Butterfield, former lesbian and LGBT activist, gives her testimony at ACBC conference
While many speakers during the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) conference were evangelical counselors or longtime pastors, Rosaria Butterfield offered a unique perspective on homosexuality. The conference, titled “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care, and Counseling for Struggling People” and held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, featured the popular author and speaker’s testimony during one of its plenary sessions, Oct. 6.
Butterfield — once a liberal, feminist, lesbian college professor at Syracuse University and now a pastor’s wife — offered the perspective of someone formerly a member of the gay lifestyle, but radically and supernaturally saved out of it through the ministry of a local pastor.
In 1997, after Butterfield wrote a scathing article about a nearby Promise Keepers conference, a Presbyterian pastor in town sent her a letter challenging her presuppositions and inviting her to dinner at his home. After initially throwing it away, she dug it back out and agreed to visit him. Their interaction eventually grew into a friendly, and eventually redemptive, relationship.
“I felt that when Ken [Smith] extended his hand to me in friendship, it was safe for me to close mine in his,” she said. “I wasn’t Ken’s project; I was Ken’s neighbor. This wasn’t friendship evangelism; this was friendship.”
Through the consistent love and care from Pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy, Butterfield was gradually exposed to a holy God who hated sin but extended love and grace to broken people, she said. The Smiths never explained the gospel to her, nor did they invite her to church, but instead treated her as a friend and patiently encouraged her to read her Bible carefully.
“I actually started to read the Bible like I was trained to read a book,” she said. “I was a heathen reading the Bible. ... I read the way a glutton devours. And slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and a meaning that startled me.”
Butterfield’s regular exposure to Word of God slowly changed her, and even her friends within the gay community began to notice. Butterfield found the structure of Romans 1 particularly gripping, with its unflinching condemnation of sin and its close literary relationship with the Fall narrative in Genesis 3.
“The two biblical frames, now — one in Genesis and one in Romans — stood out as bookends of my life,” she said. “But not just my life … if the Bible is, as its internal testimony purports, an eternal frame relevant for and responding to the needs for all humanity, then Genesis 3 and Romans 1 stood out as the table of contents for what ails the world.”
After she had read through the Bible seven times, Butterfield continued to wrestle with it spiritually. When Smith preached a sermon on Jesus feeding the 5,000, he paused to emphasize Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples: “Do you still lack understanding?”
“This startled me, because this was my question,” said the former literature professor. “I realized that question was for me. Do I still lack understanding? Then I wondered who was speaking here: that old man behind the pulpit or the God-man from before the foundations of the world? There was something about the hermeneutic of preaching that completely disarmed me, and truth be told, it still does.”
It was through deep, heartfelt repentance that Butterfield began to experience new life. Though her life has changed significantly since her conversion, that fundamental reality never changes, she said.
“Repentance is bittersweet business,” she said. “Repentance is not just some conversion exercise; it is the posture of a Christian. Repentance is our daily fruit, our hourly washing, our minute-by-minute wake-up call, our reminder of God’s creation, Jesus’ blood, and the Holy Spirit’s comfort. Repentance is the only no-shame solution to a renewed conscience, because it proves only the obvious: that God was right all along.”
Butterfield’s talk was followed by an hour-long question and answer session with Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. Butterfield argued the moniker “gay Christian,” when used to affirm that both a Christian identity and a homosexual identity are compatible, is unhelpful.
“The problem with identifying as a gay Christian is that the Lord Jesus Christ wants our whole identity,” she said. “And we are not to use any adjectival modifier to modify our identity as Christian, especially if that is not going to survive to the new Jerusalem.
“Adjectives in terms of grammar are modifiers, their job is to tell me what kind of Christian you are. The problem with a term like ‘gay Christian’ is that it modifies Christian according to a category of the flesh.”
Butterfield has written two books, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. Audio and video from the conference will soon be available on the ACBC website.