The Gospel is Powerful Even for Leftist Lesbian College Professors

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Photo by Jimmy Williams

I read a powerful testimony last night written by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield at Christianity Today.  She tenured associate professor in the English department and Center of Women’s Studies at Syracuse University.  She was liberal and at the age of 28 she “came out” while working on her PhD in English Literature & Cultural Studies.  She was in a lesbian relationship, very involved in LGBT causes and was a member of an Unitarian Universalist Church.

She wrote about her disdain for Christianity:

The word Jesus stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk; no matter how hard I choked, I couldn’t hack it out. Those who professed the name commanded my pity and wrath. As a university professor, I tired of students who seemed to believe that “knowing Jesus” meant knowing little else. Christians in particular were bad readers, always seizing opportunities to insert a Bible verse into a conversation with the same point as a punctuation mark: to end it rather than deepen it.

Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That’s what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model.

After writing an article attacking the religious right a local Presbyterian pastor reached out:

But one letter I received defied my filing system. It was from the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith encouraged me to explore the kind of questions 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, 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 a response. As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken’s letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.

Pastor Smith and his wife befriended Rosaria and one day she decided to attend church.  After attending for awhile she wrote:

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” (NKJV). This verse exposed the quicksand in which my feet were stuck. I was a thinker. I was paid to read books and write about them. I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience. And I wanted God to show me, on my terms, why homosexuality was a sin. I wanted to be the judge, not one being judged.

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. I prayed long into the unfolding of day. When I looked in the mirror, I looked the same. But 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, openhanded 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 in 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, where one calls me “wife” and many call me “mother.”

Rosaria has written a book entitled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert… Unlikely indeed, but not impossible.  Rosaria’s story is one that reminds us that Jesus didn’t come to save the “good,” but the wretched sinner.  And anyone can find hope regardless of their circumstances.  The Apostle Paul reminds me of that when I read in 1 Corinthians 6 one very important conjunction – “but.”

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God., (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NIV emphasis mine).

Being a lesbian was not Rosaria’s true identity.  Her identity in Christ was and is.  I like how she described her coming to Christ.  “I was a broken mess.  Conversion was a train wreck.”  It is messy.  I’m sure she did and still does struggle.  She is now married (to a man – it’s sad I have to qualify that) to a pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC and they have a family.  I’m sure that didn’t happen right away.  The important thing to remember is that God calls us to holiness, not heterosexuality.  Rosaria followed Christ and He transformed her into the child of God she was intended to be.

Paul writes in Romans that the Gospel is “power of God for salvation,” (Romans 1:16).  It is.  It is so powerful it will even save leftist lesbian college professors.

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