Columbus, Ohio | Meredith Flynn
The most personal testimony shared publicly during the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, came from a source most Baptists probably had never heard of prior to the meeting.
Rosaria Butterfield participated in a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon with some very familiar faces—men that have been instrumental in calling Baptists to a deeper reliance on the gospel when it comes to understanding how it intersects with cultural issues.
When it was her turn to speak, she delivered the truth, plain and simple:
“I often tell people I was not converted out of homosexuality,” said Butterfield, a former lesbian. “I was converted out of unbelief. And then the Lord started working on some other stuff.”
One reporter in the press room later commented they were glad Butterfield had been in Columbus, so that more people could hear her story. Her past and, in a different way, her present—her husband pastors a Reformed Presbyterian Church—set her apart from her audience in Columbus. But as she nodded encouragingly as the other panelists talked, and when she delivered the short version of her testimony with an almost-constant smile, the value of hearing from a new voice at the Southern Baptist Convention was clear.
As a professor at Syracuse University, Butterfield said she had finished the book she needed to write to achieve tenure and turned her attention to what she really wanted to write: “a critique of the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view.”
In the process, she met a Christian pastor and his wife who invited her into their home (and visited hers) and truly befriended her. At first, “I thought I simply got free research assistants,” Butterfield told the audience in Columbus.
But after two years and reading through the Bible seven times, she said, “The Bible simply got to be bigger inside me than I. And one of the things that I realized was that I wanted Jesus.”
Butterfield’s fascinating testimony, detailed in her book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith,” stands alone as encouragement to churches trying to reach out to their neighbors with genuine love and the truth of the gospel.
But it was what she said later in the discussion that could prove to be most helpful. In just a few minutes, Butterfield laid out a prescription for how the church can minister compassionately to the LGBT community:
Make your Christian community an accessible community. That means giving up ownership of our time, Butterfield said, and also gaining a more “collective” understanding of sin.
She quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13, about God providing a way of escape from temptation. “What if your home is the way of escape?” she asked.
Share “the means of grace” in a public way. How can Christians make repentance more known (and understood) among their neighbors?
Get to know the Bible—better than we do now. Time with the Lord is “a public community service,” Butterfield said. It’s how Christians get ready to speak a word of truth.
“Don’t deny the power of the gospel to change lives and to travel at the grassroots level,” Butterfield said near the end of the conversation. “Your friendships matter.”
For those listening to her story in Columbus, the power of the gospel was undeniable.
Watch the panel discussion, held during the Wednesday afternoon session of the Southern Baptist Convention, at http://live.sbc.net.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ondemand.html.