Rosaria Butterfield and the Space for more Stories

I’ve been following the events surrounding Rosaria Butterfield’s recent visit to Wheaton College, where over 100 students held a demonstration prior to chapel demanding more than a single story be shared.* The students seem concerned that others might use her story prescriptively to say all gay or same sex attracted people should experience a similar transformation that leads to heterosexual marriage. A number of the students also seem concerned that Wheaton is not open to acknowledging the larger conversation regarding the morality of gay relationships, and they want to see Wheaton interacting with more progressive interpretations of Scripture on this point (which I won’t get into here).

I’ve been fascinated by Rosaria’s story since I read it last year. The first few chapters of her book gripped me with sentences like: “This word—conversion—is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God.” That resonates with me—her entire story of coming face to face with the Living God (and being transformed from the inside out) resonates with me. Then she marries a man. She marries a man, has children, home schools her children, and now leads a radically different life than the one she led as a “queer activist” and professor at Syracuse. That doesn’t resonate with me.

So I’ve watched the conversation unfolding, sharing others concerns that conservative Christians might run with a story like Rosaria’s and use it as a model to say all of us who have same sex attractions will live into a heterosexual reality if we have enough faith. I fear they’ll say: “See! Rosaria is married with children. You, too, can experience the power of the Gospel to make you straight!” That happens, and it’s what I pushed back against when I was involved with Exodus because I wanted the ex-gays to make room for the celibate gays who were trying to follow Jesus with all our hearts.

I now find myself wanting to tell other gay Christians like myself to make room for stories like Rosaria’s. I watched the video of her address to students at Wheaton and saw a woman with a message about a glorious Savior. I was surprised that she didn’t even mention her marriage and family until the final two minutes of her talk. She shared about a radical encounter with Jesus Christ—through His people—that turned her life upside down. She talked about Jesus becoming more beautiful to her than everything else in the world, about her slow process of stepping out in trust to follow Him. It was a clear presentation of the Gospel that wrecks us, rescues us, and sets us apart from the lives of sin we used to lead.

We can stack hands on that. While her story might look different than mine or other celibate gay Christians, we can stack hands on the power of the Gospel to transform us from the inside out. I would still push for folks in my shoes to support her even if she did make her marriage a central part of her story because this is how God has worked in her life. I celebrate that in the same way I hope others will celebrate the power of Christ to sustain me in celibacy. We don’t need to feel threatened by stories that look different than ours (or by those who disagree on matters of language), and we definitely don’t want to silence them. If we silence stories just because we fear folks will run with the hetero part and make it a model, then we also end up silencing stories about the power of Christ to transform hearts. If other Christians make the hetero part a measuring stick for the rest of us, then we can have a conversation with them and remind them sanctification is a process that doesn’t typically entail orientation change here on earth. But that conversation is most fruitful when we celebrate a variety of stories, engage with grace, and acknowledge the Lord uses each of us in different ways to display His beauty through our unique vocations.

Rosaria Butterfield - The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely ConvertI have to say: I felt humbled and challenged by Rosaria’s presentation, and I think I have a lot to learn from her. I feel like I was fighting for room at the table for so long, trying to convince Christians that I loved Jesus too and I couldn’t change my orientation no matter how hard I tried, that I sort of dug my heels in. I got to a point over the past few years where I almost insisted people stop talking to me about change, that they stop with the extreme language about transformation, that they stop telling me stories like Rosaria’s. But it seems the pendulum might have swung to another extreme now, and in our attempts to be heard we might ignore valuable voices. There was a time when stories like Rosaria’s were the only stories shared. That time has passed. I’m now concerned stories like hers are often silenced, and that’s a grave mistake.

When God shows up in someone’s life He brings a sweeping overhaul to the entire person, whether that ends in a heterosexual marriage or the grace to be chaste. In resisting talk about some of these aspects of change, I’ve also resisted talk about other kinds of change that might be beneficial, which can lead to blurring lines and compromising on points that perhaps shouldn’t be compromised. I admire the gracious manner in which Rosaria boldly proclaims the radical transformation she experienced when she met Jesus, and I see in her someone who is clearly set apart. Perhaps we would all do well to celebrate stories of transformation, regardless of how they play out practically, and to stack hands on the power of the Gospel to bring restoration.

Julie Rodgers

Julie Rodgers shares life with inner city youth in West Dallas. She also writes and speaks about faith and sexuality, so check out her blog or find her on Twitter: @Julie_rodgers.

*Update 2/20/2014: Added link in first paragraph to article in The Wheaton Record. This link was unavailable at the time of our original publication.

41 thoughts on “Rosaria Butterfield and the Space for more Stories

  1. Wow. Just Wow! You completely hit the nail on the head – thank you! You effectively communicated positively, what I’d been defensively arguing negatively. Such helpful reminders!

    I was greatly helped by this reminder: “I feel like I was fighting for room at the table for so long, trying to convince Christians that I loved Jesus too and I couldn’t change my orientation no matter how hard I tried, that I sort of dug my heels in. I got to a point over the past few years where I almost insisted people stop talking to me about change, that they stop with the extreme language about transformation, that they stop telling me stories like Rosaria’s.”

    We all desperately need the transforming power of the Gospel in our lives – even if that doesn’t specifically involve orientation change. Thank you!

    • Thanks for sharing this, T! I do think it’s important to try to come at things from a positive perspective because it helps us to frame what’s good, what we would like to incorporate, consider, or move toward (in this case unity and a celebration of how God moves in various peoples’ lives). I don’t always do it WELL, but I try, especially in situations like this when someone like Rosaria seems so gracious and genuine in her life and message.

  2. Julie, I commented over on your blog too. But just wanted to say here as well: thanks for this article. I also appreciate Rosaria. I have enjoyed listening to some of her talks and Q & A on youtube. We have some things we can learn from her, especially about obedience to Christ despite the costs. She also points out the importance of how we shape our imagination with what we put into our minds. We are affected by what we read, watch, social media, etc. And I think we often don’t attend to that nearly as well as we could.

    • Really good point, Karen, about how we shape our imagination. This is an area where I need to grow, since I probably swung toward being too lax as a result of coming from such a strict and rigid background. It’s good to be reminded that freedom in Christ actually frees us up to pursue that which is good and beautiful with more passion.

  3. I am glad you wrote this. I have seen her speak through youtube videos several times and at no point felt her saying “This has to be your story too.” It is as if others are trying to discredit her story. She really tries to just be Jesus. I love it!

    • Thanks, Nate! I need to watch a few more of her videos. I read her book and several articles, but her talk at Wheaton is the only video I’ve seen. I’m encouraged by anyone who wants to make the main thing the main thing: glorifying God in whatever vocation he guides them into.

  4. Thank you so much for these words, Julie! My mind has been a jumble of confusing thoughts this past year since re-engaging this issue, and I have found myself suddenly feeling like the outcast relic in the SSA conversation, being a man with SSA who has been married for 25 years, with children to boot. My wife knows, my church knows, my friends all know about me. After a huge crisis 15 years ago where everything came to light, God worked his grace and mercy SO MUCH in my marriage and friendships. I have since hunkered down for the last 8 or 9 years or so with busy family life, and came up for air to teach a class at my church on “Biblical Manhood, Womanhood and Sexuality”, and Ho – ly Cow! I was not prepared for the complete change in the Christian landscape. I loved that suddenly everyone with SSA was now coming out and telling his or her story – God was moving! I was so encouraged! But quickly I realized that my story seemed . . . well . . . so 1990’s.

    Everything that remotely smelled of ex-gay ministry or reparative therapy was now dismissed as disingenuous or manipulative, and if you were truly honest with yourself, you were supposed to admit that you were just gay, and we had to stop any talk of God being involved with changing our desires and admit you were gay, and then go to God with that and say to Him “Now what, God?” Or that’s what I’ve felt like. So this story I’ve had of God working so powerfully in my life, and the love I have developed for my wife, and the sexual desire that has changed some; I have not known what I can do with that. Is that supposed to be a taboo part of my testimony? Will telling that from now on always imply that the listener doesn’t have enough faith if he or she never gets married? Is it ok to say that God might lead a man or woman with SSA to get married to someone of the opposite sex? Can I tell someone that though I still primarily have same-sex sexual attraction, that I now enjoy a sexual desire with my wife that I never used to have? Is that ok? or does that imply betrayal to a new unspoken secret code of “once gay always gay”. (No one leaves the firm?)

    Anyway, I know that you ministered to me with this post, and I want to pay it forward. I haven’t had an outlet for my thoughts much about this. I want to be someone who can contribute again in this modern conversation, and who has a voice at the table. Thank you again!

    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Jim. I can imagine it must be crazy to return to the conversation when it has changed so much over the past decade. I do find it frustrating that stories like yours are challenged. You shouldn’t have to tip-toe around, wondering if simply sharing your experience is going to be perceived as a confirmation that those who don’t share your experience didn’t try hard enough or didn’t have enough faith.

      The way you framed it here will help with that, I think. For instance, you’re honest about the fact that you still experience SSA (while also being attracted to your wife), and it helps to be honest about that. You also acknowledge that, while you happened to fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, it very well might not happen for others, and that helps tremendously.

      Melinda Selmys and Kyle Keating are both married and they both write here. If you haven’t read any of their posts about their marriages then I definitely encourage you to do so. There’s certainly room for your story, Jim, and I think you can contribute in meaningful ways when you do so with the honesty and humility you exude here. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I think there’s been a lot of improvement in how “Side A” and “Side B” interact, but there isn’t as much grace shown to those who pursue mixed orientation marriages and especially those who state their sexual orientation has radically changed. They are sometimes labeled “Side X” which doesn’t sound like a legitimate option. I feel everyone owns the right to their own story that God is writing. I shouldn’t impose my story on others because that doesn’t reflect the Golden Rule. Great reminder, Julie.

    • Thanks for weighing in here! It’s hard for me not to be suspicious when I hear about radical stories of change in attraction (not thinking of Rosaria in this comment—more thinking of the ex-gay narrative since you referenced Side X). I want to keep an open mind to how the Lord moves, and I can definitely get behind someone falling in love with one person in a way that surprises them, but it’s still pretty hard for me to digest stories that sound super Exodusy. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it can happen; I just don’t think that should be the main message sent to young gay/SSA Christians by any means. I’ve just seen too many stories misused, too many dashed hopes, and too many Adventures in Missing the Point.

      At the same time, I don’t want genuine people to be marginalized if they really have experienced tremendous changes. I think folks like Rosaria will be valuable voices in pointing out that, yes, significant changes have occurred for her, but that it’s not to be pushed upon others as an expectation. She’s able to say those things to people who might not be able to hear it from someone like me, and I’m so grateful she’s using her platform in that way.

    • By the way, I got super side-tracked and got off track from the point you made. YES: A spirit of grace toward others and a commitment to not imposing our own stories (whatever they may be) on all people everywhere. Totally agree.

      • Most definitely. I agree that my gut reaction to change stories is to feel doubtful. I’m probably even defensive like the students at Wheaton. It seems like we can’t approach this topic without jumping on a bandwagon. Someone or some group gets thrown under the bus to overcompensate for the flaws of the last popular approach.

  6. I can only say this place is beyond a place of rest and balm for me. It is truly part of what Vatican ll called, “the new evangelization.” I never leave here feeling anything but uplifted, informed, and lighter in heart. Thank you for this post, Julie. I have a lesbian daughter. And she has gone down the feminist rabbit hole. I am in no way determined to force Rosaria’s story upon her! She wouldn’t listen right now, anyway! I can only hope through prayer and God’s grace that she will feel called to re-examine the relationship God calls us to in chastity. Both marital chastity and the chastity of the single life. I pray she will re-examine the feminism she now so strongly clings to and has felt liberated by.

    Listening to Rosaria’s story is inspiring. Coming here and finding stories is a gift.

    It is informing and transforming me.

    And, your personal story the other day of wanting some companionship was also so illuminating and forced me to question myself. “How can I be more present to people. What in my mind and awareness can contribute to the conversation of how we welcome all into Christ’s church. How and in what way can that extend into structures in place in the every day lived life that will reinforce our brothers and sisters as they struggle and journey.”

    These thoughts flood my mind these days.

    • Lili, I so appreciate your kind spirit here. Thanks for sharing a little about your desire to be more present to people—inviting others into your life in a meaningful way. We write these things here in hopes that people like you will be moved to live them out in your immediate community, because there are certainly people around you who are longing for companionship.

      With regard to your daughter: one of the things that struck me about Rosaria’s story (and with my own) is that the decision to pursue chastity (or marriage) came after a deep, intimate, trusting relationship with Christ was established. When I began to trust God as a loving Father whose ways are good, right, and ultimately serve to preserve me, I began to consider what it would look like to submit to Him in all areas of my life (including my sexuality). I’m glad to hear you’re praying for your daughter and not imposing particular behaviors on her, as I know those choices are made after the foundation has been laid. You sound like a real gift and I’m glad to hear this place has been nourishing for you.

  7. Thank you. Yes, many prayers. The thing is, she is a very informed person theologically and now has accepted a theology in which you can have it all. We have had long, deep theological discussions. I cannot try to appeal to her reason.It is in God’s hands, and his will be done. In the meantime, I have my job: to be her mother and to love her.

    Coming here helps me with perspective and also strengthens my resolve to be strong (even while my own heart is sad-I’m selfish, I had plans and they’ve changed and I have to get past that. It’s not about me) and to be open to the lesson God is teaching me in my own life. Humility much? Yes. That is a hard lesson.

  8. Perhaps it is a difference in theological position similar to the difference between one that accepts that miracles can happen, and one that is based in the “health and wealth” prosperity school where a lack of miracle means that you’re just not praying hard enough. When someone presents their story as a “this could (and should) be you!” then that can leave a bitter taste.

    If you’ve encountered and then rejected the “miracles on demand if your faith is good enough” notion, it can make you leery of any mention of “signs and wonders” at all. But God can still do dramatic things if it is His will in a particular situation — it’s just that He is not an “insert prayer, get result” vending machine. Sometimes what God gives us isn’t what we think we want, but what He knows we need. But we can still be happy for those who HAVE had dramatic experiences of God’s power, especially when they are simply thankful rather than presenting an expectation of “so what’s wrong with you that you haven’t had this yet?”

  9. So glad to read something from you on Rosaria Butterfield! What I appreciated most about her story was her pre-conversion experience. I don’t know how many ex-gay testimonies I’ve heard that involved a past characterized by promiscuous environments and sordid sexual exploits. It was refreshing to read about her lgbt community whose members were socially aware, hospitable, humanitarian, and seemingly more morally upright than the Christians who seemed to hate them.

    But I do find that further along in her story, I relate less and less to her experience. I’m in a mixed-orientation marriage myself, but she seems to have had a total orientation change and even rejects the very language of sexual orientation.

    Ultimately, I just echo your sentiments. I hope the pendulum doesn’t swing to far in the other direction,and that enough of the diverse stories can get out there so that people can relate and find hope, and that God would be more fully glorified for all the different ways He’s working in people’s lives.

    • I’d be really interested in seeing how Rosaria’s story develops over time. I know that in my own experience, I had a fairly lengthy period of “change” — that is about 12 years where I was hardly aware of any same-sex attraction at all. I didn’t experience a lot of opposite-sex attraction either…but I had a strong emotional connection with my husband and that seemed like enough. Largely for that reason, I also rejected the language of sexual orientation. Then about 12 years into my marriage I ended up having to confront a bunch of stuff having to to with sexuality, gender, frigidity, etc…and wham. I realized this had never really gone away, just gone underground. I’ve encountered this phenomenon several times with other women. I’m not saying that Rosaria will have the same experience — I have no idea whether she will or not. As Augustine pointed out, God gives different graces to different people at different times, in different ways, and He offers or withdraws those graces according to His inscrutable wisdom.

      • Very interesting. This whole sexuality thing is messy business! I’m just glad that there’s a variety of voices out there now, and I don’t feel pressured to somehow make my own experience conform to a single narrative that just doesn’t fit.

      • That’s a really interesting point, Melinda. Do you think your experience is somewhat typical, with a season of same sex attractions going underground and then resurfacing? That was always my fear when I was in ex-gay ministry pursuing change….that the “change” would be for a season and then I’d get side-swiped ten years into marriage. Your process sounds different because (from what I understand) you approached it with much more honesty and realistic expectations, but I’ve known a lot of people who thought they were healed only to be surprised down the road. I like the way you frame it as God giving different graces to different people at different times.

    • Rosaria never claims to have made a complete sexual orientation change. She views her story as a spiritual conversion not as a sexual conversion. She admits having a heterosexual adolescence and dated men until her late 20s when she got involved with women. Thus, she seems to be bisexual or have sexual fluidity. She also admits in some of her talks that she acts with prudence because she has weaknesses. And that her conversion did not give her a lobotomy of her past. So, I would venture to guess that she probably has diminished same-sex attraction and has been able to channel her sexuality toward heterosexuality given her apparent bisexuality. But I am not sure she would say she never has any same-sex attractions. She doesn’t really straight up answer that question in her talks.

      • I heard that from her, too, Karen. I can’t remember how she framed it in her talk, but she steered clear of total change or healing messages. I think she said something about thoughts from her past sometimes emerging and pulling at her or something like that. It sounded honest and humble.

      • Now that you mention it, I do remember reading some of that. I guess I just felt like she seemed a lot more “straight” than me in her talks or writings, and I couldn’t quite relate. Still, I really like her and am glad that her story is out there.

      • I wonder why she doesn’t “straight up answer” questions about the current state of her same-sex attractions, and why so many people (like Melinda, Mike and myself) after viewing her come away with the impression that she is more or less “straight” or doesn’t have active same sex attractions? Does this sort of ambiguity sound familiar? It seems awfully reminiscent of the ambiguity in the Exodus stories of yore…because when you are unequivocal about these sorts of things, when you admit that the issue is still there, conservative venues get vary wary of inviting you to come speak. They very much need your message to be that God heals homosexuality. Any lack of clarity in that is seen as bad press for God. I see Rosaria as being complicit in the perpetuation of this ruse. It concerns me.

  10. First off, just want to say that I’m a big fan of the writing here at Spiritual Friendship, and also of yours Julie.

    As someone on campus for Rosaria and the demonstration, I see things a bit differently. I think students on campus were rightfully uneasy about the way Rosaria talked about her change from LGBTQ/feminist/professor to homeschooling/stay at home mom/Christian, since it seemed to imply that
    you couldn’t be lesbian or feminist and a Christian GIVEN the larger context at Wheaton (whose dynamics I realize you aren’t privy to).

    Now, I don’t want to silence Rosaria’s story (and I don’t think the students demonstrating want to do that either), and I think perhaps in the broader context hers sometimes is. However, within the specific context of Wheaton, and particularly in institutional settings like Chapel, I think her story is used (with or without her consent) to reinforce a normative experience that does silence the experience of those already so often silenced (again, *at Wheaton*). It fits very conveniently into narrative grooves we are familiar with here. Within our context, and from my perspective, Wheaton is more prone to homophobia than sexual libertinism. The larger question for me is, which stories get told and where are they told?

    All of this may be beside the point: I certainly agree that Rosaria is right on in proclaiming a gospel that wrecks us and remakes us.

    • Micah, I have question for clarification, you write: “it seemed to imply that you couldn’t be lesbian or feminist and a Christian GIVEN the larger context at Wheaton.”

      I was there and at the meeting and remember this was brought up, but it wasn’t clear to me if the demonstrators are asking Rosaria and Wheaton to be open to a gay-affirming position and gay-affirming stories.

      Are you saying her story gives the impression that one cannot be even a celibate gay Christian? One has to be straight? I know she doesn’t believe that. She acknowledges celibate gay Christians and recognizes that not everyone will experience a change in their attractions during this lifetime. So in this sense she does believe you can be both gay and Christian.

      But if you are saying that Wheaton and Rosaria are not acknowledging a gay-affirming position where one can be gay in the sense of active involvement in a same-sex relationship then I would say that is true. And it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect that Wheaton or Rosaria could acknowledge such a gay-affirming position as legitimate given their sexual ethics.

      That being said, I do believe her story does give an impression of sexual conversion from gay to straight and reinforces stereotypes in that regard. Although she would say her story is about spiritual conversion not sexual conversion. Her identity as a lesbian was tied up in a lot of postmodern ideology and queer theory–beyond just being lesbian in her sexual attractions. So there is that too.

      Also, with regards to feminism–Rosaria’s understanding of feminism given her background is very different than what many evangelical feminists promote so I think you guys are talking past each other a bit there. You would have to clearly define what feminism is since I think the demonstrators definition might be quite different than Rosaria’s definition.

      • Hi Karen,
        IMHO, It seems really exclusive to underscore the legitimacy of Rosaria’s experience then delegitimize the experience of people like me who are Christian, gay and married. Can’t we accept each other as pursuing faithful lives even in our disagreement. Or does our disagreement compel us to judge and marginalize one another?

      • Hi Karen,

        Yes, definitely. You said gay affirming beliefs can’t reasonably be recognized as legitimate to those who subscribe to traditionalist theology. Inherent in that moral certitude is a judgement of those who disagree with you. And what flows from that moral certainty is exclusion. Would an affirming gay Christian be welcomed in the student body at Wheaton? Would my husband and I be welcomed into membership at your church?

        Why isn’t it possible to grasp your beliefs less tightly and accept the beliefs of accommodating or affirming Christians as legitimate to their faith experience. Why not welcome us to the communion table alongside you?

        I wish you peace.
        David

      • Hi David,

        Maybe you can help bring more clarity here. Do you not see the beliefs as mutually exclusive? You seem to have as much moral certitude as I do with regard to your position (same-sex relationships are God-blessed). No?

        Do you not see my beliefs on sexual ethics as being wrong? Or are you suggesting that same-sex relationships can be God-blessed for some people, but not others? That is are you advocating that two opposing ethics can be legitimate at the same time? Do you consider the position that same-sex relationships are wrong as legitimate or illegitimate?

        Also, what do you mean by “judgment”? Is holding a traditional view on marriage between male and female judgmental? That is, do you consider me judgmental because on the basis of belief alone? Or are you using the term “judgment” in the sense that you feel I look down on you or treat you poorly because of my belief?

        As for what Wheaton allows on their campus, I can’t speak for them, but I am pretty sure there are plenty of students who have beliefs that are different from what is officially held or taught. All students are required to abide by conduct codes. So both gay and straight students cannot have sex outside of marriage. Would they allow a gay married couple to be students. No, probably not. And yes, that is an exclusion. Should they do away with the sexual conduct code and not make that a requirement of admission? That is another question.

        As for my church–I am currently attending an ELCA church, so yes, you would be welcome at our congregation as an affirming, married couple. But even many non-affirming churches will allow affirming gay people to attend their churches. However, there might be restrictions on leadership roles. I imagine the same would be true if I attended a Metropolitan Community Church. I doubt they would want someone with a traditional view to be on leadership. But, I don’t consider that exclusion in a negative sense because it seems reasonable for communities to affirm their shared values and beliefs.

        You ask me to “grasp my beliefs less tightly”–are you willing to do the same? Why or why not?

        By the way, as far as I can tell I have not made any comments about the spiritual lives of gay affirming people, including yourself. I recognize that gay affirming people can be Christians even if I think some erroneous conclusions have been drawn. But then I imagine you believe my conclusions are erroneous too and still consider me a Christian. No?

      • Hi Karen,

        Thank you for taking the time to seek understanding.

        There are any number of issues on which Christians can disagree. Does that mean that there’s always a “legitimate” side. Does faith really operate in such a black & white, right & wrong manner? I don’t think so.

        To be sure, our beliefs are in conflict. I have very publicly questioned the morality of traditionalist beliefs based on the quantifiable harm they continue to engender – including driving gay people to suicide. I think traditionalist theology diminishes the humanity of people who are gay. And I think the traditional teaching is emotionally and spiritually injurious to the fourteen year old gay kid in the front pew. I have strong convictions.

        But I do not dismiss traditionalist beliefs as illegitimate. I have immersed myself in the theology and continue to actively engage with people who hold these beliefs. I do not judge or shame people who are gay who are pursuing chastity through celibacy (sadly, I know that’s not always the case). To the contrary, I am often inspired by the faith of those who have chosen this difficult path – even if I personally view their suffering as unnecessary and unjust.

        You may be right, there is necessarily some degree of judgement in traditionalist theology. It says that covenant relationships like mine are inferior and immoral. I can’t say that feels great, and I can’t say it doesn’t bother me to know people diminish my marriage that way.

        But our conflicting convictions do not require us to reject or cast aspersions about the legitimacy of each other’s beliefs. I fully accept those who faithfully seek to live God-honoring lives, even in our profound disagreement. I believe this is the Christ-like posture, and I don’t see why church institutions shouldn’t operate in the same way. We can hold to our convictions without using them to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out”. If Wheaton were to exclude a Christian gay couple in a covenant relationship, I think they would be acting contrary to the inclusive character of Christ. God doesn’t need us to be His “sin police” or enforcer.

        Let’s let our convictions inform our faith. Let’s have robust conversations about our disagreement. Let’s be mutually transformed as we come to understand one another. Then let’s let God be God – convicting us where there is indeed sin. Let’s accept one another as Christ accepted us.

        I wish you peace,
        David

      • I resonate with a great deal of what you’ve shared here, David. Thank you for your humble tone, and for demonstrating how to hold to one’s convictions while still being open to and inspired by those who believe contrary to you.

      • Hi David,
        Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts. I think my confusion is around the way we are using the term “legitimate.” I understand that term to mean “lawful.” And, of course, a person with a traditional sexual ethic would not see same-sex relationships as lawful. I am not entirely sure what definition you are giving the word–“understandable”? Disagree but consider someone else’s view understandable?

        You write: “Does faith really operate in such a black & white, right & wrong manner?”

        That is in an interesting question. What do you mean by “faith”?

        You write: “Let’s let our convictions inform our faith. Let’s have robust conversations about our disagreement. Let’s be mutually transformed as we come to understand one another. Then let’s let God be God – convicting us where there is indeed sin. Let’s accept one another as Christ accepted us.”

        I would agree with that. I certainly am not the Holy Spirit and cannot convict of sin. Nor do I feel the need to judge the spiritual condition of someone else. I will be honest about what I believe God desires for humanity for our optimal well-being. But it sounds like you welcome disagreement so there is room for that.

        On another note, I was curious about this statement: “God doesn’t need us to be His “sin police” or enforcer.”

        How does this relate to the fact that Christianity is inherently community oriented? We are the “Body of Christ.” That is, how do we talk about sin as a community? How do we understand Hebrews 3:13 exhortation: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

        I am definitely opposed to moralistic tactics that seem so devoid of love. So I am not suggesting that. But I am wondering what your thoughts are on how we talk about sin, as well as reinforce shared values as a community. For example, I have thought about changing churches to be in one that holds more of my convictions on sexuality for my own spiritual benefit. I need the Body of Christ to help me live the Christian walk and they do that by having certain standards and values that are upheld and encouraged.

        It sounds like you are saying Wheaton or a Church or whatever should not take any stance on sexual activity and people should make whatever individual decision they desire. But that seems an individualistic approach to Christianity. Thoughts?

      • Hi Karen,

        This is the definition I might give the word “legitimate” as it pertains to belief: arrived at in good faith and in congruence with one’s understanding of God’s will.

        I think one of the essential functions of the church is group discernment of God’s will. That is a constant process; the creation of Creation isn’t complete until reconciliation is complete.

        If group discernment is a corporate understanding, then it has to begin with internal perspicuity. There has to be room for individual believers to explore and challenge the church’s orthodoxy. If not, then it isn’t group discernment, it’s legalism. The church should not insist on unquestioned beliefs, nor should individuals abdicate their personal responsibility for their faith to the church. I think blind allegiance to rigid orthodoxy crowds out the Holy Spirit.

        If through prayerful consideration – study and prayer and meditation – your personal beliefs don’t align 100% with your faith community’s (as they evidently don’t), I hope you wouldn’t be excommunicated. I hope you would be fully accepted as someone desiring to live a God-honoring life despite the disagreement. Providing mutual accountability and encouragement is not the same as demanding subscription to a narrow set of beliefs.

        So to answer your question, I’m not necessarily saying Wheaton shouldn’t articulate the school’s convictions. I am saying that they shouldn’t exclude those who disagree.

        “Acceptance” does not necessarily mean “agreement” or “endorsement”. We can fully accept one another even as we work to resolve our disagreements under the cross.

        Thanks again for seeking understanding.
        My sincere best to you
        David

    • Thanks for bringing this perspective, Micah. And thanks for your kind words about SF!

      I hear your concerns about stories like Rosaria’s fitting conveniently into the narratives you all have been over-exposed to (and perhaps expected to live into by many). It’s honestly why I’ve struggled with hearing similar stories in the past. So I hear you with the “Which stories get told and where are they told?”

      One thought I had: I know Wheaton brought Wesley Hill in to speak in the past, so it seems like they’re willing to tell the celibate gay Christian story as well. How does that play into your feelings about Wheaton reaffirming a drastic change narrative?

      Thanks again for offering a little more perspective here. I really appreciate your tone and spirit, and I feel like that kind of posture will go a long way to bring changes in some of the areas Christian campuses like Wheaton might need to continue growing (like homophobia).

  11. Thanks for the follow up, Karen. My issue wasn’t with what Rosaria actually believes, but with how students who only went to Chapel received her talk.

    It’s not that I think Rosaria believes feminism and Christianity to be incompatible, it’s that I’m afraid when students hear Rosaria talk about having been a feminist and then becoming a Christian they see the two as so (or even as antithetical). Same goes for being lesbian and Christian: not that she stated that they were mutually exclusive, but I think many students will make that connection because of where most Wheaton students are coming from. Now, of course Wheaton can’t be entirely responsible for how students interpret her story, but as an institution we shouldn’t be oblivious to how most students think about these things, and the way they will likely be construed. In this case I think they were construed to the marginalization of SSA/LGBTQ members and others on campus (given the narrative context of Wheaton and theological background of students of Wheaton). I think our focus needs to be more heavily on the pastoral–on caring for the marginalized in our community–and I think the way this talk was received left most students untroubled about homophobia.

    In short it was the reception by the student body, and not the actual views of Rosaria, that I found problematic.

    • Hi Micah, thanks for the clarification. I totally get what you are saying and I agree with you. Her story can be misconstrued. It would be great to have a chapel speaker straight up address issues of homophobia itself as a stand alone topic. Also, I agree that there needs to be more on the pastoral aspect. More talking “with”, that just “about.”

      I think Rosaria’s address is helpful for Christians who would never think of having dinner with LGBT people in general. She highlights how friendship from Christians was a turning point for her. So that is a valuable message. But, there is also the pastoral issue of gay Christians within the Church itself and some of the ministry issues can be a little bit different for those individuals.

  12. Thank you for your honest, honoring all people, response.

    We don’t need a single story-we need yours, too!

    But that ‘a what surprises me. In Rosaria’s You Tube video she doesn’t seem to preach a one size fits all story. She is clear in the Q and A that this WILL NOT be true and that she thought she would have a celibate life!

    Celibates like you need to be heard! And I don’t think Rosaria would use the rhetoric that all who have same sex attraction will become opposite sex attracted. Also, she was really firm in the Q and A that she was not redeemed from homosexuality to heterosexuality , but from her sin to Christ. She also says her greatest sin is not homosexuality, but her sins NOW.

    So, this uproar should be an uproar for more people like yourself to share your story. We all love the story if the healed marriage, the cancer survivor, etcetera. But there is also the just as important story (that is less comfortable for us) of the thorn in Paul ‘a side that God would not remove- and the beauty of contented ness in that struggle.

    That is the story of the cross as well!

  13. Pingback: Rosaria Butterfield’s Trip to Wheaton | Leadingchurch.com

  14. Pingback: Rosaria Butterfield | Clare Flourish

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