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

Original 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 our Best of 2017 Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, we’re gonna return to one woman’s amazing story. She was a self-proclaimed feminist and lesbian who went through what she called a “train wreck” conversion when she gave her life to Jesus Christ. Here’s how Dr. Rosaria Butterfield described that experience.


Dr. Rosaria Butterfield: My walk with the Lord played out like this.The sinfulness of my sin unfolded in theBiblealone and in my growing union with Christ and in my growing separation from theidentityof 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; this wasn’t … 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 Excerpt

Jim Daly: John, last year we aired Dr. Butterfield’s dramatic testimony, which she outlined in her bookThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. And then in January, we aired a follow up program which was one of our most popular broadcasts of the year. I’m telling ya, this is a powerful message. Obviously Rosaria’s message touched a nerve with you, the audience, and that’s great news, considering how often we in the Christian community feel marginalized for not embracing homosexuality as normal and regular for our culture today. I believe every once in a while, God chooses key spokespeople-- think of Moses-- who can speak up for biblical truth and bring clarity to issues in our culture. Rosaria has a unique perspective and influence for the Lord based on what she has experienced.

John: Yeah and she’s having such a profound impact, Jim, as you said. The listeners really responded back in January when we first aired this broadcast. In fact, one comment reflects that, they said this, “I struggle in this area of sexuality so much. Up until this morning, I’ve been a staunch supporter of the LGBT cause. Some of Dr. Butterfield’s message though is rocking the very heart of my identity. God is making rapid and drastic changes in my life and I’m struggling to keep up!”

Jim: John, that’s amazing and a great reminder of the often unseen work of God that He’s doing in people’s hearts. Now if you or someone in your family is struggling with issues like same-sex attraction or gender confusion, Focus on the Family is here to help you-- or them! That’s one reason why we’re bringing this program back today. We have Christian counselors who want to talk with you and pray with you and they can refer you to resources in your local area. And if you go to our website, you’ll find articles and links that will help you as well.

John: And that website is or if you prefer, give us a call and we’d be happy to talk with you. Our number is 800-232-6459.

Alright, here’s how we began the conversation with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield on this Best of 2017 Focus on the Family broadcast.


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

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: You’ve got this—

Rosaria: Great.

Jim: -- 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 isFurther 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 ani … 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, I … I … at least from what I saw, at least from what I saw,so I was um … 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 um … at Syracuse University. I was a good caregiver and a … 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 … a pretty snarky response to thePromise Keepersvisit to town. And … 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: --it … a critical aspect here is—

Rosaria: Uh-hm.

Jim: --Ken and Floy--

Rosaria: Oh, huge, yeah.

Jim: --their willingness to be with you--

Rosaria: Right, even though--

Jim: --and to sit with you and—

Rosaria: --right--

Jim: --to talk with you.

Rosaria: --right, even though I was not … I was not—

Jim: (Laughing) Right.

Rosaria: --I was not an easy, you know, nut to crack—

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: --as it were.

Jim: 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—

Rosaria: It is.

Jim: --to do that.

Rosaria: But …

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.

Jim: Hm.

Rosaria: 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 um … of choice, um … I did not lose my job because I was tenured. That might be a stor … 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! (Laughter)

Jim: You know, in the book, you … you described that haunting past and you—

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: --you kind of made a... an analogy to the life of Paul—

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: --and the way that he suffered and the way that he—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --kind of experienced life in its fullness on both ends—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --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 … 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 … that the Lord impressed upon me very early on and … and Ken and Floy, as I said, they were … they were the hands and feet of Jesus, so this was not a “me and Jesus” experience. These were Christians that loved me when I had every prickle around me that you could have.

Jim: Huh.

Rosaria: But one of the things that God allowed me to experience was notjustHis forgiveness, but also Hispowerto 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 thepower of Godto 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 um … haunts you, a term that you used. In fact, there’s a—

Rosaria: Yes, it does.

Jim: --story in your book that caught my attention, where you were in the kitchen, maybe a … a church kitchen—

Rosaria: Yes. (Laughing)

Jim: --and you’re prepping meals, but you’re—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --in there on … with only another woman.

Rosaria: 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, I sort of, I … you know, I … it’s not like I’m lobotomized. I know the … 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 … of a church and um … you know, we were doing the Crock-Pot thing, right, before the … the Lord’s Day. And … and this woman came up to me and um … and she … and … and she just said, it was … it was sort of startling when she said, um … “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) And she said—

Jim: Yeah.

Rosaria: --she said, “Well, does this bring back feelings to you? I mean,thosekinds 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 are my past uh … feelings and … and we’ll talk a little bit about this, because I will not say sexual … same-sex attraction is a deep and abidingproblem,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. My … your … 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) I … you know, you have got to be kidding me! (Laughing)

Jim: But it is … 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 everhavestruggled with same-sex attraction, I am just a driving lust machine and … and you know, everybody else just steer clear. And that is ridiculous. We struggle and especially as Christians. If you’re not struggling with … with sin, you’re dead.

Jim: Yeah, exactly.

Rosaria: Okay, so … 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.

Jim: Right and that—

Rosaria: That’s what we’re called to do.

Jim: --and honestly that’s what Jesus attacked the Pharisees for.

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: That’s why that comment.

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, they were—

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: --they were unaware—

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: --of their hearts.

Rosaria: And I—

Jim: That’s what Jesus was goin’ after.

Rosaria: --and I think this wo … 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 ha … struggle with same-sex attraction, you’re a reprobate.

Jim: Let’s dig into that a little bit—

Rosaria: Okay.

Jim: --because I think it’s important.

Rosaria: 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”--

Rosaria: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: --because we don’t struggle with that--

Rosaria: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: --you know, most Christian people.

Rosaria: Yeah.

Jim: And so, therefore, it’s something out there that theother

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --struggles with and it … and it’s deplorable and it’s distasteful.

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

Jim: Ah.

Rosaria: We, Christians, we Evangelical Christians--

Jim: Well, explain that.

Rosaria: --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.

Jim: Huh.

Rosaria: But I … I do think, you know, I think that we need to recognize that natural law tells us this, that homosexualityisa 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 … 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 inmy lifeis 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, ac … 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 ourownlife to the original sin that distorts us? For many, many people, talking about original sin seemsunfair. Look, I didn’t do it. I didn’t vote, you know. Maybe you …

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 … you know, 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 of … 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 did it … I … I let it ha … 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,youdestroyed 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 … I 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 as a category of personhood and then gay Christianity as something that emerges from that. So, gay Christianity, a very, very new idea.

Uh … it came in response, I think, to the Evangelical church’s um … 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 … but then the Evangelical church has been saying, homosexuality is a willful choice. Not true. Uh … choosing toacton 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.

Jim: And that’s, you know, people—

Rosaria: And that’s—

Jim: --it’s a—

Rosaria: --important.

Jim: --hotly debated statement.

Rosaria: It’s a hotly debated—

Jim: And we’re gonna hear—

Rosaria: --statement.

Jim: --from people on that.

Rosaria: You will.

Jim: But I totally understand what you’re saying--

Rosaria: You will, but …

Jim: --’cause I’ve met with people that will say to me, you know, since I was 3—

Rosaria: Three, right.

Jim: --I—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --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 uh … you do have to wonder where the origin of that is. Sometimes it comes through abuse or sexual abuse um … and …

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

Jim: And we have to—

Rosaria: We’re …

Jim: --acknowledge that.

Rosaria: And we have to … and we have the … we have thedoctrineto anoc … to acknowledge that.

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: See, no one else does.

Jim: (Chuckling) Right.

Rosaria: That … 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: Um … it gives us a theological structure to speak to the media when they come hunting for answers--

Rosaria: Right, right.

Jim: --to be able to tell them, “Well, this is original sin. This is part—

Rosaria: We are sinners.

Jim: --of what’s happening.”

Rosaria: Right, absolutely.

Jim: And … and rather than to run from it and shame them.

Rosaria: That’s right.

Jim: I mean, this is … this is it.

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

Jim: Huh … explain why, because it’s important for us to understand that—

Rosaria: Right.

Jim: --because that … that term, “gay Christian” is now becoming normalized.

Rosaria: Well, yes, it is … it is. It’s just becoming normal. Uh … this is why … well, it fundamentally banks on an … 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 19thcentury, a new idea started to compete with the idea that um … 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—

Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, right.

Rosaria: --but you can’t take the classroom out of the professor!

Jim: I love it.

Rosaria: I know. I’m sorry, I just … but no, “ontology” is the philosophy of the origin of things.

Jim: Right.

Rosaria: And so, what a … what a biblical … when … when we say “biblical ontology,” we really mean who you are at your essence. And it … it also refers to what can never be taken away from you. So, to be born male and female, reflecting the image of God with 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 could … are … 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 they … 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 19thcentury. And sadly, we use that language today. If … when I would call myself a “lesbian,” I was using that language.

Jim: Sure.

Rosaria: And one of the things I had to do with … 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 actuallywhoI 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 … 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 19thcentury category mistake to a … to an idol of personhood, which completely buys into the idol of personal autonomy. And it … it … and it’s connected deeply to everything from abortion rights to LGBT rights.


John: Some profound thoughts from Dr. Rosaria Butterfield on this Best of 2017 edition of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly.

Jim: John, that was only part one of a fascinating discussion and I hope everyone listening will join us again tomorrow or get the CD or download of the entire conversation we had with Rosaria. I highly recommend her book Openness Unhindered. It’s a great read that will challenge your faith and perceptions about many of the issues we wrestle with in today’s culture. In fact, this book is so important, I want to send you a complimentary copy if you send a donation to Focus on the Family today. That’s our way of saying thanks for supporting God’s truth and the ministry here. Right now we have a matching grant opportunity from some good friends of the ministry who want to participate in the fundraising efforts in this way. They are willing to match your donation dollar for dollar, which means anything you give will be doubled-- $50 becomes $100 and so on. So please, be generous today, double the impact you can have through Focus on the Family by giving.

John: And you can donate at or by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.

Now we mentioned our Best of 2017 broadcast collection which includes this conversation, Gary Thomas talking about the power of cherishing your spouse, Jeramy and Jerusha Clark about understanding your teen’s brain and their behavior and a great conversation with Eric Metaxas on what it means to be a hero. You’ll find details about the entire collection on CD or as a digital download at our website.

Coming up next on Focus on the Family; Dr. Rosaria Butterfield returns with something that makes us all feel uncomfortable-- it’s called sin.


Rosaria Butterfield: We often minimize sin. We act as though, you know, hey, the devil made me do it. Original sin, I was born this way, I can’t help it. Well, you know, God knows you can’t help it. That’s why we need to be born again.

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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 conversion as a "train wreck" because of how it radically transformed her life, identity and relationships. 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,