Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When Rosaria Butterfield came to know Christ, she faced open hostility at the college where she had worked as a professor, and she realized it was an opportunity.

Rosaria Butterfield: Religious liberty does not prevent us from being ridiculed. But how we handle that ridicule will communicate where the Lord is in our suffering and our humility and our weakness because this is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I love, love, love seeing how the gospel changes everything. It has changed everything in my life. It is changing everything in my life. That's Rosaria Butterfield who's giggling in the background there because we've been talking about my new marriage to her agent, now my husband, Robert Wolgemuth. And so the gospel and Robert Wolgemuth are changing everything in my life.

Rosaria: Yes!

Nancy: But at the core of who we are, the gospel does change everything.

Rosaria: Everything!

Nancy: The last couple of days we've been talking with my new friend, Rosaria. Rosaria, I read your first book when it first came out, and we're offering that to our listeners this week for a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. It's called, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

I keep saying, we're all unlikely convert. There's no likely convert to Jesus Christ. He has to draw us.

When I first read that book, and I saw the power of the gospel to transform your life, you were not looking for Jesus. You were a tenured professor at Syracuse University. You were a lesbian activist. And you thought the course of your life was a good one and that it was contributing positively.

Rosaria: Yes, I did.

Nancy: And then God brought a pastor and his wife into your life, of all things unlikely, and around their dinner table, introduced you to Jesus.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And then He got you into His Word. You were an English scholar, a whole book scholar, and you were doing a research project and got to reading the Bible—seven times, which is more than most Christians have ever read the Bible, I might say. It might change more lives if more people would read it. Right?

Rosaria: Well, that's probably true.

Nancy: And you've not stopped reading it since. But when we wrapped up yesterday, you had made your way to church, and over the course of time . . . There's more, much more to this story in your book, which I hope our listeners will get and read.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: But you came to faith in Christ, but it wasn't just a point in time and then wallah—everything is fixed, is healed, is changed.

Rosaria: Oh, no. Just the opposite.

Nancy: It is just the opposite. In fact, I read this quote from your book yesterday. You said, "Conversion put me into a complicated and comprehensive chaos. In a nutshell, I lost everything but the dog. Everything had to change."

Rosaria: Yes. It did.

Nancy: Paint for us a little bit of a picture of what that looked like at that moment.

Rosaria: Absolutely. Well, you can imagine how painful it would certainly be if you were a graduate student who had come internationally so that I could direct your dissertation in queer theory. I'm now a convert to Christ, and I'm only directing dissertations in Christian hermeneutics.

Nancy: The tectonic plates are shifting.

Rosaria: Totally! And the people around me are affected in a powerful way and in a painful way. And not to mention, how do you think my ex-lover felt about this? It is just a painful thing to describe.

Nancy: And not just your ex-lover, you had a whole community in the gay and lesbian world.

Rosaria: Oh, a solid community.

Nancy: These were friends you'd done life with for years.

Rosaria: Yes. Absolutely. For years.

Nancy: And your professional relationships.

Rosaria: Absolutely. My career.

Nancy: So what happened to all of this?

Rosaria: Well, it got pretty shaky pretty fast. Thomas Chalmers has a wonderful way of describing it. He describes how I felt better than I can. He talks about how,

The gospel just captures your life. And when the Lord Jesus covers you with His robes of righteousness, you feel the expulsive power of a new affection. But let us be very clear, new affections become that which betray the old affections.

So I became a betrayer to the very community that I helped to build.

Nancy: A traitor from their perspective.

Rosaria: A traitor. One of the first things that happened was that I was scheduled to give an incoming address to all incoming graduate students that year. It was just a sort of rotational lecture that a tenured faculty would have to do. But when I was scheduled to give this lecture, I was planning to speak on queer theory. Now that the time had come, I was going to speak on Christian hermeneutics.

Nancy: And by hermeneutics, for those who don't know that big word, you mean what?

Rosaria: How and why Christians read the Bible for life purpose and help and why scholars of all persuasions and stripes would benefit from knowing how to do that. I called it "The Solomon Problem in the Academy."

Nancy: So you're, in a sense, doing a defense of the Bible, God's authoritative Word.

Rosaria: It was my first attempt at apologetics.

Nancy: Not quite what the students were coming to hear.

Rosaria: No. It was my "coming out" letter again. I seem to have always been living my life as an "out" something. It was very painful.

Nancy: How did it go?

Rosaria: Oh, like a dead cat. It dropped like a bomb. I actually have the entire transcript in my first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. So you can imagine how it was.

Nancy: It's riveting.

Rosaria: Well, it didn't go so well. And after I gave the lecture, I went back to my office, and there was a long line of students who were angry with me and hurt, who felt betrayed. Faculty and friends felt I was a traitor, felt I was dangerous, felt I was crazy. They wondered if I was losing my mind. I received my pink slip from every gay and lesbian student group. I was supervised from pretty much every dissertation. It was serious.

Nancy: So was this career suicide for you?

Rosaria: It actually was. I wasn't fired because I was tenured. Although I did have to explain why I changed my research program, but it was not unprecedented for a tenured professor to change her research program. But it was absolutely career suicide.

Nancy: Did you waiver? Did you start to wonder yourself at moments if you'd lost your mind?

Rosaria: Well, I think I'm always asking that question!

Nancy: You say in your book,

When God saved me, the renewing of my mind made me feel like I was losing my mind. Everything in my life changed—everything.

Rosaria: Yes. I remember feeling . . . You know those mirrors in a carnival, when you stare into them and you . . . "Oh, I do part my hair there, but everything else sure looks distorted." I really felt like I was looking into my life like I was looking into a mirror at a carnival. It was very distorting.

But I had a body of believers who were not at all sentimental about the war I was going into. You see, this was never just me and Jesus. Ken knew the kind of war.

Nancy: And Ken, for those who missed the last couple of days, was the pastor that reached out to you and God used him and his wife.

Rosaria: Yes, in my conversion. That's right. So my pastor knew, my elders knew, my colleagues at the university who were part of my church knew. And although I lost everything, I gained a Christian family.

I want to tell you, honestly, at first I didn't know what to do with these people. I thought they were kind of strange. Everything had to change, including my language. My potty mouth had to change. Everything about me had to change.

Nancy: Did they tell you that needed changed?

Rosaria: No. I had read James enough at that point. 

Nancy: Several times.

Rosaria: Yes, I did. I got the direct memo on that one.

But habits . . . I had these body memories in sexual sin. I had these verbal habits in unclean language. I didn't fit in. I had a new family, but I didn't fit with them.

But one of the things that was really happening is that every time I would take a step forward in faith, as pathetic as that little step was, as stumbling as that step was, the Lord would burn down the bridge that I had walked on to get to Him, and it's like I almost couldn't go back.

So it was a rigorous time. It was a painful time. But it was also a time of deep ministry. I was watching that the Lord really does use us in weakness.

One of the things that happened immediately was my neighbor, my dear beloved lesbian neighbor who had had stage 4 cancer at that point came to me and said, "You know, I didn't want to know who God was in your happiness, but now that you're really suffering, I'm curious. Where is your God now?"

Nancy: So it was an open door for the gospel.

Rosaria: It was. My humiliation was an open door for the gospel. I immediately became a laughing stock on campus and the subject of not just the gossip, but of papers and articles and ridicule.

And that's a good message right now for Christians who are worrying about their religious freedom. Religious liberty does not prevent us from being ridiculed. But how we handle that ridicule will communicate where the Lord is in our suffering and our humility and our weakness, because this is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war.

Religious liberty does not prevent us from being ridiculed. How we handle it will communicate where the Lord is in our humility and weakness. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war.

Nancy: Big difference.

Rosaria: Yes!

Nancy: And you'd had modeled to you in the way that Ken and Floy and others in that church had dealt with you in your journey, what it looked like to do this with grace.

Rosaria: Yes, I did. They knew that they could dine with sinners, not sin with sinners. So when I started to repent of my sin, because that really became the next order of business. I might have a PhD in English Literature with a specialty in Nineteenth Century, but really I have a PhD in Repentance. I just tell people I stand in a long line of godly women. It's the Rahab the harlot line and the Mary Magdalene line.

Nancy: And that word repentance is something that I think we often just associate with the point of conversion.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: And that's a sadness and a huge mistake.

Rosaria: It is.  Repentance is the threshold to God, and repentance is the posture of a Christian.

Repentance is the threshold to God and the posture of a Christian.

 Nancy: Okay, repentance is the threshold to God. What do you mean by that?

Rosaria: That's how you come to God. And this is really important because we live in a Christian age that seems to say, "Claim Jesus as your Savior, and then lean on His grace." But I was learning that you couldn't bypass repentance to get to grace. So I needed to learn what repentance meant.

I'm a word person. I'm a reader. I learned in this crucible that there's a difference between admitting sin and confessing sin.

Nancy: Explain that.

Rosaria: Well, admitting sin means that you did it. "Lord, I did it. I've had illicit sex with men, before I came out as a lesbian, and then after that with women. I did it."

But confession means owning the condemnation of that. Part of why it's very important to confess your sin, especially sexual sin—we live in a world that loves to flatten everything out and say, "Well, all sin is the same." From some perspectives, that's true. From the perspective of the blood of Christ, the blood of Christ covers all sin. That is absolutely true.

But from a biblical, ethical point of view, there are differences in sin. I think we just innately know that. We innately know that the sin of sexual abuse is different than the sin of lying.

Nancy: Right.

Rosaria: We just know that the sin of murder is different. Things that attack a creation ordinance are different because they kill. I needed to really understand that until I confessed my sexual sin, part of me was still deeply excusing it. It was excusing it sort of like this: "This feels good to me. This feels right to me."

When I came out as a lesbian, I thought I'd found my real self. "Hey! I'm an informed lesbian. I tried having sex with men. I didn't like it. Don't I know myself better than this ancient Book? Don't I know myself better than a God I can't see?"

But when we confess our sin, it does feel a little bit like we're hanging off of a limb, and in a way we are. We're a little bit like an Alzheimer's patient who, in a moment of mental lucidity, signs over all rights to interpretation to an able-minded care giver. We're saying that the Lord had the right to interpret what we do and why we did it. So confession actually owns it as a guilty act.

Nancy: At which point you become a candidate for the grace, for the blood of Christ.

Rosaria: Exactly! And before that, you aren't.

Nancy: Because the blood of Jesus doesn't cover mistakes or problems or patterns.

Rosaria: No.

Nancy: It covers sin.

Rosaria: It covers sin. Absolutely. And so, for me, it was sort of a two-fold thing. When I started to confess my many, many sins, I learned that pride was the root sin of my lesbianism.

Nancy: How so?

Rosaria: Because I didn't want any man to have any authority over me and my body ever. And that was a sin because my God is my Father. But I'll tell you, when I started to confess the sin of my lesbianism . . . I had to get there. I had to get to the sin of sexual crimes. Right? Of transgressive sexual acts, and of the many people I now have harmed because of that.

At first, the sinfulness of my sin was not clear to me. It's not that the day after I became a Christian I stopped feeling like a lesbian. The sinfulness of my sin at that point just unfolded in the authority of the Bible alone, in the growing union I had with Christ, and in the sweetness of that sanctification that told me that even though these temptations still raged pretty deeply, I had God's kind company as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death with those temptations.

Nancy: Yes, but there were some layers to dealing with all of that.

Rosaria: There were some layers. But it did get hard pretty quickly, and what I mean by that is, as I started repenting of sin, I found all of the sin that I had never seen before. It was almost like looking at something under a microscope. There are things that aren't visible to the eyes of flesh that are only visible to the eyes of faith. It was overwhelming. But it was in repentance that I knew I was a child of God.

That's why I'm so confused when people say, "Oh, repentance gives me post-traumatic stress disorder," or "Repentance gives me shame." It was for me it was just the opposite. Repentance was giving me relief and hope. And it wasn't shameful because all it was saying was this: "God was right all along." And that took the pressure off of me to invent myself.

If I was really going to live as a child of God, I wasn't inventing this way of living. I was doing my best to follow my Lord.

Nancy: So you brought up the shame word.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: Was that not an issue for you at all? You said, "I am and always will be Rahab, a woman with a past."

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And then you're trotting around the country now, telling this story over, and over, and over again for the last sixteen years. Where does shame come into that? Is it something you've grappled with? I know a lot of our listeners do.

Rosaria: Yes. Right. Absolutely. Well, shame had been my closest friend before I was a Christian. I was constantly trying to kind of re-write myself and re-write my wrongs and re-make my image and protect my reputation. And it was exhausting. I mean, it was exhausting.

But in repentance of sin, what happens in repentance of sin is repentance is a gift from God that says, "Rosaria, you are My daughter in whom I am well pleased. And this is not what I have for you. You can lay this down at the cross, and it is covered in My blood."

Now, what happens in life then, is that Satan the accuser comes and says, "Oh, yeah, Rosaria, you are guilty of this, that, and the other thing."

But when you are in the posture of repentance, you get to say to your accuser, "Well, you are right on that and a few other points. I am guilty of that and so much more. And you are right that every sin I have committed is worthy of death. But here's what apparently you don't know: Romans 3–6 is me. When Jesus was arrested, I was arrested with Him. When Jesus was scourged, I was scourged with Him. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, I was on that cross with Him. When Jesus died, I'm dead. And when Jesus rose again, and when I lay hold of the means of grace every time, I can stand in the risen Christ alone. And when I stand in the risen Christ alone, God doesn't see those sins. He sees a child of God, in whom He is well pleased, standing in His Son's robes of righteousness."

Nancy: Amen! Hallelujah!

Rosaria: And we only get there through repentance.

Nancy: And you say that "repentance," as you said earlier, "is the threshold to God and the answer to shame, temptation, and sin."

Rosaria: Yes!

Nancy: We want to avoid the sin part. We want to just cover over the shame. And we don't know what to do with the temptation. But you're saying the way, the answer to all of that is the gift of repentance.

Rosaria: Which is a fruit of Christian living.

Nancy: And so, if there's no repentance . . .

Rosaria: There's no fruit.

As an English professor, for years I've taught many, many people who have a high regard of nineteenth century British literature, but a very low literacy of it. And the same is true for Christians. Your high regard of Scripture does not spare you from the devastating danger of your potential low literacy of it.

Your high regard of Scripture does not spare you from the devastating danger of your potential low literacy of it.

So we are here to goad each other, to raise the bar higher than that because we serve a God who is worthy.

Nancy: Let me back up a moment to the changes that took place through the process of faith and repentance. How soon did it start to take place?

Rosaria: Not soon. My first order of business, when I was first converted, was staying alive, and I mean staying alive as a Christian. I was just feeding off of the Bible and the means of grace. But when you repent of sin, and the alarm rings, and you wake up, and your feet hits the floor, there you are, in the world you helped make. There's all that sin, and you have to work through it, and it was a busy time.

Once the dust settled a little bit, as I continued to really hone my prayer life. Read people like E. M. Bounds on prayer, and just appeal to the means of grace. I really saw myself as someone living within the pages of the Bible.

One of the things I had to just accept is that this Book, the Bible, is different from all the others because it is inspired by a holy God, and it has a totally different progeny and a totally different way of coming to it.

So what I tell people today, and what I believe, is that every believer inhabits the pages of the Bible. Our ontology, our from where we begin (ontology simply means the beginning or the origin), our origin comes, the meaning of that comes from within the pages of Scripture.

So as I was trying to apply that, to live within the pages of Scripture, I was praying one night. My first prayer was, "Lord, how will You make me a godly woman?" And then after that prayer, it bled very quickly into another one, "Lord, would You make me the godly wife of a godly husband?" And I laughed out loud!

Nancy: To think that the thought was even in your head?

Rosaria: Oh, that is just an absurd idea! It was!

I mean, like many people who come out of a lot of sexual sin, I was terrified of my sexuality. The thought of being a sexual person again, in any way, was a terrifying prospect. So I laughed out loud because I was really terrified at what I had just thought about and what I had just asked of the Lord.

Nancy: But it was in your heart, and God was giving you a new affection, which was creating new desires and new wiring of your sexuality.

Rosaria: Yes, it was. Absolutely. That's right. And, let me stop here and say that I would not say at this point that this is supposed to be prescriptive of everyone who comes out of lesbianism. I really just don't think it is. God knows us by name. He has a particular call and vision for us, and each call is perfectly tailored to His beloved children.

But in my case, that was what happened. Sometimes I have to sort of back up with people when they talk about change. Absolutely, the gospel commands change. But what we mean by change is important. And what I like to remind people is that the Bible tells us that homosexual, sexual sin is a sin to be mortified, as the Bible says.

Nancy: Put to death.

Rosaria: Yes, to be put to death, not a behavior to be modified. Again, you can't bypass repentance to get to grace.

Nancy: And what a precious gift that repentance is. It is the gift of God. And that's the work of His Spirit in the heart of every believer.

Rosaria: That's right.

Nancy: No matter what your background, like me—saved at the age of four and not even remembering anything prior to that point—or you coming out of a background that had a lot of baggage, a lot of turmoil and issues.

Rosaria: Sin.

Nancy: But regardless of the background, having a need for a lifestyle of repentance.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: You say repentance is not just a conversion exercise. It is the posture of the Christian. It's the daily, moment-by-moment lifestyle.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And in the repenting, in the responding to His authority, putting myself under it, not just admitting my sins, but confessing my sins, and not just the surface things, the dandelion heads, but getting to the root and the heart of the issues, dealing with the pride, dealing with the self-righteousness, dealing with being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. In all of that, that is the ground in which, the soil in which the Spirit starts to grow up the graces of Christ in us and to set us free.

Rosaria: Amen. That's right.

Nancy: And that's what we're about in this ministry—calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

Rosaria: Amen!

Nancy: And in your life, Rosaria, I see the power and the beauty of repentance as a means to experience that freedom, that fullness, and that fruitfulness in Christ.

Leslie: That's Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth talking with Rosaria Butterfield about what genuine repentance looks like. T

Rosaria Butterfield writes about the radical change God brought about in her life, and we'd like to send you a copy when you support the ministry with a gift of any size. Just call with your donation to 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

You can find the book a lot of places, but when you get it from Revive Our Hearts, it's more than a business transaction. You're a partner in ministry, doing your part to keep the program on the radio and going around the world through the podcast. Again, the number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, tomorrow Rosaria and Nancy will be back to talk more about hospitality as spiritual warfare. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.