Conversations with Rosaria
About Rosaria Butterfield
I came to Christ in 1999. I broke up with my lesbian partner because I was convicted of my sin, but my heart was a mess. I never called my partner my wife because I had rejected all things “heteronormative.” I —and others of my generation—dismissed the idea that we were “born this way.” Instead, I believed that my lesbian sexuality was a cleaner and more moral choice.
Conversion to Christ did not initially change my sexual attraction for women. What conversion did change immediately was my mind. Indeed, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. My mind was on fire for the Bible, and I could not read enough of it or enough about it. I experienced a small taste of what it means when David declares in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid?” The light the gospel gave me was ruinous; it ruined me for the life I loved. The Lord’s light illumined my sin through the law and illumined my hope through Jesus and the gospel. The gospel destroyed me before the Lord built me back up.
I also developed deep and resonating friendships with both men and women in my church. Through these friends, I learned to repent of sin in a holistic way. I began to see that my sexual desires for women were not a reflection of who I was but, rather, a distortion of it through original sin. One quotation from the Puritan John Owen stood out to me: “You cannot mortify a specific lust that is troubling you unless you are seeking to obey the Lord from the heart in all areas.” I realized that focusing on one sin at the exclusion of the others was not what God was calling me to do. And because sexual sin ran so deep and hard for me, it was very painful to even see it as a sin at first.
I realized through John Owen that Christ bled as much for the sin of my pride and lying as he did my sexual lust. Soon, union with Christ became an emerging component to my identity, one that competed with my sexual identity and that sometimes made me feel like I was losing my mind or being pulled apart by wild horses.
Then I noticed it: sexual attraction to anyone or anything forbidden by God is degrading. It degrades a person. Psalm 73:22 expressed what it was like for me to wake up to my sexual sin. When the veil of deception lifts, suddenly you behold what you could not see before: “I was senseless and ignorant, I was like a beast before you.”
At this time, I was surrounded by other lesbian couples who had decade-long monogamous relationships. They were dear old friends with whom I had shared vacations and holidays and traditions. We were like family. I knew them and their households and children well. I loved them and couldn’t imagine life without them. The thought that they would have to break up to find Christ seemed so unfair. They would have to lose everything. The safety and stability of their households seemed to prove that some people are just better off if left to what the Bible called sin.
I cried out to God to help me understand how this could be—how I could see my own lesbian appetite and identity as something that degraded me and made me a beast, but at the same time see others in the lesbian community and their happy and stable households in a completely different way. I asked God to let me come face-to-face with His Word on this. This prayer brought me to the gospels and the disciples and the holy love they had for the Lord Jesus and for each other. This was real love. This love didn’t cause others to sin. This love so cherished God and the person you love that you sacrifice all unholy desires that could separate your lover from the God who made her.
Sacrifice is a bloody word, and all of this felt like a real death to the “me” I once was. I started to understand that my lesbian friends could have this kind of love too, and I started to believe that my dearest friends would actually love each other more and better if they were sisters in Christ instead of lovers. This made me call out to God to make me a godly woman, because I realized that I was taking for granted the privilege of this new blood-bought life.
Over time, the desire to be a godly woman grew into another desire—to be a godly wife. Let me say that I do not believe this is a gospel requirement. There is a vital and powerful role for singles in the church, and their singleness in Christ is not selfishness or second-class gospel citizenship. Instead, as the Apostle Paul says, singleness is a freeing of your hands to pour yourself full-tilt into ministry. But I felt called—if God willed—to ask God to make me a godly wife, to work in me such that I could be a helper in all aspects of life to a godly man.
This season of life was messy and filled with terror. I had a failed engagement with someone in my church, and this fed into some of my old hurt and distrust about men. Then I met my husband, Kent Butterfield, and we have been joyfully married since 2001, walking with the Lord together. My role as Kent’s helper and the mother of our children is my daily witness that we serve a God who loves His people.
I wasn’t. I was converted out of unbelief. There’s no conversion from gay to straight. The conversion that is relevant in the Bible is from a heart that was at enmity with God to a heart that is at peace with God. “Regeneration makes a new head for knowledge, a new heart and new affections for holiness (2 Cor. 5:17),” says Thomas Boston in his outstanding Human Nature in its Fourfold State. The Christian answer to the issue of homosexuality is not a heterosexual relationship but holiness, as Bible teacher and author Christopher Yuan has so powerfully said. And sexual holiness is fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness.
The church hasn’t always gotten that right. Anyone who is a Christian has to give up everything, and what God gives back is up to Him. Some people have a harder cross to bear. For people who are struggling with same-sex attraction and are faithful believers in Jesus Christ, please do not give them a greater cross to bear.
About LGBT Questions and Christianity
Using the definitions of our culture, sexual orientation is who you want to go to bed with, and gender identity is who you want to go to bed as. Both terms are driven by the idol of sexual autonomy.
Transgenderism is a painful reality for some people, and it describes what it is like to feel—genuinely so—that you have been born in the wrong body. Christians should be sensitive and compassionate. Our doctrine of sin prepares us to know that after the fall of mankind, both our bodies and our minds are fallen. Philosophically speaking, transgenderism relies upon a queer, postmodern, and poststructural idea of the world—one that declares that gender and sexuality are socially constructed ideas, and that they can be made and remade through human will, desire, political solidarity, or social experience. Bisexuality (and its close affiliate, pansexuality) are terms that also rely on queer theory’s embrace of the idea that gender and sexuality are social constructs and need not be fixed, either in object choice or over the course of an individual’s life. Where bisexuality refers to someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women, pansexuality refers to someone who calls himself “gender blind,” declaring that gender and sex are insignificant. Where gay, lesbian, and bisexual as categories of identity rely upon a stable understanding of biological man and woman (associated more with modernism than postmodernism), transgenderism and pansexuality have no such modern footholds.
These categories of sexual identity have been central to the American university, especially in English departments and other humanities programs, for the past 30 years. Therefore, it is not surprising that millennial generation is fluent with these terms while their parents are not.
The Bible declares, in Genesis 1:27, that being born male or female comes with moral responsibilities, constraints, and blessings, with the full understanding that through the fall of mankind and sometimes our own choices, these responsibilities and constraints are much more difficult for some than others.
No. Biblical personhood (what philosophers call ontology) is found in Genesis 1:27. It reveals that all who are redeemed by the atoning blood of Christ are male and female image-bearers of a holy God with a soul that will last forever and a body that will be glorified and redeemed in the New Jerusalem.
Sexual orientation as a category of personhood began as a 19th century category mistake, fueled by Sigmund Freud and German Romanticism. Freud was seeking to find the answer to the question: What separates humans from other mammals? Because he rejected the biblical definition of humanity, his studies in human sexuality led him to believe that humans are different from other mammals because sexual desires exceed procreation. Freud introduced terminology that had direct bearing on people who are same-sex attracted. His studies moved homosexuality from a verb (what people do) to a noun (who people are).
This new category of personhood—seeing people as essentially sexual beings whose objects of desire designate separate species of humans (as Foucault says)—took hold. It quickly became a 20th century idol, fueled by the sexual revolution and the belief that sexual autonomy is an immutable right. And with the 2015 US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, sexual orientation as a category of personhood became a civil right, appended to the 14th amendment. The belief that sexual orientation is a category of personhood is on a collision course with the gospel.
By no means is my rejection of the category of sexual orientation a rejection of people who are struggling with same-sex sexual desire or a rejection that that desire is both real and unchosen. I am saying that sexual orientation as a designation of personhood (who you are) is a category mistake—a mistaken way of talking about people. There is a world(view) of difference between saying that you struggle with same-sex sexual attraction and that you are gay. One allows you to stand apart from your struggle, seeing homosexuality as a part of the Fall; the other collapses your identity into your struggle, seeing sexual orientation as a morally neutral reality.
Understanding sexual orientation as a category mistake is a little like understanding that Pluto is no longer a planet. No one disputes that Pluto as a planetary mass is real; the debate is whether its category as a planet is accurate.
Gay Christianity was born out of desperation. People like me—people who have had in the past or who currently have deep, abiding and/or long-lasting sexual desires for members of our own gender—had found no place in the broad evangelical church. Instead, these churches typically say homosexuality is a behavior to be modified through parachurch ex-gay ministries. The church condemned such feelings as bad choices and condemned the people (like me) who experienced these feelings as abominations, falsely calling homosexual desires a willful choice.
I have never met a person who has chosen same-sex attraction. In the early 2000s, people with abiding and lasting same-sex attraction gathered together under the umbrella term gay Christian. They are supported by the Gay Christian Network, or Side A (which sanctions same-sex marriage and believes that homosexuality is just one of many forms of diverse sexuality that the church should welcome), and the Spiritual Friendship internet community, or Side B (which believes that homosexuality is not a morally culpable issue, although it is a consequence of the brokenness from the Fall; Side B teaches against homosexual sexual practice, but only for the sake of Christian tradition). While Side B seeks to uphold biblical sexual standards, because it sees sexual orientation as an accurate category of personhood (i.e., there is such a thing as a gay person—that gayness describes who someone essentially is), their theology in no way allows for an understanding of why homosexuality, even at the level of desire, is sinful and needing the grace of repentance. To the Side B Christian, homosexuality is a sexuality—one of many.
Over the years, we have seen many Side B Christians defect for Side A, declaring that God sanctions gay unions. And I predict that we will see many more defectors, since the theology behind Side B is biblically untenable. How can any of us fight a sin that we don’t hate? Hating our own sin is a key component to doing battle with it. At the same time, we need to separate ourselves from the sin we hate. This can be a very challenging issue for a Christian who experiences SSA, an issue that becomes exceedingly more challenging if one assumes the social identity of “gay Christian.”
We must maintain that we who repent and believe stand in robes of righteousness as beloved sons and daughters of God, even as we do daily battle with any an all sexual lust and unbiblical desire that claims our affections. We are not our sin, and we ought never to let it define us.
Side A and Side B both support the idea that sexual orientation is an accurate category of personhood, and therefore they both are outside the bounds of biblical teaching.
Christians can, and sadly do, fall into all kinds of sin. But if Christians call what God calls sin a grace, we are calling God a liar, and, as 1 John warns, God’s Word and His truth are not in us (1 John 1:5-10). Some say you should love the sinner and hate the sin. I think we should love the sinner and hate our own sin. If we spent more time hating our own sin, we would be more responsible in our dealings with others.
But we want to be clear about what God calls sin. God calls any heart that is not submitted to Jesus sinful. You are a Christian if you have been redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ. Do we all struggle with sin? Yes, and some struggle more than others. Do some people have to give up more than others? Yes. The Christian life is not democratic; some have one cross to bear and others ten.
Can someone be a Christian who struggles with homoerotic desire? Yes. There is no sin of temptation. The question is what you do with the temptation. Repentance is the ground zero of the Christian life. We who are Christians are citizens of a new country, and there is no dual citizenship for the believer. Christians exchange all unholy affections for Christ, and this requires daily repentance.
People are people. The most important thing Christians can do is not buy into this travesty of personhood that has come to us through the category of sexual orientation, to believe that people who identify as gay or lesbian are somehow a separate species. There is one category of personhood: a person has a soul that will last forever and is an image-bearer of a holy God.
Another thing Christians get tripped up on is that they get focused on the particular sin of a person, and they become bad listeners. Don’t get sidetracked into focusing on sins (plural) about anybody, whether it’s your neighbor who identifies as LGBT or someone whose life manifests other “known” sin categories. Get to know people well enough to know how to be both earthly and heavenly good to them. Everyone has a longing for those things that eternal souls need—and the Word of God is the only food, and the person of Jesus Christ is the only friend, for all of humanity. Don’t get sidetracked by other people’s visible sin patterns. It’s not helpful, and it’s not even kind.
The gospel is always ahead of us, and the gospel leaves no one behind. It is good news for all sinners—which is to say, all of us. There is no gospel for people who think they’re all cleaned up just the way they are. We are all sexual sinners—there’s no question about that.
But the good news of the gospel asks for much cross-bearing on the part of God’s people. The point of the gospel is to so fully reshape and remake us to reflect the image of our savior that we are fit to inherit a New Jerusalem with Him. Jesus knows this sacrifice best: “For our sake, He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel comes with deep and abiding struggle. Galatians 5 records the battle. We need to better learn how to be kind company to each other, and how to engage in accompanied suffering, changing the way we live and act as a reflection of God’s call on our lives and as God’s understanding that the gospel puts all of us into families—the family of God.
Mark 10:28-31 says that the gospel calls you to lose family, houses, mothers, fathers, partners, lives, livelihood, etc., but it promises you a hundredfold on this side of heaven—and that hundredfold is going to come from the church. I think those verses are tailor-made for people who struggle with unchosen homosexual desire and who have left a partner and an LGBT family to come to Christ. That person—who was once me—needs the body of Christ to be the family that God calls us to be: to share homes, holidays, and rhythm of life.
If you are a covenant family and you know of single people in your church, you need to see them as part of your family. If you’re not sharing the gospel with a house key—especially with people for whom crushing loneliness is killing them—why not? First Corinthians 10:13 is for all of us: “No temptation will befall you except for that which is common to man, and God will give you a way of escape.” What if your house is a way of escape, but you’re too busy? I think that Christians are failing to share the whole gospel (the one that comes with a house key) and therefore are making gospel demands to lay down your life and pick up your cross even more burdensome to other people. Christians need to change the way we live to reflect to a watching world that being part of the family of God means something real.
About Political and Social Change
About Personal Questions and Struggles
The best thing you should say is, “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me something important. Thank you for trusting me with something that is precious and that is hard on you.” The best thing you can do is honor your friendship by thanking that person for being honest. And then you can ask some good questions, like “How can I help?” or “How can I be a friend to you in this situation? Here’s a resource on the best thing to say and worst things to say.
The Lord has given the ordinary means of grace to ordinary people, and the Lord has given the gospel to people who are broken, inarticulate, struggling with sin, etc. The Lord has called us to hospitality when our houses are messy. I think the answer to the larger question is that we need to be willing to get close to people, and we need to not be so focused on church growth that we create ghettoes of communities because of circumstances. What is really a great blessing to people is to be enfolded into each other’s lives, and not just on certain days at certain times or when it’s convenient. People need to be part of the daily rhythms of your life. We are brothers and sisters.
I sometimes wonder if part of the challenge is that we’ve unintentionally pitted godly marriage against godly community. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we will inherit a fellowship with each other in community that our godly marriages will not survive to see. Rather than be so focused on sociological categories—thinking that what would allow me to best identify with you is that we have shared the same struggle—let’s focus on sharing the same risen Christ.
Yes, we must share our deep struggles with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Anything that is a secret sin is going to flourish like mad. An ideal church for someone struggling with any kind of sexual sin or gender dysphoria is a church where everybody is repenting of sin. It’s a church where everybody thinks of repentance as a gift from God. Repentance is a threshold to a holy God. It’s something you do daily and hourly.
So what we need first is for our churches to be ready to embrace our friends who are struggling with gender dysphoria. It means that you don’t get to pretend that you’re all cleaned up. It would also be helpful to compile a list of people who speak on the subject and books written on the subject as resources for those who are struggling, but it has to be an ongoing battle. Ultimately, people in the church need to be able to talk about what’s going on in our lives. Nothing should be off limits. The most dangerous people in the church are the people whose secret sins are festering and flourishing, and eventually those sins are going to rise up and eat you alive. We need people in our church who are willing to be honest. If we want to serve others, we need to model that honesty.
What you can do as a friend is be a bridge. While the whole church might not know what to do with gender dysphoria, there are some folks in it who do—and you need to find those folks and have Thanksgiving, birthdays, prayer, etc., together. You need to enfold prayer as a means of grace into the ho-hum of life.
If you have a friend who has gone from gender dysphoria through a sex-change surgery, you need to remember that God’s grace and the gospel is the best news for people who have become transsexuals and have now come to Christ, because in the New Jerusalem there is no genital mutilation. You are made whole again. It is never too late in Christ and you are never too far gone. Be the bridge for someone.
For many people, singleness brings pressures, concerns, and fears about the future. The body of Christ needs to step into potential loneliness with vital and life-giving, Christ-centered community. Single people are not people who need to be fixed or fixed up. And all people need to know that they have a vital place in the family of God. One way to do this is to make fellowship in the home a high priority, to have regular, weekly time together, to include each other in holidays, and to remember that if we call ourselves a family of God, we need to act like a family.
About Growing as a Christian
Reformed Christians following Augustine have understood sin to be very serious business. We uphold the biblical witness that sin is treason against God. Original sin distorts us, actual sin distracts us, and indwelling sin manipulates us. Jean-Jacques Rousseau may have believed that “man is born free” and that the chains come from society, but the Bible tells us the opposite: Man is born in the chains of original sin, and the only way to break free of those chains is through the atoning blood of Christ.
In today’s climate, we see evangelicals dividing on whether God holds us responsible for Adam’s sin. Some evangelicals, following a Catholic and Anglican rendering, believe that original sin makes us sick and only sick. The “disability model” of sin comes from this. It says that people who struggle with unchosen sin patterns like homosexuality and gender dysphoria are victims of a crime that someone else committed; they are suffering servants, and should be treated as such.
While there is no question that we suffer under the weight of original sin, the Bible stakes out a different—and more difficult—approach. The Bible declares us corrupt and guilty for the sin we inherit in Adam (and this explains in part why being an unbeliever is a sin). An analogy might help us to understand this. Let’s say I inherit a house with a lush garden, and I love the garden so much that I just let it do what it wants. I never prune the roses. I never weed the dandelions. I let the vines go where they want to go. After a decade of letting my garden flourish by doing what it wants, I notice that my garden is in shambles. It is uninhabitable. Let’s say I complain to a friend who is a master gardener. I say: “This is so unfair! I am a victim. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just let my garden do what it wants!” My friend will tell me, “Rosaria, you did everything wrong. You tried to help your garden without first understanding its nature. Gardens come with weeds as part of their nature. It is the nature of the garden to have weeds, and to deny this—to deny the true nature of a thing—is to do great harm to this thing that you love.”
The same is true for us. We do great harm to ourselves and others when we fail to deal with our nature in Adam. Sin is engraved with a diamond pen upon our hearts (Jeremiah 17:1). If we do not start there, we will never flourish. We will never cry out to Jesus to forgive our sins. We will never flourish, because the truth of any substance is found in its origin, its ontology, its spiritual core. Truth matters. It can be measured and known, and the truth about ourselves is laid bare in the pages of Scripture. The Bible holds us accountable to sinful desires that we do not choose but that seem to choose us. If we say that only sins of actual choice and execution are the ones that God will judge, we deny the words of Jesus, who says lust is adultery and anger is murder. Sin goes so deep that we cannot know ourselves without turning over the pages of our heart against the pages of the Bible. And sin is not a matter of only making bad choices. Sin is deceptive, and deception means being taken over—being captured by— an evil force to do its bidding.
There is no place in Scripture where we see that God loves and bestows upon you the blessings of saving faith without rigorous change to the person crying out to God for salvation. That change is exacted at the cross of Christ and the redemption that flows from it, and not from behavior modification or moral improvement on some outside matters.
This is a contested issue. Advocates of gay affirming theology (Matthew Vines, James Brownson) tell us that it is the Bible and its teachings that must change to make room for the new religion of sexual orientation. But that is not the teaching of Scripture. Colossians 3:5 calls the believer to change not just outward behavior but the evil desires that fuel it. Genesis 6:5 and Mark 7:20-23 bring to light that the fall of mankind and the original sin it bequeathed drive corruption deep into the cavernous desires of our hearts. And Ephesians 4:22-24 calls for the transformation of our inner being to conform to Christ’s righteousness.
At the same time, the Bible compassionately reveals that all true Christians feel this inner war: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:16). But sin no longer defines us: “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” Paul reminds us (Romans 6:11). Our call is not to despair, but to hope in Christ and to drive a fresh nail into our choice sin every day (Colossians 3:1, 5). None of us is free from the seductions of our choice sin until glory.
This is the crossroad for the Christian who identifies as gay: Are homosexual desires, capacities, and practices expressions of illicit sin against which, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to wage an irreconcilable war, or are they merely diverse expressions of social good? The Bible issues a clear answer to this. And entrenched sins like sins of illicit sexual desires and practices and patterns easily become those indwelling sins that seem intractable. While we know that all things are possible with Christ, we also know that no one will be completely sanctified until glory. It is here that the words of Jonathan Edwards are a balm to our conscience:
Indeed, allowances must be made for the natural temper: conversion doesn’t entirely root out the natural temper: those sins which a man by his natural constitution was most inclined to before his conversion, he may be most apt to fall into still. But yet conversion will make a great alteration even with respect to these sins. Though grace, while imperfect, doesn’t root out an evil natural temper; yet it is of great power and efficacy with respect to it, to correct it….If a man before his conversion, was by his natural constitution, especially inclined to lasciviousness, or drunkenness, or maliciousness; converting grace will make a great alteration in him, with respect to these evil dispositions; so that however he may be still most in danger of these sins, yet they shall no longer have dominion over him; nor will they any more be properly his character.
—The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 2), Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale UP, 1959), 341-43. Quoted in The Gospel and Sexual Orientation (Crown & Covenant), 19.
One of the first things we need to do is to have a plan for our devotional life. There is no way that you can steward the ideas of the world when you are a haphazard reader. Why do you read your Bible? The most common answer I get is that people want to draw closer to the Lord, which is an excellent reason. However, have you ever thought that you’re not just reading it for you? There are people out there who don’t know how to read or don’t have access to the Bible, and you are shouldering the awesome responsibility of stewarding the world’s ideas in a biblical way. We have to realize that our time in the Word is not a selfish time. My ultimate goal in doing this is to know God better; to lean, yield, submit to Romans 8:28; but also to take up a creation mandate to steward the earth. I can steward ideas, but I can’t steward them according to the Word of God if I’m not deeply in the Word.
Here are some of my favorite Bible reading tools: a good study Bible and Tabletalk magazine.
One of my favorite books is Profiting from the Word by A.W. Pink. It’s a great book just to read devotionally, because we are to profit from the Word. If you are a Christian and you are daily losing a battle with sin—I’m not talking about sanctification as a linear forward march—the thrust of sanctification is to grow in the likeness of our Savior, and we can do that sometimes by failing and repenting and realizing that we can’t do it in our own strength. There is something redemptive about the humility of the fall. You can’t fall away, which is the very good news.
You need to know that you can trust the Word of God. If you’re doubting that, you need to be willing to acknowledge that it is true that this Bible is ontologically set up to be the only book on earth that plays by a certain set of rules. You read it like a book, but it is a holy, God-breathed book. As painful to our pride as it is to realize it, the job of the Bible is to critique our lives. It is not our job to critique the Bible.
Live as a faithful member of a Bible-believing church, meeting for worship, prayer meetings, fellowship, and Bible studies.
Cultivate honest accountability in your church, asking for prayer and checking in with your pastor or elder or someone known to your pastor for accountability. If you are struggling with same-sex attraction, accountability should be one-on-one and not group focused.
Know your enemy: besetting and indwelling sin is predatory, and it will not stop until it kills. If you struggle with sexual sin, have no contact with pornography or with secret lovers—physical or non-physical, virtual or real.
Do not misuse Christ by asking Him to baptize your feelings; instead, ask Christ to fill up your heart and soul and thereby create your feelings.
Do not do ministry if you are experiencing out-of-control sin such as lust or sexual temptations. Do not think that you can minister alone from your weakness.
God calls us to be hospitable to the stranger—and this is a command that is true whether we are gaining or losing the culture. But Christians need to know that we do not have a good reputation for being hospitable in the LGBT community. The LGBT community is one given to hospitality, and in that community a home is open each night for fellowship, help, care, and connection.
By contrast, it seems like Christians are on a starvation diet of community. If Christians want to step into the lives of our neighbors in meaningful ways, we need to make hospitality a commitment. We need to be ready for more organic forms of hospitality than what we traditionally use. And we need to be ready to be more vulnerable in our role as both host and guest.
Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield