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Rosaria Butterfield speaks to Wheaton College students during her chapel talk on Jan. 31.
Wheaton College
Rosaria Butterfield speaks to Wheaton College students during her chapel talk on Jan. 31.

A Wheaton discussion of homosexuality

Sexuality | Former lesbian Rosaria Butterfield found controversy and opportunity on her recent visit to a Christian college campus

Joni Mitchell sang, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.” Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian and Syracuse University professor, has looked at homosexuality from inside and outside, and has not come away empty-handed. I learned a lot from interviewing her last year, and Wheaton College students learned a lot when she visited their campus in late January.

The visit was not without controversy. Below is a statement from Wheaton President Philip Ryken that reports what happened and explains well the college’s position. Following that are an interview with Butterfield published in Wheaton’s student newspaper, an excerpt and a link to a recent article by Butterfield posted at The Gospel Coalition website, and a video of my complete interview with Butterfield last year. —Marvin Olasky

Statement from Wheaton College President Philip Ryken on Chapel Demonstration

Feb. 10, 2014

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Over the last few days, Wheaton College has been the subject of significant discussion following coverage of events related to a January 31 chapel talk by Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

In the chapel talk, which is available here, Dr. Butterfield testifies about her encounter with Jesus Christ and how this transformed her life, including her worldview and her experience of her sexuality. In her talk, as in other venues, Dr. Butterfield described herself as a formerly leftist lesbian professor who had despised Christians. Dr. Butterfield’s testimony was well-received by the student body, resulting in an extended ovation following her remarks.

In advance of Dr. Butterfield’s talk, several dozen students held a silent demonstration on the steps of Edman Chapel to express an array of concerns about the possible implications of what they expected to hear in Dr. Butterfield’s message. As is her practice, Dr. Butterfield met with the demonstrating students later that afternoon. The demonstration and the conversation with Dr. Butterfield that followed have been covered in news outlets including The Wheaton Record, the student newspaper.

A key theme of the discussion around these events concerns the value of personal narrative as a way of pursuing truth and understanding. As a Christian community rooted in the universal and unchanging truth of the gospel story, we believe that all stories, including personal stories, must always be weighed using the balance of God’s Word. Our conversations as an institution are always rooted in biblical truth.

Wheaton College’s conviction on homosexual practice remains as articulated in our Community Covenant, which is affirmed each year by all students, faculty, and staff:

“Scripture condemns … sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).”

Chapel guests and programs speak to various topics, including contentious issues of the day, always in alignment with the biblical standards outlined in the Community Covenant.

As our Covenant states, Wheaton College is a community of living, learning, and serving. We are a confessional Christian academic community with a focus on the spiritual and intellectual formation of our students. While we are not insulated from cultural conflicts over ideas, including our own students’ search to understand how the truth of Scripture shapes each Christian’s life, our educational model does not require us either to silence critical exploration of complex issues or to accede uncritically to cultural pressures.

Instead, the Christ-followers who lead this Christian liberal arts institution, and who value the minds and hearts of the students entrusted to our care, judiciously employ a variety of responses to student concerns and conduct. These responses may include personal conversation, civil public discussion, godly counsel, admonition, and discipline.

Within Wheaton’s historic commitment to biblical truth, as well as in our model of liberal arts education, our goal is to grow a community where questions can be raised, disagreements can be expressed, discernment can be modeled, and disciples can be nurtured.

Q&A with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield

By Amanda Morris, News Editor, The Wheaton Record, Feb. 7, 2014

On Friday, Jan. 31, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield came to Wheaton College’s campus to speak at chapel, addressing the topic “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”

Butterfield, who earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State University in English Literature, served in the English Department and Women Studies Program at Syracuse University from 1992 to 2002. Butterfield published a book, as well as scholarly articles, in feminist theory, queer theory, and 19th century British literature. Butterfield received tenure in 1999, the same year that she converted to Christianity. Butterfield, who now lives in Durham, N.C., with her husband and children, is author of the book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.


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