Rosaria Butterfield is a wife and mother, a lover of God and of people, and a former lesbian activist. In the 1990s she was a tenured post-modern professor at a prominent university. She was deeply immersed in the homosexual community. She even authored an academic article on the morality of gay and lesbian lives.
In 1999, God changed everything. After a series of events and the consistent love of faithful Christians, she got out of the bed she shared with her lesbian lover and went to church. Two months later, God called her to himself. She believed the gospel. In 2012, she became widely known for her autobiography The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
Rosaria and I spoke for nearly two hours recently, touching on all kinds of topics and questions close to her mind and heart. One of them was the Christian’s voice in America today.
Since the advent of the Internet, everyone has a platform. Long gone are the days when large platforms were earned and reserved for scholars and experts. Whether the platform is a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or all of the above, people who would have historically been silenced or ignored are able to spread their ideas and opinions to a larger audience. Rosaria is not on social media, but she has a national audience and she’s had to learn how to steward it well.
Celebrities, artists, and athletes who are believers have long wrestled with this question. How open should I be about my faith? Should I reveal my values and convictions or reserve them for private conversations in order to build relationships?
Rosaria recalled co-writing an article in response to the Supreme Court decision titled “Something Greater Than Marriage.” In response, she received a very angry email.
“It was a really interesting email because it was the kind of email that [someone] would only write after years and years and years of social media. It was the kind of email that [assumed], ‘You are never going to show up in my life in real time.’”
She’s not one to shy away from controversy or disagreement. Instead of arguing with strangers over social media, she prefers to have them in her home. To the angry reader’s surprise, Butterfield asked, “Can you come over for dinner on Monday? You know, because this is not how human beings are supposed to relate on these issues.”
Her actions teach us that consistency is key. Christians don’t have to water down our message in order to be effective in the culture. Our private speech should be consistent with how we communicate in public. And Scripture should ultimately dictate the content of our conversations everywhere we live and speak. Rosaria reminds us that love and boldness are crucial and inseparable as we engage the culture with the hard truths of Scripture.
“Christians don’t have to water down our message in order to be effective in the culture.”
An issue that soon comes to the forefront for Christians is that of homosexuality and how to speak about it. Can we speak with one voice publicly (decrying its moral ills), but another way privately in order to leave the door open to evangelistic relationships with self-proclaimed homosexuals?
“I think it is important that Christians speak with one voice,” Rosaria said, addressing Christians tempted to censor themselves publicly. “I would not feel that I was doing the Lord’s work if I spoke one way with my lesbian neighbors and another way with my believing friends. I would not feel right about my position before a holy God if I did that.”
Among Christians, there are two extremes. The first extreme is the Christians who passionately and ferociously share their convictions every time they are around someone who disagrees with them. They look for opportunities to hijack conversations to let everyone know what they feel about the latest controversial topics.
You ask them about the weather, and they start talking about abortion. You ask them for the time, and they start ranting about how feminism is destroying the church. To top it all off, they lack tenderness, kindness, and love for the people they are engaging. They fail at doing it “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16).
The other extreme are Christians who are only willing to share their convictions in a safe space among friends. They rarely (if ever) speak publicly about the “hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). When they do talk about Christianity, it lacks the distinctiveness of the aroma of Christ and is replaced with a watered-down version of the gospel. Even if they’re asked a direct question about anything remotely controversial, they refuse to give a straightforward answer — even when the Bible is crystal clear.
Both approaches — though sometimes well-meaning — are wrong. The public and private voice of Christians should be one. Christians should speak passionately but tenderly as we share our values and convictions wherever we share them. We shouldn’t hijack conversations, but we should also actively look for opportunities to talk about our hope. When asked controversial questions, we should “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Christians are called to be humbly unashamed before a holy God and a world dying without the gospel.
The question of “public and private speech” is particularly relevant to how we use social media. Often, our public speech online tends to be drastically different from our private speech in our homes. Sharp tones and harsh remarks have become more common, especially if we believe we will never meet someone in person — it changes the way we interact with others online.
“We need more face-to-face time with people in our homes rather than on our phones.”
Furthermore, our view of humanity has been negatively affected. When we imagine interacting with our neighbor who may disagree with us on issues of morality, few of us — often due to social media — can imagine having a civil exchange of ideas about topics we disagree on. We fear the conversation, similar to the ones on social media, is destined to end in a screaming match.
While social media has united society online, it has simultaneously divided us in real life. We need more face-to-face time with people in our homes rather than on our phones. What if Christians were people who eagerly entertained our neighbors and strangers? What if instead of going online to argue with people we will never meet, we went to a coffee shop to meet someone we can love offline? When we get to know someone and love the person, we are loosening the soil in order to plant seeds of hope and truth.