Author’s note: I have already written another article on this subject, but due to ambiguities in the language, it appeared as though I were suggesting that homosexuality was a choice. This was not my intent. For this reason, I have removed the previous article in favor of this one, which is far more clear in its intent and focused in its relevancy to the blog. Deepest condolences to anyone offended by the previous statements.
Ex-gay and ex-lesbian claims should give cause for skepticism. As I already highlighted in my previous discussion of Focus on the Family, there are a lot of myths/lies circulating about homosexuals because of conservative family values organizations. It seems to be the common evangelical tactic to cherry-pick studies to support a dubious claim about sexuality; let the real scientists do the work, and then pretend to have come to a conclusion by misusing their research.
With a critical eye, then, I turn to the story of Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a self-proclaimed ex-lesbian. The reason it should even register on the radar of this blog is because many will jump behind her in support without thinking about what’s really happening. If we are going to be discerning, as this blog’s title might suggest we should, then we should step back and try to examine the whole issue.
If you read Dr. Butterfield’s article in Christianity Today, there are a number of things which should jump out at you. First, notice all of the stereotypes which she uses to characterize herself and validate her story to other Christians. She highlights everything which is only stereotypically lesbian, all the way down to her “butch” haircut. She’s an atheist who hated Christians, a feminist professor of English and women’s studies, and so on. None of these things, save perhaps her atheism (but even then perhaps not), sets her apart from Christ. Their only purpose seems to be to play to common preconceptions, but they do nothing to add any actual value to her story.
These are the sorts of things which we should watch for in evangelistic testimonies. We should remember the story of famous Christian evangelist and former Muslim Ergun Caner. He claimed to have witnessed severe oppression of Christians in the Middle East, using horrible — but common — stereotypes to lend credence to his story. Well, he never even grew up there at all. I actually saw Ergun speak at least once while growing up, and if I’m honest, I think I might have actually bought into his story. His tactic was similar: play to the stereotypes people have of Muslims to paint a convincing picture. People bought into it for a long time until he started sharing conflicting details.
In the same way, much of Dr. Butterfield’s story does nothing but cater to irrational fears and stereotypes. They try to convince the reader of her authenticity. Honestly, why would she need to mention her “butch” haircut? There are plenty of straight women who have haircuts that don’t cater to societal standards of long, flowing hair which they should brush daily and wash with expensive shampoo. My fiancee has short hair, and I find her beautiful. The comment about the hair, the appeal to fears of feminism and English professors, and so forth are strange signs, and they indicate that Dr. Butterfield is trying to sell you, not tell you, her story. It’s a sales pitch, and sadly it’s one that works well if you’re already looking to buy.
She might even be trying to sell her story to herself as much as to everyone else. First, she admits her conversion to Christianity has not erased her homosexual tendencies, “still shiny and like a knife,” encroaching on her heart. Her “identity” is in Christ, but part of her identity still prefers women, though it is true that female sexuality is more fluid than a male’s. Secondly, the claims she makes in her article, such as that there is no “both/and” in Christianity, leads me to believe that she is only submitting out of fear of what she calls “the other side of the equals sign” — what should happen if she remained homosexual.
There are lots of theological considerations, especially about the Reformed tradition in which she participates (I might cover this later), but I am a philosopher, and I want to stick to my discipline. Regardless of what the ancient people may have thought about homosexuals, the fact is that the Biblical writers could not have written outside the bounds of their culture’s knowledge. Only in the 20th century have we even come to consider that sexual orientation could be part of one’s identity rather than a choice, and therefore it is literally impossible that the Bible could have captured that reality. The language did not have the power to talk about biological/inherent homosexuality. In the minds of the Biblical writers, it could only have existed as a cultural aberration.
My caution to any Christians reading this is that they not rush to judgment and proclaim — as a result of Dr. Butterfield’s “conversion” — that homosexuals are sinners in need of a cure in Jesus. I have never met a single homosexual who felt that they had a choice in the matter, and there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the claim, either. When dealing with any written language, especially that of an ancient text like the Bible, we should not presume that our modern sensibilities, like scientific knowledge, carried all the way back indefinitely into the past. New discoveries will empower us to use the same words in new ways and to be more careful about what we mean.
I believe very strongly that Dr. Butterfield could be (or perhaps I should say is) both a Christian and a homosexual. It is truly sad that she threw away her old friends, family, and way of life simply because she felt judged by a text and a culture that could not possibly speak to her situation. I wouldn’t want her to leave her new family, but I believe strongly that we should disregard her testimony as dangerous and misleading — both about the Bible and the nature of homosexuality.