A Conversation with Rosaria Butterfield

New Horizons: December 2023

Long Live the True King

Also in this issue

Long Live the True King

Rejoicing in the Mystery

A Closer Look at Two Common Carols

This fall Rosaria Butterfield, former lesbian, professor, and activist, and now Christian and RPCNA member, followed up her popular The Gospel Comes with a Housekey with a new book, Five Lies of an Anti-Christian Age (Crossway 2023). She reflects here on what’s changed since her prior book, and why she picked up her pen again.

New Horizons: How has the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ issues changed since the publication of The Gospel Comes with a Housekey?

Rosaria Butterfield: In the course of watching the rollout from the Obergefell decision in 2015, it was very clear very quickly that it was not “just” about domestic partnerships with an official mandate. It was way more than that. The decision has something in it called the dignitary harm clause, which is a particular use of the Fourteenth Amendment. In that clause, it said that you are actually doing harm to an LGBTQ+ person if you do not affirm their identity. That was pretty shocking to me. When I was a lesbian, you would do me harm if you were a pizzeria and I come in for a pizza, and you said, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell pizzas to lesbians.” This was different.

Another rollout was that, in the public schools and government schools, LGBTQ+ education was no longer sex education, which you could actually exempt your kids from. It is a part of anti-bullying legislation, which everybody has to do. All of a sudden, my neighbors are sending their kids to me. “Hey, Mrs. Butterfield,” said thirteen-year-old Julie, “is it true that everyone in my seventh grade is bisexual?”

Similarly, I was at a speaking event in Charlotte, and there was a woman there who was not a Christian. She raised her hand and said, “Dr. Butterfield, I’m the chair of the counseling center here; I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to hear the gospel, I want to know why one out of four girls who come into my clinic for anxiety and depression leave wanting to get a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy.” I had never heard of anything like that. That was before we talked about rapid onset gender dysphoria, but it was clear that there was something really satanic about this.

NH: You repent publicly for using transgender pronouns both in a viral Reformation 21 article and in your new book, Five Lies. Why?

RB: I came to realize that transgenderism doesn’t mean what it meant when I was in the LGBT community. I knew this person named Jill, and I never knew until I became a Christian that Jill’s name was Matthew. What we all [in the community] knew was that Jill had a very serious mental illness, that we were all participating in a fiction, and that the fiction was helpful in not escalating this mental illness.

First of all, that’s not the right thing to do, that’s not how to treat mental illness. But now that it has become, “let’s treat mental illness with a Pride parade and a sticker,” I guess the actual error of what I was thinking was brought into very clear light. Participating in a fiction is called lying.

I also realized something else—and it sounds really strange: I am actually a public figure. I don’t experience myself as a public figure! I experience myself as a mom and a grandma and a pastor’s wife and a neighbor. But I realized that with how confusing the situation is, I needed to say it as firmly as I possibly could. In the Ref21 article, I did what I should have done years ago: not only repent of it as a sin, but repent of it publicly as a sin, and explain exactly why it’s really a sin.

NH: Your story of Jill/Matthew was about your use of transgender pronouns to step inside a fiction that’s localized. Now that the fiction is so widespread, if we use transgender pronouns, we step into a sort of dystopian world.

RB: Yes. Stepping into the fiction doesn’t allow you to bring somebody out of the fiction. But now surgeries and horrific abuses of the body are pushed, whereas twenty-five years ago that just wasn’t a reality.

It’s not enough to course-correct; the little lie is still a lie. This is not just about a mental health issue or the brokenness of living downside of Genesis 3.

No, Satan is all over the transgender movement. It is a satanic movement. Christians go into a situation like that with a different sense of their responsibility to the people trapped in it. You go in as though to save someone as though in a fire (Jude 23).

You can’t really separate the gospel for too long from these LGBTQ+ issues, because these are issues that are in rebellion against the creation order. . . . Being made in the image of God, male and female, is at the heart of things. The seeds of the gospel are in the garden—you can’t just share the gospel with your transgender friend and leave the rebellion against the creation ordinance intact.

NH: Who was in your mind’s eye as you wrote this book?

RB: This book is written to Christian women, whose daughters and neighbors and sometimes mothers and aunts and friends have become indoctrinated by a false gospel, the cult of LGBTQ+, and are now waging a kind of war against the Christian faith. If that sounds kind of nuts, I can just tell you about some of the letters that come in to my website. These are real people!

I started to realize that many Christians feel that we’re living at ground zero of the tower of Babel. Yesterday we were all friends, today we’re bigots and haters. What changed, and how do we respond? How do we respond to the grandmother who writes to my website and says, “I need to talk to you because my daughter, who used to be a lesbian, has now decided that she is a transgender man and, in an effort to rid the world of toxic masculinity, is raising my three-year-old grandson as a girl?”

NH: So there’s been an acceleration.

RB: I loved the idea of a middle road, a third way, finding a neutral ground where we all can at least have a civil conversation. I do believe we can still have a civil conversation—I have them every day with my unbelieving neighbors. But there is no middle ground anymore. That’s because the Obergefell decision launched a war. Sometimes in war, borders close. It doesn’t mean you can’t get out, but it makes it harder to get out. We’re not talking about being a soft presence in a neutral world where a marketplace of ideas allows for a sharing of differences. We’re talking about being a soft presence in Sodom. It didn’t go very well for Lot, it went even more poorly for his family, and it probably won’t go very well for us.

NH: In that account, it’s interesting that it’s Lot’s family that suffers the most.

RB: Yes, think about this child [being raised as a girl]. I cannot even imagine the story that this child will have. But it’s not a good one.

NH: Why is it helpful to conceive of this ideology specifically as a false religion?

RB: You know it’s a religion when people make sacrifices for it and worship it. Romans 1 gives us a great place to start with this conversation. Paul gives us three exchanges: the exchange of truth for lies; the exchange of a true religion for false religion; and the exchange of heterosexuality for homosexuality.

The death culture that you see in transgenderism—if you start a person on cross-sex hormones, or surgery, that person becomes a medical patient for life—means that there’s some really serious consequences. There are seriously damaged lives.

The question is, why were Christians so duped? And the answer might be, because people like me were using transgender pronouns. Maybe it was because people like me said, “OK, we can normalize this and hunker down in this necessary fiction.” But what critical theorists call necessary fiction, God calls lies.

NH: What about Christians who advise treating the transgender people one encounters, say, at the grocery store, with disgust?

RB: Christian hospitality has to include a place where the gospel has a hearing, which is why I like to do it in my home, because I own this home. The grocery store would be a little different, because I don’t own the grocery store. These public space encounters are really challenging. I do not believe we are called, ever, to a scornful derision of strangers at the local grocery store, nor would I want to teach my children that. When you see someone in drag at the grocery store, you see someone who is deceived and who is in a very dangerous place. I do not recommend acting in hostility. But when you’re there with your children or grandchildren, you need them to know, “That is in defiance of a holy God.”   

Butterfield is an author, speaker, and member of First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina. New Horizons, December 2023.

New Horizons: December 2023

Long Live the True King

Also in this issue

Long Live the True King

Rejoicing in the Mystery

A Closer Look at Two Common Carols

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