How should Christians participate in today’s culture wars? Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Braunfels, TX, addressed that question by hosting a conference at which Dr. Rosaria Butterfield spoke about “A Welcoming Gospel.”
Rosaria Butterfield is the well-known author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which chronicles her journey from a tenured professor, who self-identified as lesbian and atheist, to a minister’s wife, whose identify is in Christ.
Christ Presbyterian Church advertised the conference as “an effort to change from a field of battle to a place of hearing, understanding, and healing” and “lay down our arms, not to surrender our beliefs, but to embrace our LGBT neighbors with the compassion of Christ and to bind their wounds—and ours—with the gospel of peace.”
Over 250 people from all over southern Texas attended the conference on August 11 & 12, 2016. Rosaria began the conference on Thursday evening by describing her conversion experience as something that felt like “a train wreck” or “an alien abduction” or perhaps “a bit of both.”
She said, “I was actually not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief.” She defined homosexuality as “a fruit, not a root,” saying, “Homosexuality, at least biblically speaking, is consequential, not causal.” From God’s point of view, it is an “identity-rooted ethical outworking of original sin.”
Under the topic of “Identity” on Friday afternoon, Rosaria spoke about sexual orientation as a definition of personhood. She explained how sexual orientation went from a category invention in the 19th century to an idol in the 20th century to a civil right in the 21st century. She said, “In 2015, when five unelected Supreme Court judges appended (or attached) sexual orientation to the 14th amendment, sexual orientation metastasized from a description of one’s felt sexual desires to a national idol with civil right weight.”
She said, “Gay marriage did much more than change the definition of marriage, it changed the definition of personhood. When a culture embraces a category of personhood that rejects God as author of our person and purpose, we lose our grip on any truthful understanding of who we are, and we no longer then have access to categories like sin, grace, heaven, hell, repentance, faith, forgiveness, restoration.”
Rosaria urged Christians to embrace biblical truth and not to bow to the idol of sexual orientation. If Christians accept it as a definition of personhood, believing there is such a thing as a gay person, “then on what grounds do you oppose it as a civil right? You’re either a bigot or a theonomist. But if you don’t believe that this is a category of personhood that God assigned to His people, that’s the bridge of gospel hope.”
Speaking Friday evening on “Loving Community,” Rosaria discussed the need for Christians to go beyond fellowship with like-minded believers to open their homes and hearts to needy neighbors. She said, “I believe that Christian hospitality and the community that develops from it is the ground zero of our life in Christ.” Having experienced the closely knit companionship of her gay network, Rosaria initially felt that “Christians were living on a starvation diet of community.” She urged listeners to “create places of compassion,” saying, “Home is where isolation is broken…where suffering meets accompaniment. Home is the best place to incorporate people who need you into the rhythms of life together.”
Audio recordings of the three conference sessions are available online at sermonaudio.com under speaker Rosaria Butterfield. After each conference speech, Rosaria also answered questions from the audience.
According to conference coordinator Jana Henry, “It was apparent in the unrecorded Q&A sessions, that many in our community have loved ones and family living the gay lifestyle. They are hurting, unsure how to handle it, and Rosaria gave them some very wise advice. From Christians who have same sex attraction, to parents of children who are marrying their same sex partners, all came together to hear a message of God’s love and how we can best express it to a fallen world.”
Rosaria also spoke to ministers and their wives at a special luncheon on Friday. She addressed the unique position in which they find themselves as they attempt to relate to others and how their ministries differ from those of lay persons.
Andrew Moody, pastor of San Antonio Reformed Church, said, “Listening to how God used a Reformed pastor and his wife to befriend Rosaria and point her to Jesus in the Scriptures is an encouragement that God works powerfully even through humble servants such as we are. May He give us more opportunities to forge such friendships with people in desperate need of His grace.”
The conference met organizers’ expectations with regard to the content of Rosaria’s messages, while Rosaria herself and listener response surpassed expectations. “Rosaria was winsome and approachable. She was very giving of herself to others,” Jana said. “We received overwhelmingly positive responses from attendees. Some admitted reluctance to attend and did not plan to come for all the sessions. After hearing Rosaria speak, her openness, her honesty and humility, they expressed enthusiasm for the conference and its blessings.”
One person wrote, “I was challenged to examine what I may be taking for granted when I respond to others. Am I holding myself at a safe distance and leaving a needy soul to twist in the wind? Rosaria’s admonishment, ‘To put the hand of the suffering into the hand of the Savior, you have to stand close enough to get hurt’ has returned to mind over and over again. Am I protecting myself instead of fulfilling the call to minister to others who need Christ?”
Jana concluded, “Rosaria emphasized that her problem was not that she identified as a lesbian, her problem was that she denied Christ. Looking through that prism, one could plug in any number of other sins in place of homosexuality and see that the message is about Christ overcoming sin. Changing one’s lifestyle will not bring salvation, but salvation through Christ will change our lives.”
Christ Presbyterian Church frequently hosts conferences that challenge Christians to think with a biblical world and life view, securing speakers able to communicate truth in particular spheres of influence. “A Welcoming Gospel” was a one-time event to address a current need in our culture. The church also hosts two annual conferences. Each spring, a women’s conference is held with speakers such as Nancy Guthrie, Melissa Kruger, and Aimee Byrd. In July, the church organizes an annual Patriotic Celebration with speakers that have included Tony Perkins (president of Family Research Council), Kelly Shackelford (president and CEO of First Liberty Institute), and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin.
In 2015, Crown and Covenant Publications (the publishing arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) released Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identify and Union with Christ. Rosaria is currently at work on The Gospel Comes with a House Key.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the September 21, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.