I have noticed that Dr. Rosaria Butterfield has been in the news a great deal lately. I wrote about her in one of my earlier blog posts. Since that time, we have had a large increase in the number of subscribers to this blog. And since her story is so incredible and because the issue of homosexuality has been front and center in the news, I thought I would share some of her story again. Towards the end of her story I make a few comments.
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. Naturally she was teaching and working with a lot of lesbian women.
“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. 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 one other was for the fan mail.”
She also says:
But 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 wrote the letter, and he 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 just threw the letter away. But then later that night, I fished it back out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk where it stared at me for a week – confronting me with the world-view divide that demanded response. Because here I was, a postmodern intellectual, and I operated from a historical, materialistic world-view. But Christianity is a supernatural world-view. Ken’s letter punctuated the integrity of my research product without knowing it. And then 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, the Christians who mocked me on gay-pride days were happy, and it was clear as sky-blue that I and everyone I love are going to hell. That is not what Ken did. He didn’t 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, I thought. But something else happened. I became friends with Ken and his wife, Floy. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. They talked openly about sexuality and politics. And then … I started to read the Bible. I read the way that a glutton devours food. I read it many times that first year, in multiple translations.
At a dinner party that my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend, Jay, cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine and said, “This Bible-reading is changing you, Rosaria.” With tremors, I whispered, Jay, what if it’s true? What if Jesus is real? And is a risen Lord? What if we are all in big trouble?”
I continued reading the Bible, all the while fighting the idea that it was inspired. But the Bible got to be bigger inside of me. 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 I sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I had to remind myself that I came to meet God and not to fit in. As time went by, I fought with everything I had. I didn’t really want this. I didn’t ask for this. I counted the cost, and I didn’t like the math on the other side of the equals sign. But God’s promises rolled in, like sets of waves into my world.
And one Lord’s Day Ken preaches 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 feet were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read book and to write about them. I expected that, in all areas of life, understanding had to come before 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 wondered, am I really a lesbian? Or has all of this 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, with open hands, I came to Jesus. I was bare and surrendered in this war of world-views. Ken was there for me, Floy was there, and the church that had been praying for me was there. Jesus triumphed, and I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I didn’t 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, and then in community, and today, I rest in the shelter of a covenant family, a home, where I have a husband who calls me his wife. I have four children who call me mother. And I have not forgotten the blood Jesus surrendered for me and for my life.
God has clearly done a powerful work in this woman’s life, but it also strikes me that God used Ken Smith and his wife as powerful and effective instruments. They entered Rosaria’s world, became friends, and talked openly. Over time God touched her heart.
From this example we should step back and ask a very serious question: How can we be most effective in demonstrating the love of Christ to the gay and lesbian community? Clearly, angry condemnation is not the answer. Our goal should be to help produce light (and enlightenment), not heat. We should try to engage them and not build up walls.
John Stott, for whom I have tremendous respect, says:
“The church should be a place where anyone can find love and support. If not, then what are we?”