Glenda cared for her ailing mother for years, and every day they had a special routine. When I would come home in the evening after work, I would often go through the high points of the day, and one of those high points would be what I'd heard on Focus on the Family and the Rich teaching and the encouragement. Today, Glenda shares that same encouragement with others. I'm excited to point anyone that's struggling to focus on the family.
I find that focus teaches me, and it comforts me, and it inspires me, and it pulls me up when things are really hard. I'm Jim Daly. Help us support more families like Glenda's.
Become a monthly giver at FocusOnTheFamily.com slash family. I wanted this Bible to be mine. I didn't understand how. I didn't understand how in the world that would be mine. I wanted that yoke that was easy and this burden that was light. I wanted this capacious God. I didn't want my flesh to be screaming about things that God didn't love.
I really wanted that, and that was shocking to me. Well, that's a profound statement from Dr. Rosaria Butterfield describing the incredible transformation God did in her heart, bringing her to a faith in Jesus Christ. And we're eager to share Dr. Butterfield's powerful story with you on today's episode of Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly.
And I'm John Fuller. I'm sure all of us have encountered someone who was so diametrically opposed to God, faith and the Bible that we wondered if there was any hope for their salvation. In fact, we might be tempted to write certain people off because they are so blatantly living in sin and refuse to acknowledge that God even exists. But in reality, the Lord can reach anyone. No one's beyond the grasp of God, even the most unlikely of converts.
And Rosaria is a living example of God's grace and mercy and forgiveness, which are abundantly available to every one of us. If you're listening right now wondering if God knows you or cares about you, I want to urge you to lean into this wonderful story today because it will change your life. And Dr. Butterfield has captured her story of transformation in a book called The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, an English professor's journey into Christian faith. Call us and we'll be happy to tell you more.
Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family, 800-232-6459. Or you can learn more about the book and our guests. The details are in the show notes. And now, Jim, here's how you began the conversation with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield on today's episode of Focus on the Family. I want to start with kind of the beginning, where you're coming from, kind of you as a high school college student. What was your attitude? Where were you at? And this is before you encountered Jesus, obviously.
So let's start right there. What kind of person were you? Well, I was a thoughtful person. I was an intellectual. I had been raised in the Catholic Church and had gone to predominantly Catholic schools.
I loved the nuns. They taught me to diagram a sentence before I tried to interpret it. And I personally thought that was a great life skill.
One that sets you up for a Ph.D. in English literature. You know what? It really, really did. But, you know, they also taught me to stand with the disempowered and to seek out the unlovely and the unloved and draw them in. And so that was very much a life value for me. I would also say that I had a predominantly heterosexual adolescence. I did not date until college, and in college I met my first boyfriend. And it was a very heady experience. In college, men started to notice me, and that was intriguing. But at the same time, an undercurrent of longing had inserted itself into my heart for women. And it was a confusing time as well. So from my college days through my graduate school days, I continued to date men, and at the same time just experience an overwhelming fascination and desire to be not only in the company of women, but also to be sexually in the company of women. And so at the age of 28, I came out as a lesbian, and I thought I was just simply telling the truth. I didn't have a big agenda. I was just trying to say it like it was. Rosaria, you know, that's shocking. And people right now are saying, okay, this is going somewhere. I've got to listen to this. But what you help us understand as heterosexuals, it's kind of straightforward how you described it, but to have an undercurrent of longing for someone in the same sex, did you feel when you were a teenager it was there?
How did it come about? How did you feel, okay, I'm not that attracted to men? Right, yeah, no. You know, I would say, and I think these are very hard, that's a good question, but it's only a question that can be answered theologically. So I simply can't go back to Rosaria at 21 and answer that question. But I can go to Romans 1, and you can too. And we can see that an unwanted homosexual desire, or even a cultivated wanted homosexual desire, comes from original sin. And it is really only the Bible that can help us explain that. That original sin distorts even our most primal, original feelings. And as Christians, we know that original sin distorts us, actual sin distracts us, and indwelling sin manipulates us, and that's for believers. Yeah, and the thing I want to make sure people are hearing from you, and I know that it's probably uncomfortable to talk about those days, because you're a different person now, but it's important for them to hear your heart in this way.
When you were teaching on the campus, and you were part of kind of the women's movement in that regard, just set that setting. There's such angst toward Christian thought, Christian students, Christian culture. And I'd like to dig into that a bit and talk about that angst that is there. Why the hatred? Oftentimes Christians are seen as the haters, yet it feels like there's a lot coming from the folks who are same-sex attracted that doesn't fit with me.
It's not the way I think about my faith and my Lord. So talk about that environment and what you were experiencing as a teacher and as a movement leader. Right, right, right. And it's different today. So I was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, and I was there from 1992 until I left campus in 1999 to do a research leave, but I was technically on staff there from 1992 until 2002. And that was before many of the issues, right?
That was during the days of DOMA, of the Defense of Marriage Act. And other than to say that I was very threatened by Christians, I don't know that I had a really well thought out reason, but I did teach in women's studies and in feminist theory and in queer theory and 19th century studies. And what I would say in my classes is that feminism was the lens through which we were going to engage these ideas. And I would say in the same way that in your French class you would be expected to speak in the language and work in the language, in this class we were going to interpret the world through the language of feminism.
So that's just a done deal. You don't like it, go take another class. And really, I personally didn't see that as an angry point of view. I saw that as me being intellectually honest and, you know, setting the standard for things. Now, I was also a historical materialist.
I did not believe in any kind of supernatural authority. I thought that was simply absurd. I thought that was anti-intellectual. And so the name of Jesus, which truly had rolled off my tongue in a little girl's prayer, then rolled off my back in college, really made me recoil in anger by the time I was a faculty member.
Well, and I appreciate that. In fact, the environment in 1999 when you were taking your research leave, it kind of created a perfect storm for you in that you, at the campus there at Syracuse, I think it was Promise Keepers who was coming. You wrote an article very negative about who they are and the oppression of women that that organization. In fact, in that article, I read it in preparation for the program.
You also mentioned Focus on the Family as being one of the, you know, undergirding supporters of Promise Keepers. And, you know, that is an amazing transformation where you have come from in terms of your outlook, your view to where you are today. Talk about that moment in 99. What began to happen?
What opened your heart up to say, OK, maybe I don't have it straight? Very difficult to do. Right, absolutely. It was 96 or 97. 99 was when I was converted. But when the Promise Keepers came to town, I was really threatened by that. And it wasn't so much that they did anything, but just the fact that the university would allow for these ideas. It felt extremely compromising to me, extremely dangerous to me. I did not like people who talked about the gay lifestyle. I wasn't living a lifestyle. I had a life. I did not have a gay agenda that I knew of.
You know, if you asked me what my gay agenda, I'd say, well, today I'm going to feed my dog and I'm going to grade a stack of 50 papers and I'm going to be a good neighbor. And it didn't seem like it was so terribly different from the things that Christians told me they valued also. And so I was really threatened by that. And I wrote what I thought was just, you know, an editorial expressing my concern, and they made it an op-ed in the paper. And it became a big deal, such a big deal that it generated hate mail, it generated fan mail. And one of the letters came from Pastor Ken Smith, the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. And it was an interesting letter. Now, what you should know is that I had already written my tenure book. So I was feeling a little bit of hubris right now. Right, because tenured professors are pretty much untouchable.
Because tenured professors are pretty much untouchable. And we can get back to that because there is a way that as a Christian, the Lord used that for me. So I was feeling like I needed to write a big book. And I wanted to write a book about the religious rights from a lesbian feminist point of view. And so I was watching Focus on the Family. I was probably on your mailing list.
And I was certainly watching The Promise Keepers. And when this letter from Ken Smith came in and he wanted to help me understand Christianity, you know, my first thought, because I'm a manipulator and I'm a user, but I'm also a serious scholar, my first thought is, wow, this Bible's a big book. I don't read Greek.
I don't read Hebrew. And look, here's a Bible scholar who could be my free research help. So I was happy to talk to Ken. That's an honest heart. It was, yeah. But I will tell you that his letter was neither fan mail nor hate mail. He seemed like somebody who could engage ideas and probably would not drop dead if we sat down and had a conversation. And that meant something to you. It did mean something to me. It was sincerity.
It was sincerity. And so he invited me to his home for dinner. And I loved that idea. And the reason I loved that idea is the gay and lesbian community is also quite given to hospitality. We would also do the same thing. In the gay and lesbian community, we would have people over for dinner who might disagree with us so that we can discuss and linger long at the table. So the fact that these Christians wanted to do that made me think, oh, they're kind of like me in this way.
And so I was happy to go to their house for dinner. And I discovered a number of things once I got there, a number of other similarities. Yeah, what happened?
I mean, what was the environment like? Were you tense? Were you feeling like this guy's going to try to convert me? Well, I didn't know. I thought it would all go into the book if he did.
Right, so you're on research collection. I thought I was in charge of this conversation. It didn't occur to me that, in fact, there was a holy God who, before the foundations of the world, was watching and in his providence was going before me and Ken. I walked in. I was delighted to meet his wife, Floy, who, while a submissive wife, was certainly no dupe. She was smart. She was witty. She was delightful. She could immediately start talking about anything. Was that unexpected?
Were you thinking? Quite frankly, I had no idea how evangelicals lived. Before I left, I told my friends, I'm going to this evangelical Christian pastor's home for dinner.
And there was a lot of, ooh, and ah. Be careful. Well, what are they like? Tell us.
What do they do? Tell us how this works out. I mean, it was bizarre. We just had no idea how Christians lived. And so it was intriguing to me. What happened? I mean, so you had these encounters. You had these meetings.
But what did it lead to? Well, what happened was we had a lovely meal. Ken prayed before the meal in a way that I had never heard before. It was an honest prayer. It was a transparent prayer. In it, he repented of a sin of that day that was the kind of sin I had also committed that day. I mean, it was sort of amazing to me. And we could talk about sexuality and politics without them dropping down dead.
It was an amazing night. And what was especially amazing about this night is they omitted two very important features in the rule book of how Christians would engage with a heathen like me. You know, number one, they did not share the gospel. And number two, they did not invite me to church, which made me wonder if I was chopped liver, right? I'm not good enough.
I'm not good enough. But seriously, what it did make me feel is that when Ken shook my hand and Floyd shook my hand, I realized I really wasn't a project to these people. Ken asked me some pointed questions. He wanted to know about my research assignment. He was encouraged to hear I was reading the Bible. He wanted to know if he could help me. I let him know that, yes, I needed help.
I didn't read the original languages. I needed all kinds of help. And he said, great, let's meet next week. And I said, wonderful.
See you then. Well, let's finish that aspect of your transformation so you can continue the discussion and the relationship. And the relationship. And I was, of course, still thinking that I was writing a book on the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. And in order to do that, I had to read the Bible. You know, not having been raised in the evangelical church, nobody told me that you're supposed to read the Bible a verse a day like a horoscope.
Nobody told me that. So I actually read it like a book. And I looked at things like textual authority and authorship and hermeneutics.
And I looked through the three different narratives in the Old Testament, ceremonial law, judicial law and moral law. And so I worked this thing out and I read it about five hours a day. And I read it through about seven times in this course of what I thought was study. And I will tell you, I mean, of course, your listeners know this. A lot happens to you if you read the Bible five hours a day.
That even for a hardened unbeliever, that's a lot of room with the Lord's wisdom. And I was immediately smitten by a couple of things. I mean, I'm a reader. You know, that's what I do. I'm much more of a reader than a writer. I can go years without writing.
I can't go five minutes without reading. I was really taken by a number of things in the Bible. And some of my well-worn assumptions just weren't holding up. Well, we've got a couple of minutes. Let's end that aspect of the story.
How did the Lord get a hold of your heart and shake it loose and say, listen, I am who I said I am. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And here's your chance. Yeah, absolutely. Well, it was slow and I went kicking and screaming.
Let's be very clear about that. And Ken and Floy rode with me through the bumps. It was a two-year bumpy process. Wow, they never turned their back. They never turned their back. They never stopped baking bread. They never stopped meeting with me. They never stopped neighboring with me.
And I really did leave that. We had a relationship that was important. And they very much brought the means of grace to me. They bared it out before me so I could see it and I could see its fruit in their life. And in your personal life, you're still engaged with a woman.
Absolutely. Oh, yeah, yeah, all my personal life. And so the Lord brought two people into my life at the same time because when I'm writing a book, the whole world, you know, my little world has to know exactly what I'm working on. So everybody in my LGBT community knew I was reading the Bible and I was writing this book. And two things, two encounters happened.
One was the very liberal Methodist chaplain of the Campus Chapel came to me and said, look, you've got it all wrong. You can have your girlfriend and Jesus. You don't need to have any part of the Old Testament.
It is dispensable. And with it, the moral law. But at that time, I had been teaching a queer theory class, of all things, on the danger of creating cannons within cannons. And that's an idea in hermeneutics where you you leave away the big picture of a book to only look at a small angle that supports your mission. So I looked at him and I said, you know, maybe you should be sitting in on my queer theory class because we were just going over the illogic of that hermeneutic.
You can't create cannons within cannons. What you're saying doesn't make sense intellectually to me. I mean, I love it in the flesh, but it's not making sense to me. But the second encounter was even more powerful at one of my Thursday night dinners.
My very, very dear friend who identified as a transgendered woman, that would be someone biologically male, who has taken enough female hormones to be chemically castrated. She followed me to the kitchen and she sat me down and she said, look Rosaria, before you go back in that room with any more bowls of pasta or bottles of wine, you need to sit down because I need to tell you that I am scared. This Bible reading is changing you.
What is going on? And I sat down and I said, OK, look, what if it's true? What if this Jesus is a real and risen Lord?
And what if we are all in trouble? And she sat down with me and she looked quite defeated. She looked me in the eyes and she said, Rosaria, I was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years. I prayed that the Lord would change me.
He didn't. If you want, I will pray that he will heal you. Wow. And so that left me with a kind of tacit compulsion to keep reading this Bible. My very dear friend, someone I considered wise and kind and good, who'd been there for me and all kinds of things, had been rooting around in its deep crevices for life purpose and meaning.
But the bomb she dropped also really enraged me. I mean, who is this Jesus who heals some but not others? And as I was reading through the Bible, it didn't strike me, at least it didn't strike me that my shtick was about healing.
I didn't feel sick. The Bible doesn't really diagnose homosexual sex as an illness. The Bible diagnoses that as a sin. So, we were working with parallel vocabularies, even as we were reading the same book. Well, what a startling revelation for you though, just to say, this is speaking to my heart.
Yeah, it was. But I want your listeners to know that that's what gay rights activists might be talking about in the privacy of their kitchens. Do you see that? I mean- Absolutely. This is... People are people. We need to worship something bigger and more faithful than what we can make with our own hands. Well, and you mentioned Romans one and two early on, just as a benchmark of how you felt.
It's intriguing to me, a couple of observations. One, that as Paul's talking about homosexuality and Romans one, that chapter, he mentions that along with adultery and other sexual sins, particularly. There are other things in there like envy and strife and- Right, absolutely.
Prevarication, telling lies. But certainly, the sexual sins are mentioned. And then he says in two, so were some of you, right after talking about homosexuality. There's at least a connection there that homosexuals were leaving that to follow Christ in Paul's instruction, under Paul's instruction. But there's something else going on in there too, if I can just interrupt you, that was really striking to me. Again, I'm an English major, so this is my world.
Words are my world. There's never a point in the Bible where homosexuality is a noun. There's never an example in God's economy where there is a person called a homosexual who is now an abomination because of who he or she is. The Bible condemns two things that are interrelated about sexual sin. It condemns a sexual practice apart from biblical marriage.
That's number one. And it declares as sin a sexual identity that is rooted in a sinful practice. And so it really seemed to me that the Bible was a lot more generous to me than some of the Christians I met at gay pride marches.
Yeah, now let's get there. I mean, that's really it. That's really it.
That was really it. That the Bible was dealing with homosexuality as a verb, as a practice that was either about a sense of identity or a sense of what I do in bed, not a sense of personhood. The Bible's definition of personhood was so compelling and so attractive to me, even as a lesbian, because it was so deep and rich and capacious and loving. You know, when Jesus said, my yoke is easy, my burden is light, I was a very hardworking professor. I worked 80 hours a week.
I had no light burden. What that meant for me was intriguing. I want to take all of us to that moment, though, where you really had the revelation that Jesus is real.
Yeah, yeah. Well, it was very slow and it was very messy. But what really happened was I started going to church. I didn't put in my calendar that day, hey, this Lord's Day, you're going to go to church. But one Sunday morning, I woke up in the bed that I shared with my lesbian lover. And an hour later, I was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. And I was very uncomfortable there. I will tell you that I got there and I just thought, this is wacky. This is weird.
I'm going to run really fast as soon as this service ends. But I was really disarmed by a number of things about the worship service, about the people there. And so I kept going back. I wanted that yoke that was easy and this burden that was light. I wanted this capacious God. I didn't want my flesh to be screaming about things that God didn't love.
I really wanted that. And that was shocking to me. And I don't remember anything that happened after that, except for that I started praying in privacy and I started praying things like this.
I could not start with my sexuality. It was simply too hard. It was my identity.
It was deep. It was my job. You know, it was what I did.
I was the leader of the LGBT student groups. It was what I did. But I just started praying, Lord, can I trust you?
Do I know you? And everything started to chip away after that. And one of the things that the Lord impressed upon my heart in one of these prayer sessions was this prayer, Lord, can you make me a godly woman? I see it in your face, the desire, the tears. Well, what a wonderful story about the Holy Spirit at work, drawing Rosaria to himself in such amazing ways. And we're really looking forward to sharing part two of her story with you next time. And if this Focus on the Family episode has raised any questions for you about what it means to surrender to Jesus Christ and become a Christian, we have a free booklet. It's available in print or download called Coming Home, and it answers your questions. We'd also recommend that you contact us to get a copy of Dr. Butterfield's book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family.
Or check the program notes to learn more. I really hope you will contact us about Rosaria's book. It's such an amazing story and a great resource that you can use to share your faith with others. We can send this to you, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, when you make a monthly pledge of any amount to Focus. It's our way of saying thanks for partnering with us to spread the good news message of Jesus to as many people as possible. And a monthly pledge is super helpful because your ongoing support enables us to produce programs like this one and provide websites and counseling services and articles and videos and so many other practical resources that families need. That's right, and monthly giving is how Jean and I do it. I know that's how you and Dina do your support of Focus. We're inviting you to join our Sustainer team by making a monthly pledge today.
Even $10 a month amongst a lot of people makes a huge difference. And let me encourage you to consider doing that today. Yeah, we'd ask you to pray and then make a pledge if you're able to. If that's not possible right now, a one-time gift will also be effective and helps us immensely. Let's work together to share the Gospel and strengthen today's families. Do that today when you donate online.
The details are in the show notes or call 800-A-FAMILY. Coming up next time, the continuation of Dr. Butterfield's faith journey. What I realized is that I was standing in a long line of godly women, the Mary Magdalene line. And that that was right where God had me and that my sin was wiped away. And if he brought to me a godly husband, he would make me a loving godly wife.
And the Lord did that. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. An on-demand access to the exciting Adventures in Odyssey series, including more than 900 episodes. Club membership also gives kids access to exclusive content, daily devotions, and faith-building activities. The club allows each family member to engage at their own pace with customizable parental controls and closely monitored message boards. With more than 100,000 like-minded families already involved, the Adventures in Odyssey Club could be your best adventure yet. Learn more about exploring the Adventures in Odyssey Club for free at adventuresinodyssey.com slash radio.
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