Whenever one mentions the topic of homosexuality around conservative Christians, he or she is usually met with “Have you listened to Rosaria Butterfield? She is holding the line on these issues.” Not being one who relishes an argument, I often sigh inwardly to encounter these comments. I get it. I followed Butterfield as a fan for a time, have read all her books, and have listened to dozens of her lectures and interviews. Over the past few years, however, I have grown increasingly disturbed by a closer examination of what Rosaria Butterfield is actually saying, and particularly by the overt and covert messages in her most recent and highly acclaimed book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key.
Before diving into the topic at hand, let me take a moment to introduce myself and give a road map for this lengthy article. Like Rosaria Butterfield, I am Reformed, a homeschool mom, and a reader. I am simply a Bible-believing sister in the pews, concerned about a movement that I see creeping into churches stealthily and incrementally, which I have named the Same-Sex Attracted (SSA) Movement. The organizations and leaders that have pushed this paradigm-changing movement for the past 5 years are The Gospel Coalition (TGC), The ERLC and Russell Moore, Living Out, Sam Allberry, and the SBC’s JD Greear, all of which Rosaria has partnered with consistently as an integral spokesperson and writer from the movement’s beginning up until today.
In this article, I will examine Rosaria Butterfield’s core teachings on Same-Sex Attraction (SSA) and highlight the overt problematic teachings in her latest book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key. Then I will show the blasphemous queer theology and occultic teachings this book promotes subversively. Because Rosaria is a skilled, tenured professor of English, and because she repeats the same slogans, again and again, I will rely heavily on quotes in this article to let her speak for herself. It will not be short.
If you know Rosaria Butterfield, you know her conversion story, that she was a lesbian Women’s Studies professor who came to faith through the friendship of her neighbor, pastor Ken Smith. Pastor Smith and his wife Flo showed Rosaria hospitality and “accepted without affirming” her. Pastor Smith never confronted Rosaria’s lesbianism and instead enfolded her into his home and church, where she was converted to faith after a period of years. Rosaria universalizes this approach as the correct way for churches to evangelize and disciple the LGBTQ, and this is the central thrust of her message.
A commonly held misconception is that Rosaria Butterfield has a more careful theology of SSA than her friend Sam Allberry. In fact, Rosaria promotes the very concept of life-long, ‘godly’ SSA celibacy that Sam Allberry seeks to model. This TGC interview, posted at Living Out, is an excellent primer on how similar their teachings actually are.
The interview is just under 20 minutes but includes Rosaria’s key slogans that summarize her message and those of the SSA movement. There is much problematic content in this interview, more than space allows to relay, and discerning readers will want to view it in its entirety.
Born this way—“Because of the fall, we are all born some way”
Rosaria teaches that the fall means we are each born with a particular sinful inclination, and homosexuality is such an inclination. “Homosexuality is an ethical outworking of original sin. Do you know what that means? We’re born that way.”
“We are all messy”—All sins are equal (except unbelief is worse)
Rosaria Butterfield discounts the idea that any sin is more heinous than another: “We should not think of our gay and lesbian neighbors as struggling with something that is different. It is part of the human condition.”
While it is true that any sin is sufficient to merit an eternity in hell, the Bible calls some sins abominations (Lev. 18) and some affections vile (Rom. 1:26). We glorify God when we recoil from those sins according to how they are treated in his word. That is something intolerable in a mindset that believes in the sin of homophobia.
Rosaria wishes to remove the detestable factor from vile affections and instead focus exclusively on unbelief: “Don’t assume that for your gay and lesbian neighbors the worst sin in their life is homosexuality. Maybe their worst sin is unbelief; in fact, that is the higher sin.” “Homosexuality is a fruit of something else. It is symptomatic. If all you do is repent of a sin at it’s surface, it makes it worse.”
Note that at the 5:40 mark Rosaria uses large gestures to mock any believer who would be so ignorant as to harp upon the ‘surface’ sin of vile affections: “What if you are neighbors to lesbians who have been in a committed ‘marriage’ for 50 years and haven’t had sex in twenty years? (Laughter).”
She continues, “You will look like an idiot when you rebuke them for their homosexuality.” (On the subject of humor, also check out Rosaria’s glee while recounting a blasphemous statement she and her lesbian lover displayed at a gay pride march at 1:20.)
Life-long celibacy because “Reparative Therapy is the Prosperity Gospel”
Rosaria Butterfield states, “I do not believe sexual orientation changes are a gospel imperative. I’m on record for saying Reparative therapy is the prosperity gospel. Reparative therapy is a heresy… on this earth God will give one person 10 crosses to bear and another person one.“
She continues, “And I think the prosperity gospel is to say ‘No, no give your life to Jesus and all will be well’… what the gospel promises is that if God gives you a heavy cross to bear, the Lord himself will uphold the heavier part, but God forbid Christians weigh on that cross and I think that when we look at orientation change as proof of the gospel we’re actually weighing on that cross… There is a vital need for single, celibate Christians in our churches, in our families, in our world.”
Here is a question for all those who think these slogans wise: Is it the ‘prosperity gospel’ to expect converted KKK marchers to grow out of their desire to lynch? Are we weighing on the ‘cross’ of pedophiles if we expect that at some time in their sanctification they will no longer want to fondle toddlers and instead want a wife? What about those oriented to have sex with barn animals or murder their wives? Wait, what’s that you say? No, of course not, because those are heinous sins out of the norm of mature Christian experience? Abominations? Oh, just checking.
Christians have “deeply oppressed” this victim group—the LGBTQ community must disciple us on this.
Rosaria says, “The gay and lesbian community is a real community and, you know what? The Christian Church has a lot to learn… about standing with the disempowered, accompanying the suffering and being good company for the suffering.
Rosaria came to faith during the AIDS epidemic and has strong memories of “standing with the disempowered.” She says, “I often say to parents who have lost covenantal children to the gay community, ‘You will have to work very hard to love your son and daughter better than the gay community.’”
This is a point that Rosaria stresses to extreme lengths in her recent book and will be touched on more below.
Rosaria Butterfield regularly states she is against the term ‘gay Christian’ because it denotes an identity. But, taking the above points together, if SSA is something one is born with, something God does not necessarily remove for one’s entire life, is a God-given “cross to bear,” and qualifies one to membership in an oppressed “real community,” how is this not an identity, and a God-honoring one at that?
The “Ground Rules of the New Game”
So, what are the implications of this SSA doctrine? What exactly are, to use the words Rosaria used in the above interview, “The ground rules of the new game”? One of the hallmarks of Rosaria’s interviews is that her interviewer is always most curious for her advice to parents and pastors. In this 6 minute interview (also posted below) Rosaria provides her usual advice. She reminds churches that “heterosexuality is not the answer to homosexuality” and that there are people who will struggle with “all manner” of sin, maybe their entire lives.
Rosaria: “Homophobia” is a sin
As you can see in the clip above, Rosaria tells parents that if a child comes to them and says they are gay and have adopted that lifestyle they should respond “In original sin we are all born ‘that way’ whatever ‘that way’ means.”
Her advice to elders and pastors is they must “understand that homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia.” What about church members who are living in a gay lifestyle? These brothers and sisters are to be gently taken aside and reminded that their witness needs to be consistent with their profession.
Rosaria: Do not preach against homosexuality (which can be ‘vitriolic’), but reach them by “personalized hospitality.”
What does Rosaria Butterfield say about preaching God’s Word against abusers of themselves with mankind and vile affections? She believes the best way for us to reach our “LGBTQ neighbors” is through personalized hospitality.
She believes “the strength of our words must never exceed the strength our relationships (Housekey 55)” and that believers are often “vitriolic in the worship of God about what is right and what is wrong.”
Rosaria states, “We need to share the gospel and we need to stop adding to the gospel. And what I mean by that is we need to share the gospel of hope in Jesus, not rant about anal sex… that can be very distracting” (source).
(Elsewhere I have discussed the SSA movement’s push to remove the revolting image of male sodomy from our minds.)
But how does one preach from the Bible on this sin without mentioning sodomy? Rosaria is Reformed, yet she states that “We need to stop making moral proclamations instead of gospel invitations.”
Has she forgotten that the Holy Spirit uses the law of God to pierce stony hearts and drive desperate sinners to the cross? Has she forgotten that to the ones whom God gives regeneration the law of God is sweeter than honey? Why would she mute God’s moral law? Does she not love sinners?
Lest pastors be tempted to preach from Biblical narratives, Rosaria Butterfield frequently explains that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God not for sodomy but for their greater sins of “neglect of the poor and needy.”
In her recent book, Rosaria states that many who have crossed over to fully embrace the LGBTQ do so because they are “sick and tired of seeing their friends and family members who identify as LGBTQ made into straw men or women” or treated as “political enemies or caricatures in conversations after the sermon, or, even more horrifically, in the sermon. They wish to be an ally… they want their friends to have the same rights they do. They don’t wish to be a bigot or associate with bigots… the job of an ally is to make the cross lighter (Housekey 57).”
Rosaria Butterfield reminds us that the Bible “does not condone bigotry. It does not condone gay jokes, which are never funny.” By the way, this is a good time to recall from the above interview that Rosaria does permit and enjoy jokes against the idea of a God who judges and against Christians who rebuke vile affections. She continues, “It (the Bible) does not condone talking about people instead of listening to them. Our lack of genuine hospitality to our neighbors-all of them, including neighbors in the “LGBTQ community” is a violent form of neglect for their souls (Housekey, 57).
Rosaria: Hospitality requires following “community rules”—like “wife” for lesbian partners and “husband” for gay partners, etc.
Rosaria states that with her LGBTQ friends she treads carefully and respects the “community rules.” She is sure to “know who is mommy and who is momma” (the way a child with two lesbian parents refers differently to each one) and teaches her children to respect that distinction as well. She speaks to her neighbors with ‘respect’ asking “are you wives or partners?” (Housekey 53)
As an example of “hospitality evangelism,” Rosaria Butterfield describes a conversation with a lesbian neighbor who was crying to her because her partner finds her ugly. Rosaria’s response? “Jesus would never treat you like this. Jesus treats his daughters perfectly.” She adds, “Do I have the grace to say this little or do I always have to say all there is to say on a subject? If so, I have become a brute and a boar” (Housekey, 54).
If you have read Sam Allberry’s The Living Out Audit, all of this mandated sensitivity will have an eerily familiar ring. Because I move in circles where Rosaria’s sensitivity training holds sway, when I first read Audit, I immediately recognized it as a codification of all she has already been scolding us about for years.
Rosaria has not yet “counted as loss” (Philippians 3:8) her lesbian past. Rosaria is normalizing and glorifying what the church has for millennia considered to be an abomination and vile affections. Nowhere is this more vivid than when reading her most recent book. One rarely encounters a page that does not have a glowing endorsement of the “LGBTQ community” and a vilification of any believer who would do things differently than “the ground rules of the new game” (see the first video, linked above for source).
Sounding like Lot’s wife
Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key is a book about what she calls “radical hospitality.” In it, Rosaria promotes the kind of hospitality she enjoyed back in her “LGBTQ community” days. She presents this hospitality as the way for churches to evangelize and disciple our LGBTQ neighbors. Over and again she boasts of “the LGBTQ community I belonged to.”
For example, Rosaria wrote, “The idea that our houses are hospitals and incubators was something I learned in my lesbian community in New York in the 1990s. We knew that our traditional, so-called Christian neighbors despised and distrusted us and regarded us as abominations. So we set out to be the best neighbors on the block. We gathered in our people close daily, and we said to each other, ‘This house, this habitus, is a hospital and an incubator, we help each other heal… we duplicated many house keys and made sure that everyone had one. We meant what the key implied: you have access anytime (94).’”
Therefore, Rosaria Butterfield says if we want to evangelize our LGBTQ neighbors the gospel must come with a house key. Dozens of times, Rosaria repeats the mantra “Radical hospitality seeks to make strangers neighbors and neighbors the family of God.”
She also speaks of “Christian brothers and sisters who struggle with unchosen homosexual desires and longings, sensibilities and affections, temptations and capacities… some people have more to lose than others…. people who live with unanswered questions and unfulfilled life dreams” and asks, “What is your responsibility toward those brothers and sisters? The gospel must come with a house key” (95).
A defiant substitute for family
Of course, for Rosaria’s much admired “LGBTQ community”, this sort of all-access hospitality was a defiant substitute for God’s idea of family. Yet she sets this up as the Christian standard. In one interview she mentions the very real possibility of someone dying of loneliness (clip below) and urges every Christian family to devote a spare room in their house for live-in celibate LGBTQ friends as a way to help them shoulder their “cross.”
This whole message is anti-family and corresponds neatly with Sam Allberry’s “idolatry of family” message. In fact, Allberry’s presentation at the ERLC conference, The Church as the Family of God, borrowed extensively from Rosaria and was based on her book.
Rosaria Butterfield describes in detail her pattern of “checking her privilege” and having a “no-invitation,” open home 7 nights a week and all day Sunday. Strangely, she also reports holding nightly prayer meetings at her home with unsaved neighbors participating. Her book teaches that every meal for a Christian should be one of either giving or receiving hospitality and compares this to tithing (Housekey, 37). She describes “radical hospitality” as our spiritual armor allowing us access to people’s broken hearts (Housekey, 40), and mandates daily open homes for every Christian family (Housekey, 36). Where is Rosaria getting these ideas?
Not so transparent
Before moving on to answer that question, I need to pause for a minute to comment on the stark contradiction of Rosaria Butterfield’s endless applause for “the tenacious, consistent and sacrificial work of the LGBTQ community (Housekey, 94),” her invariable portrayal of lesbian monogamy, and her laments for the SSA brothers and sisters that must ‘leave all the love’ to become Christians. This is the part of the article makes me want to cry…
In the middle of Rosaria’s last book she writes of her abusive and sexually traumatic childhood, a subject far removed from her usual themes. Here she describes two alcoholic parents who kept Playgirl and Playboy in the bathroom, a domineering mother, a heroin addict brother who masturbated on the family room couch, and a beloved gay cousin who posed for Playgirl and opened a gay bar. It was this bar where Rosaria was dragged as a young girl and where she recounts seeing drag queens, sodomites in cages, and a lesbian embrace that made her experience a tingling in her whole body that “took her breath away.” She recounts “these images shocked and seduced me. I longed to recapture them, and shuddered at the possibility. I knew one thing about this place. It was dark and it was drawing me” (Housekey, 71).
Now that is the LGBTQ community hospitality at work. Who could wonder why Rosaria Butterfield grew up to be a lesbian and why oh why is this snake pit of child abuse and horrors not front and center to her message? Why does she continuously portray Sodom as a loving, nurturing, relational, place and pity those who must leave it and pine for the lost love all their days?
Furthermore, this account is not consistent with Rosaria Butterfield’s typical testimony, such as the one she gave at Ligonier, that describes “what I believed to be a completely heterosexual adolescence. In college, I met my first boyfriend and it was a heady experience. And at the same time, this strange and slightly indiscernible undercurrent of longing inserted itself in my intense friendships with women. I didn’t make much of this at first and so from the age of 22 until 28, I continued to date men. And at the same time, I felt a sense of longing and connection that simply toppled over the edges for my women friends.”
Note the relational, organic, and benign description of Rosaria’s lesbian temptations here compared to the more pornographic origins recounted above. But of course, the top story doesn’t fit so well with “we are all born some way” and “reparative therapy is the prosperity gospel.”
Concentric circles, mysticism, and the horrific list
Reading Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key was a disorienting ride for me, and not merely for the category confusion and the radical indoctrination. There were also regular mentions of mysticism, contemplative prayer terminology, and the use of strange mantras.
In the opening chapter of the book Rosaria states “In the morning I pray in concentric circles.” Chapter two is heavily loaded with unorthodox terminology (“The Jesus Paradox,” “The Contagion of Grace”) that swirl in circles not clearly defined. The title of the chapter is “The Jesus Paradox,” and when I did a google search I found that to be a technical term for Contemplative Prayer and Zen meditation. For details, see this contemplative prayer site run by Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr.
Rosaria writes strange lines such as, “Only in the Jesus paradox do these incongruous ideas come together (Housekey, 35),” “Jesus can set in motion a contagion of grace,” “The Jesus paradox manifests contagious grace (30),” “hospitality is image-bearer driven because Christ’s blood pumps me whole” (Housekey, 64). She also repeats the high and holy name of the second person of the trinity like a mantra in this chapter.
In chapter three Rosaria praises Henri Nouwen, “the late and gentle Catholic priest” who ran a center for disabled persons and “regarded hospitality as a spiritual movement, one that is possible only when loneliness finds its spiritual refreshment in solitude, when hostility resolves itself in hospitality, and when illusion is manifested in prayer” (62). Twice in the book, Rosaria recommends to her readers the wisdom of Henri Nouwen.
When one reads to the back of Rosaria Butterfield’s book they will encounter a list of books she recommends to her readers, and what a ghastly brew it is.
Rosaria’s reading list begins with Sam Allberry, includes John Calvin, and has contemplative gurus, occult feminists, and queer theologians sprinkled in the mix. In this list Henri Nouwen is again introduced. Henri Nouwen can also be found in Sam Allberry’s Living Out Curriculum, a curriculum that also incorporates Rosaria Butterfield’s teaching.
The Nouwen quotation displayed there is from a letter he wrote to a young gay man and reads, “Thank you so much for the expression of your desire and hope. You know already that the young, attractive, affectionate, caring, intelligent, spiritual and socially conscious gay man has only one name: God!” (Henri JM Nouwen, Love, Henri, p.346).
Blasphemy. Heresy. It’s as bad as anything at Revoice. Worse. After reading both the Nouwen book Rosaria Butterfield recommends (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life), and the book from which the above quote is drawn, the mist has lifted and I am now able to fully answer the question “Where is Rosaria getting all this?” Rosaria Butterfield’s hospitality theology, many of her themes and mantras, the framework for the entire SSA celibate queer movement as well as many of the talking points over at Living Out and Russell Moore’s ERLC SSA panels are regurgitations of that blasphemous Roman Catholic priest, Zen guru, Marxist, queer theologian, Henri Nouwen.
So who is this man?
Nouwen on homosexuality
Henri Nouwen was obsessed with loneliness due to unfulfilled homosexual longings and cravings for affection and friendship. He was thought to have perhaps “died of loneliness.” At the same time, he stated he was not ashamed of these longings as “my demons are not really demons but Angels in disguise” (Love, Henri, xv).
Nouwen was interested in helping others find a new way of thinking about sexuality that was based neither on the church, fundamentalism, conservatism, or progressivism (Love, Henri, 105). He engaged in male relationships that were intensely emotionally charged while submitting to a cross of “withholding” that “could be beautiful” (Love, Henri, 125).
At the same time, Nouwen wrote many affirming letters and enjoyed visits with married homosexual friends—gushing about the beauty of their love for each other and his love for them (Love, Henri 74, 104, 138).
Nouwen on spirituality, hospitality, and social justice
Henri Nouwen’s book on spirituality which Rosaria Butterfield recommends is an excellent road map to the pit of hell. It is full of Zen Buddhism and advice like “Delve into yourself for a deep answer (Three Movements, 363), “If we stop telling ourselves the world is such and so it will cease to be so” (Three Movements, 801), and “The mystery of spirituality is that God in us speaks to God” (Three Movements, 251). The book provides many explicit directions for utilizing mantras as a way to enter into “union with God and experience the illumination of enlightenment” (Three Movements, 96).
Nouwen was a universalist Zen master and instructor. This is the spirituality path Rosaria Butterfield recommends to the little lambs.
Fascinatingly, Nouwen also wrote extensively on hospitality. His definition of hospitality is a state of acceptance which is the “polar opposite of hostility” (Three Movements, 106). He describes, “Our vocation is to turn the enemy into a guest and to create a fee and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be fully experienced” (The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, location 681). Does that sound familar?
Very much like Rosaria, he repeats the slogan that hospitality “renders strangers as guests…” This is the hospitality theology Rosaria Butterfield pretends to have drawn from the scriptures. It echoes the instructions of a blaspheming, Roman Catholic, Zen priest.
Marx, Freud, and the Bible
Henri Nouwen proudly kept a Bible next to Freud and Marx on his bookshelf (The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, location 1100). Like Rosaria Butterfield, he was very involved as an advocate for AIDS victims. He was a popular speaker for youth social justice conferences, two of his favorite authors were Jim Wallis and Richard Foster, and he was a frequent contributor to Sojourners (Love Henri, 77). Who is that other Sojourners contributor who wrote the foreword [Correction 12/10/19 – Russell Moore did not write the foreword to the book. He wrote a paragraph long endorsement on the cover of the book.] to Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book and has platformed her consistently since 2015? Russell Moore you say? What a very small world it is, indeed.
Mary Douglas, witchcraft scholar
Yet another dark book Rosaria Butterfield recommends in her book list is Purity and Danger, an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo by the feminist anthropologist Mary Douglas. Here is an excerpt to summarize Douglas’ interests:
“As dirt represents power and creativity, purity stands for rigidity and lack of change. Pollution and dirt form power that can only be harnessed through rituals. Despite the rejection of dirt and pollution by most religions, primitive religions unveil that through paradox and contradiction dirt is needed as part of replacing what has been rejected, incorporating the process of renewal. The necessity of death requires both its rejection and confrontation. These practices expose a realistic approach to life by primitive cultures, who view the world in a unified way where cosmic forces preserve and maintain the social order as part of nature (source).
In the beginning of her book, Douglas relays a wonderful ceremony where a pagan tribe extracts a woman’s pus into a bowl, everyone bows down to worship said pus, then passes the bowl around for each member to drink. Douglas is famous for her unique analysis of Levitical taboos. I could maybe relay more of Mary Douglas’ work, except my conscience forbade me to read past the first chapter: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:31). Mary Douglas has written another book, Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations and a quick google search reveals she is an esteemed writer in the “occult community.”
Mary Douglas is one of only two authors in Rosaria Butterfield’s recommended book list who contributes two books. How does Rosaria Butterfield recommend this author in the body of her book?
Rosaria writes, “When I was in graduate school we all devoured Mary Douglas. Her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo was formative to my thinking about insiders and outsiders… Douglas’ essay ‘Deciphering a Meal was instrumental in developing the radical hospitality that knit the lesbian and gay community together…” (Housekey 33).
And later, “I think a lot about Mary Douglas these days as table fellowship is a daily way of life for me” (Housekey, 34).
How can this be?
So an author on the dark arts and a New Age mystic, gay-God priest will now disciple Christians on “radical hospitality?” These are the authors Rosaria Butterfield recommends to the little lambs with nothing but praise? And in the back of a lovely teal book that has graced every conservative catalogue, conference table, and conference circuit in the Reformed world for the past year? How can this be? If this does not qualify as setting an offense before the little ones, what does?
Here at the close of my expose on Rosaria Butterfield I must set forth a final critique so simple yet so needed. She is a woman. Does her past life as a lesbian Freudian Marxist and dabbler in the occult blind us to the obvious? She ought not to be teaching snippets of scripture to women and men. Her ideas do not start with the Bible, and yet she sounds them forth in lectures and interviews as authoritatively as if they were the very oracles of God.
It is painful to relay Rosaria Butterfield’s twisted teachings, but she must be exposed.
God, purify your church and send men unafraid to thunder your holy word from pulpits once more. Amen.
- Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).
- Henri J. M. Nouwen, Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life, (New York, Convergent Books, 2016).
- Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York, Doubleday, 1975).