Rosaria Champagne Butterfield provides a classic account of the destructive power of embracing a false identity in her autobiographical account of her conversion, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor's journey into christian faith (Crown & Covenant, 2012),
It also reminds us of the importance of Christians having their identity rooted in their relationship to Christ.
At the age of 28 years, Rosaria was finishing a PhD in English Literature & Cultural Studies and working as a teaching associate in the Women's Studies Department at Syracuse University, one of the strongest such departments in the nation. Rosaria "came out," and "boldly declared myself lesbian," as she expressed it. By the age of 36 she was a tenured associate professor at Syracuse in the English Department with teaching responsibilities in the Center for Women's Studies. She was in a lesbian relationship, was actively involved in a variety of causes, especially of the lesbian and gay variety. She sported a butch haircut, and was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
In 1997 she wrote an article criticizing the Promise Keepers movement. Ken Smith, a local Presbyterian minister (RPCNA, "Covenanters") wrote her a thoughtful response that was challenging, but not condemning. She called him. He and his wife Floy invited her for dinner. Awkward at first, nevertheless two years of off and on meetings with Ken and Floy followed, discussing Scripture and her heart. "I couldn't come to church," she said, "it would have been too threatening, too weird, too much." She began to read the Bible "voraciously and compulsively," for about five hours a day. Her graduate students, many of whom shared her opinions, found Ken dangerous, but she "thought he was safe in a dangerous way." Finally, February 14, 1999, she "emerged from the bed of my lesbian lover and an hour later was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church." Increasingly she realized that Jesus would brook no compromises. A university chaplain told her she could become a Christian and remain a lesbian. "This was a very appealing prospect," she admitted. However, she continues, "I had been reading and re-reading Scripture, and there are no such marks of postmodern 'both/and' in the Bible."
Her conversion she likens to an "alien abduction," a "train wreck," to "a complicated and comprehensive chaos," and to "the peace inside the eye of the hurricane." Conversion for her was difficult because in her case, she says, "my feelings of lesbianism were familiar, comfortable, and recognizable, and I was reluctant to give them up." When Christ claimed her for Himself, "the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end." One night she prayed,
and asked God if the gospel message was for someone like me, too. I viscerally felt the living presence of God as I prayed. Jesus seemed present and alive. I knew that I was not alone in my room. I prayed that if Jesus was truly a real and risen God, that he would change my heart. And if he was real and if I was his, I prayed that he would give me the strength of mind to follow him and the character to become a godly woman. I prayed for the strength of character to repent for a sin that at that time didn't feel like sin at all – it felt like life, plain and simple. I prayed that if my life was actually his life, that he would take it back and make it what he wanted it to be. I asked him to take it all: my sexuality, my profession, my community, my tastes, my books, and my tomorrows.
Things quickly became very difficult for Rosaria. She was leaving a familiar world and entering a strange and forbidding one. Yet, she is thankful that,
God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn and thrive. The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry "specializing" in "gay people." . . . I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamor that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I'm grateful that when I heard the Lord's call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God's power to change lives.
Key to Rosaria's conversion was understanding that being a lesbian "was a case of mistaken identity." She became convinced that "homosexuality – like all sin – is symptomatic and not causal." She acknowledges that her "lesbian identity began in non-sexual ways. I have always enjoyed the good communication that women share. I also found myself bonding with women over shared hobbies and interests and feminist and leftist political values." Only gradually did her relations with other women take on an erotic dimension. Lesbian became what she was. It defined her. No longer was it merely a set of behaviors and opinions. It was her identity.
Consequently, conversion meant a new identity. Rosaria had to rethink who she was before God. She struggled to find her new Christian identity. First, she had to understand her identity as a Christian woman. Then she had to understand her identity as a married Christian woman, for eventually she married a man who would become a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. She explains,
Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and fickle loyalties of my life. Conversion didn't "fit" my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experienced with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned – and am still learning – how to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. When you die to yourself, you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.
Yet, the struggles remained. "The old patterns were there waiting for me, and they knew my name." Even as she writes she admits,
It is dangerous to look back on my life, from the perspective of a lover and follower of Christ, now also a wife and a mother. It is painful to lay my hand on the absence of my former life, and breathe. My former life still lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.
Who is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield? She was, in a sense, never a lesbian. She was engaged in lesbian behavior, embraced a lesbian worldview, and was immersed in the lesbian community. However, this should never have defined her. She was always one made by God and for God, whose purpose for her was to be found in creation, providence, and redemption. Biology is destiny because God is the author of biology. The mind of God is revealed by the acts of God. His purpose is known in His design. She was and is a woman made for God, for marriage, for motherhood, for Christian discipleship, for Christian service, and for work in God's world.
In coming to Christ, Rosaria learned this lesson. Some people never do. Instead they fight their God-given design. They resist their identity as created and redeemed. When she finally married at the age of 39, she was shocked to realize that she was too old to have children. Her insights are profound.
I had spent my childbearing years fighting windmills and now I was, yet again, waking up to my life. There is a biblical principle that lies behind my confusion: people whose lives are riddled with unrestrained sin act like rebellious children. Sin, when unrestrained, infantilizes a person. Here I had thought that I was so mature, so capable, so "important" in the world, and the truth remains that I didn't even know how to act my age! After conversion, I was surprised to discover how old I really was.
Who are we? Our identity is always to be defined by our relation to God, not our current or past behavior. We are children of God and servants of God. We are sinners and we are saints. We are made in the image of God and find our satisfaction only in knowing God. We are disciples of Christ. Never are we to allow our idols, lusts, or false gods to define us. Our counsel to those struggling with sexual orientation, or for that matter, with alcohol, drugs, theft, gluttony, or consumerism is this: don't ever let sin define who you are. I may have stolen. But I am not a thief. By grace, by adoption in Christ Jesus, I am a child of God. That is my true identity.
 Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor's journey into the christian faith (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2012), ix.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., ix.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 24 (my emphasis).
 Ibid., 24 (my emphasis).
 Ibid., 32.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 51 (my emphasis).
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 108.