“Those who professed the name of Jesus commanded both my pity and my wrath,” Rosaria Butterfield says. Until she became one.
University professor, feminist and lesbian activist on issues of morality and justice, and follower of the likes of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin; Rosaria Champagne Butterfield resented Christians and their condescending, judgmental ways.
"Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That's what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus, who in paintings looked as powerful as a Breck Shampoo commercial model," Rosaria shares.
"The word Jesus stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk; no matter how hard I choked, I couldn't hack it out."
From a post-modern lesbian professor Rosaria became the wife of a pastor and a home-schooling mother, who frequently speaks in universities and churches about her experience.
"I fought with everything I had [against Christianity]," she says.
"I did not want this.
"I did not ask for this.
"I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign."
But she was confronted with a truth she found herself unable to deny, despite her best efforts.
Rosaria began reading the Bible for her research into religion and Christian politics and their attitudes towards homosexuals.
In 1997 she wrote her first article attacking the "unholy trinity" of Jesus, Republican politics, and patriarchy, published in the local newspaper.
In response to the piece she received a letter from church pastor Ken Smith which, she says, was not the hate mail of the kind she usually received and had come to expect, but rather surprisingly "kind and inquiring".
"Ken's letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it," she says.
"I didn't know how to respond to it, so I threw it away. Later that night, I fished it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk."
When Ken's letter invited her to get together for dinner, Rosaria accepted, in the name of research. They unexpectedly became friends.
"When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before," Rosaria says. "His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things.
"Ken's God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and [his wife] Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends."
Rosaria continued to read the Bible, "the way a glutton devours food".
"What if it is true?" she began to ask herself. "What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?
“I resented Christians and their condescending, judgmental ways”"The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might.
"One Sunday morning I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Conspicuous with my butch haircut, I reminded myself that I came to meet God, not fit in.
"The image that came in like waves, of me and everyone I loved suffering in hell, vomited into my consciousness and gripped me in its teeth."
Then one day, she says, she came to Jesus. She says it as if it were an inevitability, the most natural of occurrences.
"Jesus triumphed," she describes. "And I was a broken mess.
"I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world."
Years later, married with children, Rosaria says she does not consider herself an "ex-gay", nor does she think Christians should identify themselves as "gay Christians".
She has criticized ideas that the "primary goal of Christianity is to resolve homosexuality through heterosexuality, thus failing to see that repentance and victory over sin are God's gifts, and failing to remember that sons and daughters of the King can be full members of Christ's body and still struggle with sexual temptation".
God's love does not exclude anyone, ever. All are welcome into His house, into His arms, exactly as they are right now.
"If you came to me and said 'I am really struggling with this issue, and I don't know who to believe — is sexuality fixed, is it fluid, is it a sin, is it a grace — I don't know what to do'," Rosaria concludes, "I would say, 'Look. You cannot ask yourself these hard questions in the spotlight. You need to get in the church.
"That is the safest place. Have the courage to go before the Lord himself and take the hand of a godly pastor who is not going to hurt you and not going to shame you and is not going to betray you'."•