Dr. Rosaria Butterfield
Dr. Rosaria Butterfield

Homosexuality: a Forever Lifestyle or Subject to Change?

A difficult and often inflammatory issue in our society is: Can a person who has declared to be homosexual change or be delivered from this orientation and become heterosexual? Many people who are gay say, I am gay because I was born this way, and there is nothing that I can do about it. At the core of the question is the timeless debate of nature vs. nurture.

Last year I taught a three-part series on homosexuality and gay marriage. I did quite a bit of research, and one fact became quite evident to me: there are thousands of people who claim to have been delivered. They will tell you that it is not easy, nor is there a quick formula that provides the desired result. And, I might add, there are those who have sought deliverance and often fall back into the gay lifestyle. Nevertheless, the evidence is quite compelling – change can happen.

In a 1980 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed academic journal, a study was published in which the authors had evaluated eleven Caucasian men who claimed to have changed sexual orientation from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality. These eleven men claim that the change occurred because of a spiritual transformation that took place in their lives. Each of them claimed to have been heterosexual for at least four years. After thoroughly examining these men, the researchers presented corollary evidence that suggests that the phenomena of substantiated change in sexual orientation without explicit treatment and/or long-term psychotherapy might be more common than previously thought.

Andrew Comiskey is formerly homosexual, and today he runs Desert Stream Living Waters. The site offers its services to those living in sexual and relational brokenness, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Comiskey holds seminars that last thirty-six weeks, and each seminar includes fifty-five individuals; typically the mix is 2:1 homosexual to heterosexual, and the population includes those willing to work to leave either their homosexuality or a sexual addiction of some kind. He has been running these seminars for quite some time, and he reports the following results. 50% of those who start the program complete it with substantial progress out of homosexuality into heterosexuality. About 33% make little or no progress, frequently regressing back into active homosexual behavior upon leaving the program. The outcome for the remainder is uncertain, but his long-term experience reveals that approximately 25% of the formerly homosexual clients will marry into a heterosexual relationship within eight years of leaving the program; moreover, the marriages typically last as long as or longer than the national average. For many individuals it takes twelve to fifteen years before marrying a member of the other sex, and Comiskey attributes this duration to the often slow nature of the healing process. In short, change can occur, but it rarely happens quickly.

There are a number of individual stories that I could share with you, but there is one in particular that I find to be quite powerful.

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of English at Syracuse University. She described herself as a left-wing, radical lesbian. She lived with her partner. Dr. Butterfield taught critical thinking at Syracuse, but her specialty was a course called Queer Theory, a form of gay and lesbian studies. And she said that life was going fine for her and her partner. She was teaching and working with a lot of lesbian women. She says, Life was going fine until I was asked by a publication to write an article on the Religious Right, Promise Keepers, and why they hated queers like me. She said, After the article was published, it generated many rejoinders. So many, in fact, that I kept a Xerox box on each side of my desk; one was for the hate mail, and the other was for the fan mail. But in this article she wrote, Rosaria says:

…One letter I received defied my filing system. It was from a pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a very kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith, who wrote me the letter, encouraged me to explore the kind of questions that I admire. How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God? Ken didn’t argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it. I didn’t know
how to respond to it, and so I threw it away. Later that night, I fished it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk where it stared at me for a week, confronting me with the worldview divide that demanded response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical, materialistic worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken’s letter punctuated the integrity of my research
project without him knowing it.

With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: Surely this will be good for my research.

Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, became my friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book
exchanges. They talked openly about sexuality and politics… And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.

I started reading the Bible. I read the way that a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations.

At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. “This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria,” she warned. With tremors, I whispered, “J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? And is a risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?”…

I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might.
Then one Sunday morning I arose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in… I fought with everything I had. I did not want this. I did not ask for this. I counted the costs. And I did not like
the math on the other side of the equal sign.

But God’s promises rolled in, like sets of waves into my world. One Lord’s Day Ken preached on John 7:17 – “If anyone wills to do [God’s] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine.” This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feed were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and to write about them. I expected that in all areas of life,
understanding came before obedience…

But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God’s point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood… When I looked into my heart through the lens of the Bible, I wondered, Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity? If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail? Who am I? Who will God have me to be?

Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, open handed and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there. Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I
did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song into the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world.

I drank, tentatively at first, then passionately, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in private peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, a home, where one calls me “wife” and many call me “mother.” I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for this life.

I would welcome your thoughts and comments on this post.

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