamental misunderstanding of what same-sex attraction is. For many, many people within the last two years who have been struggling silently, have been absolutely dying of loneliness in our churches, have been trying to be a faithful Christian, but at the same time have struggled with a deep and abiding same-sex attraction, but have been struggling in God's way.

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: Those people have felt really misunderstood by the Evangelical church. The Evangelical church has been saying homosexuality is a sin. True, but then the Evangelical church has been saying, homosexuality is a willful choice. Not true. Choosing to act on homosexuality is a willful choice, but if the thumbprint of original sin in your life is same-sex attraction, you didn't get up one day and choose it. Nobody did. And that's important.

Jim: And that's, you know, it's a hotly debated statement.

Rosaria: It's a hotly debated statement.

Jim: And we're gonna hear from people on that.

Rosaria: You will.

Jim: But I totally understand what you're saying 'cause I've met with people that will say to me, you know, since I was 3—

Jim: --I can't remember feeling differently and I always wanted, for the men, you know, I wanted to be in the kitchen with my mom and comments like that.

Rosaria: Right, right.

Jim: And you do have to wonder where the origin of that is. Sometimes it comes through abuse or sexual abuse.

Rosaria: But sometimes it simply comes through the thumbprint of original sin.

Jim: And we have to acknowledge that.

Rosaria: And we have the doctrine to acknowledge that.

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: See, no one else does.

Jim: (Chuckling) Right.

Rosaria: That's what's so key right now. Christians are on the front line because we're called to serve people for whom sin is beating them down and keeping them out of the kingdom of God.

Jim: Well, and when you think about it, what a profound position to be in when we have pastors who fail morally, have affairs that are in the news. And I could give you names that you would know.

Rosaria: Right, right.

Jim: It gives us a theological structure to speak to the media when they come hunting for answers to be able to tell them, "Well, this is original sin.

Rosaria: Right, right, we are sinners.

Jim: This is part of what's happening and rather than to run from it and shame them.

Rosaria: Absolutely, that's right.

Jim: I mean, this is it.

Rosaria: what gay Christianity does is, it has inserted these new categories of personhood that the Evangelical church is ill-equipped to deal with.

Jim: Explain why, because it's important for us to understand that because that term, "gay Christian" is now becoming normalized.

Rosaria: Right, well, yes, it is. It's just becoming normal. Well, it fundamentally banks on an unbiblical understanding of personhood. Personhood we understand from the Bible is Genesis 1:26-27. We are born male or female. We are born with a soul that will last forever and we are born in the image of God. That is our biblical ontology. That is true for every human being on the planet, for people who identify as Muslim, for people who identify as Christian, for people who identify as gay.

Everyone is an image bearer of God, male or female, ontologically with a soul that will last forever. In the 19th century, a new idea started to compete with the idea that people are ontologically male or female. People are ontologically image bearers of a holy God and that people are ontologically eternal in their nature. And that was the idea of sexual orientation. It's a relatively new idea.

Jim: Rosaria, let me ask you to define "ontology."

Rosaria: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry about that. You know, you can take the professor out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the professor!

Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, right. I love it.

Rosaria: I know. I'm sorry, but "ontology" is the philosophy of the origin of things.

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: And so, when we say "biblical ontology," we really mean who you are at your essence. And it also refers to what can never be taken away from you. So, to be born male and female, reflecting the image of God within an eternal soul that will last forever and ultimately in the new Jerusalem, a body that is yours, only glorified. That is your inheritance.

What Freud did was assert that indeed, personal identity and ontological personhood was really rooted in sexuality. And what set human beings apart from higher mammals is that we are entitled to have sex whenever we want, not merely for procreation and that we should therefore, in order to thrive and achieve complete enlightenment, we should be allowed to choose however many sexual partners we would like and whatever gender or sex they might be.

So, it is that autonomy of personhood, rooted in the idea that sexual orientation really describes who you are that became the idol of the 19th century. And sadly, we use that language today. When I would call myself a "lesbian," I was using that language.

Jim: Sure.

Rosaria: And one of the things I had to do when I did this, really just sitting under Ken Smith's at this point kitchen. I wasn't even in church, but it was clear to me that I was at a crossroads. I was either a lesbian as I said I was or I was someone distorted by original sin in a particular way that left me this particular desire. So, this was the question for me. Am I really a lesbian? Is that simply actually who I am? Or is my sexual attraction to women a distortion of who I am in the Fall?

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: Now sexual orientation as a category of personhood completely buys into the former and not the latter. It completely buys into the idea that my personhood is completely attached to what I feel inside. I am who I feel.

And part of why this is important right now for Christians to realize and I spent a lot of time in this new book, Openness Unhindered, unpacking this idea. Part of why it's really important to understand this is, sexual orientation moved from a 19th century category mistake to a … to an idol of personhood, which completely buys into the idol of personal autonomy. And it's connected deeply to everything from abortion rights to LGBT rights.

Jim: Well, Rosaria, I mean, those are powerful words and that's why I held back even interrupting because it's such an important perspective coming from you, because you've lived in both worlds now. You have come out and you can speak to it in that way. And we need to come back to further talk about how we equip Christians to engage in the culture around them and to help them with the tools—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --that can help be persuasive and hopefully, help exemplify Christ in this culture today. Can we do that?

Rosaria: Yeah, I'd love to do that.

Jim: Let's do it.

Rosaria: All right.


John: And this is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and our guest today has been Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, who speaks and writes about her dramatic encounter with God. And Jim, I know a lot of us are looking forward to hearing more from her next time.

Jim: Well, John, it's a fascinating discussion and I encourage everyone to tune in tomorrow or get the CD or download for the entire conversation with Rosaria. The CD and download will include much more content than we were able to fit into this program. And contact us about getting Rosaria's book, Openness Unhindered. It's a great read and it will challenge your faith and your perceptions about many of the culture issues we wrestle with today.

John: Request those resources when you call 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or stop by

Jim: And when you contact us, help us by supporting this ministry financially. I'm sure many of our listeners have benefitted from programs like this one and maybe a resource that you've ordered by our website. If that describes you, we need to hear from you so we can continue to provide practical advice and encouragement to families and empower them in their faith. Your financial gifts provide the fuel-- like to think of it that way--the fuel for the engine, so that we can serve families every day together. And when you donate today to Focus on the Family, I want to say thanks by sending you a complimentary copy of Openness Unhindered. Maybe you'd like to share it with a family member or a friend, so donate today to support Focus on the Family.

John: You can do so when you call 800- A -FAMILY or visit our website, Well, I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire broadcast team here, thanks for listening and coming up next time, you'll hear more from Dr. Butterfield, as she digs deeper into the issues like gay marriage and how to maintain a friendship with someone who identifies as gay. Join us tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

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Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English and women's studies at Syracuse University. She became a Christian in 1999, describing her life prior to that as a "train wreck." Her memoir, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, describes that difficult journey. Rosaria has taught and ministered at Geneva College and is now a homeschooling mother, a pastor's wife, a part-time author and an occasional public speaker. Learn more about Rosaria by visiting her website,