Religious speaker responds to controversy

On October 3, 2013

A lecture on homosexuality and Christianity scheduled for next week on campus, which advertised a “former leftist lesbian professor” who “despised Christians,” but “somehow became one,” sparked some debate after some organizations expressed concerns about the speaker’s beliefs, which they said echoed sentiments that reflected conversion therapy. But speaker Rosaria Butterfield said she was concerned her views had been misunderstood.

Butterfield, the author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” a book chronicling her experience of finding Christianity while she was an English and women’s studies professor at Syracuse University in a committed lesbian relationship, said she does not support reparative therapy, a practice of “converting” non-heterosexuality that has been deemed illegal in some states and harmful by the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association.

“I would never want to be associated with discrimination or any of the suicidal consequences that can come as a result of (reparative) therapy,” she said. “It’s important for Christians to be good neighbors, and the last thing I want is to be unkind to good neighbors.”

However, she said she believes homosexuality is a sin. She also believes homophobia is a sin, and defines homophobia as any “free-floating fear” of the LGBT community or any treatment that denies members of the community dignity or humanity.

But some students said they are still concerned.

Lucia Baker, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, said the university hosting a speaker who espouses views that homosexuality is a sin is still detrimental to the well-being of students who may be questioning their sexuality.

“Promoting that homosexuality is still a sin is still harmful, even if you’re not asking people to convert,” Baker said. “By promoting a belief that you are somehow morally in the wrong is still harmful.”

Butterfield, said she will share her experiences about studying the Bible, an endeavor she said she undertook as a project to “critique from a lesbian point of view.”

She said she kept reading, “waiting to be offended,” as she thought she would find points she disagreed with and looked for examples of misogyny and slavery.

But, she said, as she began to read the Bible, she found that she wasn’t offended.

The Old Testament, she said, was applicable in the context of the time period, but only the moral codes are still binding, and the examples of slavery found in the New Testament, she said, was more comparable to the life of a graduate student than the image of chattel slavery most think of.

But the point of homosexuality being a sin, she said, “grabbed her by the throat.”

However, she said she doesn’t advocate heterosexuality as a solution.

She said she thinks homosexuality is a sin, but believes it is no different than any other sin and believes all individuals were born into sin. Each person, she said, should be responsible for his or her own sin, not trying to convert others.

“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “Sin is a deep part of who we are and how we function.”

When she was in her 30s, Butterfield said she was offended and upset by many of the people she saw at LGBT parades and rallies protesting abortions, who called themselves Christians and stood with placards that condoned messages of shame or hate.

Once she asked why a Christian organization’s display table was always placed next to the LGBT organization’s she would volunteer with at Syracuse, and was told by someone at the table that they stood to pray for members of the LGBT community.

“Those Christians didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy,” she said. “I felt my dignity was attacked and assaulted. Why weren’t they praying for members of the chess club on the other side of the table?”

On her website, she suggests “having no contact with pornography or with secret lovers — physical, non-physical, virtual or real,” not “misusing Christ by asking Him to baptize your feelings” and staying away from ministry if “you are experiencing out-of-control lust or sexual temptations” in order to “kill, at the root, same-sex attraction.”

Amanda Marino, a senior triple majoring in psychology, humanities and Italian, and a member of P.R.I.D.E. Alliance,said she was upset by hearing about the lecture.

“There is a discriminatory factor in there, and unfortunately we can’t do anything about it because it would be an infringement on First Amendment speech. But there is a message of non-acceptance, that being LGBT is a sin.”

P.R.I.D.E., along with other on-campus organizations, plans to attend the event to ask questions about the speaker’s beliefs and provide information about counseling resources to students who attend and may be upset by what they hear.

Baker, who said she’s seen many of her friends in the LGBT community struggle with reconciling their identities of non-heterosexuality with their faith, said she thinks dialogue can be positive, but hopes it will not trigger detrimental reactions for people who have had negative experiences with acceptance.12

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